Author and astronomer Marcus Chown on the early history of the universe, quantum reality, and the origins of information.
In Song of Myself, Walt Whitman wrote: “Let your soul stand cool and composed before a million universes.” Of course, he never meant it literally; he was using poetic license. But, remarkably, today, we know it is actually possible to stand cool and composed before a million universes. In my hand I am holding a 1-gigabit flash memory drive. You will have to trust me about that! A moment ago I fished it from my pocket and now it dangles on my key-ring. Believe it or not, it has the capacity to store the information for 1 million universes.
I too was pretty incredulous to discover this. But, before I explain, I should say that one consequence of all this is that Einstein was wrong when he declared: “God does not play dice with the universe.” In other words, atoms did not do things unpredictably—completely at random—as the widely accepted theory of the microscopic world maintained. In fact, Einstein could not have been more completely, utterly, spectacularly wrong. And it is not often you can say that about the great man.
Enough of these teasers. Some essential background. The universe is currently expanding. Its basic building blocks—galaxies like our own Milky Way—are flying apart from each other like pieces of cosmic shrapnel in the aftermath of the big bang explosion from 13.7 billion years ago. Imagine, if you can, this expansion running backwards like a movie in reverse. Of course, the universe gets smaller and smaller.
However, it turns out that, as the universe gets smaller, there is less and less room for all the stuff within it. This is because we live in a fundamentally grainy universe. Ultimately, everything comes in tiny, indivisible chunks, or “quanta.” Matter comes in quanta, energy comes in quanta, time comes in quanta—and so does space. Imagine the space of the universe, then, as a giant chessboard, with the spaces as locations for putting stuff like matter or energy. Because the squares cannot get any smaller, in the past, when the universe was tinier, there were less of them.
Here we come to the crux of the matter. The universe is believed to have begun in epoch of super-fast expansion called “inflation.” And, prior to that, according to calculations by Stephen Hsu of the University of Oregon in Eugene, there were a mere 1000 locations—1000 chessboard squares, if you like—for stuff. Each of those 1000 locations could either contain energy or no energy. Describing its exact state would take just 1000 binary digits, or “bits,” of information. A gigabit flash memory drive, like the one on my key-ring, can store 1000 million bits. Hence, if Hsu is right, my key-ring drive can store the information describing the initial state of 1 million universes.
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Monday, June 7, 2010
Author and astronomer Marcus Chown on the early history of the universe, quantum reality, and the origins of information.
Beneath its commitment to soft-spoken diplomacy and beyond the combat zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Obama administration has significantly expanded a largely secret U.S. war against al-Qaeda and other radical groups, according to senior military and administration officials.
Special Operations forces have grown both in number and budget, and are deployed in 75 countries, compared with about 60 at the beginning of last year. In addition to units that have spent years in the Philippines and Colombia, teams are operating in Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia.
Commanders are developing plans for increasing the use of such forces in Somalia, where a Special Operations raid last year killed the alleged head of al-Qaeda in East Africa. Plans exist for preemptive or retaliatory strikes in numerous places around the world, meant to be put into action when a plot has been identified, or after an attack linked to a specific group.
The surge in Special Operations deployments, along with intensified CIA drone attacks in western Pakistan, is the other side of the national security doctrine of global engagement and domestic values President Obama released last week.
One advantage of using "secret" forces for such missions is that they rarely discuss their operations in public. For a Democratic president such as Obama, who is criticized from either side of the political spectrum for too much or too little aggression, the unacknowledged CIA drone attacks in Pakistan, along with unilateral U.S. raids in Somalia and joint operations in Yemen, provide politically useful tools.
Obama, one senior military official said, has allowed "things that the previous administration did not."
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By Louise Nordstrom, The Associated Press
STOCKHOLM — Despite the global financial crisis, world military spending almost doubled in the past decade to reach $1.53 trillion in 2009, a Swedish think-tank said Wednesday.
In its 2010 yearbook, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, or SIPRI, said that spending between 2008 and 2009 grew 5.9 percent.
The United States remains the biggest spender, accounting for some 54 percent of the increase, the report said. China, which became the second biggest military spender in 2008, retained that position last year. France was third.
Data also showed that Asia and Oceania are increasing their military expenditures the fastest.
The global financial turmoil had little effect on governments upgrading their armed forces, even in countries whose economies were hit the hardest, SIPRI spokesman Sam Perlo-Freeman said.
"Although military spending wasn't usually a major part of the economic-stimulus packages, it wasn't cut either," said Perlo-Freeman, who heads the think-tank's military-expenditure project.
"For major or intermediate powers — such as the USA, China, Russia, India and Brazil — military spending represents a long-term strategic choice, which they are willing to make even in hard economic times," he said.
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Israel was tonight under pressure to allow an independent inquiry into its assault on the Gaza aid flotilla after autopsy results on the bodies of those killed, obtained by the Guardian, revealed they were peppered with 9mm bullets, many fired at close range.
Nine Turkish men on board the Mavi Marmara were shot a total of 30 times and five were killed by gunshot wounds to the head, according to the vice-chairman of the Turkish council of forensic medicine, which carried out the autopsies for the Turkish ministry of justice today.
The results revealed that a 60-year-old man, Ibrahim Bilgen, was shot four times in the temple, chest, hip and back. A 19-year-old, named as Fulkan Dogan, who also has US citizenship, was shot five times from less that 45cm, in the face, in the back of the head, twice in the leg and once in the back. Two other men were shot four times, and five of the victims were shot either in the back of the head or in the back, said Yalcin Buyuk, vice-chairman of the council of forensic medicine.
The findings emerged as more survivors gave their accounts of the raids. Ismail Patel, the chairman of Leicester-based pro-Palestinian group Friends of al-Aqsa, who returned to Britain today, told how he witnessed some of the fatal shootings and claimed that Israel had operated a "shoot to kill policy".
He calculated that during the bloodiest part of the assault, Israeli commandos shot one person every minute. One man was fatally shot in the back of the head just two feet in front him and another was shot once between the eyes. He added that as well as the fatally wounded, 48 others were suffering from gunshot wounds and six activists remained missing, suggesting the death toll may increase.
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John Vidal reports in The Observer:
We reached the edge of the oil spill near the Nigerian village of Otuegwe after a long hike through cassava plantations. Ahead of us lay swamp. We waded into the warm tropical water and began swimming, cameras and notebooks held above our heads. We could smell the oil long before we saw it – the stench of garage forecourts and rotting vegetation hanging thickly in the air.
The farther we travelled, the more nauseous it became. Soon we were swimming in pools of light Nigerian crude, the best-quality oil in the world. One of the many hundreds of 40-year-old pipelines that crisscross the Niger delta had corroded and spewed oil for several months.
Forest and farmland were now covered in a sheen of greasy oil. Drinking wells were polluted and people were distraught. No one knew how much oil had leaked. "We lost our nets, huts and fishing pots," said Chief Promise, village leader of Otuegwe and our guide. "This is where we fished and farmed. We have lost our forest. We told Shell of the spill within days, but they did nothing for six months."
That was the Niger delta a few years ago, where, according to Nigerian academics, writers and environment groups, oil companies have acted with such impunity and recklessness that much of the region has been devastated by leaks.
In fact, more oil is spilled from the delta's network of terminals, pipes, pumping stations and oil platforms every year than has been lost in the Gulf of Mexico, the site of a major ecological catastrophe caused by oil that has poured from a leak triggered by the explosion that wrecked BP's Deepwater Horizon rig last month.
That disaster, which claimed the lives of 11 rig workers, has made headlines round the world. By contrast, little information has emerged about the damage inflicted on the Niger delta. Yet the destruction there provides us with a far more accurate picture of the price we have to pay for drilling oil today.
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By Pitman Buck, Jr.
One of the primary reasons given by Israel for its off-and-on refusals to negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority (PA) is the use of terrorism by the PLO and militant organs of the PA. A brief, historical summary of terrorism used by Zionists and Israel in the Middle East Conflict reveals that Israel has no justifiable right to cite the use of terrorism by others as a basis for refusing to negotiate with the PLO, PA, Yasser Arafat or anyone else. Such an historical summary would include the following facts.
From 1943 to 1948, Menachem Begin - who later became prime minister of Israel - commanded the infamous Irgun Zvai Leumi (IZL), an underground terrorist group dedicated to the overthrow of the British Mandate Authority and the expulsion of the native Arabs from Palestine in order to establish therein an exclusive Jewish state. On July 22, 1946, Menachem Begin's IZL blew up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, killing over ninety people, fifteen of whom were Jewish. Haganah, the armed militia of the Jewish Agency, was implicated in this horrific, terrorist attack on innocent civilians.
The Stern Gang was another Jewish terrorist group dedicated to driving out non-Jews from Palestine and setting up an exclusive, Jewish state. On November 6, 1944, the Stern Gang assassinated Lloyd Moyne, the British Resident Minister in Cairo, Egypt.
Many more cold-blooded acts of horror were to follow before Israel would establish herself by terrorism in the so-called "Holy Land." On April 9, 1948, Menachem Begin's IZL attacked the small village of Deir Yassin, murdered 254 Arab men, women and children (some of the women were pregnant) and then sought to cover up the foul deeds by throwing some of the bodies into a well.
One of the more ignoble acts of the Stern Gang was the assassination of Count Folke Bernadotte on September 17, 1948, while he was on a United Nations peace mission in Palestine.
And then there were the Zionist robberies in 1948 of Barclay's Bank in Tel Aviv and Nablus for the purchase of more weapons of terrorism. "In Nablus they [the Zionists rebels] twice raided Barclays Bank under the noses of British soldiers.
Between July 2 and July 27, 1954, a network of Jewish spies in Egypt fire-bombed American and British cultural and informational centers, British-owned theatres, an Egyptian post office and rail station and then attempted to shift the blame for these terrorist acts upon the Muslin Brothers. This series of terrorist acts became know as the "Lavon Affair," the purpose of which was to sabotage the good relations that existed between Egypt and the Western nations of the United States and England.
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In the relatively short time I've been posting here, it's become obvious that many DUers uncritically accept the right-wing Zionist line that the Palestinians are the aggressors; that they “terrorize” Israelis, and Israelis merely “retaliate”. In no other country (not even in Israel) is this propaganda met with anything but laughter. Only in the United States is it accepted by most people without the slightest grain of salt.
To demonstrate just how absurd it is to portray Israel as an innocent victim, I've compiled a chronology of Zionist terrorism from the late 19th century to the present. For the purposes of this chronology, I have employed Benjamin Netanyahu's definition: “Terrorism is the deliberate and systematic murder, maiming, and menacing of the innocent to inspire fear for political purposes.” I include wars because the wars Israel has fought have usually included the deliberate targeting of civilians.
1880s: Zionists begin settling in Palestine. Years earlier, wealthy Arabs had taken advantage of the Ottoman Land Code to register in their names land that didn't really belong to them. The Zionists would typically purchase the “rights” to the land from these absentee landlords, then kick out the land's Palestinian inhabitants, leaving them homeless and jobless.
1928: The Wailing Wall incident. The Palestinian Arabs, justly upset with being kicked off their land by the settlers, had by this point grown suspicious of the settlers (as had Palestine's indigenous Jewish population). A disagreement over rights to the Wailing Wall erupted into a riot, with hundreds killed on both sides.
1936-1939: Palestinians go on a General Strike as a demonstration for self-determination. The strike turns into a revolt. The Zionists, aided by the British, respond with incredible force. 329 Jews are killed; 3,293 Arabs are killed.
1938: Irgun terrorists kill 76 Arabs by setting off bombs in markets and other public places. When an Irgun member is arrested by the British, the Irgun killed another 52 Arabs.
1939: The British decide to limit Jewish immigration. The Irgun responds, killing 27 Arabs.
**Throughout the 1930s, Zionists killed 338 Brits, assassinate 40 Jews, hijack a Syrian airliner, and invent the letter bomb.**
1940s: Zionists urge Western governments not to accept Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. Chaim Weitzman's cohort Greenbaum says, “One cow in Palestine is worth more than all the Jews in Europe.”
1941: Stern Gang proposes to form Jewish state “on a national and totalitarian basis, which will establish relations with the German Reich” and protect Nazi interests in the Middle East.
1944: Stern Gang kills British minister of state Lord Moyne (who had favored a Palestinian state) in Cairo.
1947: Zionists kill international mediator Count Bernadotte, who'd saved thousands of Jew from the camps during World War II.
1947-1949: Zionists commence campaign of ethnic cleansing, committing scores of massacres in Palestinian villages (most famously Deir Yassin) and driving 700,000+ from their homes.
1948: Zionists declare independence for the state of Israel, despite the fact that the General Assembly resolution proposing partition was not legally binding. Evidence indicates that they'd planned to annex the area allocated in the partition plan for the “Jewish state", and divide up the rest of Palestine between themselves and Jordan. In the ensuing conflict, thousands died on both sides.
1948 – 1964: Palestinians in Israeli territory live under military rule. They aren't legally permitted to vote or join labor unions. During this time (and still today), Palestinians are subject to humiliation, collective punishment, torture, and seizure of land and resources. Economic conditions and standards of living for those in the Occupied Territories are abysmal.
1950s: Ariel Sharon forms Unit 101. Unit 101 conducts numerous raids in which they massacre Arab civilians. Sharon personally slit the throats of sleeping Egyptian soldiers. He chewed out his officers for not killing two old Arabs when they had the opportunity. He laughed as a junior officer tormented an old Arab and then shot him at close range. He ordered his men to ambush and kill two Jordanian women and their way to a well. In 1953, Unit 101 sneaked into the West Bank village of Qibya, where they slaughtered 53 civilians.
1950-1951: Israeli agents bomb Jewish community centers in Iraq, hoping to inspire Iraqi Jews to come to Israel. Subsequently, Israel promises aid to Iraq if it revokes Jewish citizenship. Iraq does, and Israel responds generously.
1954: The Lavon Affair. Ben Gurion, wanting to provoke a war with Egypt, sends Israeli agents to attack American installations in Egypt, hoping the blame would be placed on the Egyptians. Ben Gurion blames the incident on his Defense Minister, Pinchas Lavon.
1955: Israel raids Gaza for no apparent reason. 37 are killed.
1956: The Sinai Campaign. Israel invades Egypt. At the same time, thousands more Palestinians – Israeli Arabs – are expelled from their homes. After the war, Israeli forces kill hundreds of Palestinians and loot their homes in the Gaza Strip.
1967: Six Day War. Israel conquers East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Gaza Strip. Around half a million Arabs are expelled from the conquered territories. 778 Israelis died in the Six Day War. Over 20,000 Arabs died. The USS Liberty is attacked, perhaps deliberately.
1968: Israel bombs Beirut Airport, destroying 13 civilian airliners.
1970s: Israel bombs civilian targets throughout Lebanon repeatedly, killing thousands. Also during this period, Israel begins sponsoring the terrorist South Lebanon Army.
1973: Yom Kippur War: Body Count: 2,552 Israelis; 15,000 Arabs.
1976: Israelis hijack Lebanese Muslim boats and give them to the SLA.
1978: Israel invades Lebanon, committing numerous atrocities and leveling entire villages. In once case, Israeli Lt. Daniel Pinto binds four Lebanese peasants hand and foot, tortured them, strangled them to death, and tossed them down a well. In another instance, the SLA herded 70 Muslims into a mosque and massacred them, while Israeli forces kept out reporters. 2,000 Arabs are dead by the end of this adventure.
1981: Israel bombs an Iraqi nuclear plant.
1982: Israel invades Lebanon again. The scale of the destruction is incredible. Israel bulldozes half the building in Beirut. Hundreds of Palestinians are killed in the destruction of the Rashidiyeh refugee camp. Anti-personnel bombs are used on the trapped residents of the Ein Hilweih refugee camp. Cluster and phosphorous bombs are dropped on school, orphanages, and hospitals. Ariel Sharon presides over the massacre of 800-3,000 in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps. The final body count: 487 Israelis and over 30,000 Arabs.
1982-present: Israel engages in limited military activity in Lebanon, killing thousands.
1985: 70 Tunisians and Palestinians killed in Tunis by Israel. 60 killed during Israel's hijacking of an Egyptian airliner. Israelis kill two CBS cameramen.
1986: Israelis hijack Libyan airliner.
1987: The Intifada begins. Memorable for scenes of Israeli soldiers responding to stone-throwing demonstrations with live ammo. The practice of torture and collective punishment intensifies. Thousands are imprisoned without just cause. Journalists are barred from the Occupied Territories without a military escort. Numerous atrocities are committed, including the burying of four Palestinians alive by Israeli soldiers.
1990: Israeli soldiers massacre 27 worshippers at Al-Aqsa mosque.
1993: Israel and the PLO agree to the Oslo accords. The Intifada officially ends. The kill ratio: over 10 Palestinians to every Israeli.
1993-2000: Oslo in many ways tightens Israeli control over the Palestinians. More here: http://electronicintifada.net/referencelibrary/hrdocs/d... The number of settlements increases greatly during this period.
1995: Yitzhak Rabin assassinated by right-wing Israeli.
1996: Settlers and soldiers kill Palestinians during dawn prayers El-Ebrahimia Sanctuary.
2000: Ariel Sharon pays a provocative visit to the Temple Mount accompanied by large contingent of soldiers. Palestinians throw stones at the soldiers, who respond with live gunfire, killing 7 and wounding 250. The Al-Aqsa Intifada begins.
2000-Present: The Al-Aqsa Intifada. There is much more deadly violence from the Palestinian side during this intifada. The Palestinians are better-armed, but Israel still much more powerful. Israel intensifies its practices of torture (now officially illegal in Israel, but still widespread), collective punishment, land seizure, humiliation, and assassination. Human rights organizations are united in condemning Israel's “retaliatory” actions as disproportionately deadly. 3 Palestinians are killed for every Israeli killed. 40 Palestinians are hospitalized for every Israeli wounded. According to the Shin Bet's own statistics, almost 80 percent of those killed have no connection to any armed action against Israel. Israel's conduct is described as “state terrorism” in a UN report.
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