Tuesday Reads: Natural and Human-Made Fireworks, the God Particle, and More

Good Morning!

Someone in my neighborhood has begun celebrating Independence Day already, so I’m writing this with the sound of firecrackers in the background.

That may soon be followed by thunder and lightening, so I shouldn’t have any trouble staying awake long enough to finish this post. As long as my power doesn’t go out, everything should be fine!

That’s downtown Boston in a thunderstorm.  Isn’t it gorgeous?   Now let’s see what the morning papers have in store for us.

Everyone is agog about physicists’ discovery of a new particle–is it the “god particle?”

Physicists in Europe will present evidence of an entirely new particle on Wednesday, Nature has learned.

But more data will be needed to officially confirm whether it is indeed the long-awaited Higgs boson — the particle thought to be behind the mass of all the others.

Even as rumours fly in the popular media, physicists have begun quietly cheering at CERN, the European particle-physics lab near Geneva in Switzerland. “Without a doubt, we have a discovery,” says one member of the team working on the ATLAS experiment, who wished to remain anonymous. “It is pure elation!”

For nearly half a century, physicists have predicted the existence of a particle that helps to endow others with mass. Named after theoretical physicist Peter Higgs, the boson is the upshot of a mathematical trick that unites the electromagnetic and weak nuclear forces into a single ‘electroweak’ interaction. It is considered the final, crucial piece of the standard model of particle physics.

I’m fascinated by physics, but this thing is beyond my comprehension. From what I can figure out it has something to do with an energy field that permeates the universe; so to me it sounds like confirmation of something that has been talked about by mystics for centuries.

“We think the Higgs boson really gets at the center of some physics that is responsible for why the universe is here in the first place and what the ultimate structure of matter is,” said Joe Lykken, a theoretical physicist at Fermilab….

“You can think of it as an energy field. We believe there is a Higgs energy field spread out in the whole universe,” Lykken said. Photons — light particles — are unaffected by this field. But as other elementary particles move around, he explained, “they feel this energy field as a kind of sticky molasses that slows them down and keeps them from moving at the speed of light.”

When enough of that field is packed into a small enough space, Lykken said, it manifests as a particle — the Higgs boson.

A group of researchers will leave today to mount a search for the wreckage of Amelia Earhart’s plane.

Organizers hope the expedition will conclusively solve one of the most enduring mysteries of the 20th century – what became of Earhart after she vanished during an attempt to become the first pilot, man or woman, to circle the globe around the equator.

A recent flurry of clues point to the possibility that Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, ended up marooned on the tiny uninhabited island of Nikumaroro, part of the Pacific archipelago Republic of Kiribati.

“The public wants evidence, a smoking gun, that this is the place where Amelia Earhart’s journey ended,” said Richard Gillespie, executive director of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR). “That smoking gun is Earhart’s plane.”

The expedition was scheduled to begin yesterday, but the group’s departure was postponed because of an administrative issue. The trip will last 16 days, with 10 days spent on the search for the wreckage.

One of my cousins works in the White House, and her power has been out since that big storm the hit the mid-Atlantic states. According to my mom, many people in Indiana are also without power. Hundreds of thousands in the Eastern U.S. are in the same boat, and there is a likelihood of more blackouts. During a heat wave like this, that can be more than inconvenient–it could be dangerous.

Electrical utilities are advising customers in and around Washington that it may well be a whole week before all power is restored after the unusually potent storm that ravaged the mid-Atlantic region on Friday. Many customers are outraged as to why it would take so long.

More than two million people in the eastern United States, including more than 400,000 in the greater Washington area, were still without power on Monday.

The storm, which claimed at least 22 lives, shuttered businesses, stores and gas stations and littered the region with fallen tree limbs and downed power lines, many of which are still strung along poles above ground.

It hit during a period of record-breaking heat and immediately shut down air conditioning systems across an area well known for its hot, humid summers and poor air quality.

As evidence grows that Chief Justice John Roberts changed his vote on the Affordable Care Act case at the last minute, Republicans are gnashing their teeth and cursing their former idol as a traitor to the cause: Scorn and Withering Scorn for Roberts

The day after Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joined the Supreme Court’s four-member liberal wing to uphold the health care overhaul law, he appeared before a conference of judges and lawyers in Pennsylvania. A questioner wanted to know whether he was “going to Disney World.”

Chief Justice Roberts said he had a better option: he was about to leave for Malta, where he would teach a two-week class on the history of the Supreme Court. “Malta, as you know, is an impregnable island fortress,” he said on Friday, according to news reports. “It seemed like a good idea.”

The chief justice was correct to anticipate a level of fury unusual even in the wake of a blockbuster decision with vast political, practical and constitutional consequences. The criticism came from all sides. And it was directed not at the court as whole or even at the majority in the 5-to-4 decision. It was aimed squarely at him.

Read the rest at the link. The NYT tried to “balance” their story by claiming that liberals are angry too. Seriously? Even they admit the wingers are “particularly bitter.”

Former Dubya speechwriter Michael Gerson describes “John Roberts’ alternate universe.” And Marc A. Thiessen asks, “Why are Republicans so awful at picking Supreme Court justices?”

While conservatives agonize, a new Kaiser Health Tracking poll finds that 56% of Americans “would like to see the law’s detractors stop their efforts to block its implementation and move on to other national problems.” More evidence that conservatives are out of touch with reality and headed for disaster in November unless they can manage to buy a clue.

CNN also ran a poll on reactions to the ACA decision–also asking respondents about their attitudes toward the Supreme Court.

According to a CNN/ORC International survey released Monday, the public is divided on last week’s ruling, with 50% saying they agree with the Supreme Court’s decision and 49% saying they disagree. And there is the expected partisan divide, with more than eight in ten Democrats agreeing with the decision, more than eight in ten Republicans disagreeing, and independent voters divided, with 52% disagreeing and 47% agreeing…..

“Despite howls of protest from many Republican leaders, only about one in five Americans – and only 35% of the Republican rank and file – say they are angry about the decision,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “And despite victory laps by many Democratic leaders, only one in six Americans – and only one in three Democrats nationwide – say they feel enthusiastic about the court’s ruling.”

But attitudes toward the Court generally have changed.

“As recently as April, Republicans and Democrats had virtually identical positive opinions on the Supreme Court. But not any more,” adds Holland. “That’s the biggest change that the court decision has created.”

The court’s approval rating among Democrats jumped by 23 points; to 73%. Among Republicans, it fell by 21 points, to 31%. Approval of the Supreme Court among independents edged up five points, to 53%.

I’ll end with a story that is a few days old, but still interesting: Mormons quit church in mass resignation ceremony.

A group of about 150 Mormons quit their church in a mass resignation ceremony in Salt Lake City on Saturday in a rare display of defiance ending decades of disagreement for some over issues ranging from polygamy to gay marriage.

Participants from Utah, Arizona, Idaho and elsewhere gathered in a public park to sign a “Declaration of Independence from Mormonism.” [….]

The Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is known for its culture of obedience, and the mass ceremony was a seldom-seen act of collective revolt.

After gathering in the park, participants hiked a half-mile up nearby Ensign Peak, scaled in 1847 by church President Brigham Young to survey the spot where his Latter-day Saints would build a city.

At the top, those gathered gave three loud shouts of “Freedom,” cheered, clapped and hugged.

The reasons participants gave for leaving their religion included the Mormon church’s political activity directed against the LGBT community, racism and sexism in the church, and the church’s efforts to cover up its own troubling history, which includes violent acts and polygamy.

Now what are your reading recommendations for today?