Sunday, June 28, 2009


There is a good photograph in here somewhere, just have to figure it out. (In fact, looking at this at full size, suggests a telephoto landscape picture may be in order.)
Long Street Farm, Holmdel, NJ

Using crop-zoom (since I have a lot of pixels), maybe something like this?

Or maybe something like this?

Will have to think some more.

PS: I need a cow in the photograph as a point of interest, I think.

PPS: Here's something else:


Saturday, June 27, 2009


Here only because of the color.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

My Uncle Colbert

On, the bloviator Christopher Hitchens holds forth on Iran. Some of the actually meaningful stuff is here:
The best-known and best-selling satirical novel in the Persian language is My Uncle Napoleon, by Iraj Pezeshkzad, which describes the ridiculous and eventually hateful existence of a family member who subscribes to the "Brit Plot" theory of Iranian history. The novel was published in 1973 and later made into a fabulously popular Iranian TV series. Both the printed and televised versions were promptly banned by the ayatollahs after 1979 but survive in samizdat form.
[The author of the book makes the point]
In his fantasies, the novel's central character sees the hidden hand of British imperialism behind every event that has happened in Iran until the recent past. For the first time, the people of Iran have clearly seen the absurdity of this belief, although they tend to ascribe it to others and not to themselves, and have been able to laugh at it. And this has, finally, had a salutary influence. Nowadays, in Persian, the phrase "My Uncle Napoleon" is used everywhere to indicate a belief that British plots are behind all events, and is accompanied by ridicule and laughter. ... The only section of society who attacked it was the Mullahs. ... [T]hey said I had been ordered to write the book by imperialists, and that I had done so in order to destroy the roots of religion in the people of Iran.

Well, I have news for Hitchens. American citizens, when referring to the myth of the freedom of the press as it applies to the mainstream media, refer to their Uncle Colbert, and laugh at it. We are told it has had a salutary influence.

A reminder (transcript is here)

Key quote: "But, listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works: the president makes decisions. He's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know - fiction!"

More on the Egg Problem

The Egg Problem

Continuing some thoughts:

1. One might argue: since every splattered egg presumably arose from a whole pristine egg, there are exactly as many splattered egg states as there are whole pristine egg states. True, as long as the only degrees of freedom are egg parts; but in the splattering, information is lost in sound and heat and so on, and that is what causes the huge number of initial splattered egg states that do not evolve into whole pristine eggs compared to those that do.

2. There is the old problem - how likely is it that all the molecules of air will find themselves in the half of the room that you are not in and you are at risk of suffocation? Since a room may have 10^28 molecules, the probability is (1/2)^(10^28).

Suppose the probability of a splattered egg turning into a whole pristine egg is similar. That is, one part in 1,000,....(10^27 zeroes, roughly).
The age of the universe in seconds is 1,000,....(17 zeroes roughly).
The volume of the visible universe in cubic seconds is 1,000,... (85 zeroes,roughly).
Large as these numbers are, they are absolutely dwarfed by (the denominator in) the probability (1 followed by 10^27 zeroes). Even if each cubic centimeter of the universe tried to randomly assemble an egg once each second, it would still take essentially 10^27 universes to produce an egg.

Well, our universe found a more efficient way. Briefly, it has life processes running off the free energy gradient between stars and outer space. You can think of it as heat engines, if you like, that do work, in the ways Carnot sought to quantify. Our earth alone has produced a gazillion eggs, and our universe maybe a great many more. The thermodynamic sort of randomness is not the fastest way to get things done. Our existence means there are more powerful self-organizational principles at work. It may also be that these principles, while perhaps most strongly visible in the workings of matter on the atomic scale and above, have their analogs at all scales of the universe. Establishing that would be a more fundamental discovery, in my opinion, then the sterile multiverse.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Egg Problem

Via Woit:
Sean Carroll reports here on some other parts of the festival, including the panel on Time Since Einstein, where he explained to the audience that “the fact that an a splattered egg cannot turn back into a pristine unbroken egg is the best evidence we have that we live in a multiverse.”

...“the fact that an a splattered egg cannot turn back into a pristine unbroken egg is the best evidence we have that we live in a multiverse.”

Since the microscopic laws of physics are (effectively) time-symmetric, all that I come up with is that there are far fewer initial conditions where splattered eggs unsplatter than where splattered eggs remain splattered. This is a fact independent of cosmology***. Whole pristine eggs do not arise from a process of unsplattering, other methods are far more probable.

I need to broaden the question - "explain a universe in which eggs and observers like myself can arise", before there is a mystery. It remains a mystery. But it is an even deeper philosophical mystery as to how postulating an infinite number of other universes so that the asymmetry in initial conditions can somehow be erased*** constitutes an explanation.

*** The fact that there are far fewer initial states that lead to splattered eggs unsplattering than initial states where splattered eggs remain splattered is simply a matter of counting and so remains true in each universe in the multiverse.


Believe it or not, Sean Carroll now has Feynman's old desk at Caltech!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

What is the truth about Iran?

No unequivocal evidence has been yet revealed to prove election fraud in Iran. It is entirely possible that Ahmedinejad won and therefore the regime is correctly viewing the ongoing protests as a means to overthrow an election by extra-legal means.

I'm not a fan of the Ayatollahs, and if their power is overthrown, I'd be quite happy. However, it is quite another thing to use lies to lead Iranians to risk their lives to overthrow the regime, just to suit our interests. And there is some reason to be skeptical. For example, is the Twittered news real?

Supporting SuperTelephoto Lenses

For future reference: :)

The Stories You Don't Hear

You probably have never heard of Robin Beaton, and that's what's wrong with the debate over health care reform.

Beaton, a retired nurse from Waxahachie, Texas, had health insurance -- or so she thought. She paid her premiums faithfully every month, but when she was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer, her health insurance company, Blue Cross, dumped her.

The insurance company said the fact that she had seen a dermatologist for acne, who mistakenly entered a notation on her chart that suggested her simple acne was a precancerous condition, allowed Blue Cross to leave her in the lurch.

Beaton testified before a House subcommittee this week. So did other Americans who thought they had insurance but got the shaft [...]

It was as dramatic as congressional testimony gets. Yet it got no airtime on the networks, nor, as far as I can tell, on cable news, although did run a story. Time's Tumulty was all over it, as was Lisa Girion of The Lost Angeles Times. But the story did not make The New York Times.

Nor The Washington Post, which found space on the front page the morning after the hearing for a story on the cancellation of Fourth of July fireworks in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, but not a story on the cancellation of health insurance for deathly ill Americans who've paid their premiums.


Neoconservatism is a radical, deceitful and destructive ideology and nobody is going to be deterred from aggressively pointing that out because Weekly Standard, National Review, Commentary and The Washington Post Editorial Page casually toss around the word "anti-Semite" in order to intimidate people out of that criticism. - Glenn Greenwald

But read the whole article.


Rescission is when your insurer withdraws your health insurance policy after you fall sick. Here is Rep. Stupak questioning some witnesses on rescission.

An investigation by the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations showed that health insurers WellPoint Inc., UnitedHealth Group and Assurant Inc. canceled the coverage of more than 20,000 people, allowing the companies to avoid paying more than $300 million in medical claims over a five-year period [...]

Late in the hearing, Stupak, the committee chairman, put the executives on the spot. Stupak asked each of them whether he would at least commit his company to immediately stop rescissions except where they could show "intentional fraud."

The answer from all three executives:


Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) said that a public insurance plan should be a part of any overhaul because it would force private companies to treat consumers fairly or risk losing them.

"This is precisely why we need a public option," Dingell said.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Circle of Life

Glenn Greenwald:
Every time new revelations of illegal government spying arise, the same exact pattern repeats itself: (1) euphemisms are invented to obscure its illegality ("overcollection"; "circumvented legal guidelines"; "overstepped its authority"; "improperly obtained"); (2) assurances are issued that it was all strictly unintentional and caused by innocent procedural errors that are now being fixed; (3) the very same members of Congress who abdicate their oversight responsibilities and endlessly endorse expanded surveillance powers in the face of warnings of inevitable abuses (Jay Rockefeller, Dianne Feinstein, "Kit" Bond, Jane Harman) righteously announce how "troubled" they are and vow to hold hearings and take steps to end the abuses, none of which ever materialize; (4) nobody is ever held accountable in any way and no new oversight mechanisms are implemented; (5) Congress endorses new, expanded domestic surveillance powers; and then: (6) new revelations of illegal government spying emerge and the process repeats itself, beginning with step (1).

(Old Circle of Life:

inset_cartoon_queue19170_7767251 )

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Confirmed: we are homicidal maniacs

Over on turcopolier, Retired Col. W. Patrick Lang writes that we face a difficult moral choice - we either interfere in Iran to get a government we can negotiate with; or else we will end up making war on Iran. The former is surely kinder in the long run to the Iranians.

The latter comes about because Col. Lang is in despair whether the gullible American public will ever be able to see through the machinations of the Israeli lobby, the neocons, and the propaganda in the mainstream media, all of which are pounding out a drumbeat for war.

My response to that is that if we cannot restrain ourself in face of a threat that the reasonable among us know to be non-existent*** or exaggerated, we should throw ourselves to the mercy of the United Nations.

But it does seem clear that this is a nation with the seemingly unstoppable impulses of a homicidal maniac. It can be led to war just like that, like a dog on a leash.

***An unfriendly, nuclear-arms-seeking (and the evidence is mixed about that) Iran with a leader like Ahmedinejad is not a threat to the United States, certainly not one like e.g., the Soviet Union. Certainly not more than North Korea or Pakistan. Certainly not one that must be met with war. Only to those for whom the US is an appendage to Israel is a war on Iran a compulsion. Israeli and US interests, however, do not always coincide, as in the case of Iran.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

On the cosmic insignificance of human life

On backreaction, Stefan discusses the recent finding that the red supergiant star Betelgeuse is shrinking, roughly having lost 15% of its diameter in the last 15 years. Nobody knows for sure what this means. It could be a prelude to the star going supernova.

Betelgeuse, seen in the constellation Orion, is about 200 parsecs away. If it goes supernova, it will rival the moon in brightness. Its effect on earth is expected to be small. Fortunately its spin axis is so aligned that the intense gamma ray bursts that a supernova emits will not pass earth. These gamma rays have the potential of causing a mass extinction.

But that is a matter of chance. Here we are, stupid humans, fighting as we must, in dozens of wars and insurgencies around the world, and at any moment, a cosmic brush might sweep us out of the picture. Of course, at the root of many of our fights is the attempt to find significance to our lives in some religion or ideology. Or to frantically stuff this sixty or seventy years of life with all the things and possessions one can dream of even when it means snatching bits and pieces from the many.

The realization of the utter insignificance of human concerns in the face of the universe, like all truths, is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, why make others suffer, let us do the best with the time we have. On the other hand, if human life is insignificant, then so is the truncation and brutalization of human life. (This double-edged nature of the truth is why moksha is ringed with such difficult rules. The truth itself is simple, its applications by one who has realized it are potentially very dangerous to the rest of humanity.)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Sweeping for Her God

See Rajan Parrikar's photoblog. Resonates with me.

PS: Wikipedia on Ravalnath

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Ahmedinejad and the gathering clouds of war

Retd. Col W. Patrick Lang
Ahmadinajad's win is bad news unless you are looking forward to the day when the US goes to war with Iran. Israeli propaganda will continue to program the American public in preparation for that day. They have been doing very well in this effort so far. The media outlets and media friends are busy every day inculcating the idea that Iran is a deadly threat and must be "stopped." The effort to discredit US intelligence is also progressing nicely. The goal there is to gain general acceptance in the US of the notion that Israeli intelligence is better, smarter, more effective than US intelligence and therefore the Israeli estimate of the Iranian "menace" should govern decisions.

If nothing interrupts the progress of this "informational" campaign the US will attack Iran at some not too far distant time, not tomorrow, not next week, maybe not net month, but, soon. The "end of the year" now takes on greater meaning.

Just a few days ago, Col. Lang had written:
The basic story here is simple. Israeli intelligence are doing their best to fake the evidence of rapid Iranian advances towards weaponization of nuclear weapons. In their usual short sighted way, they care not that they are systematically undermining the credibility of the US intelligence community. The US IC has been the source of 90% of all valid raw intelligence information that Israeli intelligence has ever had. Israeli collection operations are really rather primitive and the farther the target from their borders the poorer they are. What the Mossad is good at is covert action and black propaganda, not information work. It is sad to see an era of cooperation ending in such a way.

Revolution in Iran?

It is not clear whether the regime in Iran even bothered to count the votes. Certainly the regime's actions are not those of a winner of 60+% of the vote. But whomever is in the right about the elections, it seems that blood will flow. It makes me sick to think of it.

1. dkos diary, predicting the old order in Iran is finished.

2. dkos watch of Farsi sources.

3. dkos - news of massacres.

4. dkos - how Web 2.0 has changed politics and democracy.

Gary Sick about the regime's actions: (read the whole thing)

On the basis of what we know so far, here is the sequence of events starting on the afternoon of election day, Friday, June 12.

* Near closing time of the polls, mobile text messaging was turned off nationwide
* Security forces poured out into the streets in large numbers
* The Ministry of Interior (election headquarters) was surrounded by concrete barriers and armed men
* National television began broadcasting pre-recorded messages calling for everyone to unite behind the winner
* The Mousavi campaign was informed officially that they had won the election, which perhaps served to temporarily lull them into complacency
* But then the Ministry of Interior announced a landslide victory for Ahmadinejad
* Unlike previous elections, there was no breakdown of the vote by province, which would have provided a way of judging its credibility
* The voting patterns announced by the government were identical in all parts of the country, an impossibility (also see the comments of Juan Cole at the title link)
* Less than 24 hours later, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamene`i publicly announced his congratulations to the winner, apparently confirming that the process was complete and irrevocable, contrary to constitutional requirements
* Shortly thereafter, all mobile phones, Facebook, and other social networks were blocked, as well as major foreign news sources.

All of this had the appearance of a well orchestrated strike intended to take its opponents by surprise – the classic definition of a coup. Curiously, this was not a coup of an outside group against the ruling elite; it was a coup of the ruling elite against its own people.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Dubya said that?

Senator Lindsay Graham said this about releasing photographs that might prove that abuse of prisoners in US custody was widespread and not confined to Abu Ghraib or a few rogue elements:
“Every photo is a bullet for our enemy.”

A letter on

In 2005 demeaning pictures of Saddam Hussein in his underwear taken during his imprisonment were "leaked" to the press. This was a big deal at the time because it evidenced a gross double standard. Leaking pictures of abuses at Abu Gharaib was pernicious and threatened harm to the troops, but leaking propagandistic photos would demoralize the insurgency. When pressed about those pictures Bush responded,

"Well, you asked me whether or not that would inspire people. You know, I don't think a photo inspires murderers. I think they're inspired by an ideology that is so barbaric and backwards that it's hard for many in the Western world to comprehend how they think."

It was a pretty amazing quote in 2005 and its pretty amazing now. Even Bush agrees that photos don't inspire murders!

The quote can be found here:

Google problems

Aaron Greenspan on Huffington Post

Google could have avoided a small claims case and appeal and bad publicity by providing customer service.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Senator Whitehouse on Torture

Read the full speech here.

Or just read this paragraph:
While it is going on, I want my colleagues and the American public to
know that measured against the information I have been able to gain access to, the story line we have been led to believe--the story line about waterboarding we have been sold--is false in every one of its dimensions.

Or this somewhat longer excerpt:
At the heart of all these falsehoods lies a particular and specific problem: The ``declassifiers'' in the U.S. Government are all in the executive branch. No Senator can declassify, and the procedure for the Senate as an institution to declassify something is so cumbersome that it has never been used. Certain executive branch officials, on the other hand, are at liberty to divulge classified information. When it comes out of their mouth, it is declassified because they are declassified. Its very utterance by those requisite officials is a declassification. What an institutional advantage. The executive branch can use, and has used, that one-sided advantage to spread assertions that either aren't true at all or may be technically true but only on a strained, narrow interpretation that is omitted, leaving a false impression, or that sometimes simply supports one side of an argument that has two sides--but the other side is one they don't want to face up to and don't declassify.

One can hope the Obama administration will be more honorable. I suspect and believe they will be. But the fact is that a cudgel that so lends itself to abuse will some day again be abused, and we should find a way to correct that imbalance. It is intensely frustrating to have access to classified information that proves a lie and not be able to prove that lie. It does not serve America well for Senators to be in
that position.

Chairman Levin has already done excellent work in the Armed Services Committee, and there is no reason to believe that good work won't continue. Chairman Rockefeller has done excellent work in the Intelligence Committee, and his successor, Senator Feinstein, has picked up the mantle and continues forward with energy and determination. We can be proud of what she is doing. Chairman Leahy has begun good work in the Judiciary Committee, and more will ensue when we see the report of the Department of Justice Office of Professional Responsibility about what went wrong in the Office of Legal Counsel.

The new administration, I hope and expect, is itself drilling down to the details of this sordid episode and not letting themselves be fobbed off with summaries or abridged editions. In short, a lot is going on, and a lot should be going on.

While it is going on, I want my colleagues and the American public to know that measured against the information I have been able to gain access to, the story line we have been led to believe--the story line about waterboarding we have been sold--is false in every one of its dimensions.

I ask that my colleagues be patient and be prepared to listen to the evidence when all is said and done before they wrap themselves in that story line.

More on Flickr

SF Gate

Thomas Hawk on Flickr

Silicon Valley Insider & CNN
The comments protested the Obama administration's policy on torture photos. Here's one of them, found by Valleywag:

“The Obama White House is supporting a new bill (sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman) whose sole purpose is allowing the government to suppress any ‘photograph taken between September 11, 2001 and January 22, 2009′ relating to the treatment of detainees in the ‘War on Terror.’ In other words, Obama wants Congress to change the FOIA so that the courts can’t compel release of any more torture photos.”

Still, given the subject of Shepherd's comments -- and their reasonable tone -- we don't expect Flickr's notriously sensitive-to-censorship users to stay quiet about the issue, and that could pose a problem for Yahoo, which makes money from Flickr's on paying subscribers.

NY Post

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Yahoo Flickr Censorship

Yahoo Flickr Censorship.

It is not clear that Shepherd Johnson broke any rule other than the unwritten one of "Do not annoy the White House".

I have a Flickr "Pro" Account. If Yahoo can make my pictures disappear because of my political opinions, I see no reason to continue to pay for that account. It will make my blog suddenly lose all its photographs, but that is life.


This is what Yahoo says to my concerns:

Hello Arun:

Thank you for contacting Flickr Customer Care's Abuse and
Advocacy Team.

Despite however much I personally might or might not like
to discuss this issue with you, our Privacy Policy precludes
us from sharing any member information with third parties.


Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Street photography with Joe Wigfall

Be sure to watch the video.

Supreme Court OKs Buy-A-Judge - Almost

Four of the nine justices on the Supreme Court will come up with specious reasoning if it favors big money.

Read about Caperton v. A. T. Massey Coal Co. here. Though, as the diarist put it, first slather on some "Soul Protection Factor".

PS: Changed the title of the post.

Friday, June 05, 2009



(The same duck)

(One of its brood)

Thursday, June 04, 2009

My Editorial for the Day

How Obama concludes the war in Iraq or pursues the war in Afghanistan, how he tries to rescue the financial sector, revive the economy, reform health care, handles the Israel-Palestine issue, and so on - these are all genuinely policy issues; nothing actually (except the wars) requires the President to even take any action; we can disagree with Obama but continue to support him.

On the issue of the rule of law and constitutional liberties however, the President is mandated to act in certain ways, and the choices he has are much more constrained because he is an officer of the Constitution. When he makes a choice outside those limits, he merits our opposition, and importantly, he loses our trust. These are not issues on which we can agree to disagree. As we note that accountability for illegal surveillance by the government has been lost in part because of Obama's votes in the Senate and his actions as President, we hope someone in the White House is paying attention. Political support on specific issues and policies is easy-come, easy-go. Trust is hard to come by and easy to go.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Wake Of The Duck

A different crop of the last of the Misty Moisty Morning below. I must say that it looks more golden and silver in Photoshop than in Firefox. Not sure why. Hmm, camera sensor also probably needs cleaning.

While I'm at it, Mr. Duck in the photo below is incidental, I'm posting the photograph because of the contour lines on the water. The lines occur only in one snapshot out of series, so perhaps it requires a very specific angle of light.



More lemonade.

A Misty Moisty Morning

Manasquan Reservoir, in Howell, NJ.
An attempt to make lemonade from the lemons that life hands out.


Monday, June 01, 2009

The Chicago School of Economics Goes Belly-Up

Read Brad DeLong. He pulls apart the attempt by Richard Posner, "leader of the Chicago School of Economics and Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals judge to rescue the Chicago School’s foundational assumption that the economy behaves as if all economic agents and actors are rational, far-sighted calculators."

Fun though that is, I'm making this entry to save this quote:

Start with the observation that financial markets have six useful purposes:

* to aggregate the money of people who ought to be savers into pools large enough to finance large-scale enterprises.

* to channel the money of people who ought to be savers to institutions and people who ought to be borrowers.

* to spread risks so that no one individual finds herself ruined by the failure of any one investment or the bankruptcy of any one company or the slow growth of any one region.

* to keep managements efficient by upsetting and replacing teams and organizations that have outlived their usefulness.

* to encourage savings by creating liquidity—the marvelous fact that one can own a piece of an extremely illiquid and durable piece of social capital (an oil refinery, say) and yet get your money out quickly and cheaply should you suddenly have an unexpected need for it.

* to take the money of rich people who like to gamble and, by providing some excitement for them as they watch their gains and losses, use it to buy capital equipment that raises the wages of the rest of us (at the price of paying a 20 percent cut to the Princes of Wall Street). This is a superior use for the rich—and for the rest of us—than, say, taking their wealth to the crap tables of Vegas.

Wall Street innovations and practices are useful only insofar as they promote these six useful purposes. Call them aggregation, accumulation, diversification, efficientization, liquiditization, and casinoization.