Tuesday, August 24, 2004

The deficit

Dan Drezner is singing the deficit blues - 'tis sad but true.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Good news from OSHA

The Washington Post has an in-depth article on OSHA under the Bush administration. Here are my favorite excerpts:
In the past 3 1/2 years, OSHA, the branch of the Labor Department in charge of workers' well-being, has eliminated nearly five times as many pending standards as it has completed. It has not started any major new health or safety rules, setting Bush apart from the previous three presidents, including Ronald Reagan.
Since the younger Bush took office, federal agencies have begun roughly one-quarter fewer rules than Clinton and 13 percent fewer than Bush's father during comparable periods.
John D. Graham, who holds the same job [deputy budget director for information and regulatory affairs] in the Bush White House, said regulations are "a form of unfunded mandate that the federal government imposes on the private sector or on state or local governments."
A few months later, Graham, the White House's top regulatory official, was alerting agencies that they would face closer scrutiny from the OMB when they proposed new rules. The day after he was confirmed by the Senate, he sent the first of 14 letters to agencies saying they had failed to prove the need for regulations they had proposed. That was more than had been sent during Clinton's eight years.
At OSHA, The Post's analysis found, the rules the agency has proposed are narrower than most of those it has eliminated. Thirteen of the 24 proposals it has canceled since Bush took office fall into a category the government classifies as "economically significant," meaning they would cost or save the economy at least $100 million. None of the 16 standards OSHA has proposed during that time falls in that group.
This stuff is pocket change next to Bush's expansion of Medicare, but I think I'd better savor this good news before reverting to my usual state, pining for seemingly unreachable ideals like leaving intrastate workplace regulations to the states, Tenth-Amendment-style.

Najaf again

After my previous post, I think it only fair to mention that the Iraqi government apparently wants its troops to carry out the final assault in Najaf, which is actually a good idea if (and this is a big "if") their troops are up to it and the Iraqi leaders aren't going to chicken out.

Saturday, August 14, 2004


I can't say it better than this Cox & Forkum cartoon. (Thanks to the Belmont Club for the link and usual quality commentary.)


Time flies: in just eight days, I'll be flying to Madison and grad school. I didn't get as much research done over the summer as I'd like, though I did better than I feared. Regardless, I've had a great time with my family. Just three days ago I introduced my sisters Anne and Julie to Quake II, and now Julie is as good as me. (I'm not that good, at least compared to the folks I've played with at MIT.) Still, it feels like it wasn't that long ago that I was just arriving here. Indeed, it doesn't feel like it was that long ago that I was a freshman watching movies in MIT lectures halls with my old pals.

All right, enough of this self-indulgent sentimentalism. Let's move on to my self-indulgent habit of reading opinion on the internet. Here's a thoughtful Slate piece on racsim. And this longer Policy Review article speculates on the future of terrorism. It's got lots of good thoughts, but it doesn't have the specificity I found here.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Here we go again

Talk about brazen! Who do these Iranians think they are? North Korea?

Quantum gravity

More quantum blogging: Over the past few days, I've finally bitten the bullet and starting reading (big pdf) about loop quantum gravity, the major alternative to string theory in the quest to unify quantum physics and general relativity. I've been a fan of string theory for over a year now, but now I think I've found something better.

Back when I was taking a string theory class in 2003, I learned that the way to quantize gravity was to treat the curvature of spacetime it causes as a pertubation of flat spacetime and then quantize that. In the context of string theory, this procedure nicely gives you gravitons and such. (In the conventional quantum field theory, trying this gives all sorts of nasty infinities, hence the need for something like string theory or loop quantum gravity.) The problem with this, which hadn't really registered with me until now, is that this doesn't take general relativity seriously. GR says there is no preferred coordinate system, flat or curved. Period.

Loop quantum gravity takes what I think is the right approach. Coordinate invariance is assumed from the start. The cost is that a lot of mathematical tools from conventional quantum field theory no longer work; one is left with a "bare-bones" version of the quantum formalism. Although I've got a lot more reading to do and limited leisure time for such reading, I've already learned some of the interesting things that the loop quantum gravity researchers have managed to predict after slogging through the math. For instance, the spacetime is a quantum superposition of discrete objects at the Planck scale. Just as molecules have discrete emissions spectra, "regions" of space have discrete volume spectra. In contrast, string theory and conventional quantum field theory assume a continuous spacetime at all scales.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Multilateral dreams

An unsurprising LAT article: European diplomats are already expressing concerning that Kerry's expectations of additional European troops in Iraq are unrealistic. Meanwhile, "Senior Iraqi officials told U.S. officials this summer that they opposed the idea of bringing in additional troops from any foreign country."

Quantum lawyers

More on the Afshar experiment: John Cramer makes the case against the Copenhagen and many-worlds interpretations.
I predict that a new generation of "Quantum Lawyers" will begin to populate the physics literature with arguments challenging what "is" is and claming that the wounded interpretations never said that interference should be completely absent in a quantum which-way measurement.
I'll reserve judgement until I've listened to some of these quantum lawyers.

Quantum mechanics interpreted

I've long been one of those folks just not satisfied with the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. It's too positivist; essentially claiming that all there is is correlations of measurements. I can't accept that. There is something out there, whether it be particles, waves, or very tiny gnomes. The other thing I don't like about it is the postulated mysterious "collapse" of wave functions, which I have never found more plausible than saying, "It's magic."

What stands between me and a better interpretation? Bell's inequality, and the experimentally verified violations thereof. I won't go into the definition of Bell's inequality here. The violations of Bell's prove that the two following principles cannot simultaneously be true.

(1) Locality. Nothing physical can propagate faster than speed of light. Using a little bit of relativity, one can show locality is equivalent to the even more plausible principle that all observers agree that cause always precedes effect.

(2) Realism. There is a meaningful answer to the counterfactual question, "What would have been the result of performing measurement X?" It's okay if the answer is a probability distribution, but there has to be an answer.

Faced with this dilemma, my response is and always has been, "Okay, (1) has got to go." (Note: denying (1) doesn't necessarily entail the possibility superluminal communication or time-travel, a subtlety I don't wish to go into here.) This has led me to embrace the existence of non-local hidden variables, particularly as expressed in Bohmian mechanics. A particularly appealing aspect of Bohmian mechanics is that it explains the ubiquitous probabilities in quantum physics in terms of a deterministic process, rather than treating the probabilities as fundamental. My biggest problem with Bohmian mechanics is that, as its own supporters admit, they haven't quite worked out a way to make it compatible with relativity. I also have a small problem with what I consider its mathematical inelegance.

But last week Geekpress made me aware of a new experiment. Reading about the experiment, and the experimenter Afshar's claim of falsifying the Copenhagen interpretation, I regret to say that I'm not sure if I agree with his claim or not, as I'm not exactly sure what the Copenhagen interpretation would predict the result to be. At issue are subtle distinctions about exactly what the Copenhagen interpretation says and how to interpret that in terms of Afshar's experiment. Even if the Copenhagen interpretation has been falsified (that's an extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary evidence), I've no idea whether the wound is fatal or treatable by a minor tweak.

As a side effect of following Geekpress's link, I was introduced to the apparently rather obscure transactional interpretation of quantum mechanics by John Cramer. I find this interpretation to be very elegant, especially in comparison to all the additional mathematic structure Bohmian mechanics adds on to the usual, beautiful quantum mathematical formalism. Crucially, the transactional interpretation embraces relativity. For me, the only drawback is that it is inherently probabilistic, unlike Bohmian mechanics.

The approach of the transactional interpretation is to explain things completely atemporally. One looks at the whole of space-time: past, present, and future. One then uses boundary conditions to determine what is possible. The fact that time moves forward (e.g. Second Law of Thermodynamics) is explained by a boundary condition on the universe! (For what is probably the simplest example of the use of boundary conditions in quantum physics, see the particle in a box.) For the next step, one uses Cramer's concept of transaction to calculate the probability distribution of the possible events. These probability distributions mathematically must agree with the usual probability distributions predicted by quantum physics. (If the probability distributions disagreed, then the transactional interpretation would be a new physical theory, not an interpretation of an existing one.)

Thus, my new dilemma is, do I embrace the nice probabilistic theory, or do I hold out for a relativistic theory in which "God does not play dice"?

Al Qaeda's future

The Washington Post has a good article on the likely future of Al Qaeda. The prediction is that Al Qaeda will develop a "political arm" that runs for office and/or provides social services. I find this argument very compelling:
Following the historical pattern of terrorist movements everywhere -- from Russia's Bolsheviks to the Irish Republican Army to Palestine's Hamas -- we can expect that within a decade al Qaeda will open one, or possibly several, political fronts in predominantly Islamic states, transforming itself from a deadly but diffuse terrorist movement into implacably hostile governmental factions throughout the Middle East that will pose critical geostrategic challenges to America and our allies.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Elections, even there

It's about time:
Saudi Arabia plans to hold its first nationwide elections starting in November, seen as the first concrete political reforms in the country's absolute monarchy, a government source said on Wednesday.

The source from the Municipal Affairs Ministry told Reuters the first stage of the local elections would be held in the capital Riyadh after the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan ends in mid-November.

The elections will elect half of the members of the nearly 180 municipal councils nationwide, while the rest are expected to be appointed by the government.

Ear ache my eye

In Finland, internet addiction makes you unfit for military service.

Firehouse demagoguery

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Kerry planning withdrawal?

This is disturbing. I sincerely hope Tacitus is wrong.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Darfur game plan

If we're serious about doing something about Darfur, then here is an assessment of what it will take. My thoughts run along the lines of, "Let's get started." I don't think a conflict can be avoided at this stage. Whatever the nature of Sudan's complicity with the savage Janjaweed militias, does anyone really expect Sudanese government to pick a fight with them? In terms of domestic politics, the Sudanese government is probably better off losing a fight with the West, which is contemplating a humanitarian mission, not regime change.

My voting rationale

I didn't expect my first vote in a presidential election to require much thought; the choice would be clear. But after Bush pushed for one big government program after another, I became ambivalent. I started to ask myself whose election was more really likely to do control the growth the state. I'm still not sure. Meanwhile, there are other considerations:
If they knew and believed that the US commitment to the new Iraqi government would remain strong no matter who won the election, that would be immensely helpful. Sadly, they have no basis right now for any such conclusion. On this issue, as on so many others, Kerry seems hell-bent on avoiding any perception of having taken a stand. Even the Boston Globe, the NYTimes, and the Wapo have noticed.

He's said he won't pull out. But he's also said that going in was a mistake. And he's talked about ways of pulling out. He's on all sides of this issue, just as he seems to be on all sides of nearly every other substantive issue. ... But on this one issue, his refusal to break character by speaking frankly, speaking to the point, has significant foreign policy ramifications. It increases doubt for Iraqis about American commitment, and therefore makes an insurgent victory seem more plausible.

And that is a victory for the insurgents. It actually does make an insurgent victory more likely.
This is one the biggest reasons why, although I find it awfully tempting to punish Bush for his expansion of non-Defense government, and try to stop the damage he's doing to the conservative movement, I don't think doing so is in the best interests of my country.

Moreover, it's not like Kerry would be better. For example, the folks at Reason are not happy with Kerry's record on civil liberties. (Among other things, Kerry authored the money-laundering provisions of the Patriot Act, threats to privacy and all.) On so many important issues, they roughly agree.

So what are the differences, and how do I weigh them? On domestic issues, I only expect the outcome to make a big difference for two things: one is Supreme Court appointments. I'm an originalist and I'm socially conservative. Advantage: Bush, with the "no more Souters" proviso. The other thing is whether we have gridlock again. Gridlock won't significantly shrink government, but it might (see Gringrich years) or might not (see Clinton's second term) significantly restrain the growth of government. Advantage: Kerry, hopefully.

Now to foreign policy. It's hard to discern what Kerry will do vis-a-vis Iraq, but as Steven den Beste argued, a Kerry victory will probably hurt Iraq, at least in the short run. Advantage: Bush. It's even more difficult to discern what Bush or Kerry plan to do about Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. My best guess is that Bush would be more stubborn and belligerent than Kerry. (I find Bush's continued refusal to concede much of anything to North Korea instructional here.) Advantage: Bush. As for Kerry's talk about allies, I strongly believe that nations' interests matter a lot more to them than kind words, and that if elected, Kerry's kind words will amount to just that - kind words; hence, they're not a major factor in my decision.

There is a third factor that doesn't obey the domestic/foreign dichotomy. It's the "throw out the bums" factor. The Bush administration has committed errors, some willful, some accidental, some more negligent than others. Medicare drug subsidies, farm subsidies, tariffs, not enough ground troops in Afghanistan or Iraq, poor planning for post-war Iraq, etc. Do I want my vote to say that these things are ok? And do I want another Republican president to repeatedly betray his base like Nixon did, and get away with it like Nixon did in '72? Advantage: not voting.

For me, the scale still tips on Bush's side. But I won't shed any tears if he loses.

If I were voting based on my emotions, it'd be no contest. Bush has always struck me as earnest and pious, while Kerry doesn't make any impression on me at all. But Jimmy Carter also strikes me as earnest and pious. Decent guys aren't necessarily the best presidents, though the best presidents were decent guys.

Not about politics

Yeah, I haven't blogged in a while. My mind has been on math. I found some a bunch of new results and couldn't resist adding them to my ever-lengthening paper on branch products. (Yes, I coined that term.) Hydra-like, I have split two non-interacting parts of the paper into two separate papers. One paper seems almost done, meaning I haven't thought of any new results for a while and have proofread it a few times. If I'm smart, I'll submit it to Order before I do think of anything to add to it. The other paper is not-so-done, as all the new results belong in it.

I've been able to do both plenty of math and blogging in the past. But it's August, and dial-up is taxing. My tentative response to all this is to expand my blog to include my thoughts on interesting stuff I found offline, as well as online. Here's my first attempt:

(The pie reads "a Milovich pie.") That's one of about ten pies my second sister Julie has made this week. As usual, when her heart is in a task, she never disappoints. You see, the apples came from our apple tree, and something had to be done before they all rotted.

If this bores you, then fear not, for I have some political posts in the hopper and should get at least one of these posts up today.