Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Universe is Weird

And now for a change from our usual politics- and economics-heavy talk to something weirder: physics.

Quantum mechanics is weird. Richard Feynman, one of its most important discoverers, said, "I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics." Well, it just got weirder.

This article says that effects can occur before their causes. Don't ask me how that can possibly work; I have no idea. But the experiment seems to show that it's possible.

As always with entanglement, it's important to note that no information is passing between Alice, Bob, and Victor: the settings on the detectors and the BiSA are set independently, and there's no way to communicate faster than the speed of light. Nevertheless, this experiment provides a realization of one of the fundamental paradoxes of quantum mechanics: that measurements taken at different points in space and time appear to affect each other, even though there is no mechanism that allows information to travel between them.

I wonder if it's possible to change the experimental setup a bit: can Alice and Bob take their measurements and then tell Victor what to do? If Alice and Bob measure that Victor didn't entangle, but tell him to entangle and he does, something has to give. It's a little unsatisfying to say they must not have been able to communicate because of speed-of-light issues. Let them communicate and see if we can violate causality on the macro level.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Bully Pulpit

In America's system of separated powers, the executive power is more limited that in most systems. The President cannot, for example, propose a budget. (In the parliamentary model, the government generally proposes budgets which are then debated and usually passed by the legislature. It's usually a smooth process because the government is usually the party of the majority. Not so in America, where we often find the executive and legislative branches controlled by different parties.)

However, one great advantage of the Presidency is the so-called "bully pulpit", a term coined by Teddy Roosevelt, who meant "bully" in the sense of "great" or "terrific". My generation might called it an "awesome platform", a great place from which to advocate for an agenda or position.

President Obama seems to have taken "bully" to mean something else: to harass or coerce. His preemptive attack on the Supreme Court over Florida v. HHS cannot possibly have any populist effect: the legislative work, after all, is done. The only effect it can possibly have is to try to cow the Supreme Court justices to decide in favor of the government. That is the other form of bullying.

Whether he'll get away with it is another matter. I would hope not. Everyone expects the case to be decided 5-4, with Justice Kennedy, as usual, the swing vote.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Single Life

This is heartbreakingly difficult to read.

And tried to remind myself that when we first met I thought he was an arrogant, presumptuous little man. I tried to think about my conversation with Steven. I tried to remember that I was actively seeking to practice some Zenlike form of nonattachment. I tried to remember that no one is my property and neither am I theirs, and so I should just enjoy the time we spend together, because in the end it's our collected experiences that add up to a rich and fulfilling life. I tried to tell myself that I’m young, that this is the time to be casual, careless, lighthearted and fun; don’t ruin it.