On Dominos

Clack-clack-clack, the dominoes fall, and not all of them are actually dominoes. Heath Robinson machines (Damn yanks, he predates your plagiarising Rube Goldberg) of this type can take any form and it’s always damn fun to trace the threads of seeming causality and see if you can spot an origin.

For example, look at Vietnam; the whole reason Kennedy popped all those yanks in there was the Domino Theory; that the collapse of one country and its turning to Communism, was an infection and that more countries would topple. As Eisenhower said in ’54 “You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly. So you could have a beginning of a disintegration that would have the most profound influences.” The actual idea behind the fine words being that other local rebel groups would then have the moral and material support to take over their countries.

Isn’t it nice to see that theory in effect? The domino set that is Modern Afghanistan and the Indian Subcontinent was created by the British Empire in its headlong retreat from its expensive colonies post-1945 and the random borders imposed on it created (like the trisected Kurdistan) a bunch of angry locals (specifically the Pushtun) pissed off at having to have passports to cross imposed borders into ethnically homogenous areas and take their laws from another ethnic nation. The endlessly pissed-off people there, armed by the Brits and Yanks, stopped the Sovs in Afghanistan during the 80s and stopped the communist Dominoes there, like they were in Africa and South America.

Except they didn’t really, as the dominoes just fell a different way, to nationalist fundamentalism, so they needed another knock. Clack. Which pushed that fundamentalism into the NW frontier province of Pakistan proper, knocking out America’s ally in the region, Musharraf. So now, there’s no real government in Pakistan, as Bhutto’s corrupt widower and an equally corrupt nationalist prick who also happens to be the country’s richest man (remind you of anyone?) battle it out for the increasingly wormy soul of the nation, while the once-disciplined army falls apart. Clack.

Now it turns out that the terrorists who buggered up Mumbai yesterday were probably Lashkar-e-Toiba, a terrorist organisation who’ve declared Hindus and Jews as enemies of Islam and backed by elements of the Pakistani army, to destabilise India and Afghanistan. (Because Destabilising your neighbours is a damn good idea, right?) These elements only got away with it, because the massive Pakistani army doesn’t know what it believes any more and the politicians are too obsessed with power to hold it to account. Meanwhile, now India looks unstable and its Prime Minister looks angry. No-one has time to worry about Thailand, where the army is getting restless and a vocal urban minority is trying to destabilise the democratically-elected (rotten-as-riverwood) government.

In fact, the most stable places in the region look to be the autocratic (Burma), communist (China), and the post-communist (Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and the rest.) Once the democrats and fundamentalists have worn themselves out and all the pieces have fallen, they’ll still be standing, ready to knock them back the other way.

Shameless Plug

Which Champion Are You? | Champions Online Official Site

I’m not handling PR for this particular MMO (though I am for its predecessor, City of Heroes), but I’m interested to see how it goes. They’ve got a nice What Hero Are You generator on the website, though it seems to have read me rather too well.

Raised on a steady diet of comic books, you grew up to be an unstable lunatic, whose wacky ambitions are only matched by your delusions of grandeur. You’re too crafty to get caught, otherwise you’d certainly be locked away in the loony bin!

Take the quiz!

My Questions Answered!

Ask OxSciBlog: Higgs Boson – University of Oxford

As you’ve been busy sending in your questions for Oxford scientists I thought we ought to start giving some answers:

First up is a question from Daniel Griliopoulos which is answered by Alan Barr from Oxford’s Department of Physics.

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Q: What’s going to happen if they don’t find the Higgs Boson?

[Also regarding that; to this layman, it just looks like physicists are trying to bury something they don’t understand (gravity) in another fundamental particle, am I being unfair?]

Alan Barr: The Higgs mechanism was proposed by Prof Peter Higgs of Edinburgh (and others) to explain why many of the fundamental particles in the Standard Model of particle physics have mass. The experimental results obtained so far – for example at the Large Electron Positron collider, which was the predecessor to the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN – are fully in agreement with Higgs’ theory. A further prediction of Higgs’ theory is the existence of the particle which bears his name, but which has not yet been directly observed.

If the Higgs particle (also known as the Higgs Boson) is not found after many years of successful operation of the LHC, then the theory in its simplest form cannot be correct. This would be a very important discovery, and would inspire further research, and alternative models. Alternative theories of mass generation would have to be found, and those theories would be guided by the measurements of the LHC experiments, ATLAS and CMS.

Despite being a description of the source of mass, the Higgs theory has surprisingly little to say about gravity. To incorporate gravitational interactions into the Standard Model would require further theoretical advances. Some progress has been made through routes such as string theory, but a quantum theory of gravity remains elusive.

It is an important feature of science that we do not bury things we do not understand. Instead we address them directly and attempt to understand them. Based on the results of existing observations we construct models which we use to make predictions about future measurements. This allows the theories to be tested against empirical evidence – which is exactly what we will do with the Higgs theory at the LHC.

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On Getting Mullered

BBC NEWS | The Reporters | Robert Peston

Then there’s the plight of all those overseas businesses that manufacture cars in the UK.
They’re being mullered by a massive contraction of available credit and a collapse in sales.

(My emphasis)
The premier journalist for these days of collapsing economies, Robert Peston, uses a phrase I’ve only heard in pubs and student haunts, where it means “badly damaged or drunk.” What a strange word it is too and, of uncertain, recent derivation; how odd for a BBC journalist to be using what is still considered an outsider, slang word. The peeps over at World Wide Words find an OED entry saying it was used earliest in UK prison slang in the 1950s to mean “badly beaten up”, with the OED editor Jonathan Green thinking it derived from the same root as “mulled”, as in wine, from some odd indo root meaning “die”. Elsewhere, I’ve seen the derivation as that coming from Gerd Muller, who played football for Germany in the 1970s (third-highest scoring striker of all time.) My feeling would be that the word will have been popularised by this, but was already in circulation amongst lags by that time.

Considering how recent the common usage is and the crucial “er” in the middle, I’d think it must come from a famous name of the era; the only two I can find easily are a chess-player and a radio physicist, so I doubt it was either of them. I’d suggest Franz Muller, an infamous murderer of the 1860s, who not only beat up a banker then threw him to his gruesome death from a moving train but then became even more famous for the strange cut-down beaver hat that he wore and left at the scene, which became oddly popular (Winston Churchill was the most famous wearer).