With the caveat that issuing a press release in order to say that you’re going to issue a press release is getting a little old, a couple of weeks after the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced that the world is two minutes closer to Doomsday, the Eiffel Tower will go dark for several minutes on Thursday night, anticipating the release by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of their 4th Assessment Report from a meeting in Paris on Friday. I can’t now find the article where I read that the report is expected to give at least a 90% probability that human activity is causing climate change, but even without delving into statistical analysis, this is the same body whose 3rd Assessment Report concluded way back in 2001 that sea level rise was already happening, so you can figure that they would be pretty unequivocal.

But like all good secular-progressives, I already believe that climate change (climate change:troop surge::global warming:escalation?) is happening, and view the hearings of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform as sort of, well, pro forma. The big issue, for me, is the one of presentation. The Doomsday Clock may be misinterpreted, but it is rarely mistaken. The made-for-TV dimming of the Eiffel Tower is an interesting entrant into the category of science attention-getters, though. Is it symbolic enough? Is it the right symbol? Will there be copycats, and if so, what magnitude of an event is worthy of such a sign?

The above quote is a standard in discussions about how science works, and a valuable axiom in some styles of problem solving. An interesting (and slightly worrisome) application of the old saw to politics is worth reading in a discussion about arms control at Nuclear Mangos.

Good information about nuclear weapons hasn’t exactly been a big issue recently, despite the prominence of North Korean test and the three big I’s of Iran, India, and Israel. That the discussion remains on the level of style over substance isn’t surprising in most media, there is one where I had hoped for better. I spent most of today in my biannual refresher course for first responder certification, and recently added to the curriculum is a chapter on terrorism, including nuclear bombs and radiological explosions (dirty bombs). Unfortunately, the information presented in the class was really no better than that available on (and heck, could have been written by the same shmoes who brought you) the Homeland Security (theater) site Ready.gov. The Federation of American Scientists have a pretty thorough analysis of the site’s shortcomings; they also run the site ReallyReady, to show what a complete one looks like.

My impetus for making this comparison is that it seems that information distributed through the official channels smells slightly of scaremongering rather than actual advice. While they are discussing some scary stuff, is the best we have really to “stay away from the suspicious site. . . until specially trained teams [arrive] with special monitoring devices”? I think we could be trusted with a bit more, but that is a quote from my first responder textbook.

I got to stargaze for the second time in as many months on Saturday night. The only reason for a note of self-pity in that statement is that I missed the most spectacular part of the GREAT COMET OF 2007. Or whatever you want to call it. Whatever, anyway. I did actually get to see some of Comet McNaught, so I can now live vicariously through Southern hemisphere observers like Marie-Claire Hainaut, whose image is really, really great. Also compare Alex’s image below with Rob Ratkowski’s on SpaceWeather.com–a few days laterRob shot from about 80 miles Northwest of and about five hundred feet higher than us, on the summit of Haleakala on Maui.

Donn, Dave, myself, and assorted others at the VIS on Saturday night convinced ourselves that we could see some of the comet amidst the typically strong zodiacal light. It was sort of like really, really faint and stationary aurora. Fortunately, Alex recused himself from the bustling patio and hiked off to get the picture below. Below the picture, I quote from Donn’s email about the photo:


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18 January 2007

The Long Now Foundation (now in my blogroll, too) has a slew of interesting projects detailed on their website. And they link to this great essay by Michael Chabon, about the Clock they’re building. In response to the ‘Why do it?’ question, I think that Harley-Davidson was really on to something with their slogan, “If I had to explain, you wouldn’t understand.” It’s a common meme, mutating into many different forms, but I think that theirs is the best statement. Speaking of clocks, it is interesting to think that, according to Ivars Peterson in Newton’s Clock [amaz], any of our models (and I use the term mathematically) of the Solar System are only accurate out to a couple of hundred thousand years. There are, it turns out, any number of suitably periodic astronomical things that could work as timekeepers, but they are about as tactile as the SI standard for the second, and we all know what I think of the metric system, anyway.

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Chet Raymo has an excellent post that touches on the archetype of deep knowledge as both beautiful and dangerous. This idea seems to be a commonality of philosopher-scientists, but is it only an enthymeme for those from the Christian tradition?

Sherryll? Roberto? Elle? dorigo?

I don’t really have a good key to what news stories set off my outrage-o-meter these days, but the piece this morning on NPR about US Attorneys asked to step down sounded omnious. Particularly when some of them are being replaced by (gasp!) scarcely qualified and highly political White House appointees. The WSJ story (which I don’t know how to link to without requiring registration) lists seven US Attorneys being asked to resign without cause.

Scary. And according to NPR, the Justice Department’s response has been that it is inappropriate (some thing about separation of powers) for Congress to interfere with these appointments. Hm. The stated reason for the dismissals is failure in the job performance department. That’s kind of odd, though, because Carol Lam from San Diego just successfully caught a Republican member of Congress doing bad things. Hm.

Furthermore, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, a guy named Cully Stimson, went on a bit of a tear in a radio interview last week. His views sound pretty repugnant, but to my mind the two good bits are that in the follow up post are that some pretty big law firms are apparently involved in defending detainees, and that the Department of Defense is distancing themselves from this dude’s comments. Senator Leahy also got pretty fiesty, as he did about the US Attorneys issue. I like that guy.

There is currently a very bright comet visible, and it just passed from morning sky to evening sky. It is still pretty close to the Sun, but Comet McNaught-Hughes, (C/2006 P1) is about magnitude -5 right now. Kudos to dorigo for posting on it.

Look just South of the setting Sun (slightly left as you face West for sunset). The brightest compact and probably twinkling (due to movement of atmosphere) object is Venus, and the extended fuzzy thing is the comet, with a compact head and long tail. It is getting farther and farther South after its closest approach to the Sun, so will be less and less visible to Northern hemisphere observers.

Disclaimer–I haven’t tried it myself, but I will tonight if I can get a good Western horizon. I’ll try to get a good comet post up soon, too.

And now for something completely different, this is cool for those who like anachronistic, bibliophilic trivia.