Monthly Archives: June 2004

Fahrenheit 9/11

The opening of a Michael Moore film in Berkeley is like that of a Star Wars or Lord of the Rings movie anywhere else; most showings this weekend sold out, and when I went on Sunday afternoon I waited in a line that stretched around the corner at Kittredge and down Oxford St. At least two political organizations were handing out flyers (though I didn’t see East Bay for Kerry).
The film consists more or less of two sections; the first explores the Bush family’s relationship to Saudi Arabia and the bin Laden family, while the second looks at the Bush administration’s response to the 9/11 attacks, primarily the war in Afghanistan, the USA PATRIOT Act, and especially the war in Iraq. The first half is the weaker of the two: meandering, sometimes boring, with no real conspiratorial revelations. The thesis seems to be that Bush has such a collosal conflict of interest vis-a-vis Saudi Arabia that he cannot be trusted to take effective action against terrorists, but Moore does not argue this point very well. The second half, particularly the Iraq material, is better, and often very emotionally powerful (when Moore quits talking and just shows the footage). Throughout the film it’s clear that Moore’s strength is in selecting and arranging images for maximum impact, while his weaknesses are in the audio regime: a tendency to provide superfluous commentary, or cheesy music selections.
I’m not sure Fahrenheit 9/11 will change anybody’s mind, and I’m not sure I came away with any new information (the Bush/Saudi stuff is, after all, old news). On the other hand, the Iraq-related footage was valuable as a more emotional and humanized perspective on the war than I get from reading news on the internet. I recommend it for this, if nothing else.

The Confusion

I spent this morning finishing The Confusion, which was extremely good; Stephenson’s best since Snow Crash (though I haven’t read The Diamond Age). In fact the best reason to read Quicksilver is to have the background necessary to enjoy The Confusion. I suspect the upcoming and final book of the series will have less of the swashbuckling and chaotic action that Stephenson does so well (since the major players are quite a bit older than they were at the start of the saga), but I’m looking forward to it all the same.

Earplugs: Pros and Cons

Mark Kleiman extols the virtues of earplugs, primarily in the context of air travel (which seems like a good idea to me). I keep earplugs on hand at home, because even a small amount of ambient noise (especially if it’s irregular) will wake me up, or prevent me from falling asleep. (The range of conditions necessary for me to fall asleep is inconveniently very narrow. Fortunately I am at least immune to the sound of the BART train passing by.)
What Mark doesn’t mention is that while earplugs are excellent at reducing broadband, continuous noise–airplane engines, vacuum cleaners, the various pumps used to run a dilution refrigerator–they aren’t so good at packets of low-frequency noise: music with lots of bass, barking dogs, and often human voices. Mark advises,

Earplugs also come in handy in hotel rooms with thin walls, and on Saturday night if your neighbors share the widespread belief that the fun level is directly proportional to the noise level.

but in my experience earplugs offer only a little relief in situations like these. (In fact, the barking of the dog across the street from me, which begins every morning at dawn and continues unabated until sometime after I leave for work–or occasionally, as late as midnight–is fairly unattenuated by earplugs, to my infinite annoyance.) Ogged mentions noise-cancelling headphones, which might be better at blocking noise packets; due to the substantial price of such devices, I haven’t had occasion to test this.
(Mark also gets decibels wrong; 10 dB is a factor of ten in power and about three in amplitude, but it would be very pedantic for me to point this out.)

Notify the ONDCP.

Pleasure Receptor May Hold Key to Mother-Child Bond
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Pleasure receptors best known for helping the body respond to morphine and opium may also hold the key to mother-child bonding, scientists reported on Thursday.

The obvious conclusion here is that children are functionally equivalent to heroin and therefore should be banned. I hope to receive full support for this from those politicians dedicated to the War on Drugs.

Direct democracy in action

Berkeley continues to uphold its status as a world center for Purely Symbolic Government Action:

Berkeley, Calif., residents to vote on legalizing prostitution
Residents of this left-leaning city will have a chance to vote in November on whether they think prostitution should be a crime.
An advocacy group announced Wednesday it had gathered nearly 3,200 signatures, about 1,000 more than needed to get the initiative on the ballot.
The measure would have little more than symbolic value, since it wouldn’t undo laws against prostitution. But Robyn Few, head of the Sex Workers Outreach Project, said a win at the polls would send an important message.

I hesitate to make any endorsements related to this measure, as my position could leave me open to smart-ass remarks in the comments. However, since I’m not likely to move to Berkeley before November, I won’t have the opportunity to vote on it anyway.

Inflation strikes the caffeine supply

As a follow-up to this post, we have more evidence of inflation in Berkeley with the ballooning of the price of a 20 oz. soda from the Evans Hall Coke machine to $1.25. Taking the frequent selling-out of this particular vending machine as evidence that demand exceeded supply, this is perhaps not too surprising.
Some energetic graduate student should consider stocking the Clarke group fridge with soda purchased wholesale…

Crackpot spam!

One of the joys of membership in the physics community is that one’s inbox will occasionally collect unsolicited treatises on Why A Fundamental Element of Modern Physics Is Wrong. Today’s installment:

By re-analysing Heisenberg’s Gamma-Ray Microscope experiment and the ideal experiment from which the uncertainty principle is derived, it is actually found that the uncertainty principle can not be obtained from them. It is therefore found to be untenable.

The author goes on to explain the problems he perceives with a couple of uncertainty-principle-related gedanken experiments. The sad thing is not that his criticisms are faulty (though they are), but that these thought experiments are just examples used to illustrate the uncertainty principle — the principle doesn’t derive from the examples, but is a mathematical property of solutions to the Schrodinger equation. But I suppose if he understood quantum mechanics, he might be less inclined to spam the Berkeley physics department with objections to it…