It Takes Two

President Obama won office in part on the strength of his promise to be a "post-partisan" president. But Obama's attempts to reach out to the other party—as admirable as they may seem in theory—may have backfired on him and the Democrats. The Republicans quickly realized that he couldn't change the tenor of politics on his own. And if they didn't meet him halfway, he would be unable to make good on his promise.

It takes two to cooperate, after all. And the Republican strategy has been to attack every Democratic proposal—regardless of what it is—as so radical that no compromise is possible. Again and again, the Republicans have portrayed President Obama as governing from the far left, when, as I've argued, he hasn't actually been particularly liberal. They've even called proposals they themselves originally came up with "socialist." The idea was both to create the impression the Democrats were steamrolling them and to make it difficult for Democrats to accomplish anything of substance. It's not that the Republicans don't have substantive differences with the Democrats or that they haven't been frozen out of some aspects of the legislative process. But the plain fact is that the Democrats have made every effort to win Republican votes in Congress. And on issue after issue, they were unable to win a single one.


The truth is that much of the legislation before Congress is, as David Leonhardt says, "politically partisan and substantively bipartisan." Consider health care. The vote in the Senate was split strictly along partisan lines, with all 40 Republicans voting against it and the entire Democratic caucus voting for it. But, as Leonhardt argues, the supposedly radical Senate bill is actually more conservative than either Bill Clinton or Richard Nixon's plans. In fact, the Senate bill incorporates both Republican and Democratic ideas, and is effectively the product of sixty years of negotiation between the two parties. Controversial liberal proposals such as the one for a government-run health care plan have been completely removed from the bill. As Nate Silver says, the bill is "about the least radical way to achieve something approaching universal coverage that can be imagined."

With substantial majorities in both houses of Congress, of course, the Democrats don't need Republican cooperation. Part of their problem has been that the Democratic Party is internally divided on important policy issues, making it difficult for them to force legislation through Congress, even with their sizable majority. But another part of their problem is that they have been so focused on courting the center they have been unwilling to play the hardball the Republicans accuse them of playing. If the Democrats are going to accused of being partisan anyway, however, they might as well start really being partisan.

That doesn't mean the Democrats shouldn't be willing to compromise with any Republican willing to cross party lines. But if the Republicans are going to do their best to shut down the government, the Democrats are going to have to govern without them. Let the Republicans protest, since they're going to do it anyway. Dare them to try to shut Congress down. Force them to vote against cloture, again and again and again. And, when they do, make sure the whole country sees. The Republicans certainly aren't going to help the Democrats get anything through Congress. And no concession short of complete capitulation is likely to win any Republican votes. If the Democrats are going to get anything done, they're going to have to do it themselves.

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From the study: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/361/6408/eaau1184
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Why "nuclear pasta" is the strongest material in the universe

Through computationally intensive computer simulations, researchers have discovered that "nuclear pasta," found in the crusts of neutron stars, is the strongest material in the universe.

Accretion disk surrounding a neutron star. Credit: NASA
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  • The strongest material in the universe may be the whimsically named "nuclear pasta."
  • You can find this substance in the crust of neutron stars.
  • This amazing material is super-dense, and is 10 billion times harder to break than steel.

Superman is known as the "Man of Steel" for his strength and indestructibility. But the discovery of a new material that's 10 billion times harder to break than steel begs the question—is it time for a new superhero known as "Nuclear Pasta"? That's the name of the substance that a team of researchers thinks is the strongest known material in the universe.

Unlike humans, when stars reach a certain age, they do not just wither and die, but they explode, collapsing into a mass of neurons. The resulting space entity, known as a neutron star, is incredibly dense. So much so that previous research showed that the surface of a such a star would feature amazingly strong material. The new research, which involved the largest-ever computer simulations of a neutron star's crust, proposes that "nuclear pasta," the material just under the surface, is actually stronger.

The competition between forces from protons and neutrons inside a neutron star create super-dense shapes that look like long cylinders or flat planes, referred to as "spaghetti" and "lasagna," respectively. That's also where we get the overall name of nuclear pasta.

Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv

Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.

The researchers' computer simulations needed 2 million hours of processor time before completion, which would be, according to a press release from McGill University, "the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a single good GPU." Fortunately, the researchers had access to a supercomputer, although it still took a couple of years. The scientists' simulations consisted of stretching and deforming the nuclear pasta to see how it behaved and what it would take to break it.

While they were able to discover just how strong nuclear pasta seems to be, no one is holding their breath that we'll be sending out missions to mine this substance any time soon. Instead, the discovery has other significant applications.

One of the study's co-authors, Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, said the neutron stars would be "a hundred trillion times denser than anything on earth." Understanding what's inside them would be valuable for astronomers because now only the outer layer of such starts can be observed.

"A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models," Caplan added. "With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"

Another possibility worth studying is that, due to its instability, nuclear pasta might generate gravitational waves. It may be possible to observe them at some point here on Earth by utilizing very sensitive equipment.

The team of scientists also included A. S. Schneider from California Institute of Technology and C. J. Horowitz from Indiana University.

Check out the study "The elasticity of nuclear pasta," published in Physical Review Letters.


How a huge, underwater wall could save melting Antarctic glaciers

Scientists think constructing a miles-long wall along an ice shelf in Antarctica could help protect the world's largest glacier from melting.

Image: NASA
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The world's oceans will rise significantly over the next century if the massive ice shelves connected to Antarctica begin to fail as a result of global warming.

To prevent or hold off such a catastrophe, a team of scientists recently proposed a radical plan: build underwater walls that would either support the ice or protect it from warm waters.

In a paper published in The Cryosphere, Michael Wolovick and John Moore from Princeton and the Beijing Normal University, respectively, outlined several "targeted geoengineering" solutions that could help prevent the melting of western Antarctica's Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier, whose melting waters are projected to be the largest source of sea-level rise in the foreseeable future.

An "unthinkable" engineering project

"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.

One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.

The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.

Source: Wolovick et al.

An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.

But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.

Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.

"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.

"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."

A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.

"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."