Joe Biden for VP

Biden Over the last thirty-four years, Senator Biden has shown prescience and leadership on the most critical issues facing Delaware and our country. From his instrumental role in passing the bipartisan initiative to create a Commission on Civil Rights in 1983, to introducing the 1986 Global Climate Protection Act, to establishing an annual National Mammography Awareness Day, and to authoring the Rail and Security Act of 2007to regulate the transportation of hazardous materials on American railways, Senator Biden consistently works to tackle America’s toughest challenges.

Senator Biden grew up in New Castle County, Delaware. He graduated from the University of Delaware in 1965, and from the Syracuse University College of Law in 1968. Prior to his election to the Senate, Biden practiced law in Wilmington, Delaware and served on the New Castle County Council from 1970 to 1972. Since 1991, Biden has been an adjunct professor at the Widener University School of Law, where he teaches a seminar on constitutional law. He is a proud graduate of Archmere Academy, class of 1961. Senator Biden lives in Wilmington, Delaware and commutes to Washington, DC when the Senate is in session. He is married to Dr. Jill Biden, the former Jill Jacobs, an educator in Delaware’s schools for over twenty years. She currently is a professor teaching at Delaware Technical Community College. Senator Biden is the father of three children:

More here.

Saturday Poem



Chase Twitchell


What etiquette holds us back

from more intimate speech,

especially now, at the end of the world?

Can’t we begin a conversation

here in the vestibule,

then gradually move it inside?

What holds us back

from saying things outright?

We’ve killed the earth.

Yet we speak of other things.

Our words should cauterize

all wounds to the truth.


The Economist hosts a debate on whether existing technologies can solve our energy problems

Moderator’s opening statement:

Screenhunter_12_aug_23_1033The formal proposition put forward for debate is this:

“This house believes that we can solve our energy problems with existing technologies today, without the need for breakthrough innovations.”

Joseph Romm lays out the argument in favour of the proposition forcefully. He points to various evidence, including the work of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), to conclude that a climate crisis is looming. This, he argues, means the world “must deploy staggering amounts of low-carbon energy technology as rapidly as possible.” This means government policy must not be distracted by the slow, if sexy, process of technology development. He insists that policy must focus on the speedy deployment of the many clean technologies we already have ready or close to commercialisation.

Taken at face value, the Con side does not disagree with the notion that a great deal of low-carbon technology needs to be deployed. Peter Meisen opens his argument by invoking President George Bush’s famous line about the world being “addicted to oil” and acknowledging the climate problem, and goes on to cite various forms of renewable energy that can help. He even appears to agree with the side opposite that the key is “scale and speed.” However, he goes on to cite examples ranging from Iceland’s embrace of geothermal over coal generation to rural villages leapfrogging to micro-wind and solar that make clear he believes in the need for entirely new innovations. A “design science revolution” is required, he insists, but it is possible now because “emergencies help us focus.”

More here.

Olympic Inflation

William Saletan in Slate:

Can we please stop fussing over every new Olympic record?

A new record means that an athlete using today’s equipment outperformed an athlete using yesterday’s equipment. It’s not a fair fight.

In swimming alone, today’s advantages include:

080813_hn_phelpstn1. LZR Racer suit. It reduces friction (compared with skin) and is structurally designed to compress and streamline the body for maximum speed. Estimated drag reduction: 5 percent to 10 percent. Estimated average improvement in top swimmers’ best times: 2 percent. Designed by NASA scientists and computers, among others. Cost: $500.

2. Pool depth. This is the deepest pool ever used in the Olympics. Depth disperses turbulence, reducing resistance.

3. Pool width and gutters. Two extra lanes at the margins disperse waves to gutters, reducing ricochet and resistance.

4. Lane dividers. The plastic ones in Beijing deflect turbulence down instead of sideways, reducing resistance.

5. Starting blocks. Nonskid versions have replaced the old wooden ones, boosting dive propulsion.

6. Video. Recordings and analysis identify target variables such as stroke distance and turns.

7. Medical tests. Swimmers are blood-tested after each race to measure lactic-acid buildup.

8. Sports scientists. They run the monitoring and analysis. The U.S. swim team has four.

More here.

The genius of the new gymnastics scoring system

Jordan Ellenberg in Slate:

Screenhunter_11_aug_23_0946Olympic gymnastics has a new scoring system, and not everyone’s happy with the departure of the famous 10-point scale. “It’s crazy, terrible, the stupidest thing that ever happened to the sport of gymnastics,” wailed excitable supercoach Bela Karolyi in the New York Times. “How could they take away this beautiful, this most perfect thing from us, the one thing that separated our sport from the others?”

What exactly is Karolyi kvetching about? This year, competitors get two scores, each from its own panel of judges. The “A” score measures the difficulty of the routine. A relatively easy move like a one-handed cartwheel on the balance beam adds 0.1 to your A score, while bringing off the astonishing Arabian double front layout rakes in 0.7. (And no, you can’t inflate your score by doing 10 cartwheels in a row; only the 10 most difficult elements are counted, and repeated elements don’t count at all.) Performing two or more elements in close succession tacks on “connection value” of up to 0.2 points per transition. The way to max out your A score, then, is to cram the toughest possible moves into your routine and pack them as tightly together as you can manage.

More here.

The Theory That Ate the World

George Johnson in the New York Times Book Review:

Screenhunter_10_aug_23_0938In his new book, “The Black Hole War: My Battle With Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics,” [Leonard] Susskind’s cosmos gets even weirder. Black holes already seemed scary enough, with their ability to swallow everything, including light. For a while, we learn, physicists were faced with the possibility that these cosmic vortexes might also be eaters of order, sucking up and destroying information. Like the Echthroi, the evil demons of entropy in Madeleine L’Engle’s novel “A Wind in the Door,” black holes might be chomping their way through the universe, ploughing sense into nonsense.

The story of how Susskind and a colleague, the Dutch physicist Gerard ’t Hooft, disproved (or at least undermined) the theory begins in 1983 at a San Francisco mansion owned by, of all people, Werner Erhard, the New Age entrepreneur who had made his fortune with a profitable cult called EST. Erhard, we’re told, was also a “physics groupie,” and he presided over salons in which some of the world’s great theorists came to butt minds.

The trouble began when Stephen Hawking made an astonishing prediction about what happens when information — a book, a painting, a musical recording or any pattern of matter or energy — falls into a black hole. Earlier, Hawking had proved that black holes eventually evaporate — at which point, he now claimed, everything inside them disappears from the universe.

That might not sound like such a big deal. Just find another copy of whatever was lost. But that, Susskind realized, was not the point. Among the fundamentals of physics is that information must always be conserved.

More here.

China: Humiliation & the Olympics

Orville Schell in the New York Review of Books:

Screenhunter_09_aug_23_0928On a snowy winter day in 1991, Lu Gang, a slightly built Chinese scholar who had recently received his Ph.D. in plasma physics, walked into a seminar room at the University of Iowa’s Van Allen Hall, raised a snub-nose .38-caliber Taurus pistol, and killed Professor Christoph Goertz, his thesis adviser; Robert A. Smith, a member of his dissertation committee; and Shan Linhua, a fellow Chinese graduate student and his rival.

Next, Lu went to the office of the chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Dwight R. Nicholson, who was also on his dissertation committee, and fired three more fatal shots. Then, he walked over to Jessup Hall and demanded to see T. Anne Cleary, associate vice-president for academic affairs. When she emerged from her office, he killed her and then shot and maimed her twenty-three-year-old assistant. Finally, in an empty conference room, Lu raised the pistol to his head and killed himself.

Why a brilliant, hard-working young Chinese physicist, who had come to the US six years earlier filled with pride and hope, had come to such a bitter end is the subject of Dark Matter, a recently released feature film by Chinese-born director Chen Shi-Zheng. It stars Liu Ye as the initially idealistic and ambitious, then humiliated and enraged, protagonist (named Liu Xing in the film); Aidan Quinn as Liu’s arrogant faculty adviser (playing Christoph Goertz); and Meryl Streep as a kind, if naive, patron of the university who befriends Chinese students.

More here.

I am the great lion of the day


If the spirit of Joseph Mallord William Turner is looking down on New York these days — possibly from somewhere in the vicinity of the sun, which in his dying days he declared to be God — he must have very mixed feelings. He would be satisfied to see that the show of the season is the Metropolitan Museum’s giant exhibition of his work — satisfied, but not surprised.

During his immensely productive lifetime (1775-1851), Turner was confident that he would be remembered as one of the greatest painters who ever lived: “I am the real lion. I am the great lion of the day,” he was known to boast when in his cups. The artist who left his work to the English people, but only “provided that a room or rooms are added to the present National Gallery to be called when erected ‘Turner’s Gallery,'” would find the Met’s 140-picture show no more than his due.

What would not please Turner is the surprisingly unfriendly reaction of the New York press to the show.

more from the NY Sun here.



As every woman knows, men with mother issues are seriously dangerous. In the early- to mid-20th century, there was a group of such men that decided it could revolutionize the way mothers raise their children. First of all, stop kissing them — lord knows what germs you’re passing on. And really, just put them in this box that B.F. Skinner calls a “baby tender,” throw some toys in there, and they’ll be fine. Don’t pick them up when they cry, and don’t play with them — they have to toughen up some day. While the baby tender failed to catch on outside Skinner’s own family, parenting guides and doctors were telling new mothers that too much affection would weaken their children both physically and emotionally.

Luckily for the world, their reign was short. Harry Harlow arrived on the scene with a smattering of his own mother issues. He became interested in studying the importance of the relationship between infant and mother, possibly because he thought he had been pushed aside as his own parents cared for his ill brother.

more from the Smart Set here.

How impostors like Clark Rockefeller capture our trust


Drake Bennett in the Boston Globe:

Lots of people trusted Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter. At least two women married him – though they each knew him by a different name. The members of elite social clubs in San Marino, Calif.; Greenwich, Conn.; and here in Boston embraced him and vouched for him. A series of investment firms offered him jobs as a stockbroker and bond salesman, even a vice president, despite his lack of credentials, experience, and, as quickly became clear, his at best rudimentary knowledge of finance. And over the last decade or so, neighbors and acquaintances have believed that he was Clark Rockefeller, a retiring, somewhat aloof man who implied, but never came out and said, that he was an heir to the Standard Oil fortune.

As he sits in a Boston jail cell, and police try to unravel the tangled trail he’s left since coming to the United States from Germany 30 years ago, the question the rest of us are left with is how he got away with it for as long as he did. How could the people he befriended – and, in at least two cases, married – believe his fantastical stories?

The answer is that you probably would, too. Human beings are social animals, and our first instinct is to trust others. Con men, of course, have long known this – their craft consists largely of playing on this predilection, and turning it to their advantage.

But recently, behavioral scientists have also begun to unravel the inner workings of trust.

More here.

Friday Poem

The Fish
Elizabeth Bishop

I caught a tremendous fishPerson_poet_elizabeth_bishop

and held him beside the boat

half out of water, with my hook

fast in a corner of its mouth.

He didn’t fight.

He hadn’t fought at all.

He hung a grunting weight,

battered and venerable

and homely. Here and there

his brown skin hung in strips

like ancient wallpaper,

and its pattern of darker brown

was like wallpaper:

shapes like full-blown roses

stained and lost through age.

He was speckled with barnacles,

fine rosettes of lime,

and infested

with tiny white sea-lice,

and underneath two or three

rags of green weed hung down.

While his gills were breathing in

the terrible oxygen

— the frightening gills,

fresh and crisp with blood,

that can cut so badly —

I thought of the coarse white flesh

packed in like feathers,

the big bones and the little bones,

the dramatic reds and blacks

of his shiny entrails,

and the pink swim-bladder

like a big peony.

I looked into his eyes

which were far larger than mine

but shallower, and yellowed,

the irises backed and packed

with tarnished tinfoil

seen through the lenses

of old scratched isinglass.

They shifted a little, but not

to return my stare.

— It was more like the tipping

of an object toward the light.

I admired his sullen face,

the mechanism of his jaw,

and then I saw

that from his lower lip

— if you could call it a lip —

grim, wet, and weaponlike,

hung five old pieces of fish-line,

or four and a wire leader

with the swivel still attached,

with all their five big hooks

grown firmly in his mouth.

A green line, frayed at the end

where he broke it, two heavier lines,

and a fine black thread

still crimped from the strain and snap

when it broke and he got away.

Like medals with their ribbons

frayed and wavering,

a five-haired beard of wisdom

trailing from his aching jaw.

I stared and stared

and victory filled up

the little rented boat,

from the pool of bilge

where oil had spread a rainbow

around the rusted engine

to the bailer rusted orange,

the sun-cracked thwarts,

the oarlocks on their strings,

the gunnels — until everything

was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!

And I let the fish go.


How Puzzling Stars Formed near Galactic Black Hole

From Scientific American:

Star Researchers say they have figured out how a mysterious clutch of massive stars could have come into existence a few trillion miles from the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. This group of stars—about 100 of them in an elongated disk—has posed a challenge to theories of star formation, which predict that stars emerge when clouds of hydrogen molecules coalesce under their collective gravitational attraction.

The gravity around a supermassive black hole weighing millions of times more than the sun should have shredded such a cloud like paint dropped on an eggbeater before it got a chance to make stars. To address the mystery, researchers from the University of St. Andrews and the University of Edinburgh, both in Scotland, simulated the fate of a hydrogen cloud as massive as 10,000 suns that suddenly wafted near a black hole. They found that although much of the cloud would splatter [see image], shock waves and other turbulence would drain the inner 10 percent of angular momentum, causing it to take up orbit around the black hole and giving time for stars to form.

More here.

The end of illusions?


The Soviet Union’s invasion of Prague on 21 August 1968 and subsequent developments are now mostly presented in terms of nostalgic memories or dramatic documentaries, while the ideological battle raging over its ruins tells us more about the present state of society than about what happened in 1968.

For the strongest critics, the effort to build “socialism with human face” was either an insincere gesture or a naive attempt to square the circle. For them, the entire period from 1948 to 1989 was not a complex and divided era, but one continuous “totalitarian regime” to which 1968 and the decade as whole was no exception.

more from Eurozine here.

Day-Glo comic book disembowelments


In spite of the fact that painterPeter Saul has spent the bulk of his 50-year career pissing off (and on) the art world — along with pretty much every other enclave of pedestal-dwelling sacred cows imaginable — it’s still hard to wrap one’s head around the fact that his current retrospective is only his third ever in the U.S., is his largest ever, and is taking place in, of all places, Orange County. Saul has always received the support of insiders like show organizer Dan Cameron (New Museum, Artforum) and catalog essayist Robert Storr (dean of Yale’s art school), yet his content remains so controversial that the only art centers willing to host this show are Philadelphia, New Orleans and Newport Beach. Not that the OC isn’t host to numerous hot pockets of artistic activity, nor would many of Saul’s more extravagant grotesques seem out of place on Real Housewives — I mean as characters, not on the wall.

more from the LA Weekly here.

Superheroes for Sale


David Bordwell on The Dark Knight (via Crooked Timber):

More superhero movies after 2002, you say? Obviously 9/11 so traumatized us that we feel a yearning for superheroes to protect us. Our old friend the zeitgeist furnishes an explanation. Every popular movie can be read as taking the pulse of the public mood or the national unconscious.

I’ve argued against zeitgeist readings in Poetics of Cinema…

Wait, somebody will reply, The Dark Knight is a special case! Nolan and his collaborators have strewn the film with references to post-9/11 policies about torture and surveillance. What, though, is the film saying about those policies? The blogosphere is already ablaze with discussions of whether the film supports or criticizes Bush’s White House. And the Editorial Board of the good, gray Times has noticed:

It does not take a lot of imagination to see the new Batman movie that is setting box office records, The Dark Knight, as something of a commentary on the war on terror.

You said it! Takes no imagination at all. But what is the commentary? The Board decides that the water is murky, that some elements of the movie line up on one side, some on the other. The result: “Societies get the heroes they deserve,” which is virtually a line from the movie…

…Hollywood movies are usually strategically ambiguous about politics. You can read them in a lot of different ways, and that ambivalence is more or less deliberate.

A Hollywood film tends to pose sharp moral polarities and then fuzz or fudge or rush past settling them. For instance, take The Bourne Ultimatum: Yes, the espionage system is corrupt, but there is one honorable agent who will leak the information, and the press will expose it all, and the malefactors will be jailed. This tactic hasn’t had a great track record in real life.

The Late Charles Tilly’s Credit and Blame

Star190 Cosma seems to be on a Tilly kick, observing “As usual with Tilly, he draws on a huge range of historical sources, in an impressive display of erudition and clear thinking. Also as usual with Tilly, one does not get a comprehensive theory, but perhaps this is the sort of material where such a theory isn’t really possible, and the best one can hope for is a catalog of recurring mechanisms.”  That’s what I always liked about him.  Alexander Star in the NYT:

Two years ago, the sociologist Charles Tilly, who died this spring at the age of 78, published “Why?,” a slim volume examining our compulsive drive to give reasons for what we do. Explaining, he stressed, is a social art; what counts as a good reason always depends on the relationship between who’s giving the reason and who’s taking it. If you spill a glass of wine on a stranger, you might shrug it off with a conventional remark like “I’m a klutz.” If you spill a glass of wine on your wife, you are more apt to tell a story: “I was feeling nervous because of the bills.” It’s one thing to give someone a bad explanation. It’s even worse to give the wrong kind of explanation. If you expect your doctor to give you a technical account of your illness and you receive a cliché instead, you feel you are not being taken seriously.

In “Credit and Blame,” Tilly looks just as closely at our most ethically freighted explanations. When something happens that alters our environment for the better or for the worse, we are rarely content simply to say, “Oh well, those are the breaks,” or “I suppose I got lucky this time.” Instead, we leap at the chance to deem someone — anyone — responsible. We blame our parents when we are unhappy, and credit them for their sacrifices when they die. Thanking friends and family at the Academy Awards ceremony may be, as another sociologist has written, “the ultimate American fantasy” of giving credit, while winning a lawsuit against a local polluter may be the ultimate fantasy of affixing blame.

But how do we do this?

Green Revolution 2.0

Greenrev_body Maywa Montenegro in Seed:

The past six months have brought scenes from a hungry apocalypse, as at least 14 countries have been wracked by food-related violence. By mid-April UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon acknowledged that “the steeply rising price of food has developed into a real global crisis.”
It’s the product, economists say, of multiple factors: high oil prices, prolonged drought, biofuel production, and burgeoning meat consumption. In the short term, food aid will help. In the medium term, market-distorting trade tariffs and farm subsidies must end. But the long-term task is monumentally harder: transcending the limits of today’s global food production.

The Green Revolution of the 20th century more than doubled the global supply of corn, rice, and wheat. Unless crop yields increase again, however, feeding the Earth’s 9.2 billion inhabitants in 2050 will require doubling the amount of land now under cultivation. There’s a gathering consensus that a new Green Revolution is needed — one that in addition to producing higher yields, is environmentally responsible and spurs economic growth in the developing world. Biotechnology, most scientists agree, must play a crucial role. But biotech, and genetic modification (GM) in particular, still faces profound public skepticism. As symptoms of an ailing food economy erupt around the world, breaking this impasse is more vital than ever. Doing so requires reimagining the tools of GM — how, where, and by whom they are invented, implemented, and sold.

Predicting the Votes of the Undecided

Eurekalert points to up and coming research on how to forecast the votes of the undecided:

Using subjects in Vicenza, Italy, where article co-authors Silvia Galdi and Luciano Arcuri reside, the researchers interviewed 129 residents about the impending enlargement of a U.S. military base in their community. The plans were controversial, and media reports showed strong polarization among residents.

The researchers interviewed each subject twice, one week apart. Each time the participants were first asked if they were ‘pro,’ ‘con’ or ‘undecided’ about the expansion. They then were asked to answer questions about their beliefs on environmental, political, economic and other consequences of the enlargement of the base. Finally, they were given a computer-based latency test of automatic mental associations, in which they were asked to categorize pictures of the base, and positive and negative words as quickly as possible. The full questioning and testing was performed a second time a week later. Automatic associations that undecided participants revealed in the first round significantly predicted their conscious beliefs and preferences as expressed in the second round.

In other words, the researchers could predict future choices of participants who were still undecided in the first session.

Gawronski says, “This kind of testing has many applications, but certainly political polling at election time would be one. It can’t give answers to all questions, but it could certainly help pollsters to get more information than people now share.”

Then and Now

Alexander_solzhenit_378414b Nicholas Bethell’s 1963 review of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich in TLS:

In the Soviet Union it is in the literary periodicals that signs of change, innovation or originality are most often detected, but it is rare indeed to find together two works of such interest as those in the November number of Novy Mir.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksander Solzhenitsyn is a sixty-six page novella, written apparently some time ago and stored away in a bottom drawer in the hope that one day it could be printed. As Mr. Tvardovsky, in a combined introduction and apologia for the story, somewhat unnecessarily tells us, “the subject matter on which A. Solzhenitsyn’s novel is based is unusual in Soviet literature”. Unusual it certainly is, being an account of life in a postwar “correc-tive labour camp” in Siberia. Apart from its literary merit the documentary interest of the story must be immense; these camps have been much discussed and much described, but hitherto the truth has been dulled in most westerners’ minds by a feeling that everybody has some axe to grind. It has been assumed that the Russian refugee will exaggerate and that the Russian communist will minimize. Now, incredibly, these two are on common ground and it turns out that there has been little exaggeration; it would, in this case, be almost impossible.