The Voyage of Captain Obvious

Grading is satanic

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Well, there's always next year

Looks like America's lovable losers have finally decided to throw in the towel. Within days of discovering that their golden-boy pitcher has a fucked-up elbow, the Cubs decide to trade away their only effective bullpen guy (aside from semi-effective Ryan Demptster) for AAA prospects. I wanted the Cards to crush the Cubbies, no doubt, but not with this spat of injuries (and none of them to that asshole Zambrano!). And amazingly, Dusty Baker is still employed. Imagine how shitty their season would be if Derrick Lee wasn't performing way, way, way beyond expectations

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

On Understanding and Hate

"and I looked up to see my enemies, and I saw you all looking back at us instead"

-Dar Williams "The Great Unknown"

Note: most of the below relates primarily to those who have actually committed acts of torture. There are clearly a very large instance of cases where what I'm talking about doesn't apply, particularly relating to non-Vietnam conflicts before this one.

Mi querida and I had an interesting talk this afternoon at dinner. She just finished her job for the regular year (she works for an afterschool program), and we were out celebrating this, and we got talking. In particular, the Abu Gharib/Guantanamo incidents came up. We never really talked to each other about the topic before, but interestingly, we had very similar questions about it.

In particular, we thought the implications for the higher-ups were not the most interesting angle. They were clearly operating with fucked up priorities, and in a world where the United States' prime investigating body was not controlled by major jerk and commander corrupt, the assholes behind the torture should and would be punished and stripped of their jobs. But our questions ran a little deeper than that.

In essence, we both really wondered, what causes otherwise normal people to turn into the kind of monsters that would even fucking think of tying people to a ceiling and beating them periodically over several days until they died (link via Body and Soul). There is no reason to believe that the soldiers involved are inherently evil, or at least no reason to believe that they were evil before they arrived in Afghanistan, and yet, here we are, with these horrific tales, often perpetrated against those who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time (read the link before complaining to me about that last sentence). So, what turns people away from compassionate beings into these feral monsters?

My lover is keen to point to the 'animal nature' of human beings, that this instinct to violence is something innate in us, that we suppress through society, but which might surface at any instant. Torture is just an example of this violent nature in humans coming to the fore. There may be some truth to this, but I don't think that it is the whole truth--we pick very specific groups of people to direct this violence against, and it's always some group of people that are supposedly threatening our way of life. My idea is hardly novel, but the root of everything seems to be that there is an 'us' struggling to maintain their 'way of life' against some encroaching 'them'. So, the soldiers that went to Afghanistan were trained by the military to think of the US as an us threatened by an Islamic 'them' (hopefully there is some nuance there, but nuance is always lost on some, and in an instance with consequences this severe, matters should not be left to nuance). So, it isn't important if the particular individual is rounded up for a particular reason, and it isn't important that the person be treated well and respected--the person is not a human being, per se, he is one of them, and therefore, not deserving of the treatment one of us would deserve. I think Abu Gharib can be explained similarly, particularly due to the stories of soldiers believing that the war in Iraq is payback for the September 11 attacks, which everyone knows is total nonsense.

So, what to do? I don't know, but I think part of the problem is that the military really isn't built for nation building or for occupation. The Bush administration does not understand that bullshit like this is the reason why our occupation will never work--you cannot win the people's trust whilst killing and torturing them. And the needless killing and the torturing will stop once we start emphasising that everyone is people, and everyone is deserving of respect. What would this nation-building military look like? I don't really know. Maybe something like our current one, plus a shitload of more oversight is all that we need. Regardless, this needs to be taken more seriously, and when imposing your will onto others, even if for the best, sensibility is the very most crucial thing to have. And it's something that the United States federal government currently lacks.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

New Project

So, these days I'm working on Ashtetekar's Isolated/dynamic Horizon formalism. I don't have a lot of the details worked out yet, but I'm getting increasingly excited about studying these things--they remove a lot of the confusing nonsense that I've struggled through during my time in gradschool. The great features of this include 1) there is no reference to the gloabal structure of the spacetime in defining these isolated/dynamic horizons; 2) They enable a convenient LOCAL definition of the mass and angular momentum contained within a black hole 3) they provide a natural set of boundary conditions which can be used to provide a natural way of excising the interior of a black hole from a spacetime 4) The condition that Hamiltonian evolution of a spacetime is consistent on the horizon, post-excision is the first law of black hole dynamics, now conveniently defined in terms of quantities defined on the horizon. 5) Not only can you prove the area increase law using this formalism, you can actually calculate how much the area will increase when matter/radiation falls into the hole. I need to do some reading to fully understand the details, but I'm excited nonetheless. And that explains the sporadic posting

Friday, May 20, 2005

Well, now the Cards-Cubs is explained

Apparently, a study of Olympic athletes has shown that athletes that wear red tend to outperform those that wear blue. Who would've thought? Noted rivaries in the NL since 1907 certainly don't offer any evidence of this...

oh wait.

never mind.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

By the way,

why is it that there is always one cellar dwelling team that the Cardinals can never defeat? Remember when the Brewers owned our asses one year? Why are the Phillies so undefeatable for us?

Here's to hoping that bobby abreu never becomes a yankee.

The fillibuster

I have rarely been this pissed off at the republicans, and I have often been pissed at the republicans.

First, bush nominates the most nutball judges he can find to lifetime posts on the federal judiciary. Then, the nominees get shot down because they are absolutely insane, and the Orrin Hatch judiciary committee knows no compromise, causing a filliubster. Then, Bush renominates the insane assholes again, knowing that the acceptability level of the group has hardly waxed. Then, facing an almost certain fillibuster on the issue, Bill Frist (quickly becoming my least favorite senator) threatens a set of bizarre parliamentary maneuvers amounting to having the chair openly ignore the Senate debate rules, and having the majority rubberstamp this avoidance of the rules, thus closing debate, and forcing a vote on the issue.

That's all well and good, so long as there wasn't blatant hypocracy on this from all ends on this issue. Judicial fillibusters have certainly been tried and (in the case of Abe Fortas's nomination to the SC by LBJ in 1968) even successful. Frist even attempted a judicial fillibuster back, as Tom tomorrow says, in prehistoric times, when the caveman tribe that eventually became the United States federal government was led by a barbarian known only as CLIN-TON. Also keep in mind that this barbarian leader had a great multitude of his judicial nominees not only not recieve frist's treasured 'up or down vote', but not even one single fucking hearing in the judiciary committee, thanks to the bold post 1994 leadership in the senate. Then, the republicans even would openly say that the nominees weren't being blocked for any reason other than the fact that if the judgeships were left vacant, then a future republican president could make them. The likes of Jesse Helms (R-Hell), openly said this.

anyway, long story short, this whole thing has me frustrated at the direction of my country. That and the open hostility toward science that seems to be developing.


Posting has been light because TAing has crushed my will to live over the past couplea weeks. Now I have to justify my grading practices to those who should understand their final grades very well. Ah well--that's college, I guess. At least I finally get to actually do some fucking research around here.

Sunday, May 08, 2005


The Cardinals have turned themselves into a statistical powerhouse. It was just a few weeks ago, that everyone was talking about the quiet bats and how the pitching staff had totally bailed the team out. Now, despite a middling .266 team average, the cards are 6th in the majors, and 2nd in the NL in runs scored, tied for 5th in the majors in HR, 5th in SLG, and striking out less than any other team in the majors, 4th in extra base hits (2nd in NL), and 6th in team OPS. This without factoring in today's 15-5 thrashing of the Padres.

This is then combined with the fact that the team is continuing to pitch well. The cards are 6th in the NL in team ERA (3rd in NL) , have allowed the 4th fewest walks in the NL, the 5th fewest walks in the majors, an absurd 1.70 groundout to flyout ratio (2nd to the marlins only), allowed the 5th fewest total bases, and the 10th lowest WHIP (5th in NL)

When one considers that the teams ahead of the cardinals in some offensive cateogories (Cininatti, Baltimore, Texas, Boston, the Yankees , and SanFran) are different teams than the ones ahead in the pitching categoires (Atlanta, Florida, the White Sox, the twins and the astros), one realizes that this years incarnation is going to be very tough to compete with. In fact, through this first month of the season, the only team that seems really scary is the Dodgers, who are moderately close in some of these categories (slightly weaker hitting than the cards, slightly stronger hitting, according to the stats).

If Isringhausen is healthy in the next week, this could be a very, very exciting season to be following the Cardinals

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Why I am skeptical of string theory

Firstly, we hear nothing but endless stories about how there is only one, unique string theory, and how its competitors are infinitely less believeble due to the assumptions that they make, typically that they assume the dimension of spacetime to be four.

However, when making these claims, the string theorists, who go boasting that THEIR theory predicts the dimensionality of spacetime, rather than requiring it as an input. Fine. The problem, of course, is that we don't see n-4 dimesions that whatever string model we're talking about predicts. To solve this problem, the string theorists then say, "well, that just means that these extra dimesions are compact in some manner, so that they have a finite volume that is too small for us to observe. Ok. So now, what has been done is that one must "compactify" the spacetime, in order to produce results that don't patently disagree with our reality. So, what is a more absurd assumption? That we have a four dimensional spacetime with an ordinary topology, or that we have a 10 or 11 or 26 dimensional spacetime with a bizarre fucked-up topology (that can't get simpler than the seven sphere cross four dimensional minkowski space)? Maybe it's just aesthetics on my part, but I find the latter proposition much crazier. Add to this the problem of there being a rediculous number of acceptable vacuum states for string theory, each of which with different phenomonologies, and it begins to seem like there are actually a very large number of acceptable string theories.

Second, string theory works from the conceptual idea that Einstein's theory of relativity is a less reasonable framework from which to percieve the universe than is this set of ideas. QFT is certainly a very powerful tool, and is clearly the only tested game in town when it comes to high energy particle physics, but it is such a jury-rigged arrangement of stopgap measures. GR, in contrast requies minimal input, and follows from simple and beautiful physical ideas. I would certainly lean towards believing relativity before I would lean toward believing QFT, all things being equal.

Finally (for now), there is supersymmetry. Not only is there not a single piece of evidence that would lead anyone to believe that supersymmetry exists, but every time that people claim that it's about to be found, it isn't, and the ss-breaking scale just gets pushed to higher and higher energies. If they don't find it in the new CERN, I'm going to have real troble believing that it will ever be found. It seems that people just want it to be there, so it MUST be there. Well, at least ss-breaking would be able to explain the origins of renormalization.