Atom Wave: June 2007

Atom Wave

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Bong Hits 4 Jesus

Washington D.C.-The Supreme Court hacks have cracked a rim again in their ongoing decidership of America. Students constitutional right to free speech will now be taxed when they are in school. It all began 5 years ago when former Alaska high school student Joseph Fredrick unfurled a 14-foot banner displaying “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” on a prank. The local principal Deborah Morse suspended Fredrick for 10 days, on the theory that the banner somehow endorsed drug use.
Last Monday, the court narrowly decided to support the principal Morse on the grounds that school officials have the right to censor speech that runs contrary to the educational mission of the school. That was the ruling of the justices Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito. Meanwhile, the justices John Paul Stevens, Stephen J. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and David H. Souter dissented saying that censoring this speech effectively amounted to making a special First Amendment.
They are right, and liberals and conservatives across the country ought to be fuming! The First Amendment was never established to serve the educational mission of the public schools. It was founded to guarantee every American the right to express their opinion without fear of censorship or punishment. Once you start down the path of allowing schools to punish or censor speech that they dislike, education becomes political. Do conservatives want their kids to be disciplined in a school because they might say, “Jesus is my Patriot”? Do liberals want their kids suspended in a public school because they might say, “Weed is my vegetable”? Free Speech must be defended, even when you are defending somebody else’s right to say something that you would spend a lifetime opposing.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Breaking The Shuttle

NASA may never learn. Over four years have elapsed since the space shuttle Columbia broke apart over Texas, and they still insist on flying the shuttle when they know that they have a glitch.
For those foreign to the death of Columbia, it began on January 16, 2003 during launch when a piece of foam fell off the external tank striking the leading edge of one of the orbiter’s wings. Courtesy of long-range tracking cameras, NASA was fully aware of the impact but considered it to be trivial. They were wrong, on February 1, 2003 superheated gases penetrated Columbia’s wing during re-entry burning it apart.
Today NASA is flying the Atlantis with questionable equipment onboard, mainly the Composite Overwrap Pressure Vessels. The Composite Overwrap Pressure Vessels are 24 helium and nitrogen tanks used to pressurize the shuttles propulsion system, and they have exceeded their design lifetime. They were originally built to last 10 years, but were later recertified for another 10 years. The tanks on the Atlantis are now 22 years old and can no longer be trusted. The worst-case scenario is that one or more of the tanks could explode aboard the shuttle at full pressure. If the explosion occurs on the pad, than the deaths of some ground workers may be certain along with serious damage to the orbiter. If the explosion occurs when the shuttle is in flight, than it may be the end of the Atlantis. It is suspected that the shuttle Discovery may also be susceptible to this flaw.

NASA cannot replace the tanks since the manufacturer quit building them years ago, and they cannot rebuild them until 2010 when the space shuttles are retired. Until that day arrives they intend on only applying maximum pressure to the tanks when they need to, just before launch.
This is just the sort of philosophy that caused NASA to lose the shuttles Columbia and Challenger in the first place. “Why worry about some leaking gases from the solid rocket boosters, what is the worst that could happen?” or “Who cares if stuff falls off the external tank, no harm?”
I’m not advocating the grounding of the shuttles, to live and fly is to risk. It still smells like somebody is playing with fire. Something is wrong with this picture when NASA can send probes to other planets but they can’t replace some ripe old tanks.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Under a Missile Shield and Dreaming

Los Angeles, California-Our pseudo-intelligent political leaders are back at it again. Defense Secretary Robert Gates made it crystal clear Thursday that the United States fully intends to build a new ballistic missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s proposal to use a radar base on Azerbaijan Island instead.
President Bush and Secretary Gates want the missile shield to protect the United States from possible aggression from Iran and North Korea. President Putin is concerned that the presence of the missiles in Poland and the X-band radar in the Czech Republic will undermine the effectiveness of Russian ballistic missiles. This opinion is only amplified by efforts by Mr. Gates to base additional short-range interceptor missiles further in Eastern Europe.
Would Mr. Putin please join me at Studio C? Don’t sweat the missile shield; it is unreliable even in the best of circumstance. They have been testing these missiles for years, and at a better than even rate they have been missing. Even when they do strike their targets, some experts would consider the tests to be rigged. Many of the tests have used little or no countermeasures, and they have precise knowledge of the warheads arrival time, origin, and velocity. I wouldn’t trust the system to protect my CR-V if it was parked right next to one of the missile silos.
As for President Bush, this is Darkstar calling. Forget about North Korea and Iran, they are a trivial threat for as far as nuclear ballistic missiles are concerned. Number-one, they don’t own any weapon capable of reaching our shores anyway. Number-two, they would be fools to launch one at us. One pesky thing about missiles is that they come with return addresses. They are glorified projectiles, and with a little effort you can calculate their origin and pummel them. Did you ever read “The Sum of All Fears” by Mr. Clancy? Shipping nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons to other countries is much more of an in thing. It is cheap and a hell to trace the origin after the weapon goes off. If you are sincere about protecting this country, start with the borders first.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Free Will: Wanted Dead or Alive

You could find yourself in a fast moving truck. Or you could find yourself advancing on an enemy in the battlefield. Or you could find yourself married to a gorgeous woman. Or you could find yourself saying, “How did I get here?”
One of the great puzzles of science and philosophy in this age is the nature of free will. Do we have free will? Is it just an illusion? Is it somewhere in between?
In philosophy at least, it is frequently considered that we can have will that is not free. Philosophers typically debate if free will exists, but virtually everyone considers it to exist in some form. The snag is often annoying things like determinisms ranging from causality to biology. Philosophers remain divided about the meanings of these determinisms.
The Philosopher David Hume considered free will to be the power of acting or of not acting. In this sense, he considered free will to be a goal-oriented process.
Thomas Aquinas expanded upon this framework to include choice with the ability to choose between what may be worth pursuing and what may not be. His philosophy didn’t equate good with morally good. Freedom is than the ability to choose a means to an end. One problem with this method is that it ignores compulsive passions that severely limit one’s ability to choose rationally.
Theorists have not neglected the impact of passions on will. One of the solutions that they have come up with is that agents will freely only in the absence of external manipulation bypassing their rational controls. This introduces another anomaly to the logic, as it would not permit a “natural saint” freedom since he or she would not have the ability to choose a more selfish course of action.
Harry Frankfort invented an original solution to this matter. He defined free will as the ability to reflect on our desires and beliefs. I may want to eat a cake (first-order desire), but I may not want to get fat (second-order desire). In this view free will is dependent on the second-order desire. Frankfort is explicit that morals need not be connected to high-order desires, he considers it to be chiefly first-order.
In another camp of philosophy, perhaps more in sync with science; free will is considered to be subject to natural laws.
John Martin Fischer breaks it down into two mechanisms, guidance and regulative. An individual exerts guidance control over their actions as long as it is weakly reason responsive. This exists if there is sufficient reason for the agent to have another possible course of action. Regulative guidance is the ability of the agent to choose a different course of action in the actual circumstance.
Many do not agree with this premise, and assert that beliefs, desires, and other forces can casually affect the act of will itself. The metaphysical nature of this depth is debatable, but usually breaks into three divisions. The first one is that we control our will simply because it is our will. Proponents of the event-casual system say that we are still subject to determinate natural laws, requiring will to be deterministic and subject to the laws of probability. Finally there is the belief that the agent produces his own choices or actions, and that it can’t be further reduced. In that respect, we can’t choose our actions any more than say a falling stone.
In this view science would agree in some form. In the 1970’s Benjamin Libet of the University of California discovered that the brain signals actions before the person involved becomes aware of it. Using an electroencephalogram and timing subjects response times to an action, he found that the conscious brain is lagging the unconscious brain in commanding an action. This experiment has been reproduced over the years and verified. Dr. Libet himself considers free will to be limited and subject to our ability to veto actions already in our mental pipeline.
In the end asking about if you can make free decisions may be the wrong question. A better question would be why you made the decision.

New York Times

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy