Saturday, March 18, 2006

Tough Line of Work

How stupid are these knuckleheads? They're probably asking themselves that same question right now. With all the cruise ships and freighters out there just waiting to be pirated they decide to tangle with two U.S. warships. Dumb, dumb, dumb -- but gratifying:

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (March 18) - Two U.S. Navy warships exchanged gunfire with suspected pirates Saturday off the coast of Somalia, and one suspect was killed and five others were wounded, the navy said. Seven other suspects were taken into custody after the early-morning shootout, said Lt. Cmdr. Charlie Brown, spokesman for the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

No sailors were wounded in the battle, which occurred at about 5:40 a.m. local time, approximately 25 nautical miles off the Somali coast in international waters.

The battle started after the USS Cape St. George and USS Gonzalez, which were patrolling as part of a Dutch-led task force, spotted a 30-foot fishing boat towing smaller skiffs and prepared to board and inspect the vessels.

The suspected pirates were holding what appeared to be rocket-propelled grenade launchers, the navy said. When the suspects began shooting, naval gunners returned fire with mounted machine guns, killing one man and igniting a fire on the vessel.

Three suspects were seriously wounded and being treated on one of the Navy ships, Brown told The Associated Press. A Dutch Navy medical team was en route. The suspects' nationalities were unknown.

The Navy boarding teams confiscated an RPG launcher and automatic weapons, the statement said.

The Cape St. George, a guided-missile cruiser, and Gonzalez, a guided-missile destroyer, were conducting maritime security operations in the area. They are based in Norfolk, Va.

The International Maritime Organization has warned ships to stay away from the Somali coast because of pirate attacks, which surged to 35 last year from two in 2004.

On March 15, the U.N. Security Council encouraged naval forces operating off Somalia to take action against suspected piracy. Pirate attacks against aid ships have hindered U.N. efforts to provide relief to the victims of a severe drought in the area.

The pirate raids are part of the anarchy wracking Somalia, which has had no effective government since 1991, when warlords ousted a dictatorship and then turned on each other.

Looks like piracy suddenly got to be a tough business. We expect that the "surge" mentioned three paragraphs above will dramatically reverse direction in 2006.

The Instantaneous Universe

Physicists have discovered the first solid evidence of what's called "cosmic inflation":

Physicists say they now have the smoking gun that shows the universe went through extremely rapid expansion in the moments after the big bang, growing from the size of a marble to a volume larger than all of observable space in less than a trillion-trillionth of a second.

Think about that for a moment. The universe, in less time than we can possibly imagine, went from essentially nothing to the size of a marble, and then, in a trillionth, trillionth of a second, it grew at a speed far faster than the speed of light to a size larger than what we can observe today. In other words, before a billionth of a second had passed in the creation of the universe, all of its forces, laws, parameters, and constants had been fixed. All the matter that would eventually precipitate out from the primordial energy existed potentially.

There were no stars or galaxies yet, of course, but these are relatively minor details in the creation narrative. All the foundational necessities, all the heavy lifting, was done in far less than an instant. The rest was just the pretty colors of a fireworks rocket. The real work was building the rocket. And this was done ... instantly. If a human had been around to see it happen it would have looked as if the essentials of the universe all came into existence instantaneously.

It would seem as if God said, "Let there be a cosmos," and there was a cosmos.

Nebular "DNA"

Click on this link and look at the photo. If you like awe-inspiring astronomical phenomena you're sure to like this.

Thanks to Uncommon Descent for the tip.

Horserace in PA

Here's some remarkable political news:

The latest poll of Pennsylvania voters shows that Republican Lynn Swann is tied with incumbent Democatic Gov. Ed Rendell.

Strategic Vision, LLC, an Atlanta-headquartered public relations and public affairs agency announced the results of a three-day poll of 1,200 likely voters in Pennsylvania on various political issues. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

In a match-up between Governor Rendell and Republican Lynn Swann, the results were Rendell 44 percent; Swann 44 percent; and 2 percent went to "other candidate," with 10 percent undecided.

Just a few short weeks ago Swann was trailing Rendell by about twenty points. If Swann pulls this off, if a conservative, black Republican beats a white, liberal, Democrat incumbent, it could portend a mass exodus of blacks from the Democrat party, at least in Pennsylvania. Or is that just wishful thinking?

Templeton Prize Winner

This year's winner of the Templeton Prize, an award worth about $1.4 million, has been given to astronomer John Barrow whose work on the Anthropic Principle has done so much to convince people that the universe is not merely a grand accident. The Prize was founded in 1972 by philanthropist and global financial pioneer Sir John Templeton and is given annually to a living person to encourage and honor the advancement of knowledge in spiritual matters. It's the world's best known religion prize and the largest annual monetary prize of any kind given to an individual.

In establishing the prize's monetary value, Sir John stipulated that it always be worth more than the Nobel Prizes as a way to underscore his belief that research and advances in spiritual discoveries can be quantifiably more significant than work done in the disciplines recognized by the Nobels.

For more on Barrow and the Templeton go here.