A Box of Our Own Making

Senator Robert Byrd (D - WV) is to be applauded for today's speech on the Senate floor in response to the Bush Administration's insane rush to war.

"We stand passively mute in the United States Senate, paralyzed by our own uncertainty, seemingly stunned by the sheer turmoil of events," said Byrd. "On what is possibly the eve of horrific infliction of death and destruction on the population of the nation of Iraq -- a population, I might add, of which over 50% is under age 15 -- this chamber is silent. On what is possibly only days before we send thousands of our own citizens to face unimagined horrors of chemical and biological warfare -- this chamber is silent. On the eve of what could possibly be a vicious terrorist attack in retaliation for our attack on Iraq, it is business as usual in the United States Senate."

Byrd singled out the Administration's doctrine of preemption, "the idea that the United States or any other nation can legitimately attack a nation that is not imminently threatening but may be threatening in the future" as "radical," and noted that it appears to be a "contravention of international law and the UN Charter." Nor is a preemptive nuclear strike out of the question, since "high level Administration figures recently refused to take nuclear weapons off of the table when discussing a possible attack against Iraq."

Burning bridges and splintering long-held alliances, the White House is "possibly crippling, for all time, International order-keeping entities like the United Nations and NATO. This Administration has called into question the traditional worldwide perception of the United States as well-intentioned, peacekeeper," Byrd lamented.

Foolish JasminLive statements, "calling heads of state pygmies, labeling whole countries as evil, denigrating powerful European allies as irrelevant," have replaced reasoned diplomacy and responsible speech on the part of our leaders. "In only the space of two short years this reckless and arrogant Administration has initiated policies which may reap disastrous consequences for years," said Byrd.

And what of the consequences of a war with Iraq? "Will our war inflame the Muslim world resulting in devastating attacks on Israel? Will Israel retaliate with its own nuclear arsenal? Will the Jordanian and Saudi Arabian governments be toppled by radicals, bolstered by Iran which has much closer ties to terrorism than Iraq?"

The stakes are high, and it seems that many of our leaders, like me, have been stupefied by the endless chain of outrageous actions and proclamations coming from this reckless Administration. I hope that you will join me and many others in this weekend's anti-war protests as we find our voice. Perhaps our doing so will help our hapless leaders to do the same before it is too late.

"Our challenge is to now find a graceful way out of a box of our own making. Perhaps there is still a way if we allow more time," said Byrd.

High-resolution mapping of the universe

The Big Bang theory assumes that the current state of the universe must have arisen from an earlier state of extremely high temperature and of an extremely small volume which rapidly expanded and cooled down in an explosion-like manner, which is why it is called the Big Bang theory. This explosion would have left a characteristic background radiation (CMB), that should be present in all of the universe, since all of the universe was part of the process. This was first verified by the COBE project in 1992, which did a similar map of the universe, but in a much lower resolution

WMAP did a high-resolution scan at the same frequency range, in five frequency bands from 23 to 94 Ghz. The new data is more precise, but remains consistent with the COBE data. The group has submitted a peer-reviewed paper analysing the basic results. This paper outlines all the basic methods followed.

An important point of the paper is that the calculated power spectrum is a complete representation of the data only if the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation (CMB) anisotropy is Gaussian1. Anisotropy here means that the CMB does not have a constant value over the whole sky , but it varies. The fact is that there is no guaranteed test that would assure us that the distribution of values is Gaussian. However the authors report results that indicate with high certainty that the distribution is indeed Gaussian.. One critical assumption is that all the observed fluctuations are because of (Gaussian) fluctuations in the gravitational potential.

One interesting thing to note is that the results indicate both a polarization and a large variability in the cosmic map. This comes at odds with the generally held assumption by Hubble that the universe is isotropic and homogeneous. This assumption has to be true in order for his law (that states that a star's distance from any other star is proportional to its relative speed) to hold in all cases. However if the universe is completely homogeneous then where did all the clumps of matter come from in the first place. The WMAP data (as well as the COBE data before) shows that the universe was not completely homogeneous even at the first moment of its existence. In general physicists regard the anisotropy as large enough to allow matter to form clusters in a very long time, but not so large as to be of significant effect with Hubble's law.

In fact Hubble's law did not seem to hold, as some very distant objects seem to be moving much slower than they should have. It seemed that only a repelling force that operated over long distances could explain this data, so dark energy was introduced. This repelling force actually accellerates the universe's expansion rather. Previously it was assumed that at large distances only gravity would be doing any work and thus, even though the universe would be expanding gravity would reduce its expansion rate or even stop expansion completely, possibly even causing the collapse of the universe into a Big Crunch. If the group's interpretation of the data is correct and assuming that of all the known forces only gravity would have an effect at large distances, the universe is expanding at an ever increasing rate, fuelled by the force provided by dark energy.2

Dark matter was another thing, introduced for a different but similar reason. It seemed that some galactic formations did not have enough mass to be held together. They would have needed to have a great amount of extra mass in order for their component galaxies to remain locked into a cluster. This matter's nature was deemed unknown and was called dark matter. This matter is also necessary in order to make the universe 'flat', so that parallel light beams will never intersect. The group also managed to use its data to characterise the type of this matter, if it exists, limiting it to low-temperature ranges (only Cold Dark Matter is possible)

The group claims that their data has a cosmological interpretation that supports the existence of both dark energy and dark matter in extremely high quantities, according to their calculations. The model that best fits the data assumes a flat universe with a baryon function of 0.044, a matter fraction of 0.27 and a 0.73 fraction of dark energy.

Another important outcome of this research was the determenation of a more exact number of the age of the universe, estimated to 13.7 +/- 0.2 billion years. The previous estimate was between 12 and 15 billion years.

Finally, the group has published a companion paper describing the data's implications to inflation theory. Inflation theory aims to explain the apparently faster expansion of the universe at its earliest stages of development. This is also related to the fact that their data shows the existence of stars at an extremely early age of the universe. It seems that stars started to form much earlier than cosmologists had previously thought.

The above results are mostly verifications and refinements of currently more or less accepted cosmological theories and observation. These results are expected to be much more refined in the future as the group will be able to calibrate the instrument with larger precision and also be ableo filter out more noise, simply because of increased observation time.

One of the most surprising results however, concerns what the data shows hapenned shortly after the big bang. At the initial stages of atom formation the universe was still quite hot and there were no atoms yet, just nuclei and electrons, otherwise viewed as hydrogen in an ionized state. After the universe cooled down and the electrons and protons combined into atoms this ionization should have disappeared. However the group has ascertained that ionization reappeared after the cooling down event, possibly because of massive photonic emissions.


The study is extremely interesting and its implications profound. You are urged to read the introductory paper and the cosmological parameter paper. The latter is quite long but it explains things clearly enough. The group does make a number of assumptions, which could be of critical importance, but their work is clearly defined and when viewed within the scope of the assumptions it seems infallible. Compared to studies where conclusions are drawn only from observations of a few stars whose age and distance can only be approximately known, such a study is much more rigorous and has to be taken seriously.


1: A Gaussian is a smooth function with a single peak. In this context we are using a gaussian to describe a random process. A gaussian random process is described by a gaussian distribution (another name for the curve). The process in this case is the observed intensity of background radiation. A gaussian has interesting properties as a distribution, such as the fact that adding together events that are described by infinitely many non-gaussian distributions results in an overall gaussian distribution. This page talks in a lot more detail about what the guassian is and why it so special. It also discusses the tests made to see if your data obeys a gaussian distribution or not and thus would be useful towards an understanding of the gaussian conformity paper published by the group.

Happy hunting

My comment about Fermat's last theorem, was an intuitive thing, not a statement of logical causality.

The main plank of my objections to the conclusions reached from the latest observations from WMAP are the same objections I have had for many years, regarding current cosmological theory.

Dark matter is purely a conjecture used to make empirical observation fit known (sic) cosmological theory.

'Till his dying day Einstein maintained he never understood gravity. I take this to mean he was able to unify strong nuclear, weak nuclear and electromagnetic forces in one theorem, problem was, he was unable to conceive of an equation that fitted gravity in as well. Since Newtons day, gravity has been seen to be, purely an attractive force between two atoms. Newton saw the universe as cartesian and clockwork. Einstein showed this view of the universe was erroneous, by being able to predict the orbit of Mercury whereas Newton's equations, could not predict the orbit of Mercury.

As I sit here typing this, my body hurtles in a circular direction eastwards, at thousands of miles an hour, whilst this circle happens, another circle occurs in a different direction, as what I am sitting on, spins around the sun. To further complicate matters, the sun itself appears to be orbiting something.

What do all these compounded motions mean in terms of gravity - nothing according to current cosmological theory, apart from the idea that atoms are attracted to each other, by a virtually invisible quantum force.

By some definitions the mobius strip has only one side, as to wether it only has one side, well in some ways, yes it only has one side. What if the mobius strip has only one side kinetically? Has anyone from chaturbate checked this out? Probably not, because anyone with half an education, already knows that gravity is only a function of atom attraction, so why bother?

How do we know the universe is not a four dimensional klein bottle with time as the forth dimension?

I state again, voyagers behaviour did not conform to theory predictions.

Canadian oil

The largest oil reserve in the world lies within the Canadian province of Alberta in the so called "Alberta tar sands".

Tar sands are grains of sand or, in some cases, porous carbonate rocks that are intimately mixed with a very heavy, asphalt-like crude oil called bitumen. The bitumen is much too viscous to be recovered by traditional petroleum recovery techniques. Tar sands contain about 10-15% bitumen, the remainder being sand or other inorganic materials.

If tar sand is heated to about 80 °C, by injecting steam into the deposit in a manner analogous to that of enhanced oil recovery, the elevated temperature causes a decrease in the viscosity of the bitumen just enough to allow its pumping to the surface. Alternatively, it is sometimes easier to mine the tar sand as a solid material. When the mined tar sand is mixed with steam and hot water, the bitumen will float on the water while the sand sinks to the bottom of the container, allowing for easy separation. Heating the bitumen above 500 °C converts about 70% of it to a synthetic crude oil. Distilling this oil gives good yields of kerosene and other liquid products in the middle distillate range. The remainder of the bitumen either thermally cracks to form gaseous products or reacts to form petroleum coke.

If tar sands are so good why don't we hear about them more? Two reasons: energy and greed. Unfortunately it costs around $14 to extract a single barrel of oil from tar sands while recovering the same barrel from a typical light crude oil well costs less than $2 per barrel. These costs are almost directly linked to higher energy requirements in the exploration of bitumen oil.

It's not difficult to see which fields oil companies are more interested in developing. There is some interest in the oil sands but its full scale development wages on the assumption that the average price per barrel stays above $15. If oil prices drop below that level oil sands exploration isn't commercially viable.

Long term however, the light crude reserves aren't getting any bigger and the world will (hopefully) need energy in the centuries to come. The amount of oil contained in the tar sands around the world (there are deposits outside of Canada mostly in the former Soviet Union) is estimated at roughly three times the amount of light crude reserves. Those figures are based on known reserves however. There are many places such as Antarctica where large deposits of light crude may exist that we don't yetknow about. If such reserves are found, it will obviously undermine the importance of tar sands for another century or two.

For the time being, tar sands represent a viable alternative to light crude exploration. There are presently extracted at the rate of around 200,000 barrels per day (applies to Alberta only) but the plans are being laid out to significantly increase production to aroung 600,000 barrels within the next decade. If those plans work out, tar sands will account for a very significant fraction of Canada's oil production output levels which stand at around 2.2 million barrels per day (2001 estimate).

The vast majority of Canada's oil is sold to the United States. In fact Canada is the biggest supplier of oil for the United States. Approximately 1.8 million barrels of Canadian oil are bought by the States every day. This is more than even the imports from Saudi Arabia which are presently at around 1.5 million barrels. This means that Canadian oil is very significant to the US energy security and will remain so for the forseeable future, regardless of how much George Bush and Jean Chretien may despise one another. The tar sands are likely to play an increasing role in the energy markets as crude reserves are depleted. It's only a matter of economic viability. But don't believe those who tell you that we need to switch to solar power because we're out of oil Any Day Now.

World's largest oil reserve

Why We're Spending Valentine's Weekend at an Anti-War Rally

It will also be my first foray, at least since college, into any form of political activisim heavier than writing my elected officials or the occasional opinion essay.

So why are we so moved? For my part, I'm not a pacifist, communist, or anyone with any sort of anti-war religious leanings. In fact, I'm a thirty-one year old, white, male technocrat pulling down six figures a year. I'm the guy you would expect to be gung-ho for the establishment, or at least the jasminelive guy you'd expect to quietly take his capital gains tax cut and disappear into the political woodwork. So - why?

It's very simple: I don't like it when people lie to me. If someone has to lie to me to convince me to do something, then it logically follows that this thing must not be in my best interests. If it were in my best interests, it would be simple enough to point that out - and at that point, I won't need much convincing.

Extend this principle to the U.S. rhetoric on Iraq. On the matter of Iraq, the Bush administration persistently lies about their reasons for going to war. Not a one of them holds water.

Human Rights

As a human myself, this would be among one of the more convincing arguments for me. Saddam Hussein really is a butcher, and while there are conflicting views about whether or not he actually did use chemical weapons against his own citizens (an anecdote trotted out almost daily by one member or another of the Bush administration), he certainly used them in Iran - with American assistance, of course. By all accounts, he brutally represses political dissent, makes life hell for religious and ethnic minorities, and generally behaves in a manner consistent with all the worst things you hear about Third World dictators.

This is not why the Bush administration wants to go to war in Iraq.

The human rights problem is not new - it's been going on as long as Hussein has been in power. When the U.K. released a dossier on human rights in Iraq late last year as part of their P.R. campaign for the war, Amnesty International - whose press releases were freely cribbed for the dossier - cried foul, noting that some of the information in the document was well known by its publishers to be over a decade old, and they didn't care then.

Neither do they care now. If human rights were the reason, the time to do something was twenty years ago. I don't buy the idea that anyone in the Bush family suddenly grew a heart and decided to go topple Saddam Hussein for the benefit of the Iraqi people.

Of course, it's not actually clear that a war would benefit the Iraqi people. A variety of groups have taken a crack at guessing the likely humanitarian outcome of Gulf War II, and best estimates are consistently that thousands of civilians will die and hundreds of thousands will be made refugees. The Bush administration has been, as far as I've read, completely silent on the matter of dead and displaced (but "liberated") Iraqi citizens.

If you read anything that goes deeper than CNN Headline News, you've seen this debunked already. The BBC has received a leaked British intelligence document that claims there are no current ties between Iraq and al Qaeda. The intelligence agency of France - a country that has long-standing economic and political ties to the region - says likewise. The specific incidents of al Qaeda-Iraq meetings brought up by Rumsfeld and others - such as the infamous meeting in Prague - have been consistently debunked.

And yet, for some reason, the U.S. government wants us to have the impression that the war on Iraq is a natural extension of the failing war on terror. It has succeeded to some extent - a majority of Americans believe one or more of the September 11th hijackers was Iraqi, and a significant number believe that Saddam Hussein was behind the events of September 11th, 2001. (Both statements are false, if there was any doubt in your mind.)

Above and beyond its dishonesty, the tacit racism of this tactic is truly appalling. The U.S. government has largely succeeded in creating a vague connection in the minds of American citizens between two bad, Arab, Muslim men - Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein - despite the fact that there is no credible evidence that the two have ever colluded, and despite the fact that they're ideologically incompatible - one being a religious zealot whose ultimate goal is worldwide Islamic fundamentalist theocracy, and the other is a secular dictator interested mainly in the maintenance of his own power. But still, the Bush administration takes this cheap, racist tug at our September 11th heart-strings for all it's worth.

Not only that, but an attack on Iraq makes terrorist attacks on America and its allies more likely, not less - at least according to documents released by the FBI, CIA, and their foreign counterparts. By pursuing a pre-emptive war in Iraq, Bush and Company will knowingly be radicalizing the Muslim fringe against the U.S.

Weapons of Mass Destruction

So what do you do with an insular, paranoid dictatorship that you believe might have a nuclear warhead or two and the capability to deliver them to some of your major cities, that has threatened a pre-emptive strike on your troops, and that consistently proliferates ballistic missile and WMD technology to unfriendly states?

In the case of North Korea, you go back to the bargaining table. That makes the Bush administration's Iraq policy that much more inscrutable. Except for the part about being an insular, paranoid dictatorship, none of the rest applies to Iraq. They are not believed to have any nuclear bombs, and may not even be able to land a missile in Israel anymore. While they haven't been exactly bending over backwards, positive progress reports from UNMOVIC head Hans Blix and IAEA head Mohammed elBaradei have made clear that Iraq is willing to make significant concessions to avoid war.

There is no credible intelligence that Iraq has developed any new WMD capability. A recent British intelligence report that Colin Powell used to try to make that argument to the U.N. security council turns out to have been plagiarized from multiple publicly available sources, all referring to Iraq's actions before U.N. inspectors were removed in 1998.

To be sure, there are gaps in Iraq's compliance. There exist numerous stocks of biological and chemical agents for which Iraq has still not accounted. However, Blix and elBaradei continue to come back with encouraging reports of progress. Again, this is not to say that Iraq is cooperating completely, or that the threat of force still isn't needed, but while the inspections appear to be making substantial progress, doesn't it make sense to continue them?

Instead, the U.S. not only prefers to commit the lives of American troops to a conflict with no clear exit strategy, but actively hampers inspections by witholding intelligence the inspectors could use - assuming that they even have the intelligence they claim to have. It has occurred to me that the intelligence is being witheld not because it would compromise sources, but because it might not withstand the light of day - or it might not exist at all. If we're going to remove Iraq's government in any event, these precious sources are going to be useless in any secret capacity anyway. Would our allies not be better convinced by a case made in the light of day than one made in secret? Could the current fractious atmosphere in NATO and the U.N. Security Council not be smoothed over by giving the parties involved actual evidence that the course of action we propose is correct? Do we not trust our own allies with this information?

Between the inconsistent stance on North Korea and the lies the Bush administration has to tell to support this case, it's clear that weapons of mass destruction are not the reason either.

Why, then?

I don't know the real reason Bush and Company wants to go to war with Iraq, only that the reasons they claim are flimsy lies. It might well be about oil, as some say, although there exist rational-sounding, data-based arguments against that. Frankly, I hope it is as simple as oil - because the most plausible alternative, in my view, is the furtherance of the power of the executive branch of the American government, already a proven priority of this administration and one at which they continue to work. As if the USA PATRIOT Act wasn't bad enough, the recently and secretly drafted Domestic Security Enhancement Act calls for more secret arrests, creates a prerogative for the Attorney General to declare individual American citizens to be enemy combatants (which leaves them without the right to legal counsel, a speedy trial, etc.), contains still more abrogation of the Fourth and Fifth amendments, and generally dismantles the liberal democracy established on humanist principles over 200 years ago.

I worry that an extended war overseas will help the Bush administration continue that evil work. They know that populations tend to rally around their governments during a war (offering them the freedom to dictate policy with a "blank check" mandate). They know that they are increasing the risk of a terrorist attack on American soil by pursuing this war - but terrorist attacks, as we have seen, are great excuses to impose ever more draconian "security" measures that make nobody more secure from external threats but are great for establishing a police state.

The attitude of the Bush administration is consistent with this goal, as well. John Ashcroft and Dick Cheney call domestic dissent treason. Rumsfeld and Powell assault the character of formerly stalwart allies who take a principled stand against what they see as an unnecessary war of aggression. Bush's State of the Union address trumpeted America's status as the divinely-ordained liberator of the world. These people have an obscene sense of entitlement to power, and don't seem willing to stop at anything - not lying to anyone who will listen, not killing civilians across the globe - to maintain and extend that power.

The people in charge right now want very badly to destroy America as I know it.

We're going to New York on Saturday to exercise our right to free speech while we still have it. For my part, all I wanted from my government was the truth. If they won't give it to me, I will oppose them proudly, knowing that a real American is not afraid of political dissent and that a true servant of the public in America would never seek to deceive and control the American public as this government does.

I'll be the guy in the blue overcoat with the sign that reads "Patriots Against Bush" on one side and "Not Convinced" on the other. Look for me on the news, if anyone besides NPR covers it.