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Boehner passes his bill.  Now we switch to the second front in the war on sanity.

Boehner passed his bill. Barely. And now it goes to the Senate.

Here's TPM on what awaits:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is eyeing two separate avenues to passing such a bill -- one that would result in Senate passage of a debt limit bill Monday morning, another that would wrap up the Senate's work Tuesday, each leaving House Democratic and Republican leaders precious little time to cobble together a coalition to pass it.

Reid has his eyes on several Republicans who might co-operate. The huge question looming over the Capitol at this point is whether Boehner has enough sway with his caucus to put together a substantial number of votes -- enough to pass something before the country's borrowing authority expires late Tuesday evening.

Right. Reid will have to get "several Republicans to co-operate." And then Boehner is going to have to decide between risking his speakership by essentially having the President and Pelosi pass the final hideous piece of garbage that emerges(with just enough Republicans to get it over the line) or default. I still don't see how the debt ceiling gets raised by the congress any other way.

What a mess. I think it's time to start tippling.


What the WMAP image means [Starts With A Bang]

"It has been rightly said that nothing is unimportant, nothing powerless in the universe; a single atom can dissolve everything, and save everything! What terror! There lies the eternal distinction between good and evil." -Gerard De Nerval
(For Rich C. and Sili, for their questions on this post.)

The humble hydrogen atom -- one proton and one electron, bound together -- is the most common form of normal matter in the entire Universe. When you look out at all the galaxies in the Universe, what you're seeing is predominantly light coming from those simple hydrogen atoms fusing together at the cores of stars.


(Image credit: Hubble Deep Field South, NASA/ESA.)

Yet despite the huge amount of hydrogen, something like 1080 atoms in our observable Universe, there's something far more abundant.


Light! If you want to understand where it comes from, we have to go back to the very early stages of the Big Bang. Not just back before there were atoms, but even before there were protons. The Universe was once so hot and dense that it was filled with what's known as a quark-gluon plasma.


When you heat matter up to temperatures above two trillion Kelvin (!), the fundamental components of nuclei -- quarks and gluons -- become so energetic that calling groups of them things like "protons" and "neutrons" doesn't make sense anymore.

Instead, quarks, gluons, and anything else that's energetically allowed, simply exists in an unbound state.


Well, the Early Universe had temperatures that put two trillion Kelvin to shame! And the hotter you turn up the furnace, the more stuff you make! In fact, in the earliest times, you not only made all the particles in the standard model...

StandardModel.jpeg also made all the anti-particles in the standard model!


All told, in the very early stages of the Universe, what you think of today as radiation -- namely, photons, or particles of light -- was less than 2% of the total amount of particles present. (And if there's new physics at high energies, like supersymmetry, extra dimensions, or grand unification, it might be even less than that!)

But remember the most important property of the Universe in the cosmological standard model: it's expanding and cooling as it ages.


One result of this is that less and less energy is available, so it gets harder and harder to make these heavy particles. Another result is that they're progressively farther apart, meaning that they start to condense into bound objects: baryons and mesons. And finally, because the Universe is aging all this time, the unstable particles that you've made decay!


(Image credit: CERN.)

Some of the particles that decay are (likely) responsible for creating the matter/antimatter asymmetry in our Universe, but the vast majority decay into truly stable radiation: photons and neutrinos.

The net result is that our Universe is filled with something like 1080 protons (and electrons), but something like 1090 photons. In other words, we have over a billion photons for every "atom" we're going to wind up with. For many thousands of years, protons and electrons combine to form neutral atoms. But every time they do, an energetic enough photon comes along in very short order and kicks the electron out, keeping us in a plasma-like state. So we wait.

The Universe continues to expand and cool, and will do so until it's cool enough to form neutral atoms for the first time.

Decoupling of Matter.jpeg

What determines when this happens? Well, remember how I said that photons outnumber atoms by more than a billion to one? That means that not only does the average photon energy need to be unable to ionize a hydrogen atom, but that less than one out of every billion photons needs to have enough energy to ionize it.


(Image credit: COsmic Background Explorer team.)

So that very tail-end of the spectrum needs to drop below the ionization energy/temperature of hydrogen. This happens when the Universe cools to a temperature of about 3,000 Kelvin, almost two orders of magnitude lower than what it would need to cool to if the number of atoms and photons are the same.

When you finally cool down enough to form neutral atoms -- when the Universe is about 380,000 years old -- that radiation left over from the Big Bang can finally travel to you in a straight line, cooling as the Universe expands, and reaching our satellites and telescopes today, 13.7 billion years later.


(Image credit: WMAP team, and NASA.)

On average, we see that leftover radiation at 2.725 Kelvin, but when we look at even finer resolution, we can see what the fluctuations are in that radiation! That's what this famous WMAP image shows us: how much hotter or cooler each individual place in the sky is from its "average" temperature of 2.725 Kelvin.

Now that you know what causes it and where it comes from, we can ask the big questions: what does this sky map mean, and what do we learn from it?

CMB v.jpeg

First off, this ellipse shows the entire sky. The plane of the galaxy has been subtracted out to the best of our abilities, and the minimum resolution of this image is between about 0.1 and 0.2 degrees, limited only by the sensitivity of our instruments.

What we then do is look at different sections of this map. For example, we might break it up into four equal chunks, and look at what the average temperature is in each of those four chunks, and see how far they deviate from the average. We might then try again, except this time, we break it up into twice as many chunks. And we do it again and again, seeing how the magnitude of the average fluctuations change as our scale changes.


And we do this up to the maximum resolution of our images, measuring what the average temperature fluctuations are on a whole slew of different scales. And, as we like, we can make a graph of what this looks like!


So when you see this graph, that's what we're looking at! For instance, the maximum average temperature fluctuations -- of around 70-80 micro Kelvins -- happen on scales of just about one square degree.

This is incredibly interesting for learning about the Universe! Why? Because, according to our leading theories, the Universe began with equal fluctuations on all scales! But by time the Universe is 380,000 years old, that is very clearly not the case anymore. Why not?


Because structure has started to form! The slightly overdense regions have started to grow; the slightly underdense regions have started to shrink. Radiation pressure has pushed small collapsing regions back outwards (in some small-enough regions, multiple times), but hasn't had time to push large enough ones outwards even once!

In short, the patterns that come out of these fluctuations are very sensitive to the amount and type of matter and radiation both in the Universe at that time -- when it's 380,000 years old -- and also how it's been expanding since.

So when we analyze this data, we can learn how much matter (and of what different variety) exists in the Universe at any given time!


And this is what we find! For those of you who are curious about what percent of the Universe was in what form of energy at different epochs, I've taken the liberty of creating a chart for you that displays just that.


And that's what the WMAP image means, where it comes from, and what we use it for!

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Obviously, I don't have any more idea of how this is finally going to come down than anyone else has at this point. It's clear that the GOP is milking this for every last drop and the leadership can't satisfy their greedy teabaggers with assurances that there will be more to come down the road. But one thing is looking more and more to me to be the sad, obvious outcome and it's something I thought would happen from the beginning: the Democrats are going to pass a terrible, contractionary bill filled with spending cuts that will devastate the economy and affect their own constituents far more than the opposition.

If it's Reid's bill, which we're all supposed to be rooting for a this point, at a minimum it will attach the names of liberal politicians to the aforementioned spending cuts, the Super Congress that will undoubtedly force cuts to all the safety net programs and the end of any vestige of rational economic thinking on the left as well as the right. That doesn't seem like a good idea to me.

The answer at this point is to punt on all negotiations and have the president use the 14th Amendment remedy. It would be risky, of course. After all the market Gods with the apt names of "Standard" and "Poors" (helped by the centrist Dem eunuchs who serve at their pleasure) have joined the Tea Party and decreed there must be horrifying, painful austerity But all the backroom deals on the table are so bad that it is preferable at this point to take a chance with some bold leadership than go through with any of them.

As I said, I don't think this will happen. I think Democrats will pass this bill and the Democratic President will sign it. And honestly, I'm not sure there's a worse outcome.


AT&T announces throttling plans, gently reminds us why the T-Mobile acquisition is so great

AT&T today officially confirmed what so many had expected for some time now: the carrier will be throttling select users' unlimited data plans. The move, which takes effect on October 1st, is a response to a "serious wireless spectrum crunch," according to a message issued today. The changes will not affect most customers, according to the company, primarily targeting those who fall within the top five percent of heavy users in a given billing cycle. Once the new period begins, speeds will be restored. Even with this new plan in place, however, the company says that the spectrum problems still won't be resolved -- it does have a simple solution, however, explaining that "nothing short of completing the T-Mobile merger will provide additional spectrum capacity to address these near term challenges." Full text after the break.

Continue reading AT&T announces throttling plans, gently reminds us why the T-Mobile acquisition is so great

AT&T announces throttling plans, gently reminds us why the T-Mobile acquisition is so great originally appeared on Engadget on Fri, 29 Jul 2011 17:03:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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“I’m gonna ask you a simple question and I want you to listen to me: who’s the big winner here tonight?”

You're a big winner. I'm gonna ask you a simple question and I want you to listen to me: who's the big winner here tonight at the casino? Huh? Mikey, that's who. Mikey's the big winner. Mikey wins.

Ezra says that Boehner ending negotiations with the White House on the Grand Bargain helped President Obama dodge a bullet:

Thus far, this debate isn’t helping anybody. Obama’s approval rating hit 40 percent in the most recent Gallup poll — a new low for him. But it’s devastating the GOP. As you can see in the Pew chart to the right, confidence in the Republican leaders has fallen by more than 10 percentage points since February. They’re now well below the Democrats.

That’s good news for House Democrats, in particular. But it’s also evidence that Obama’s strategy of trying to personally manage the negotiations hasn’t improved his numbers. Which is why it’s probably helping him that Boehner decided to move the negotiations over to Congress and assume more of the blame himself.

Apparently studies of these gridlocked budgets in the states show that people tend to blame the legislature more than the executive when the legislative majority is of the opposite party. Or something. Ezra has the data.

The President did everything in his power to own this debacle but I think Boehner saved Obama from himself not so much by taking more of the blame for the breakdown in negotiations but by making it impossible for him to take a Greatest Deal in History Grand Bargain victory lap. Considering what's probably going to come of all this, the greater distance from the results the better. In their zeal to prevent Obama from being perceived as a winner, they may have saved him from his worst instincts.

And speaking of "winning", Rush Limbaugh is giving his listeners quite the pep talk today. This is from David Frum:

I listened to about 45 minutes of the first hour of Rush Limbaugh in the car today.

The dominant theme of the hour, repeated over and over: “You” – meaning, Limbaugh listeners – are not “losers.” It’s Obama’s who’s a “loser.”

The word “loser” must have been repeated dozens of times, half as reassurance (that’s what you are not!), half as epithet (that’s what President Obama is!)

The psychological interpretation of what’s going on here is almost too obvious to remark. But what I can’t decide is whether it’s more sinister or more sad.

I'm voting for sinister.


Mythological job creation

Michael Sherer from Time was on MSNBC a few minutes ago exploding some of the myths about this stupid debt ceiling circus. To the question of "why nobody will compromise", he explained that there have been plenty of compromises already what with the Republicans giving up their request for liberal concentration camps and Democrats giving up everything they ever stood for (or something like that) and he explained that contrary to economic experts Michelle Bachman and Rick Perry default actually is a big problem.

But this surprised me because I think it may be the first time I've seen a mainstream journalist point this out:

Q: Last but not least, "this debate is about getting people back to work"

Sherer: That's right. Both parties like to talk about jobs and do it all the time because that's what Americans want to hear.

The problem is that this debate is really not about jobs, especially in the short term. All the plans that have been scored so far are going to reduce GDP, which reduces employment.

There is a long range benefit of solving our fiscal problems. but there's nothing for the short term. There's been one plan floated for so0me short term tax stimulus but it='s not been a priority for either party.

So when you hear both parties talk about jobs, this is just not the vehicle that's going to help the jobs picture. in fact the instability caused by this debate has almost definitely reduced investment in recent weeks and that's hurt the jobs picture.

I realize that the president has been more nuanced than the Republicans on the benefits of the massive spending cuts and contractionary nature of this whole debate. He evidently believes that once this is all over and all the cuts have been made that the Republicans will go home and get drunk leave the Democrats alone to start stimulating the economy and creating new more wonderful programs to make up for the destruction of the old ones. But it is still the case that most Americans have come to believe that fixing thew deficit will lead to jobs. (And hey, maybe it will --- in 2057)

[T]oday’s Pew poll offers some of the clearest evidence yet that Dems helped Republicans win the argument over the deficit and government spending by acquiescing to the GOP’s austerity/cut-cut-cut frame at the outset:

In terms of the public’s priorities for economic policy, more Americans (52%) say they would place a higher priority on reducing the budget deficit rather than on spending to help the economy recover. In February, opinion was more closely divided (49% reduce deficit vs. 46% spend to help the economy recover).

While there are wide ideological and partisan gaps on this issue, independents view deficit reduction as the higher priority. More than half of independents (54%) say this should be a higher priority for the federal government, compared with 39% who prioritize spending to help the economy recover.

This comes after yesterday’s Bloomberg poll found that the public broadly agrees with key GOP arguments: That deficit reduction is necessary to spur “economic confidence” (the “confidence fairy” argument) and that government regulation and taxes create “uncertainty” that harms job creation.

The key in today’s Pew poll, though, is that there’s been clear movement in the direction of prioritizing the deficit over spending to create jobs. The public was roughly divided on this question in February (49-46), but now the public prioritizes deficit reduction by 10 points (52-42).

If people trusted the Democrats to put job creation above everything else, they've been well schooled to believe that cutting spending is the way to get there.

Still, it's good to see someone in the press put that out there. It might have been helpful if they did it before both parties decided to take a swan dive over the deficit cliff, but I suppose it's better than nothing.


Redistricting Commission Tentatively Approves Final Maps

Maps have a few more hurdles, but should stand up

by Brian Leubitz

Well, the vote was due on August 15, but why not go ahead and figure out how things are going to go early?  Apparently, the maps, viewable here, are set to have sufficient votes.

New legislative, congressional and Board of Equalization boundaries were tentatively approved today by California's Citizen Redistricting Commission, ending months of hearings, public comments and debate.

Final action will be taken Aug. 15 on the maps, which are expected to be used for next year's statewide races.

The 53-district congressional plan nearly was killed by Republicans, receiving no votes from GOP members Michael Ward and Jodie Filkins Webber. Three other Republicans on the panel gave the maps thumbs up.(SacBee)

The CRP will likely sue to block implementation, as well any number of other smaller groups, but any major changes seem unlikely.  Perhaps a border here or there, but the CRP isn't all that likely to get the wholesale changes they are looking for.  While a 2/3 majority in both houses seems a stretch, I think you'd have to say that these maps make at least somewhat more likely.

One more thing, I must now admit that I was wrong that the commission would not be able to come up with an agreed upon map.  Well, it appears that I was wrong, and that the commission was able to find consensus.  How quaint.


Days of Zucchini and Tomatoes! [Casaubon’s Book]

When the heat wave finally broke this week, I found myself dying to cook again. After days of it being too damn hot to cook - and too hot to eat anything that had been cooked, when salad and corn on the cob were the extent of my culinary ambitions, food appealed again.

This is good, because the list of things you can do with raw zucchini is somewhat limited and we had reached the "For the love of god, someone, please cook something with these damned zucchini" stage. So we did. And with the tomatoes, the blueberries, the eggplant, the kale, etc....

Zucchini make wonderful dried zucchini chips - just slice thin, dehydrate and then toss with a spice mixture of choice. We grilled some, and sauteed some with tomatoes and zaatar spice mix. I sliced some up for bread-and-butter zucchini pickles. We also made chocolate-cherry-zucchini bread, which is not exactly healthy, but is fabulous.

3 cups grated zucchini
3 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup melted butter
3/4 cup cocoa
3 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup dried cherries (or any other dried fruit you've got lying around)

Mix the dry stuff together and the wet stuff together. Combine. Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake at 375 until a tester comes out dry, about 35 minutes.

For dinner on those really hot days, we drown in tomatoes and corn, and have a favorite dinner we call "corn and salsa" - it isn't really a salsa, more like a salad, but that's its name. The corn is just briefly boiled - a minute or more, and needs no adornment. The salsa is made with lots of ripe tomatoes, black beans and sweet onions. Then add a lot of lemon juice (lime is fine too), salt and a bit of sugar to balance the acidity, and some canned chipotles in adobo or dried chipotle powder, also to taste. Serve with a giant salad and eat by the bowlful. My kids can eat their weight in this meal! It is really nice with cilantro as well, but Eric doesn't like the stuff, so I forget to add it for my own.

Once it cools off more, we'll probably eat another favorite tomato dish more often - it is particularly wonderful with the late, slightly watery tomatoes you get after summer's peak. We had it for the first time the other night, though, and ti was great. Please try not to hold against it the fact that we have given this the rather unappetizing name "tomato goop" at our house. Feel free to give it a better name, like "tomatoes a la goop" if that will please you more wink.

This consists of a whole bunch of sliced tomatoes in a pan, layered with basil and garlic. Then add olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, any spices you like, bread crumbs, and if you want, cheese. I like goat cheese crumbled on top, or parmesan sprinkled over the breadcrumbs, but do as you like. Bake at 400 until juicy and golden and serve over homemade bread.

We harvested the apricots on our trees this year - not enough to bother preserving, the kids (and the adults) ate a ton of them fresh, and then they were made into blueberry-apricot-almond crisp. A layer of sliced apricots, a quart of blueberries, a little lemon and sweetener if you like, and a streusel of brown sugar, rolled oats, almonds, a bit of flour, a little oil and almond extract. How bad could that be?

That's the great glory of this time of year - the food is so lush it doesn't need much - but gilding the lily has its pleasures.

So what are you eating right now?


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Also check out the featured ScienceBlog of the week: Inside the Outbreaks on the ScienceBlogs Book Club


Can you say ... WTF? (And that’s not referring to Winning the Future)

Today's economic data is, shall we say, bracing:

The country’s gross domestic product, a broad measure of the goods and services produced across the economy, grew at an annual rate of 1.3 percent in the second quarter, after having grown at an annual rate of 0.4 percent in the first quarter — a number that itself was revised sharply down from earlier estimates of 1.9 percent . Both figures were well below economists’ expectations.

Data revisions going back to 2003 also showed that the 2007-2009 recession was deeper, and the recovery to date weaker, than originally estimated. Indeed, the latest figures show that the nation’s economy is still smaller than it was in 2007, when the Great Recession officially began.

“The word for this report is ‘shocking,’ ” said John Ryding, chief economist at RDQ Economics. “With slow growth, higher inflation and almost no consumer spending growth, it is very tough to find good news.”

The latest figures come as Congress is debating how to put the nation on a more sustainable fiscal path, with measures that some economists worry could further slow the economy and even throw it back into recession. Even in the absence of further austerity measures, some of the government’s current stimulative policies, such as the payroll tax cut, are phasing out, and state and local governments are slashing spending dramatically.

Such fiscal retrenchment was already expected to be a drag on growth in the coming year; the Commerce Department’s report and the Washington debt talks only magnify those concerns.


As for the politics, CBS Senior correspondent Nora O'Donnell just asserted in the White House briefing that the Democrats haven't compromised. Jay Carney explained that they have backed off clean debt limit demand, accepted dollar for dollar cuts and accepted no revenues as part of the package. You'd think she would have known that.

Earlier I saw a man on the street segment on CNN in which every single person said that both parties are behaving like children and they should just sit down and figure out what needs to be done. I'm sure that someday they'll understand that the Democrats were the adults in the room and the GOP were the psychos, but I'm not sure they'll find it to be very reassuring at that point.


Auditor: UC Needs More Transparency

State Audit reveals no major malfeasance, but a deep lack of transparency

by Brian Leubitz

Sen. Leland Yee has been all over the UC system, arguing that nobody knows what is going on with the system.  But while State Auditor Elaine Howle didn't find anything legally wrong, she did find that much more could be done to shed light on the process

The University of California should justify to the public why it spends thousands of dollars more per student at four of its 10 campuses and also do a better job of explaining how it spends more than $1 billion it allots annually to "miscellaneous services," state auditors said Thursday.

The audit found no major malfeasance in the university system's budgeting or spending, but noted a lack of transparency in the way it handles its finances that could erode public trust.

For example, $6 billion was budgeted for the UC president's office over five years, all of it falling under a line-item category called miscellaneous services. (SF Gate)

Now, most of the money can be traced back to legitimate expenses, but why was so much money just tossed into a "miscellaneous" file.  UC can do better than that. Heck, they have a whole fleet of accounting professors that can help them out with that.  But we would all be served by a bit more sunshine in the Office of the President.

The report also revealed that several campuses receive much smaller amounts of funding per student. UCSB receives $12,309 per student, while UC-Davis receives $17,660.  Much of this has to do with some important underlying factors such as percentage of graduate students, but once again, a little sunshine could make this whole process smoother.  If the UC just did a better job in keeping its books open, many of these issues wouldn't get heated at all.

Meanwhile both the UC system and Yee are taking the report as a win. Hooray for that.


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