Better public relations for Georgia

The good news about the conflict between Russia and Georgia is that it seems to have subsided, although Russia is still dragging its feet. It's a relief to know that fears of a third world war were overblown, not that many people besides myself worried about it.

One outcome of the conflict is that Georgia ended up looking much better than Russia in the foreign media. Despite Georgia having attacked the separatist region of South Ossetia, Russia didn't help its image by raining down as much or even more destruction on the region and invading non-separatist regions of Georgia.

Their image also isn't at all helped by the fact that they're trying to prevent Georgia from doing what they already did with Chechnya, and the fact that they used unsubstantiated and apparently false claims of genocide as an excuse even as South Ossetians loot other Georgians. And they're doing a rather miserable job of making themselves not look like a nation with imperial ambitions, with the way they gave out Russian passports to South Ossetians and then claiming that they're invading to protect their citizens.

While there have been faults on both sides, although it may be unclear which side is "more" wrong, Russia clearly needs a better handle on diplomacy and foreign public relations.

China censoring iTunes

China is blocking access to the iTunes Store, apparently because of the sale of pro-Tibet songs. I wonder if my own blog is censored in China? Most probably not despite my great dislike for several of China's policies, but it would be cool if it were: it would be an honor to be considered politically important enough to censor.

I wonder if there is a public list of blogs that are blocked in China? They might be good ones to subscribe to ...

Matter over antimatter

Almost everything around us is made out of matter rather than antimatter. And this is not just true for our solar system or our galaxy, but appears to be true for the entire universe, or at least the observable universe. But except for having opposite charges, matter and antimatter are virtually identical. Then why should everything we see in the universe be made up of matter rather than antimatter? For that matter (pun intended), why is there any matter at all? Why shouldn't there have been an equal amount of matter and antimatter that all annihilated with each other and left nothing?

Electron-positron annihilation
Electron-positron annihilation

It is thought that matter and antimatter were formed in nearly equal amounts during the birth of the universe, but there was an extremely tiny excess of matter over antimatter, about one in ten million. Almost all of the matter and antimatter annihilated each other, and only the tiny excess of matter remained to form almost everything we see in the universe today. The process through how this tiny excess of matter was generated is called baryogenesis, which is still a mysterious process where speculation abounds.

Mark of Cosmic Variance is writing and editing a series of excellent posts about baryogenesis. Starting off with an introduction to the problem, so far he has talked about the theories of electroweak baryogenesis and leptogenesis. They are based on speculative theories of particle physics that have not yet been confirmed experimentally, which can be exciting for particle physicists since it means that they still have plenty left to do.

Whatever the mechanism, it must have happened uniformly across the universe after inflation, so mechanisms that are predicted to generate random amounts of excess matter or antimatter cannot be the vehicle for baryogenesis. Mechanisms for baryogenesis will have to take advantage of miniscule asymmetries between matter and antimatter, asymmetries that will have to arise in theories of physics that have yet to be discovered and confirmed.

Composition of the universe

One question about baryogenesis I had for the longest time was why it did not account for the existence of dark matter. If only the tiny excess of matter forms everything we can see in the universe, wouldn't the energy from the annihilation of the rest of the matter and antimatter be more than enough to account for the gravitational pull of dark matter? It turns out that I did not consider that light, which is the by-product of matter-antimatter annihilation, becomes less energetic with the expansion of the universe because the wavelength is stretched. This means that the energy density of light in the universe falls much faster than the energy density of matter, so gravitation due to light becomes negligible quite early in the life of the universe.

Where did all the energy in the light go? In a sense, the tens of millions of times more energy that used to be in light compared to matter literally all went into thin air; that is, into space-time itself. You could say that it all went into the gravitational energy stored by space-time as the universe expanded. The only caveat is that defining gravitational energy is a quirky thing to do in general relativity, which is the best theory we have so far for explaining gravitation.

Finally, an extra treat with a video from NASA showing the evolution of the universe since the time of the light-dominated period of the universe, when light had a significant gravitational influence, up to today, when light is no longer a major source of gravitation:

China confiscating Bibles

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, China has confiscated more than 300 Bibles from American Christians that arrived at Kunming Airport. While the title "China confiscates Bibles from American Christians" initially outraged me, thinking that the Chinese government had confiscated personal copies of the Bible (despite what some people might think of atheists, I'm a big believer in freedom of and from religion), it turns out that the Christians brought along a boatload of Bibles to use for proselytizing. This considerably weakens the sympathy I have for the Christians.

Still, I'm unhappy with the way China suppresses religion, where they do things like confiscating Bibles. (I'm not outraged, since it's the kind of thing I've come to expect from them.) While I would like to see more atheists among the populace, I want this to be because they reasoned it out and rejected extraordinary claims with little to no evidence. Incidentally, I'd also like to see more skeptics for the same reason. I absolutely abhor the use of force to coerce people to abandon beliefs; this would just be replacing one arbitrary authority with another arbitrary authority.

For that matter, I don't like all of the censorship that China enforces. People shouldn't have to continuously worry whether what they think or say will be suppressed by the state. They should be able to freely think wherever their thoughts take them. The fact that the Chinese government feels the need for an oppressive degree of censorship might be an indication of what they think of their own system of government.