Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Spring and Neon

It is late April, and the dogwoods are already losing their petals. The temperature rises, and mockingbirds sing the tunes they learn from their environment: sparrowsong, cardinal calls and car alarms. Soon, it will be too warm and humid to walk anywhere without breaking a sweat.
In the meantime, the work has finally paid off, and the long-awaited paper is published. After much toil, a direct measurement for the strength of the resonant capture reaction on radioactive fluorine-17 at astrophysical energies. Until now, the reaction rate was no more than a best guess from the currently fashionable theory. Only a few places in the world make measurements like this, and it is a difficult thing to do, even when the capability is there.
The most important point I would like to make is this: experiment is crucial to informing theory, theory is crucial to informing observation, and observation is crucial to informing experiment. It is a delicate but efficient symbiosis, when it works. Too much emphasis on one or the other components leads to error, arrogance, stagnation.
As for me, I'm off to APS in Denver!

Chipps, K., Bardayan, D., Blackmon, J., Chae, K., Greife, U., Hatarik, R., Kozub, R., Matei, C., Moazen, B., Nesaraja, C., Pain, S., Peters, W., Pittman, S., Shriner, J., & Smith, M. (2009). First Direct Measurement of the ^{17}F(p,​γ)^{18}Ne Cross Section Physical Review Letters, 102 (15) DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.102.152502

Monday, April 27, 2009


Despite being a criminal genius, Al Capone has just lost a little respect in my book. Yesterday was the Knoxville Opera's performance of Pagliacci, "the opera that made Capone cry," and it was, in a word, ordinary. The first act was mediocre. The second act was an improvement, with nearly an infinite increase in displayed emotion, but for all the decent singing, the whole opera was rather lackluster.
Despite the quite famous scene from this particular opera (about 2 minutes into the clip: "am I a man? No, Pagliaccio is only a clown"), I'd prefer Carmen or La Boheme any day. The pit orchestra sounded unfamiliar with the music, and often played over the performers on stage, making it difficult to hear particular voices. The female lead (the character Nedda) had a nice voice (I'm no soprano, so I have an innate respect for them), but she tended to sing with her bust. No matter if it was appropriate or not, her chest blazed its way across the stage, arching her back in what looked to be an uncomfortable form of vaguely upright yoga and drawing attention from her emotive facial expressions. Her costume could have been from any period in late European history, detracting from the supposed Italian scenery. In fact, the fake trees toward the front of the stage were so poorly lit that they cast strange shadows across the painted sky of the backdrop, almost as though we were meant to know it was only make-believe.
The crown jewel of the whole performance, I'd have to say, was the "extras" - a few people on stage the opera company had obviously hired to do no singing or dancing, but merely to play a painfully specific role. My favorite was the man in the clown costume (he looked uncomfortable, even from 15 rows back) who did nothing but juggle.
At least the day was pleasant, and the boys and I were able to get in brunch on the patio at Downtown Grill and Brewery, and a beer or two after the opera at Preservation Pub.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tea and taxes

I first point everyone to 1) one of the many "Tax Day Tea Party" websites, and 2) a short, well written article on NPR explaining why the idea is odd to begin with (Religion Dispatches also has an excellent piece here). Here's the gist of the situation: yesterday, a bunch of conservatives got together in a "grassroots" (if ultra-conservative, ultra-psychotic Glenn Beck is one of the first and most vocal proponents, I don't think one can truly argue the movement is grassroots) movement to protest the stimulus package and, ultimately, how they feel the Democratic government is wrong in their spending.
Has the entire country gone nuts? I'm glad I'm leaving soon.
As proof of how short the attention span of the country really is, here is a news story from a mere six months ago - when, believe it or not, Bush was still president, and was pushing for an (wait, wait, don't tell me...) economic stimulus package. To quote the news story:
Bush defended the recent deep government intrusions into private business, which would have been extraordinary for any U.S. administration but have been particularly so for a Republican president.
I'm sorry, so exactly how is Obama's $700 billion stimulus package different from Bush's $700 billion stimulus package? It was much more of a shock for a Republican (read: staunch capitalist) to inject government money into private business than someone like Obama, who is a Democrat bordering on socialism. A socialist wishing to back business with government support is not all that strange (look at the UK car industry), but a true capitalist should, if he is to be believed, allow capitalism to work itself out - and that means lots of lost jobs, companies going bankrupt, and no government bailout. Capitalism is cutthroat.
A more politically conservative friend of mine quipped recently that "the problem with socialism is that you keep running out of other people's money." To this, I could only laugh and respond, "these days, it appears as though that's the trouble with capitalism as well."
Basically, the message is this: all you Tax Day Tea Partiers out there, shut up. You're allowing yourselves to be whipped up into a frenzy by conservative reporters whose job it is to do precisely that. I argued against the bailout plans months ago (see my post), but that doesn't mean I'm going out to a public park to throw away tea and threaten to not pay my taxes. You need to open your eyes and realize precisely what's going on here. You shouldn't be surprised that a semi-socialist government wishes to pump money into a failing capitalist economy, but last year, you should certainly have been surprised at a capitalist government which pushed to do just that. Alas, you didn't pay attention, and it appears you're not paying attention now.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


As my writing has been inconsistent, so has my data analysis. What result I once had, I cannot reproduce. Who would have guessed?
As we approach Good Friday, crayon colored flowers in bloom everywhere and distasteful gift baskets lining the shelves at Walmart, the more I ponder, and the less I can believe that, given the arguable (spiritual) purpose of life here on earth, there must exist a heaven. If we explain (or explain away, as the case may be) evil as either disciplinary or a combination of disciplinary and "the best God could do with all cohesive possibilities," (I point the reader to P.A. Bertocci's Philosophy of Religion), it remains to be seen why discipline should necessarily end at physical death, or why, if God could make something better (ie, heaven), this life should not also be better (because then it's possible). Did not Jesus, the "reason for the season," speak of the kingdom of heaven "which is now here"?
Two years ago, I attended an Easter service at a large Baptist church with a friend of mine. Irritated, I refused to raise my hand when the congregation was asked for the status of their eternal souls, drawing attention to myself and my inability to "play along." This Easter, I am again not certain, but I again refuse to believe merely because somewhere it is written, "blessed is he who believes and yet has not seen."
I suppose that it's back to the drawing board, metaphysically speaking.