Monthly Archives: January 2006

SOTU Liveblogging, 2006

Ok, the Dem response was better than last year’s, but still boring. I’m going back to physics. You can just wire that money directly over here, George.
He’s revised the Democratic slogan to “There’s a better way”. A little punchier, I guess.
The Pentagon is “sacred ground”?
Kaine’s going for a “nice reasonable bipartisan” thing.
Tim Kaine has the raised eyebrow thing going big-time.
On to the Democratic response, because I am a glutton for punishment.
C-SPAN commentator: “Well, the president’s certainly taking his time leaving the chamber…”
It’s over, cue music: “America…. America…. America! Fuck yeah!
Ok, I just missed a few minutes so I could talk to my advisor. What’s he talking about now? I caught something about embryos or something, was that stem cells? Grr. Ok, he’s on to corruption–wait, now it’s something else. Is he randomly jumping between topics or am I just confused?
More money for physics? Hey, thanks! Maybe this means our grant will get funded.
“Nukular” again. Well, at least he’s making reference to alternative energy. But ethanol costs more energy to produce than it ultimately provides. I’ll wait until I see how much money actually gets allocated to realistic projects.
“Congress did not act on my proposal to save Social Security” MASSIVE applause. Awesome.
Line item veto? He’s never even used the regular veto.
Yeah, better make the tax cuts permanent, otherwise those American families in the top 1% of income might get an unwelcome increase. Oh wait, he left out part of that too.
Hmm, I don’t think he’s going to mention that the job increases can be accounted for by public sector jobs. Especially just before he criticizes “the government taking a larger role”.
Seriously, has he even read the Constitution? I do not think it says what he thinks it says.
“RESPECT MAH AUTHORITAH.” If there are people inside our country talking to Al Qaeda, get a fucking warrant.
Mixed reaction from Congress in response to “PATRIOT Act”. Seem to recall that happened previously.
“Nukular”! Twice! (I was at a seminar last week where a physicist was saying this… it’s spreading.)
“Rule of law, protection of minorities, and strong accountable institutions” Hey, can we get some of that here?
“A duty to speak with candor” I think he takes that about as seriously as his Texas Air National Guard duty.
Here’s the part where criticism of the war is undermining the troops, or something.
Bush just gave a rousing argument against isolationism, delivering a stunning rebuttal to… the crazy guy on Telegraph Avenue. Seriously, who’s arguing for isolationism that it needed to be addressed? Keep kicking that straw man…
“Enemies of freedom”… there’s one! Oh, wait…

State of the Union: Unlimited Power edition

I usually watch the State of the Union address, and have liveblogged it in the past. I’m not sure I’ll be able to do it this year, without throwing things at the screen in a fit of rage. If the members of Congress had any respect for their offices, George W. Bush would be in prison, not standing at that podium.
Ok, I realize that I sound like the crazed anti-Clinton ranters of the ’90s. But the difference is that Clinton got a blowjob, while Bush has violated the law, the Fourth Amendment, and his oath of office, and has freely admitted to doing so while claiming that the president is above the law. In effect, he is claiming dictatorial powers for himself, which should by itself be reason for impeachment. Didn’t we fight a revolution over this?
Instead the Senate has confirmed to the Supreme Court a judge who agrees with Bush’s view of unconstrained executive power. I think Bush actually needs a couple more Alitos on the court before he can put on the crown, but in terms of dramatic timing he should totally go for the Emperor Palapatine acceptance speech tonight.
I’m guessing, however, that we’ll get really boring rhetoric about Health Savings Accounts, and probably some saber-rattling at Iran. Hence, I am thinking that I should keep my blood pressure down and just spend the hour reading Cute Overload or something. I can catch the highlights on the Daily Show later.
And while writing this I have learned that apparently Bush will try to position himself as pro-science, maybe even while keeping a straight face. Given Daniel Davies’ insight about the success of Bush administration policy initiatives, I think we’d prefer that he stay the hell away from science, thanks.

When there is nothing left to burn [Open Thread]

This was quite a relaxing weekend, but as a consequence nothing got accomplished. At least I will post the open thread on time!
Stars: Set Yourself On Fire: Back in the middle of last year I heard one of these songs on internet radio, and made a note to check out the whole album. However, I didn’t actually get around to this until a couple of weeks ago, which means I now have an update to make to one of my previous posts:
Favorite Albums of 2005 (Revised)
5. Architecture in Helsinki, In Case We Die
4. Stars, Set Yourself On Fire
3. The New Pornographers, Twin Cinema
2. Ladytron, Witching Hour
1. The Hold Steady, Separation Sunday
Stars are a Canadian band, with substantial overlap with Broken Social Scene, doing a boy/girl vocal thing reminiscent of the Delgados, only with more synth and violins. The result is spectacularly good. Beginning with the excellent opener “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead”, the first nine songs tell spare but evocative stories of relationships beginning and ending. “One More Night” and “Sleep Tonight” are especially good, and “The First Five Times” has been in my head all day. And if the album ended here it would already be a great record, but instead they follow up with three protest songs: the angry “He Lied About Death”, the mournful “Celebration Guns” (which is my new favorite anti-war song) and the optimistic “Soft Revolution”. And finally they cap it off with “Calendar Girl”, a song about mortality and loneliness that manages to be hopeful and, like all the previous songs, beautiful. Definitely recommended.
Fortuitously, Stars are playing the Fillmore in about two weeks (on the 10th), so I will be reporting on their live show shortly after that.

David Goodstein hits the Grim Meathook Lecture Circuit

Doug Natelson (via Mixed States) comments on a talk by Caltech prof David Goodstein. Goodstein is mostly known for bad physics puns, but is now brandishing a meathook and predicting the imminent end of civilization. Apparently he’s written a book, Out of Gas, on the increasingly frightening subject of peak oil. Anyone know if the book is any good? I’m tempted to check it out, assuming he’s foregone the puns this time.

Mixed feelings on the Bible in schools

I totally don’t know how to react to this NYT article: Democrats in 2 Southern States Push Bills on Bible Study

WASHINGTON, Jan. 26 — Democrats in Georgia and Alabama, borrowing an idea usually advanced by conservative Republicans, are promoting Bible classes in the public schools. Their Republican opponents are in turn denouncing them as “pharisees,” a favorite term of liberals for politicians who exploit religion.

On the one hand, I don’t have a problem with teaching the Bible from a secular standpoint in the context of its influence on Western literature, and if the article is accurate that’s what these bills are proposing. I had a similar textbook my senior year at a public high school, although it wasn’t the focus of the course, and it seemed like a worthwhile academic endeavour despite the fact that I had already developed my negative views of religion by that point. The fact is that a huge amount of literature contains Biblical references and it’s important to understand them from a cultural literacy standpoint.
On the other hand, the Democrats pushing these bills are obviously pandering to theocratic Christians who want to see more state promotion of religion, and are just being clever by doing this in a constitutional way. Pandering to these sorts of people, or giving them any political influence at all, is bad on general principles. These bills themselves may be good policy, but if they’re a big hit with the bible-thumpers I worry about what these legislators will do next.
On the third hand, Republican hypocrisy on this issue is completely hilarious:

“Their proposal makes them modern-day pharisees,” State Senator Eric Johnson of Georgia, the Republican leader from Savannah, said in a statement. “This is election-year pandering using voters’ deepest beliefs as a tool.”

I know! Don’t you hate it when politicians do that?

Saying he found “a little irony” in the fact that the Democratic sponsors had voted against a Republican proposal for a Bible course six years ago, Mr. Johnson added, “It should also be noted that the so-called Bible bill doesn’t use the Bible as the textbook, and would allow teachers with no belief at all in the Bible to teach the course.”

Johnson seems to believe that these are arguments against the bill, rather than reasons why it’s within shouting distance of actually being constitutional.
Then it turns out that the origins of the textbook are slightly sketchy:

The textbook they endorse was the brainchild of Chuck Stetson, a New York investment manager and theologically conservative Episcopalian who says he was concerned about public ignorance of the Bible.

The textbook came to the attention of Democratic legislators in Alabama and Georgia through the advocacy of R. Randolph Brinson, a Republican and founder of the evangelical voter-registration group Redeem the Vote.
Mr. Brinson, who said he was working with legislators in other states as well, described his pitch to Democrats as, “Introducing this bill will show the evangelical world that they are not hostile to faith.”
Some liberals are unhappy, however. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, argued that “The Bible and Its Influence” was “problematic” because it omitted “the bad and the ugly uses of the Bible,” like the invocation of Scripture to justify racial segregation.

Timeo Danaos et dona ferentis.

Experimenting on my own software

On the software I use to run our qubit experiments, there is a checkbox labeled “Inverted Pulses”. Two or possibly three years ago I added this feature to the software, so that the option is available to operate our readout scheme under the opposite electrical polarity. Normally our readout pulses go to positive voltage, but occasionally it is interesting to see what happens with negative voltage pulses. Ideally the behavior should be completely symmetric, but in practice there are asymmetries that should generate different results.
But when I say “occasionally” I mean very occasionally; to the best of my recollection I used this feature for a couple of days after I installed it, and then never checked the box again. In the meantime I have added many other features to the increasingly bloated software, without caring very much whether they were compatible with the rarely-used inverted pulses. Of course, this has all come back to haunt me now that I again want to reverse the polarity on the readout pulses, and am faced with the question: Does the “Inverted Pulses” box still work?
After some testing it’s clear that the answer is “no”, and furthermore it’s not obvious why it ever worked. (The crucial command to the instrument contained a syntax error!) Or maybe it didn’t ever work and I had forgotten this, or it was one of those pieces of software I wrote anticipating a potential experiment and then never actually used. I seem to have fixed the bugs, but there are still some quirks in the startup sequence that should probably be ironed out…
(Since my former CS 1 TA reads this, I will remark that these problems could be avoided with properly documented and tested code. Ha! Unfortunately, the culture of experimental physics does not value properly documented and tested code. The culture of experimental physics values code which can be produced five minutes after a postdoc says, “Wouldn’t it be interesting to try [a complicated new pulse sequence while sweeping over three separate parameters]?” And so three years later I’m looking at my own software wondering what the hell that switch does.)

Don’t look back [Open Thread]

With my first weekend at home since mid-December (I was otherwise in lab or out of town), I was faced with a monumental cleanup task. I’m pleased to say that I got ten, maybe fifteen percent of it done. Sure would be nice if I had floor tiles. But at least I got my rug back (it needed to be cleaned after the flood). That rug really tied the room together.
Belle & Sebastian: If You’re Feeling Sinister: Live At The Barbican: I mentioned in the Essential 90’s Albums post that the studio version of this is my current favorite album from that decade. It was only after I posted that that I went on iTunes and picked up this live version. (I don’t normally buy from iTunes but that’s the only place to get this particular recording.) This show was a charity concert (I think as part of the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival?) in which Belle & Sebastian played through every track on their second album, in order. Supposedly this was meant to supplant the original studio album, which was not a high-quality recording. It’s hard to imagine how a live performance could be suitable for this, but now that I’ve heard it I can understand. Most of the songs come through with more power and more polish, and it’s nice to hear them in the hands of a more matured band. (Also, the sounds of children in the background of the title track on the studio version always annoyed me.) Some of the tracks I was less fond of in the original receive a serious boost: “Stars of Track and Field” and “Me and the Major” in particular; meanwhile most of my favorites sound awesome. “Like Dylan in the Movies” comes out the best here, followed closely by “Judy and the Dream of Horses”. On the other hand, “The Fox in the Snow” really should sound thin and forlorn the way it does in the studio version, and doesn’t quite have the same effect here. But apart from that it’s a terrific take on this material, and I’d recommend it regardless of whether you’ve heard the studio version.
On a related note, Belle & Sebastian will be touring in the U.S. starting in February, and the New Pornographers will be opening for them. If you’ve ever clicked on my Last.fm profile you may have noticed that these are my two most-played bands, so needless to say I already have my ticket. Tickets went on sale for west coast venues this weekend; here’s the tour information.