Saturday, January 17, 2009

No Spoon Full of Sugar For This Medicine

Several days ago, I noted that a senior Bush official stated that in her opinion, The US had tortured. She believed this strongly enough that she couldn't recommend the prosecution of the so-called "20th hijacker." Eric Holder, the nominee for attorney-general, stated in his confirmation hearing that he believed waterboarding was torture, and he did so in no uncertain terms. The NYT has a piece about the terrible can of worms this opens.

Yet his statement, amounting to an admission that the United States may have
committed war crimes, opens the door to an unpredictable train of legal and
political consequences. It could potentially require a full-scale legal investigation, complicate prosecutions of individuals suspected of committing terrorism and mire the new administration in just the kind of backward look that Mr. Obama has said he would like to avoid.
No doubt this will be a mess. When a crime of this magnitude has been committed, no administration that wishes to be taken seriously can simply turn away and pretend they just didn't see. Yet, in trying to read between the lines, it seems this is exactly what Obama would like to do. This is not to be terribly critical of him: the reasons for doing so are obvious and compelling. Our economy is in the tank, sinking with concrete galoshes, and we don't know where the bottom of the tank is yet. The news on the climate change front seems to get scarier every day. Health care is increasingly out of reach of moderately well-off families, and a single emergency could bankrupt even an insured, well-off family. Conflicts major and minor burst in and out of our consciousness like fireflies, reported but never really covered by the TV news.

In short, Obama has a stove full of scorching kettles, and there's no cool back burner to move any of them to.

Dealing with a war crimes investigation would be the last thing I'd want to deal with, were I in his shoes.

And yet the smooth functioning of this country demands it. One of the core ideals of this country is that no man is above the law; we are all equal before the workings of justice. Our adherence to that ideal has slipped; each of us can recite innumerable anecdotes of this person escaping justice because his wealth and power allowed him to buy out the system. Of that person incarcerated, brutalized, even executed, because of skin color and poverty. And I don't want to minimize those travesties. But here we are talking about the supposed "leader of the free world," a man who refused to hear, let alone consider, criticisms and questions regarding his actions and decisions and those of his subordinates. If he is allowed to amble amiably off into his Texas sunset, we might as well just announce in the headlines of every newspaper, of every evening local newscast, "You live in a police state. Your leaders can do whatever they want, and you are powerless to stop them. Get used to it."

If Obama wants to be taken seriously by the world and the majority of this country, if he wants to maintain the core, the spirit, of what makes this country the magnificent achievement that it is, he really has no choice.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Friday Fragment: Graphic Granite

I am very fond of the term "graphic granite;" it seems to carry the resonance of "graphic violence," or "graphic sex." So is graphic granite extreme or uncensored? Yes and no, sort of. Granite is the endpoint of segregation of the lowest melting temperature components of igneous rocks, so it's kind of extreme to begin with (actually, aplites could be considered even more of an endpoint here, but anyway...). Could it get more extreme? Yes. Pegmatites are the result of very slow crystallization, and thus have very large crystals. Now granite is slow cooling to begin with, and has by definition, large (visible to the naked eye) crystals. Granite pegmatites are not terribly uncommon, and they can have enormous crystals.

The two main minerals here are quartz and orthoclase feldspar. Biotite occurs as an accesory in this sample (we defined accesory minerals as those making up less than 2% of the rock). A blade of biotite can be seen near the middle of the above photo. Quartz is the darker grayish glassy mineral, while orthoclase is the creamy gray mineral that makes up most of the rock. (I think I remember ID'ing sphene or some such from this outcrop at some point, but I didn't see any in my scan over this sample)The reddish stains are probably from weathering of the biotite. So graphic granite is a pegmatitic granite with a very distinctive texture. The quartz and orthoclase crystallize out in a series of (more or less) parallel lathes. Looking perpendicular to the axis of the lathes, there is a peculiar columnar texture: And a close-up (a crop from the above smallified image):
Looking down the axis of the lathes, on the other hand, the quartz looks like small cuniform marks on the rock- hence, like writing: graphic.
1610, "traced" (implied in graphical), from L. graphicus "picturesque," from Gk. graphikos "of or for writing, belonging to drawing, picturesque," from graphe "writing, drawing," from graphein "write," originally "to scratch" on clay tablets with a stylus. (From here)

As an aside, "graphite" is also from the same root. In the above picture you can see the graphic texture- note fingers for scale. The texture is even more clear in the picture below.
In the below crop from the full-size picture, you can see the cuniform-like patterns that the quartz crystals form. You can also see clearly that the orthoclase is the major component of this rock. I will try again when we get some sunshine; I couldn't really capture it with the flash. If you look back at the close-up picture of the quartz-orthoclase lathes, you can see that one of the quartz lathes branches from the lower right to the upper left. So in the upper left, even though the two areas of quartz are separated, crystallographically they are continuous! That is, it's all the same mineral grain. You can really see this with the orthoclase: as you tilt it back and forth, all of the cleavage surfaces of that mineral glint at the same time.

About 90% of this rock is made of two enormous, intertwined and intergrown mineral grains!

So, yes, this is a pretty extreme rock... a "graphic" granite indeed.

This was collected just south of Denio Junction, Nevada. An oblique view to the southeast in Google Earth shows the hillside; the road is route 140. This is about 4.7 miles south of the junction. (note the yellow pin marking the general area. Pin location in GE is 41.875615° -118.597880°. Actually the outcrop is fairly extensive, and this is unnecessarily precise.)And in map view, Denio Junction is at the 3-way intersection to the west of the irrigation circles.
Very nice pair of photos here, including one of a graphic granite polished as a cabochon. This site also reminded me of the term perthitic, which I was trying to recall last night, but the texture didn't show up well enough in the photos to mention. Wonkish piece on experiments regarding the crystallization of this rock here.

So there's my first "Friday Fragment," which I hope is a fairly regular feature highlighting bits and pieces of our wonderful planet's corpus.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Short and Sweet

I missed his "farewell address" though I'm sure I'll read all sorts of fun things about it tomorrow. Egregrious at Firedoglake posted this version, which is actually pretty tolerable.

At the end of the post, E. asks the question, "Is it Tuesday yet?"

No doubt.

Announcement From PETA


Why, oh why do these awful humans just keep commiting such atrocities? We really must arm airplanes with self-destruct mechanisms. Why, even the landing that allowed these selfish people to escape is believed to have seriously frightened a large number of sea kittens!

There was a point in time when I thought PETA was doing an admirable job of trying to bring attention to the plight of animals being thoughlessly mistreated. That was maybe 20, 25 years ago. I now think PETA is a serious threat to rational thought- one of many, but still a threat.

See DCap for another fun take on this misfortune with a very fortunate outcome.

Six Random Things

Dean Wormer has tagged me...

The Rules:
1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
5. Let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

Six random things about me-

1) I have worked as a newspaper boy, a babysitter, painter, sheep herder, in a pinball & video arcade (at the time when Breakout was a big hit), a pizza delivery boy, in a landscaping nursery, making nuts, bolts and other metal thingies at a machine shop, lab tech in a veterinary lab, field worker and lab tech in forest soils ecology, yard & landscape maintainence, geology field worker, reporter, geology camp cook, biology and general science teacher (high school), science education instructor, eucational consultant and contractor, short order cook at a local beer/burger joint, field trip leader, biology lab TA (college level), and that's just what I remember. That's also not including volunteer work, which list would be almost as long. Right now I'm unemployed, and my family supports me.

2) This is not the first time I've been tagged, but it is the first one I've completed. (Darius, I will get to yours, probably this weekend)

3) The same guy who tagged me with this awarded me as a "Superior Scribbler," over two months ago. I somehow missed that until just last week, and haven't yet composed an acceptance speech. I'm really pretty tickled about it.

4) I dislike sports, noise and crowds, and somehow all these end up going together. I'm also don't like cars, for a whole lot of reasons, but I recognize that they do have their uses. Unlike sports, noise and crowds.

5) I'm agnostic; I don't believe I can know anything meaningful about the existence or nature of God. And I believe that is a valid philosophical position, not just a lazy one.

6) I'm one of only a few people I know who really appreciates western Oregon rain. I generally describe it as gentle, soothing, affectionate and/or serene. I don't think most people see it that way. It also smells beautiful. But I do miss midwest thunderstorms.

I tag:

Dr. Monkey
Greg and Kris

All of these folks are either relatives or followers... so I'm going to skip rule 5 and pretend I didn't see it. I promise I won't be hurt or offended if the tag victims choose not to notice this.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Wednesday Words

The second of the three weekly series I've been contemplating for a while. To prevent web crawlers from leaving reams of comment spam, most of you have probably encountered the Captcha tool: a picture (not text) of random letters distorted to make them difficult for computers to recognize. On rare occasions I've seen real words, but mostly they're just random letters. Surprisingly often they look like they might be words. Almost.
A dinnertime request or offer, or the female parent of a potato.
Onomatopoeia for what you do after eating too much gas-producing food. "After the baked beans last night, it was just one fancher after another."
The domain name for the server at the Feline Institute for Advanced Studies.
A particularly scary male antagonist (generally in film).
Dies in flames, but ritheth again from the atheth. With a lithp.

I've got 40 more of these stinkers I've been accumulating, and I'm confident I'll find them faster than I go through them. If I've misdefined any of these, or if you think of a better way to express their use in a sentence, feel free to comment. You might even find a good captcha word in the process.

Can Anyone Tell Me What's With the Red States?

Yet another geomeme is making the rounds; I've been meaning to get to this for nearly a week. But I kept putting off even procrastinating (head spins as I try to unravel that one...)

visited 47 states (94%)
Create your own visited map of The United States or try another Douwe Osinga project

Pretty good for the US- all but Maine, Alaska and Hawaii.

visited 4 states (1.77%)
Create your own visited map of The World or try another Douwe Osinga project

Not so hot globally- in fairness, I can't check Antartica, and the Falklands doesn't even show up. So less than 2%. Alrighty, then. Now look, all these red states... there's a connotation that I really don't appreciate.

Hee Hee

"A new sculpture in Brussels, commissioned by the Czech Republic in honor of its stint as holder of the European Union presidency, has rankled some EU members." From Der Spiegel.Now I guess I can see that some countries might be a little upset with their representations in this piece. My inclination would be to say, "but it's just art... one person's interpretation (in this case, a small team worked on it)." However, art is powerful. And not only can it lend legitimacy and momentum to a point of view, by its mere existence, it says "this point of view exists; it is real." People often don't appreciate that. They'd prefer to pretend that some points of view don't exist. So, for example, the image of a group of Catholic priests rasing a gay pride flag over Poland is threatening and offensive to some. (I thought the "Is the Pope Polish" jokes were obsolete- is there some ongoing reason Poland is associated with the Catholic Church?)

I'll leave it for the aggrieved parties to work it out for themselves. In the meantime... Hee Hee!
Photogallery here. There are some others that are amusing.

In Case You Hadn't Heard

Haven't read the WaPo piece yet; I caught this in The Guardian.
Susan Crawford, the Pentagon official in charge of military tribunals at the camp, said Mohammed al-Qahtani, a Saudi suspected of involvement in the September 11 terrorist plot, was subject to sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold. She said the torture meant he could not be prosecuted. "We tortured Qahtani," she told the Washington Post. "His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that's why I did not refer the case [for prosecution]."
I don't know how much to make of this. On one hand, it's not as if anyone who's been paying attention during the last few years isn't aware of this. Even if they want to think of the situation as a bunch of fraternity shenanigans, they know. On the other hand, according to the article, "Crawford is the first senior Bush administration official responsible for reviewing practices at Guantánamo to admit publicly that a detainee was tortured." We have a bunch of criminals, IMHO, who have consistently claimed legal justification for legal procedures. But from within their midst we finally have one voice willing to say, "We Tortured."

I just hope more brave voices emerge over the next days and weeks. Whatever Qahtani did or didn't do, planned or didn't plan, can now never be clearly determined in a court of law. Because we ourselves violated the law. That is infuriating to me, but it's not as if we weren't warned repeatedly that this situation was a very likely outcome. I have no doubt that Obama will put an end to it, but this country, and the rest of the world, not only deserves but needs to know exactly what has happened in the wake of 9/11.

I'm sad to say, in the immortal words of Walt Kelly, "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

Cutest Spider Ever

Sent this to Lydia yesterday, with a positive reaction. That "smile," of course, isn't actually it's mouth. But it does say "Have a nice day!" before it sucks all your juices out. From Cute Overload.

Digital Transition

For the last year and a half (maybe more), the cable company has been saturation advertising on the digital transition: "Are you ready?" Then they proceded to tell me that if I had cable, I didn't need to do anything. My cable is paid as part of my rent, and my television is just over a year old, so it's digital-ready. Doing nothing is okey-dokey by me.

Then yesterday, less than a month from the transition, I get a letter from Comcast. "If you don't get a converter box NOW, you will lose half the channels you are now receiving." The three channels I spend any time watching at all are CNN, The Weather Channel and Comedy Central. All three are in the upper tier that I am now, apparently, in immanent peril of losing.

I don't have a car. I don't have a phone. Their office is about seven miles north of town, at a stoplight called Lewisburg. I can't afford to pay for much of anything. Guess there's only one thing to do.


Fire in the Hole!

I knew that simulator would come in handy. Sorry about the collateral damage, Lewisburg, but you really need to choose your neighbors more carefully. Allowing Comcast to move in was just a bad decision. Covert that to digital, Comcast.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Quotable Thoughts

A few quotes selected from The Quotations Page. I have subscribed to the Quotes of the Day feed, and it adds a little sparkle and humor to each day.

Traditions are group efforts to keep the unexpected from happening.
Barbara Tober (1/13)

Someday I want to be rich. Some people get so rich they lose all respect for humanity. That's how rich I want to be.
Rita Rudner (1/11)

He who will not reason is a bigot; he who cannot is a fool; and he who dares not is a slave.
Sir William Drummond (1/10)

A fellow who is always declaring he's no fool usually has his suspicions.
Wilson Mizner (1/9)

I find it rather easy to portray a businessman. Being bland, rather cruel and incompetent comes naturally to me.
John Cleese (1/9)

Silent But Deadly

No, not farts, silly! Those are unpleasant, but not deadly. No, we're talking Ninja Kitties here.

This one was making the rounds a while back, but it's still great. Getting closer and closer and closer... without ever moving.

Kitty in training, will soon graduate to walking on the ceiling.

When you can take the spot from the end of the laser beam you will be ready to leave, Grasshopper.

First, He Changed Parties

Oooh! You can do Breaking News TV Captions too!
funny pictures
moar funny pictures

Just select "Breaking News Builder" rather than "Basic Builder" at the I Can Has Cheezburger site. This character is Doris Kearns Goodwin, incidentally. I don't really know much about her beyond the fact she appears to be part of the Democratic Appeasement of Republicans Committee (DARC), but the first time I saw her picture I thought, "Criminy... that's Leiberman in drag!" Saw another picture of her earlier today, and had to figure out how to do this.

You Know How Your Mom Always Warned You About That?

Yes, his face is now stuck that way. And has been since at least 2007. From "Sayonara to the Smirk."From "Funny the World." From Huffpo. yesterday.

Goodness! Is that a little embarassment or contrition creeping into that expression? Naaaah!

I swear, this guy reminds me of the Edward Norton charater at the end of Primal Fear... he got away with, he knows it, and he's just tickled pink to flaunt it in our faces.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Monday Mineral: Sunstone

Andrew Alden has up a piece on state minerals; Oregon doesn't have a state mineral, but we do have a state gem- which is a mineral. Gems are not necessarily minerals; two that come to mind are amber, which is solidified pitch from trees, and opal, which isn't crystalline. But Oregon's state gem is sunstone, which is a transparent form of plagioclase feldspar (labradorite, for us nerds).
I don't remember exactly when I collected these; the fun thing in this picture is the old apothecary jar I found to keep them in.Here are a few of them scattered out on a table. I didn't think to include something for scale, but I'd estimate the longest dimensions on these to be a bit less than a centimeter. I snapped these pictures as I was getting ready to leave for my coffee shop this morning, and (again) wasn't really thinking about trying to capture notable or interesting features. However in the following crop from the upper right area of the above picture, you can see the typical polysynthetic twinning on one of the crystals. The piece in the upper right, though a little out-of-focus, shows some of the play of light that makes better specimans of this mineral desirable. These particular pieces have no real value; they're small, the color is unremarkable, and the play of light (schiller)is not particularly striking. If memory serves, the value of high-quality cut gems can pass $2000 per carat. I'm not finding a citation for that, but there is an interesting piece at e-bay discussing the factors that might make a particular gem more or less valuable, along with some beautiful pictures of cut and polished gems. The source that I remember is Orr, Orr and Baldwin's Geology of Oregon. I'll double check that figure, but it has remained unchanged since the earliest editions of that book; I suspect it's actually significantly higher now. (Followup: wrong on two counts. First, the figure is $1000 per carat, not 2000. Second, the edition of Geology of Oregon I have at home is authored by Orr and Orr; though based heavily on the previous editions authored by Baldwin, he was not involved with the edition I have. I still suspect that the price has risen with inflation.)
While there are a number of mining claims, the most productive portion of the area, about 4 square miles, has been set aside by the BLM as unclaimable, and is open, free, to the public (though mechanized digging is prohibited: hand tools only).
The above photo was lifted from Google Earth; is is somewhat misplaced to the east. If you go to 42.722960, -119.861271 (decimal degrees) in Google Earth, you can zoom in close enough to see the sign. I'm always surprised by the resolution of coverage in GE- it varys from place to place, but I'm still generally pleasantly surprised. One of the fun things about camping at the sunstone area is how terribly remote and removed you feel. As it gets dark the coyotes sing to each other across the low hills surrounding this basin. Often there are no other people there at all, and the nearest community, Plush, is about 25 road miles away. The population of that metropolis is 82. Below is a GE view toward Hart Mountain to the southeast from the sunstone area.
This is quite true-to-life; at least it's quite true to my memories. Hart Mountain is a fault block in the northern Basin and Range; it is composed of Steens Mountain Basalt. SMB is more or less contemporaneous with the Columbia River Basalt. As I remember, its composition is also quite similar to CRB. Its source (Steens Mountain area) is 200-300 miles south of the (much larger) CRB eruptive area and the span of eruption of these basalts was shorter than that of the CRB. The sunstones are simply large (and they can be enormous) phenocrysts of plagioclase that have survived weathering better than the surrounding ground mass of the basalt. My suspicion is that mechanical weathering and eolian erosion are the two major processes at work here; as you can see in the above picture the local relief is nearly non-existent. A couple of links of interest are the Dust Devil Mining website, which has some great photos of gem quality specimans, and the BLM website, which offers some basic information on the area.

I have been thinking about starting this series for a while, and I thank Andrew for providing the motivation to get going. Other posts may not be as elaborate as this one, but I think I have enough samples to keep this going for a while... and I can always go get more! I'm also considering a "Friday Fragment" post, which would be about interesting rocks I have known.

Thanks for the Memories...

you effin' asshat.
9/11, two wars, Katrina: 'We had fun', says Bush
From The Guardian. See also DCap's windup, here.

In more hopeful news, I'll be able to take down my little GWB ghoul in only 8 days.

Arctic Blues, or, Our Blue Arctic

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) issued a report a few days back that I've been meaning to get to. Most often when I put these post ideas on the back burner and allow my compulsive reading to consume all my time, the articles start to seem dated and obsolete, and I just forget about them. On occasion though, someone will do a much better job of blogging about it than I could hope to do. Happily, this has just happened.

Dr. Jeff Masters, at his "Wunderblog," has posted a lengthy but excellent piece that starts with the sentence, "The top climate story of 2008, as it was in 2007, was the extraordinary summertime sea ice retreat in the Arctic." I'm guessing that most people heard about the 2007 retreat, but if they had heard about this past summer's ice retreat it was in the context of being so much less extreme than 2007's. Indeed, this past summer and fall's data seems to me to have received the most attention from climate change deniers. And it is true that the minimum 2008 ice coverage was 9% more than 2007's minimum.

It's also true that the 2008 value was 34% below average. And that in 2008, for only the second time in recorded history, the fabled Northwest passage (between the Arctic Ice cap and Canada) was open: you could sail from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean north of Canada. It's also true that the ice thickness was probably at a historical minimum, which means the ice volume was also at a record minimum. Which in turn means it will melt off that much faster this coming summer. And the final truth (at least right now; I can only stand so much truth at a time) is that for the first time in history, the Northeast passage was open north of Russia! For the first time in history, probably since before the last ice age, the Arctic was an island!The above graph, from the Wonderblog piece, shows with black lines the predictions of a variety of models with respect to Arctic ice retreat looking forward to 2100 AD. The bold red line shows the actual observed data. If you look at the average prediction, the dark black line running through the middle of the plots, and compare it to the observed data, where we are as of 2007-08 is about where our best suggestions said we might be about 2050. Quite a number of the more optimistic predictions suggested that by 2100, we wouldn't be where we are in reality over 90 years earlier.

We can pretty much kiss the image of Earth we grew up with, the one where both the polar regions are white, goodbye. Sooner than anyone thought possible, let alone likely, the north pole will be blue, open ocean, except for a few winter months.

And in other news, Santa Claus has just purchased the island of Tasmania from the Australian Government.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Amazing Proof!

I've always suspected something like this, but now I have proof (swiped with a modification from Christie Lynn at Observations of a Nerd):






Evil is negative, Therefore...

Girls are imaginary. QED.

You Are Here

That would be a good name for a blog, wouldn't it? But the thing I want to point out is this amazing image at today's APOD: (Click over for full explanation; click the pic there for full-sized gloriosity) Yes indeedy! You are Here!

"But wait," I hear you plaintively complain, "Earth doesn't have rings! Isn't that Saturn?"

"Well, yes," I reply. "But look closer."
See that little blue dot above and to the left of the rings? That little spot of sweetness? All our troubles, yes, but also all of our hopes, dreams and desires nestle in that little tiny blob of pixels.

You are here.