Archive for May, 2006


Saturday morning anatomy lesson

May 31, 2006

I know it’s not Saturday morning. (And I know this is a lot of posts for one day, but I will be taking a hiatus from the Web all next week, and working long hours this week to clear the decks for that vacation. So it’s time to sweep away my backlog.)

But it was a Saturday morning when we met most of these characters in the flesh. And here they are flensed of that flesh. All in the interests of pseudoscience.

[Update: the link seems to have shifted. I have renewed the URL.]


Homing in on a home away from home.

May 31, 2006

Catching up on the implications of a two week old bit of science news. Nature reported that three new Neptune sized planets have been found circling the nearby star HD69830, 41 light years away.

This was gratifying news for three reasons. First, infrared studies had already disclosed the presence of an asteroid belt around the star. It was predicted that a pair of planets would be found, one on each side of the belt, acting as shepherds to keep the belts in place, much as the inner moons of Saturn shepherd the particles in its rings. So it was pleasant to see observation follow dynamical theory.

Second, detection of the planets was possible because of a big jump in the sensitivity of the Doppler technique for finding extrasolar planets, by observing the wobble they induce on the location of the parent star.

Third, at the new level of sensitivity, it still isn’t possible to find the holy grail of extrasolar planetary research: a rocky, earth-sized planet orbiting a sunlike star at a distance congenial to life. To do that, the sensitivity of the Doppler technique would have to be ratcheted up by another 90%.

But here’s the beauty part: most nearby stars are not sunlike. They are smaller: lighter in mass, and less bright. That makes a habitable planet easier to find on two counts. The habitable zone is closer in to the star, so that an earth-sized planet would tug harder at its sun. And the star is smaller, so that the same size tug would make it wobble further.

We’re getting close. The first planet around a different star worth a beamdown by Kirk’s crew should put in its appearance within the next three to five years.


A brief requiem for AuH20

May 31, 2006

How far Republicanism has sunk from the days of Goldwater. Among today’s GOP, Feingold’s attempt to censure the President’s lawbreaking constitutes extremism in the defense of liberty, to be decried and shouted down. But a mere call for investigation, a mere Mittyesque request that the President spell out just which of our liberties have been taken away, is enough to call down elephantine wrath.

A great many Republicans on the sidelines understand and are appalled at the damage being done to our system of government, from Bob Barr to the Cato Institute to John Dean to numerous former Reagan officials. Appreciation is due to them all for rising above partisanship in the name of patriotism. But among its elected officials, Barry’s party today stands firm for the principle that any defense of liberty is a vice.


One cheer for democracy

May 31, 2006

Only one cheer, because this piece of apparent good news is destined to slide down the oubliette – and as likely as not designed to do so.

The Washington Post Sunday noted a bunch of really sweet requirements on the Executive voted in by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, thanks to a coalition of all Democrats with Republican “moderates” Olympia Snowe of Maine, and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

  • As recommended by the September 11 commission, the total spending of all intelligence agencies is to be reported to the public.
  • The AG is to report within six months on the pros and cons of breaking that total down among the various agencies.
  • All members of the intelligence committees of the two chambers are to be given a complete list of all clandestine prisons maintained by the United States.
  • Whenever a subset of the intel committees is briefed on a matter, all members must be informed of the brief and its basic subject.
  • As long as Hayden is both CIA head and active military, he shall “not [be] subject to the supervision or control of the Secretary of Defense.”

All well and good. However, at the President’s direction, the House will kill all these provisions, as it has killed the first one before. This is purely a symbolic gesture on the part of Snowe and Hagel. Whenever they have an opportunity to take an action that will result in an actual effect, they join with Chairman Roberts in backing the President’s one-man rule to the hilt.

For example, they have consistently voted against any real investigation into the NSA’s domestic wiretapping; they have voted against any investigation into how the Administration used or misused the pre-war intelligence on Iraq; and they have both signed on to the DeWine legislation, which would retroactively legalize the NSA program, without ever learning what it actually consists of, and make it a felony for any member of Congress briefed on the program to make any comment on it in public, thus essentially criminalizing the act of oversight.

Where the President’s attacks on the Constitution, the rule of law, and the separation of powers are concerned, these two have reliably performed as MINOs: moderates in name only.


Hey, buddy, get a warrant

May 27, 2006

This blog noted a couple of weeks ago how National Security Letters might be used to launder illegal surveillance.

Well, here’s some good news that flew beneath my radar last week. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the rulings of two lower courts (one in NY, one in CT) that the National Security Letters provision of the USAPATRIOT Act is unconstitutional.

Wrote Judge Richard Cardamone:

“A ban on speech and a shroud of secrecy in perpetuity are antithetical to democratic concepts and do not fit comfortably with the fundamental rights guaranteed American citizens…. Unending secrecy of actions taken by government officials may also serve as a cover for possible official misconduct and/or incompetence.”

Judge Cardamone added that national security concerns “should be leavened with common sense so as not forever to trump the rights of the citizenry under the Constitution.”


A consequence of moral clarity.

May 25, 2006

In George Bush’s moral universe, the one transcendent value is personal loyalty to the President. Every member of the Administration who failed to grasp that, such as John DiIulio and Paul O’Neill, soon found himself exiled from the Administration.

Don’t you suppose that it must have dawned on Bush early on – perhaps around October 2001, when it became apparent that despite his express wish, intelligence would steadfastly decline to proclaim Iraq the engineer of 9/11 – that reality was not personally loyal to him?

What could be more natural, or more forthright, than his manly revulsion at this moral flaw? Clearly, reality had become an unprofitable servant. To remain uncorrupted by its taint, the President was compelled to exile it from the White House with the rest.


Poetry Archive 2

May 25, 2006

Another of my own pieces.

On Reading Emily

Death is a Motion in the mind
A stillness in the Nerve —
A jest — unchaperoned by smile —
A feast that scarce — will serve

That so replete with matter is —
One may miss the Gist
A sentence — understood til given
Hyphenated — twist