Friday, September 30, 2011


I first worked on a CDF project back in about 1981, years before the Tevatron turned on. The University of Illinois wanted to make the central muon detectors, and Lee thought we could use a simplified version of the Aachen tubes built for UA1. I fiddled around with some extrusions and learned how to make a cosmic ray telescope to trigger the readout and discovered that electrolytic capacitors could sometimes explode (a CAMAC-based prototype TDC we borrowed went fiss/bang and caught fire). At the end of it all I didn't get really good results, and the design was eventually chucked anyway because the drift time was too long. The beam bunch crossing time was going to be longer than the drift time, which would mean we'd have mixed in hits from muons from different collisions, which confuses the reconstruction.

Later on the Tevatron went to more frequent bunch crossings, and as we went up and up in luminosity we started getting multiple interactions per bunch crossing, not nearly as many as at the LHC, but still a lot. So we wound up with hits from different events anyway, but by then we had a much better handle on how to reconstruct tracks and stubs.

I took a break from the drift chamber work to work on my thesis experiment, and then went to Wisconsin as a post-doc. There I worked on UA1 and CDF again: not monogamous, as Carlo Rubia complained about my boss and his team. Since then I've been either full or part time on CDF--1985 to 2011. Funding for my part of the project ends this year along with the beam.

The beam is off, and it is the end of an era--but the data processing goes on, and student analyses and theses will keep going for several more years after that. And some profs will decide to have a look at something they never got a chance to finish; something that the LHC can't do as well. My group was charged with providing software releases to last another 5 years; that are supposed to be robust enough to be ported to the next generation OS with minimal labor. I think we're getting it.

I still have some directories with software for the online system--something to monitor the HV for the Wisconsin muon detectors which I was delegated the job of maintaining after the author left, and so on. Time to clean up.

I worked a little on a few analyses, but kept getting pulled off to fix something, so I didn't actually contribute a lot to the physics. Some, yes; but not a lot. Kind of a gloomy thought to end on, but that's life--I spent time keeping things running and helping people get their jobs going and keeping the data running. And writing code to help make it work, online and offline. It's my fault if I didn't push harder to do the interesting stuff. (OK, some of it is interesting. The W-mass work is useful but not wildly exciting.)

I took shifts back when we had a walk-through that checked the voltages on the HV supply panels and the gas percentages in the mixer in the gas rack (had to climb down into it) and that got you back to the control room in time to do it again. And I took shifts when almost everything was automated, with software to diagnose what was wrong and blink warnings at you (I wrote some of it), and the biggest headache was going through the run validation checklist. VAXes and terminals tuned into Linux and multiple displays. Back in the day dumb terminals were so expensive that Fermilab bought Macintosh computers and ran terminal emulators (the old Macs).

Meetings in the pump room were awful--the pumps downstairs made it very hard to hear anybody. A new room was built later--and still called the pump room. The old one turned into offices which had enough cubicle walls to muffle the noise.

Fermilab got larger, and more and more bureaucratic and rules-bound. Some of the stuff turned out, on inquiry, to be implementing Federally mandated rules, which seemed to appear in new crops every year. Three years ago it seemed as though somebody had gone training-happy and was designing mandatory training courses for everything up to and including garbage disposal (I'm not kidding). It has been quieter since--perhaps the users rose in wrath.

The trailers where almost everybody worked have gotten shabbier and emptier, and nobody is replacing the computers anymore--which is kind of a hassle when you are required by Fermilab policy to upgrade to a new OS that maxes out the memory in the old machines.

I didn't go to the party--there were some family things to do, and I've not been a huge fan of big parties anyway.

Store 9158 was the last, and run 312510. Final total: CDF acquired 9.977 fb-1. Also see the Fermilab Tevatron timeline.

It is funny that one of the milestones is listed as "First 8mm tape used to record data from a high energy physics experiment." I was somewhat involved in that, agitating for their use. I started a discussion group on the main VAX cluster about the subject, and after a few months the computing division took ownership of it away from me. I don't know if it was because it was getting large and they wanted to manage large discussions, or because there were some rather frank comments about the computing division on it. A few months later they started introducing the tapes


Zen novices live in a monastary to meditate on questions like "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" or of Gutei's finger or "What is Buddha? Three pounds of flax." This they hope to bring them to enlightenment.

Down a different road one finds other koans: "Does this dress make me look fat?" and "Surprise me" and the child playing with the emptiness of the box instead of the toy. The patient student finds enlightenment there.

Light Notes on Opera

Theory papers are popping up already about Opera. This is the first I've read, and they note the same problem with tachyon-type neutrinos I did (the energy dependence of the speed is wrong), and then add a pion decay issue to the mix as well. The Opera "tachyon mass" is too big and the beam energy is wrong for pion decay with these masses, and the amount of energy available for the electron neutrino in muon decay would be so restricted that an effect should have been seen decades ago. (Muon decay is one type of beta decay. Nuclear beta decay has been studied very carefully in an effort to determine the electron neutrino mass.)

They bring up a modification I'd not heard of before: Coleman/Glashow superluminal particles, where every particle has its own mass and its own light-speed. Weird, but not inconsistent with the data--but neutrino oscillations are very hard to account for in that model.

Naturally IceCube collaborators are hard at work trying to figure out what they can do to confirm/disprove the effect. I am not at liberty to describe this.

That might seem a little rude, but there's good reason for keeping quiet.

The first iterations of the discussions involve a lot of brainstorming and the discussions have to be frank. People have to be willing to say things that eventually turn out to be wrong, or not even wrong. If I were to announce their ideas prematurely, they might be deeply embarrassed by a calculation error that was caught after I announced their ideas; and outsiders who rely on the integrity of our results could be mislead into thinking that wild ideas are what we have actually discovered.

If I suppress names, then it looks like I came up with all sorts of wonderful ideas, and that's not quite honest.

So, I'll mention what I think and what other people have published, but I won't talk about the internal discussions.

Before I posted this, another paper popped up, this one claiming that superluminal neutrinos would brem off electron positron pairs so fast that they'd slow down to low energies long before reaching the Opera targets.

UPDATE: Halzen pointed out that IceCube/AMANDA already excluded differences in speeds of different masses of neutrinos down to a fraction of E-27 for neutrinos in the 10GeV and higher range. So my guess last week about different neutrinos having different speed limits is probably ruled out. I have to puzzle out the paper and see.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

If the OPERA result were true

If you were wondering why the Italian(*) OPERA collaboration announced a finding that will almost certainly be proved wrong, wonder no more. They almost certainly don't believe it themselves, but their experiment relies on the techniques that gave the anomalous result. If they are making a mistake somewhere, they badly want to know where it is. If they aren't--they're happy.

I read their paper (arXiv:1109.4897) and don't see where the problem is, but I'd hardly expect to with the level of detail provided in the paper. You need to get deep into the details; testing the cables and the timing every way you can--and I can't do that. I still think there's a mistake somewhere.

But just for fun, suppose there isn't. Suppose that muon and tau neutrinos of > 5 GeV moving through rock in the Earth's gravity do in fact more faster than the speed of light in a vacuum. What could the reason be, and what might happen next?

Before I mention options, bear in mind that we have several outstanding puzzles in physics:

  1. Reconciling General Relativity (gravity) and the Standard Model (strong and electro/weak forces in a Quantum Mechanical framework). There is no unified model. String theory has been popular for 20 years because it offered a framework for doing this, but so far it hasn't worked. At all.
  2. Dark matter. Nobody knows what it is, though it pretty plainly seems to be there. Maybe it is particles and DAMA saw it. Maybe not.
  3. Dark energy aka acceleration of the universe's expansion. It seems as though the universe's expansion is speeding up, and you can account for that and make some models of the history of the universe work if you throw some "dark energy" into the picture. There's no other evidence for it though, so we should really call this the expansion acceleration mystery.
  4. There are a few little fringe items like the Pioneer probe acceleration, where the devil is in the details: is this the effect of known physics or something new?

OK, let's see, suppose OPERA's result is correct:

  1. All neutrinos go faster than light

    We know from SN1987A that O(10MeV) electron neutrinos and anti-neutrinos move at very nearly lightspeed (within a fraction of 2E-9 of the speed of light)--they arrived only hours before the light arrived. However, the muon and tau neutrinos only a thousand times more energetic move at a fraction of 2.5E-5 faster than light.

    This isn't like the tachyon model, where the speed decreases with energy. Nor does it look like special relativity with a different value for C. Maybe something like v=c+ε E or +ε E^2 might describe it. It is pretty hard to motivate something like that from either classical or relativistic physics. But if it is, it is, and there's something very different about neutrinos.

  2. Only μ and τ neutrinos go faster than light

    This is really weird; just like the previous approach but with electrons and electron neutrinos different from other flavors. The elementary particle hierarchy is now tied into the structure of spacetime and superspacetime. This would be wild.

  3. Neutrinos speed up in a gravity well

    They'd have sped up in SN1987A too, but once flying free they'd be back near C again, so there wouldn't be a huge effect.

    In this case some particles (neutrinos) see a different spacetime structure than other particles do. Once again we have a new link between particle type and gravity. The hot dark matter models have to be redone--I'd think it would make the halos larger and less dense, so you'd need more cold dark matter.

  4. Neutrinos have access to extra time dimensions

    I tried to figure out the consequences of multiple time dimensions some years ago, but I assumed that the observer would never see anything faster than light. If that assumption was wrong, this is exactly the sort of thing you would see: the particle follows a world-line where it moves at lightspeed (or nearly; neutrinos turn out to have mass after all), but we only see one component of the time, so it seems to be going faster than light. I'll have to go back and rework that analysis, just for laughs.

  5. Neutrinos interact with rock to "go faster than light"

    I have no good model for how this would work, but with time we could come up with some sort of phase velocity description of the neutrino that might allow such an interaction. Beta decay starts to look very strange--we'd have to go back to square one for a new model. UPDATE There's a paper on this option now:, and a hat tip to Dorigo.

But is probably some boring clock problem.

(*)Yes, it has collaborators from Croatia to Korea, but it is sited in Italy and Youngest Daughter loves Rossini, so what else can I call it?

UPDATE: It used to be said that every French soldier had a field-marshal's baton in his knapsack. Something similar is true of physicists...

Friday, September 23, 2011

Death Penalty

Wisconsin has no death penalty. I’m not going to agitate to change that. Texas has one. I’m not going to agitate to change that either.

Some things about the death penalty are revolting; all the more so when we try to pretty it up and make it look easy. The guillotine or the firing squad are ugly but fast. We wanted high tech so we went with electrocution, and the clumsy way we do it is not fast and from all reports is often torture.

That’s not allowed. No cruel or unusual punishments, period. Unusual is not a particularly precise word, but we can all understand that torture is cruel. I’m not saying that it might not be appropriate in some cases (if it were true that the CIA was responsible for initiating the crack trade in US cities, the old hang, draw, and quartering might not be adequate punishment), but that doesn’t matter. Under the rules we made, we don’t do it. I don’t know whether we wrote it that way to protect the accused or the souls of the jailers, but we did and there’s an end to the argument.

Lethal injection is even more horrible. Not so much because it is torture (I gather that is usually isn’t), but because we pervert the healing profession into killers. Would you want your ambulance staffed with EMTs who moonlight at the prison execution room? I want a bright line in the sand: the doctor’s profession does not involve killing. Do something else, something fast, something that doesn't involve doctors.

The human body is resilient, with fall-back mechanisms and a reluctance to quit working. There really isn’t a nice way to make it stop.

That said, the death penalty takes crime seriously in a way other penalties don’t. I hear the call for “life without parole” thrown around by people who don’t work in prisons. Is putting murderers with no incentive for good behavior in with the rest of the inmates really such a grand idea? And the call doesn’t take into account an innocent desire for justice expressed in a punishment that fits the crime.

The “I’m more moral than you because I oppose the death penalty” attitude is pretty revolting too. Mercy is a great thing, but there’s something obnoxious about the uninjured brushing aside the blood of the victims to extend a mercy that costs them nothing. If the victims call for clemency, they shall be called the Sons of God. But the self-satisfied outsiders shall be called presumptuous.

I gather Scalia caused a stir with this:

This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is “actually” innocent. Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that question unresolved, while expressing considerable doubt that any claim based on alleged “actual innocence” is constitutionally cognizable.

I won’t say this is a no-brainer, but it isn’t far from it. The Constitution defines the rules for the procedures of government. They won’t always work; nothing ever always works. As long as there’s no improper bias in the procedures, the Supreme Court assumes the outcome is correct. Weighing evidence is for other courts, not the Supreme Court; they are not supposed to second-guess decisions.

Was Troy Davis guilty of this particular murder? I’ve not a clue. A jury said yes. I don’t know how to weight recanted testimony in that culture and environment, and I don’t think his being a gangster was in dispute. The governor must not have wanted to do anything about him; possibly for political reasons, maybe because he thought the original case was good (though I doubt the governor became an expert on the case for the occasion).

May the Lord have mercy on his soul; and on the souls of the executioners. And on us all, trying to find the best way we can in a broken and violent world.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


What we immerse ourselves in effects us. Bathe in misogynist music all day and your attitude to the woman next door won’t be as polite. Violent movies and games are known to desensitize us to violence. A diet of hagiography won’t make you a saint, but it will make saintly reactions come to mind more easily; though you may do the opposite out of spite or habit.

I’ve been trying to think of any entertainments or amusements that encourage us in perseverance. It is hard. Almost everything seems to be aimed at distraction and short attention spans. Even ball games are interspersed with ads (if listening on the radio) or gimmicks at the park. With one partial exception, nothing is designed to hold your attention and enthusiasm for more than a few hours at most. That’s probably deliberate, since it means we have to buy more amusements if we want to stay entertained.

If most problems are solved in an hour or half an hour, and there’s always another entertainment just around the corner, we are training ourselves in habits of inconstancy.

The partial exception seems to be video games. I’m an outsider looking in, but some games want you to keep leveling up with harder and harder puzzles. At the end of the game there’s not a lot of tangible reward, and there seems to be a lot of flash and bang to keep the player from drifting off.

I’m not going to say that I want Youngest Son to spend his hours playing video games: I’d much rather he were reading or building or figuring out things in the real world. But perhaps they have their uses.

Faster than Light

The various articles on the subject emphasize that the researchers are having trouble believing the result--and rightly so.

A 60-nanosecond increase over a 730km trip is, if I have the numbers correct, an increase of a factor of .000025. That's pretty huge. For example, consider supernova SN 1987a. The distance to that beast was about 170,000 light years, or about 62050000 light days. .000025 of that distance is about 1500 days. Neutrinos from the supernova were detected a few hours before the light brightening was observed (which is consistent with popular models of supernova explosion, but that's a side issue). Note that: a few hours, not 4 years. That's close enough to simultaneous that I think we can safely peg neutrinos and anti-neutrinos of nuclear energy as moving at very nearly the speed of light.

The only way to make the Opera result work is if higher energy neutrinos move faster, or if neutrinos move faster in matter.

My guess is that this is a clock issue. Somewhere a clock's heartbeat is counting on the voltage upswing and something else is assuming the count is on the downswing, or something of that nature.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Another one bites the dust

This hasn't been a good season for bookstores. Borders went under (to tell the truth their selection hadn't been stellar the past few years) and this morning's paper said that Avols is merging/going online only. Avols has been a star among the second-hand book dealers in town for decades, and I've spent more than I ought there. They moved to a new and for me less convenient location, and their stock seemed spread thin in the large space.

But when Shakespeare's Books was forced off the square to become Browzers on State Street, I guess it came too close to Avols.

The report said Avols was merging facilities with A Room of One's Own and switching to online sales. A Room of One's Own is a feminist bookstore--sort of like a porn shop in that it sells creepy and soul-rotting stuff to a specialized clientelle. (Visiting it once was plenty.)

One less place to browse and discover...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Win a hand grenade for memorizing the Koran!

When I saw the BBC story telling that al-Shabab in Somalia gave AK-47's and hand grenades and cash as prizes in a regional contest of "Koran-recitation and general knowledge", my first inclination was to make some snarky remark wondering about connections between Islam and violence. But after thinking about it for 5 seconds I reconsidered.

This is Somalia. A machine gun for a 16-year-old would be a little weird in the USA, but not there. Here we'd offer a bike or a car as a prize--it is both useful and a status symbol. There, the AK-47 is the useful tool. I'd not care to wander Somalia without a selection of weapons, a flack jacket, and several people to watch my back. ("In previous years, when the competition was organized in the southern port of Kismayo, the first prize included an RPG.")

As the article also mentions in an afterthought, the winners also received religious books as part of the prize. So the prize for religious memorization was cash, religious books, and a handy local tool. Doesn't sound too crazy, does it? Although I'm not so sure about the hand grenades for third prize...

FWIW, The organizer made the Islam/violence connection themselves

"Youths should use one hand for education and the other for a gun to defend Islam," senior al-Shabab official Mukhtar Robow told the prize-giving ceremony in Elasha.

Lightly edited

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Orphans/Refugees/Titans of Chaos by J.C.Wright

On the strength of the earlier books I tried this trilogy.

Central issue: 5 youths of uncertain age in a mysterious magical/mechanical boarding school discover that they are not only not really human, but that they are effectively hostages in a universe in which the Greek gods are dominant. Sort of. The covers provide at least that much spoiler.

Wright has very effective descriptions of the gods and demi-gods, and a partitioning of the universes of magic that forms the background for the story. (Mechanical, shamanist, warlock, and multi-dimensional)

In the three volumes the youths grow into their suppressed natures--though they alternately act mature and immature in a sometimes inconsistent way. You'd expect people whose lives are in danger to stick together a little more...

Anyone with a modicum of classical education (as they have) would know not to attempt one of their escapades. It advances the plot, but left me with "who'd be dumb enough to go there?"

Their romantic entanglements are no doubt realistic enough, but I found it a bit annoying, and Colin is a bit much. And the penultimate battle felt a little over-the-top.

Parts of it are excellent. On the whole, I give it a "read it."


I heard the clip of his infamous remarks, with the context: a man whose wife had Alzheimer's was stepping out on her; a friend was calling for advice.

I typically ignore Robertson. He takes it on himself to explain what God means by current events, which is a prophet's office, without any credentials for the job.

This is a little hard to ignore. He sounded very passionate about the matter--as though he had some recent personal involvement with the disease. "gone, gone, gone!" Still, empathy is no excuse for jettisoning the truth and trying to void "better or worse" vows.

I don't know if this is something he's held all along, or if personal issues have clouded his judgment, or if perhaps his mind is failing too. His advice was incoherent enough that it may be the latter. Divorce but still provide for care?

I wonder how isolated he is in his organization. I pray he has a friend who can take him aside and tell him that's he's failing as a teacher, and has some public repentance to attend to.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"From a certain point of view"

Liberia recently scored unpleasantly high in the competition for "most corrupt country" (Somalia won the palm) and the President had some words to say about it. I know of no substantiated allegations against her, but her campaign to eliminate corruption apparently has only moved the country a few ranks better. From "All Africa's" report of a press release:

The President asserted that the maintenance of safe havens in Europe and the Americas where stolen resources are stashed need to be addressed by international partners. Bribery, she observed continues to be a menace because international corporations and private sector entities exploit the weakness of public officials.

Perhaps from a certain point of view the last sentence makes sense: suppose a waste disposal firm wants a place to dump stuff without question or oversight. But for the bulk of the people trying to work in Liberia, the statement seems a little backwards. I also rather doubt that most of the police or revenue agents maintain Swiss bank accounts.

Monday, September 12, 2011


Let's see: 447E9$ divided by 287E3$/job is 1.55M jobs for a year. And the cost is 447E9$ divided by 50E3$/job means 8.94M jobs unfunded for lack of money. Assuming the thing is paid for. ($50,000 was the median household income in 2006)

I ignore second-order effects, which are typically smaller. And I ignore the government overhead in the "job creation," which typically produces nothing but friction--no goods, no services, no security, no knowledge.


The arguments over IQ have been vicious, driven in part by an implicit assumption that more-intelligent=superior and less-intelligent=inferior. Which, when you think about it, is not really a defensible claim. Humans are more than just intelligences.

White racists creep out of the woodwork in the comments thread after a story about IQ and ethnicity. The PC shriekers come out too; and all in all bringing up the topic of IQ and ethnicity is to waltz into a minefield.

It is encouraging to see things like this. If their research is correct, infectious diseases of infants and young children are the strongest factors in depressing IQ. And surprise: the greatest incidence of infectious diseases of children is in Africa, where one finds the lowest average IQ. Is this the explanation? At least part of it. Nutrition plays a role too.

There are places where we can't do anything about these kinds of diseases: Somalia and North Korea come to mind. But there are places we can.

It isn't as easy as coughing up money for programs. It takes a lot of local buy-in and care and keeping government (theirs and ours) officers under the hairy eyeball. And malaria is a protean beast. And in the end disease fighting has to be driven by local demand using local resources.

There are plenty of black racists too, and AmerIndian, and Brahmin, and... I've met some. Around this neck of the woods white racists generally keep their heads down. Way down. And they don't get a lot of news play either. But you hear a lot of "evil white folks" talk in a university town.


I recognize myself. Yesterday I read a post applauding someone's 3 paragraphs on 9/11 and the church. The first paragraph begged for a fisking--nonsense on stilts, and self-aggrandizing to boot. The second and third were right on and exactly what I've said many times before. "Duty calls:" fisk and praise!

I know where that leads. I quit commenting on one site when a comment of mine was taken as too flip, and I realized I'd spent over an hour composing an explanation/justification. No more of that. On a few select sites, I'll put my oar in--but only a few. The world needs my wisdom a little more than it realizes, but much less than I think it does.

For those not familiar with it, XKCD is a popular online strip. Uneven, of course, but with enough nuggets to get it tacked up on bulletin boards everywhere I go.

I bit my tongue and didn't comment.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Commenting 10 years after

A few years back someone quoted an astonished stockbroker as saying that he hadn’t realized that the stock market could fall broadly. It hadn’t happened before in his career.

I’ve not had to search out 9/11 commentary. It turns up everywhere, and quite a bit of it is piffle. Pundits portentously write about "the day America lost its innocence" or "that changed the nation" or other grand statements. Since saying what everybody knows already doesn’t seem to warrant a pundit’s paycheck, they look for deeper meanings or twists and counter-intuitive conclusions: "Did Ben Laden win?" Short answer: No

A nation has no memory—it only has a history. People have memories, and many people watching the horrors had never seen war before—and for them it was a kind of loss of innocence. But not for the nation. It was not even close to the worst wartime calamity we’ve faced. The Civil War provides the stars for that prize hands down, and King Philip’s War is up pretty high on the list too (though technically we weren’t a nation at the time).

I am surprised how little has actually changed (except for air travel). Starting from the bizarre decision to cut taxes in the middle of a war and urging us to live normal consumer lives (or else the terrorists win), things go on as they have. No sacrifices were necessary, uniting against the enemy didn’t last very long among the political partisans, and nobody seemed to keep any strategy in mind.

The follow-up attacks mostly failed, except for the "Muslim starts shooting people" variety. There’s no striking animosity towards Muslims in the US.

Perhaps it is good that there’s not much change—I don’t want animosity towards Muslims, though I think suspicion of anything and anyone funded by the Saudis is in order. (Lobbyists and imams both) I don’t think we could maintain a fever pitch of excitement for as long as this war is likely to take. This is going to be a long war, with intermittent campaigns and attempts to use proxies. I expect us to be pretty much out of Afghanistan within the year. Nation building isn’t working very well and the Pakistanis outmaneuvered us. And Iraq should keep winding down. But that doesn’t mean the war’s over. This isn’t going to be a war of tanks and jets, except sporadically

But the absence of strategy is bad. We know what we want—not to be attacked by Muslim jihadists anymore—but not what needs to happen to achieve that. We snagged a lot of AlQaida, but it was only one instance. We scared the bejabbers out of a number of Muslim governments and from this distance it looks like they cracked down some, but that wasn’t going to last in any event, and the "Arab Spring" is reshaping governments in not always happy ways.

And there are still a couple of big holes in the ground in New York. Assume cleanup took a year: after 9 years we haven’t been able to make use of some prime real estate in one of the most important cities in the world. Something is broken here, and I don’t think it is Ben Laden’s doing.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

"Why Muslims are still mad at America"

Steven Kull uses the results of a 5-year study to go into some depth about a point I touched on seven years ago: A substantial part of the animosity is religious. They think we are anti-religious, and in particular anti-Islam.

We attribute goodness and part of our power to using a secular state; decoupling church and state. That is anathema to many Muslims all by itself, even without the aggressively anti-religious propaganda of recent years. And the philosophical underpinnings of our culture are from a particular religious framework inconsistent with Islam.

I haven't seen any signs that anybody in Washington gets the picture.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Ease of use

Youngest Son is a cadet in Civil Air Patrol. He told us tonight that so far driving a plane is easier than driving a car. (No takeoff/landings yet.)

40% with mental disorder?

Reuters proclaims today that Nearly 40 percent of Europeans suffer mental illness

Europeans are plagued by mental and neurological illnesses, with almost 165 million people or 38 percent of the population suffering each year from a brain disorder such as depression, anxiety, insomnia or dementia, according to a large new study.

With only about a third of cases receiving the therapy or medication needed, mental illnesses cause a huge economic and social burden -- measured in the hundreds of billions of euros -- as sufferers become too unwell to work and personal relationships break down.

"Mental disorders have become Europe's largest health challenge of the 21st century," the study's authors said.

Forgive me for being skeptical. Or don't forgive me; I'll live. The kindest thing I can say of this is that it is overstated: 38% disabled? The text doesn't actually doesn't say so.

Lumping insomnia and dementia together is dishonest. Insomnia is too common a condition, with too many benign causes, to be mentioned in the same breath with dementia.

I have seen before conflation of sadness with depression, and of normal worry with crippling anxiety--treating them as a spectrum and tagging them all with the name of an extreme. I judge that this work does the same. Given the quotations from the researchers, I suspect that much of the misrepresentation comes from them.

So who benefits from this scare piece? Read the article for one clue. The other beneficiary is Reuters. So maybe you shouldn't bother reading it.

Apropos of nothing

Is bacon grease a "sooie" sauce?

Yes, I used to live in Arkansas. How did you know?

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Mists of Everness by John C Wright

As I wrote earlier, I found the conclusion to The Last Guardian of Everness. This 2-book set is a fantasy novel with a few SF touches set in modern America. And because it is set in modern America you inevitably learn about the results of dragon/fighter jet battles. If that disconcerts you too much you won't like the book. I found it a bit disconcerting myself, not least because I think he overestimates the capacity of their weapon pods. And there are (also inevitably, and only obvious because of the American context) a few comments on the political scene--relevant to the story, though. And political or religious comment is par for the course in the genre; sometimes even overwhelming--yes, I'm talking about Katherine Kurtz.

The story mixes Oberon, Prometheus, fallen angels, Lovecraft and even a touch of Lewis and Wagner with Celtic legends and Freemasons of the USA and the Grail. Several of the characters start the second volume dead.

A gripe or three: The mouse intro is a huge tone change. I don't think he plays fair with the problem of the ring. The modern battles don't ring quite right. And the kelpies don't come off quite right either.

Recall that Everness is the border between real and dream--otherwise some things seem unmotivated. Acheron is rising (think R'lyeh meets Dis) and time is running out. Sound the horn for the end of the world, or not? Who is who, and what mythic figures are they presenting to the world?

My eldest would have probably figured out a few of the forgotten secret names quicker than I.

One measure of the quality of a story is: do you want to find out what happens next? I did. And I recognized myself in one of the characters.