Loving this new blog!
If you take a moment to look around you, it’s a gorgeous world. Every single thing you see that is solid has a shape, and the liquids and gases swirl and wave in ways that are wonderful to watch. The macroscopic world is not only beautiful but it is functional. The shapes, sizes and colors have function and meaning and in most cases, purpose.
But even the young school children know something like a tree is not one solid piece. There are at the very least, bark, leaves and branches. Right now if you look around wherever you are, you will probably easily notice that most things are made of pieces. As I write, I am at my desk and in front of me I see pens, my computer screens and a couple of speakers. The pens have caps and clips and I know inside I will find a thin pipe and inside that I will find ink. The screens have a variety of plastic pieces all with different purpose and I know there are circuit boards and wires inside. The speaker has a variety of buttons and knobs and the different kinds of materials are obvious. Without really thinking about it, we see a pen, a screen and a speaker – the whole – but upon closer inspection, most things can be decomposed into parts.
That continues down to the microscopic level. The problem with this idea comes when we can’t rely on our eyes or sense of touch to differentiate the parts. It’s an easy concept to handle when the different parts can be placed in front of you. We can be aided by tools such as lenses and microscopes to extend our vision to smaller dimensions. It becomes much harder when we are left only with our imagination but that is what we are forced to do when we break things down beyond a certain size – when we move into the realm of atoms and molecules, which are the building blocks of everything we can touch and see. No one has ever seen a single molecule, not even the best scientist. They are simply too small for the light we respond to with our eyes to interact with an atom properly and return that light to our eyes. It’s never going to happen.
So it seems we are required to use our imagination on order to “picture” an atom or molecule. This activity of imagining is common in science and we call it model building. We collect as much knowledge and information we can about an object, like an atom, and we create a picture in our head, or some other kind of representation, that includes those pieces of knowledge. If the model builder knows a lot, the model can be very detailed. If the builder knows little, the model will be less complex. Whether complex or simple, we rely on imagination to see the things our eyes cannot.
This idea of a basic building block of matter has been around for thousands of years. The simplest arguments still are valid. If one takes a very sharp blade and cuts any object in half, then again in half, then again, at some point the process must end. At some point, there will be an object that cannot be divided and this is where the idea of the atom came from. In those early days, there was little information about this basic building block other than it must exist, so the model, or the “imagining” of this building block was very simple. It’s enough to say that the building block is like a spherical marble (or much like a billiard ball if you prefer the larger scale) and the marbles that make up one material, say carbon, are different from the marbles that make up nitrogen. I may not know how they are different, but because a chunk of charcoal (carbon) is very different from the inert atmosphere I breath (nitrogen) they must be different because carbon is very different from nitrogen.
With passing time and more thought and investigation, the differences in these atoms became clearer and in future posts we will discuss those differences. But for the vast majority of the science problems you will probably encounter, thinking that atoms are these simple spherical marbles will take you far. This is our most simple but useful model of the physical universe. All things are made of atoms and those atoms are represented by tiny marbles so small they will never be seen. Whenever you consider an object, think about smashing it with a magic hammer with the result being the object is reduced to these very tiny marbles we call atoms. Every thing in the physical universe can be smashed into atoms.
Of course, this creates all kinds of questions. For example, if all things are made of these marbles, why does a brick feel so solid? Why can’t I push my finger through the middle like I do with a bag of baseballs? And in fact, I can do that with water, so why with water but not the brick? And what about those differences between carbon charcoal and nitrogen gas? Does this mean my model is wrong?
No, it does not mean the model is wrong but it does mean the model, when used at this level, does not describe everything. For me, this is the fun in science: To imagine a model, and then find the failures of that model. That’s really the work of science, to build better and better models. We’ll talk about this more in future posts.
Main Points: All things we can see and feel in the physical universe are made of parts or pieces. If we take one of those pieces and cut it in half, then again in half, and again and again, eventually we will find the basic building block of matter called the atom. We will never see an atom with our eyes, so we must imagine its structure. We call this imagining a model. A very simple and useful model of the atom is that of a spherical marble, or billiard ball. All things in the universe are made of these marbles. Any object, when struck with a very special and magical hammer will produce nothing but marbles which are the atoms.
Evidently rules are only valid if they protect us and people we like. Appplying those rules equally to "Them" as we do for "Us" is seen as wrong.
Me, I think it's a sign of basic civilized behavior. No matter how angry I might be at "Them".
Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.)
Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) has struggled recently when talking about the Boston Marathon bombing. For example, Dan Drezner, a pretty mild-mannered guy and a center-right voice, said last week in reference to the Indiana Republican, "Will the Senator from the state of half-assed thinking please go sit in a corner?"
With this in mind, I was struck by Coats complaining in a radio interview this morning about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev having been read his rights. "There's more that needs to be learned," the senator said. "Unfortunately, the administration decided to let the guy lawyer up before we really had a good chance to get information from him, and now we're not getting any." Coats kept whining on the subject, condemning what "the administration decided."
John Yoo, the UC Berkeley law school professor known for having written the Bush/Cheney pro-torture memos, raised similar concerns, saying "the government" read Tsarnaev his rights "for reasons that are still unknown."
In reality, the process really isn't especially mysterious. Adam Serwer explained:
Tsarnaev's interrogators didn't read him his rights. Nor did the "Obama administration," as some, including Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), have claimed. A judge did it. The 48-hour rule exists to prevent the government from detaining people secretly and without a suspect knowing the charges against them. Needing to interrogate a suspect is not included in the exigent circumstances that can be used to justify delaying bringing the suspect before a judge.
And the government could not have legally placed Tsarnaev in military detention, either, because absent evidence of concrete operational connections between Tsarnaev and Al Qaeda or its affiliates it would not be legal to do so—and it might not be constitutional even if it were technically legal.
Coats, who has a law degree, must have some basic understanding of this. So why is he on the radio suggesting the Obama administration should have ignored the law? Or more to the point, why is the Republican senator recommending legal tactics that might jeopardize the case against a suspected terrorist?
Drezner's question continues to ring true: "Will the Senator from the state of half-assed thinking please go sit in a corner?"
A confluence of events appears to have created a curious new talking point on the right. With former President George W. Bush's library set to open, and last week's Boston Marathon bombing still very much on the public's mind, Republican pundits see value in trying to tie the two together in the hopes of improving Bush's reputation.
The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin, for example, published this gem yesterday:
"Unlike Obama's tenure, there was no successful attack on the homeland after 9/11."
A few hours later on Fox News, Eric Bolling echoed the sentiment.
"I will tell one thing, from you 9/12/01 until the time President Obama raised his right hand January of '09, the man kept us safe. And there -- you certainly can't say that since President Obama has taken the oath of office."
When it comes to Bolling, I should note that this is an improvement from his previous stance. Two years ago, he suggested on the air that he didn't recall 9/11 at all: "America was certainly safe between 2000 and 2008. I don't remember any terrorist attacks on American soil during that period of time."
I should also note that neither Rubin nor Bolling seemed to be kidding. Their comments weren't satirical or jokes intended to make Republicans appear silly.
As for the substance, there are three main angles to keep in mind. The first is the bizarre assertion that President Obama somehow deserves the blame for the bomb that killed three people in Boston last week, because he didn't "keep up safe." The argument reflects a child-like understanding of national security and is absurd on its face.
Second, though the right likes to pretend otherwise, there were terrorist attacks during Bush/Cheney's tenure -- after 9/11 -- that shouldn't be ignored. Indeed, it's a little tiresome to hear Republicans argue in effect, "Other than the deadly anthrax attacks, the attack against El Al ticket counter at LAX, the terrorist attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush's inability to capture those responsible for 9/11, waging an unnecessary war that inspired more terrorists, and the success terrorists had in exploiting Bush's international unpopularity, the former president's record on counter-terrorism was awesome."
And finally, I'm not sure Republican pundits have fully thought through the wisdom of the "other than 9/11" argument.
Bush received an intelligence briefing on Aug. 6, 2001, at which he was handed a memo with an important headline: "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S."
Bush, however, was on a month-long vacation at the time. He heard the briefer out and replied, "All right. You've covered your ass, now." A month later, al Qaeda killed 3,000 people.
For Rubin and Bolling, the response is, in effect, "Yeah, but other than that, he kept us safe." The problem, of course, is that's roughly the equivalent of saying other than that iceberg, the Titanic had a pleasant voyage. Other than that one time, Pompeii didn't have to worry about the nearby volcano. Other than Booth, Lincoln enjoyed his evening at Ford's Theater.
It is, in other words, a little more difficult to airbrush catastrophic events from history.
I can appreciate the zeal with which Republican pundits want to rehabilitate Bush's poor standing, but they'll have to do better than this.
Raise your hand if this sounds familiar: for whatever reason, someone is coming to your house. And you’re in a complete panic, frantically cleaning whatever you can get to as quickly as you can, just so the house will be “company ready” for your guests.
Here’s a serious question, though: why do your guests deserve to have your house look nice more than you do? They’re only there for a small fraction of time; you’re there every day. Why don’t you deserve to have the place looking nice and neat and clean?
Maybe you think, “Oh, I’m just a messy person, so I don’t care about the mess, but my visitor will.” If you truly didn’t care, you wouldn’t be scrambling to clean up before someone crosses the threshold. You’re speed-cleaning because you do care, just not enough to make it nice for yourself. You need to cut that out.
Focus on making your house “you ready.” Bring it, gradually, up to your standards of cleanliness. Make it so that you’re comfortable, and so that you enjoy looking around your home. When you reach that point, your house will always be company ready. You’re the most important person who will step through your door. Try to make your living space reflect that.