Friday, March 28, 2008


The builders of the world's biggest particle collider are being sued in federal court over fears that the experiment might create globe-gobbling black holes or never-before-seen strains of matter that would destroy the planet.

Representatives at Fermilab in Illinois and at Europe's CERN laboratory, two of the defendants in the case, say there's no chance that the Large Hadron Collider would cause such cosmic catastrophes. Nevertheless, they're bracing to defend themselves in the courtroom as well as the court of public opinion.

The Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, is due for startup later this year at CERN's headquarters on the French-Swiss border. It's expected to tackle some of the deepest questions in science: Is the foundation of modern physics right or wrong? What existed during the very first moment of the universe's existence? Why do some particles have mass while others don't? What is the nature of dark matter? Are there extra dimensions of space out there that we haven't yet detected?

Some folks outside the scientific mainstream have asked darker questions as well: Could the collider create mini-black holes that last long enough and get big enough to turn into a matter-sucking maelstrom? Could exotic particles known as magnetic monopoles throw atomic nuclei out of whack? Could quarks recombine into "strangelets" that would turn the whole Earth into one big lump of exotic matter?

Former nuclear safety officer Walter Wagner has been raising such questions for years - first about an earlier-generation "big bang machine" known as the Relativistic Heavy-Ion Collider, and more recently about the LHC.

Last Friday, Wagner and another critic of the LHC's safety measures, Luis Sancho, filed a lawsuit in Hawaii's U.S. District Court. The suit calls on the U.S. Department of Energy, Fermilab, the National Science Foundation and CERN to ease up on their LHC preparations for several months while the collider's safety was reassessed.

"We're going to need a minimum of four months to review whatever they're putting out," Wagner told me on Monday. The suit seeks a temporary restraining order that would put the LHC on hold, pending the release and review of an updated CERN safety assessment. It also calls on the U.S. government to do a full environmental review addressing the LHC project, including the debate over the doomsday scenario.

Debating doomsday
The defense attorneys would likely dwell on the regulatory and procedural questions rather than the worries over a cosmic catastrophe. Those worries have been around for years, and most physicists have scoffed at them for almost as long. The doomsday scenarios raised by Sancho and Wagner include:

* Runaway black holes: Some physicists say the LHC could create microscopic black holes that would hang around for just a tiny fraction of a second and then decay. Sancho and Wagner worry that millions of black holes might somehow persist and coalesce into a compact gravitational mass that would draw in other matter and grow bigger. That's pure science fiction, said Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist at the City College of New York. "These black holes don't live very long, and they have microscopic energy, and so they are harmless," he told me.

* Strangelets: Smashing protons together at high enough energies could create new combinations of quarks, the particles that protons are made of. Sancho and Wagner worry that a nasty combination known as a stable, negatively charged strangelet could theoretically turn everything it touches into strangelets as well. Kaku compared this to the ancient myth of the Midas touch. "We see no evidence of this bizarre theory," he said. "Once in a while, we trot it out to scare the pants off people. But it's not serious."

* Magnetic monopoles: One theory suggests that high-energy particle collisions might give rise to massive particles that have only one magnetic pole - only north, or only south, but not the north-south magnetism that dominates nature. Sancho and Wagner worry that such particles could be created in the LHC and start a runaway reaction that converts atoms into other forms of matter. But physicists have seen no evidence of such reactions, which should have occurred already as the result of more energetic cosmic-ray collisions in Earth's upper atmosphere.

The cosmic-ray argument has been applied to the black-hole and strangelet scenarios as well. If such dangerous things can be created, why haven't they already eaten up Earth, along with other planets, stars or whole galaxies in the billions of years since the universe arose? To answer that question, Sancho and Wagner pose a counterargument: Perhaps cosmic-ray collisions really are creating tiny black holes or strangelets, but those little bits of doomsday zip by too fast to cause any trouble. In the LHC, they say, the bad stuff could hang around long enough to be captured by Earth's gravity and set off a catastrophe.

In response, particle physicists are developing counter-counterarguments - based on their theoretical work as well as data from astronomical observations and experiments at the Relativistic Heavy-Ion Collider. For instance, the physicists would say that enough of the doomsday particles still should have been captured by neutron stars or cosmic gas clouds to have an impact. No such impact has ever been seen. Therefore, no doomsday.

CERN spokesman James Gillies told me that a 2003 assessment of the doomsday scenarios was being updated with the new information. Release of that updated report - the one that Sancho and Wagner apparently have been waiting for - is "imminent," Gillies told me.

Questions about the doomsday scenarios may well come up at CERN on April 6, during a public open house at the LHC. Some researchers have gotten the word to be prepared to talk about microscopic black holes and strangelets if asked.

Reality check
Saying something is absolutely impossible doesn't always come easy. Some scientists find it difficult to state categorically that such-and-such a theoretical catastrophe has no chance of happening, and Fermilab spokeswoman Judy Jackson told me that the doomsayers have "cynically distorted" that natural reluctance to rule out even the most outlandish theoretical possibilities.

The doomsaying can continue as long as scientists hold out even a tiny sliver of uncertainty. Jackson cited the example of Paul Dixon, a psychology professor at the University of Hawaii at Hilo who has been saying for more than a decade that experiments at Fermilab's Tevatron accelerator are in danger of touching off an artificial supernova. Dixon is still going strong: He submitted an affidavit in support of the LHC lawsuit filed by Sancho and Wagner.

The current lawsuit could well be decided not by scientific arguments but rather by narrower regulatory issues. On that point, Jackson said that Fermilab has followed U.S. environmental regulations, just as CERN has followed European regulations. "Of course there are plenty of environmental laws and regulations, and they have all been followed to the letter," she said.

However, Jackson said CERN shouldn't be held to U.S. requirements when it comes to operating the LHC - even if the collider happens to be using magnets built by Fermilab. "Just because we built them doesn't mean we have any say over French environmental regulations," she said.

For his part, Wagner said he hoped Fermilab and the other defendants in the lawsuit would take another look at the doomsday scenarios - and speculated that a restraining order might not even be necessary. He noted that the startup schedule for the LHC has been repeatedly delayed, which would give more time for further safety assessments. (CERN's schedule currently calls for first collisions by the end of August, and the word is that the collider may not reach its full power of 14 trillion electron-volts until next year.)

Wagner suggested that cosmic-ray observations by the Pierre Auger Observatory and the yet-to-be-launched Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope, or GLAST, could shed new light on the debate. "The way I look at it, this should be a basis to look for more funding to find a solution to the problems we raised," he told me.

I'm pretty sure most physicists won't see it that way. They're generally anxious to spend their time and their grant money using the LHC rather than chasing down cosmic improbabilities. The doomsday lawsuit could conceivably be dismissed once it comes up for a hearing - that's basically what happened to Wagner's earlier lawsuit against the Relativistic Heavy-Ion Collider. But in the meantime, feel free to make your own arguments, counterarguments and counter-counterarguments in the comment section below.

Friday, March 21, 2008


Commentators in 'Kubrick: A Life in Pictures' point out that Stanley Kubrick's satirical black comedy Dr. Strangelove had an uncanny resemblance to what could really happen in regards to authority to drop 'the bomb.'

Kubrick had effectively deciphered Strategic Air Command and understood the dilemmas and unconstitutional provisions planned for continuity of government long before such items were declassified or discussed in public.

In another section, a former set designer describes the highly accurate details that Kubrick's military aircraft and other set pieces had. Apparently, they made some military supervisors a bit uncomfortable at Kubrick's near-reality vision.

Now more than 40 years later, continuity of government programs are out of control, leaving the shadow government in de facto power behind the throne of any and all president's will.

Just think of the horrifying powers that have been extorted by way of the Cold War detente, secret wars in the 80s, the CIA's own secret expansion, black budgets, FEMA, Oliver North, executive over-reach in general and now through the War on Terror...

google Strategic Air Command, Curtis Le May


His optimism about the future of the human race knows no bounds. And as he leads the way to the planetarium in the basement of the physics department of New York's City University, he hums to himself and rattles a large set of keys. He likes to give lectures down here. He also likes to come here on his own, to gaze at the cosmos and think. He is a deep, deep thinker. You could say he casts miles below the surface of normal thought. He has to. His ambition is to crack the elusive 'theory of everything', the one that defeated even Einstein, his mentor of sorts.

Today the planetarium does not lend itself to deep thinking because there is construction work going on directly above it: a raspy drilling sound, metal on metal, that vibrates the walls for minute-long bursts. We try to ignore it as we talk about his work. Although he is known as a populariser of science - he writes bestselling books with titles such as Hyperspace and Parallel Worlds, and presents programmes for BBC4 with equally imposing titles: Time and Visions of the Future - he is very much a practising theoretical physicist. He co-founded field string theory, after all.

We'll come to that in a minute. For now it is enough to say that Stephen Hawking believes string theory may hold the key to the theory of everything: that is, to the single equation that unifies the very big (the theories of general relativity and gravity) with the very small (quantum mechanics). This is what the CERN experiment in Switzerland is all about, where physicists are recreating the conditions of the Big Bang in a Super Collider, or atom-smasher, that is 27 kilometres in circumference.

Although Prof Kaku is awaiting the results with eagerness, he does wish the experiment had taken place in America, as had originally been the plan. 'In the world of theoretical physics there is a certain amount of snobbery aimed at those of us who try to engage the public,' he says in a soft Californian accent. 'In 1994, we were going to build one near Dallas that would have been several times bigger than the one in Switzerland, and therefore several times more useful. But we needed to win Congress over to get 20 billion dollars' worth of funding for it. On the last day of the hearings, a Congressman asked one of the physicists if we would find God with our machine. The physicist answered that we would discover the Higgs Boson [the sub-atomic particle]. Our machine was duly cancelled.'

How would Michio Kaku have answered the question? 'I would have said this machine will take us as close as is humanly possible to the creation of the universe. This is a genesis machine. And yes, it may even let us read the mind of God... I think they would have opened their cheque books.'

That answer would have been true to form. Prof Kaku has a gift for communicating complex scientific ideas in a way that lay people can understand. He argues, moreover, that good physics should be simple, so simple that it can be understood as an image. I'll let him explain. 'A good physicist is driven by a childlike fascination and imagination. If we find ourselves getting jaded or bored we have to try to recapture that childishness. Einstein used to do that. He could be quite childish. He wanted to get access to that feeling of wonderment.

'He also believed that if a theory couldn't be broadly explained to a child it wasn't working. He believed that there should be a picture behind the theory. So his special relativity, for example, can be understood as a 16-year-old boy out-racing a light beam. Out of this arose the image of space and time being curved like the surface of an egg, warped by the presence of stars and planets, and finally Einstein's general theory of relativity, a mathematical description of the structure of the universe only one inch long on the page.' He smiles gently and looks up at the ceiling of the planetarium. 'But for the last 30 years of his life Einstein lost his picture. There was no picture guiding him; he said as much in his memoirs. That is why he wandered into various mathematical fields and got lost.'


Wednesday, March 5, 2008



JEFF HEALEY BAND - Nescafe Blues Fest, RIO 1995

CCR - Live at Woodstock 1969 - Born on the Bayou

Creedence Clearwater Revival LIVE at Woodstock 1969- This is very rare footage. I have never seen any CCR footage from Woodstock. John Fogerty tells a story that says he played Woodstock and had to hitch hike home after the show. He never wanted this footage to be seen because of sound issues. Also notice in the last verse everyone becomes left handed.


Love Is A Burning Thing
And It Makes A Fiery Ring
Bound By Wild Desire
I Fell Into A Ring Of Fire

I Fell Into A Burning Ring Of Fire
I Went Down, Down, Down
And The Flames Went Higher

And It Burns, Burns, Burns
The Ring Of Fire
The Ring Of Fire

I Fell Into A Burning Ring Of Fire
I Went Down, Down, Down
And The Flames Went Higher

And It Burns, Burns, Burns
The Ring Of Fire
The Ring Of Fire

The Taste Of Love Is Sweet
When Hearts Like Ours Meet
I Fell For You Like A Child
Oh, But The Fire Went Wild

I Fell Into A Burning Ring Of Fire
I Went Down, Down, Down
And The Flames Went Higher

And It Burns, Burns, Burns
The Ring Of Fire
The Ring Of Fire

I Fell Into A Burning Ring Of Fire
I Went Down, Down, Down
And The Flames Went Higher

And It Burns, Burns, Burns
The Ring Of Fire
The Ring Of Fire

And It Burns, Burns, Burns

The Ring Of Fire

The Ring Of Fire

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Wisdom of the TAO

When we change the way we look at things, The things we look at change - Lao Tzu, "Tao Te Ching"