We Just Had a Leap Second

You probably didn’t notice unless you heard about this beforehand, but we just had a leap second a few hours ago. Similar to adding an extra day to leap years to keep the calendar in sync with Earth’s revolution around the sun, leap seconds must also be added once in a while. Our clocks are actually much more precise than daily and yearly cycles due to Earth’s motion, so we need to keep correcting things if we want, for example, January 1st to stay in winter in the northern hemisphere or if we want noon to be when the sun is near its highest point in the sky. One of the dangers that people always point out is that changing the clocks can wreak havoc with computer systems, which are used to very consistent, precise timing information. This is especially problematic for leap seconds since they aren’t added on a regular cycle as with leap years


Donald Trump Gets Fired

After making a series of characteristically bigoted remarks, Donald Trump now finds himself fired. Both Univision and NBC have cut ties with Trump amidst widespread criticism of Trump, particularly from Latin American communities and organizations. What must be most galling to Trump is that NBC is planning to continue his TV show, The Apprentice, without him.

The removal of Trump from television also conveniently solves a dilemma for NBC. If Trump is really serious about running for office, the NBC would have been forced to either stop airing Trump’s shows or to dramatically increase coverage of other campaigns. Of course, it’s impossible to tell for sure just how serious Trump really is. One gets the feeling that a Trump campaign would be little more than a high profile advertising campaign for the Trump brand. As it is, no one with any sense respects Trump’s brand but a campaign would do a lot to get his name in the papers a lot more.

More Supreme Court Decisions

It’s also important to note that there were several more important Supreme Court decisions to come out this week. The court also found, in a 6-3 decision that the federal health insurance exchanges are a valid part of the ACA (aka Obamacare). Some people had sued saying that the law, if properly interpreted, meant that the federal exchanges shouldn’t exist. The court also rejected a challenge to the validity of disparate impact claims under the Fair Housing Act, but also limited their use somewhat. Disparate impact claims are claims that some rule or policy can cause de facto inequality or discrimination even without being explicitly discriminatory. The Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968 to prevent housing discrimination against various protected classes.

How Long Progress Takes

Bloomberg has a nice graphic showing how long various major social movements took between state action and federal action. Many movements, like interracial marriage, prohibition, and women’s suffrage took many years before anything happening on a federal level. In the cases of prohibition and women’s suffrage, constitutional amendments were required, while interracial marriage was legalized across all of the US by court action, as with yesterday’s gay marriage decision. At least for the set of issues shown here, the timeline has been shortening, and the page suggests that marijuana legalization may be next and could happen very quickly.

Supreme Court Invalidates Anti Gay Marriage Laws

Earlier today, the US Supreme Court declared state laws banning gay marriage to be unconstitutional in a split 5-4 decision. The decision was written by Justice Kennedy, who is generally seen as a swing vote on many social issues. As expected, the more liberal justices (Ginsberg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan) also supported this decision. Interestingly, the four dissenters wrote four different opinions. Scalia’s was predictably vitriolic and needlessly offensive. (Who even bothers railing against hippies anymore? The 60s have been over for over 40 years…)Thus, gay marriage will become legally recognized in the entire US within the next few days to weeks.

I actually find it quite amazing how quickly opinions on gay marriage have changed. In only about ten years, we’ve gone from discussing an anti gay marriage constitutional amendment (always a long shot but not impossible in the early 2000s) to having gay marriage become legal everywhere with support from a majority of the population. This is very different from what happened with interracial marriage, where it took nearly 30 years after anti-miscegenation laws were struck down for the majority to support interracial marriage. Rather shockingly, interracial marriage only hit 50+% support in the middle of the Clinton administration. We’ve already seen a huge shift on gay marriage throughout the Obama presidency, and the age gap in support between young and old people will likely ensure that gay marriage will be almost totally noncontroversial within a generation.

Also, WordPress seems to have added rainbow banners on the tops of at least some pages.

ATLAS Measures the Higgs Spin and Parity

ATLAS has a fairly new result out measuring the properties of the Higgs boson using leptonic and diphoton final states. In particular, they compare the expected results for a Standard Model JP = 0+ Higgs to several alternative models.  The measurement pretty clearly rules out things like a spin-2 Higgs and also sets upper bounds on the strengths of beyond the Standard Model Higgs tensor couplings. The spin-parity state can often be determined from looking at final state kinematic distributions. Things like the angular distribution will often be very different for different types of particles.

This kind of result is nice because it helps bolster the case that the ~125 GeV particle found at the LHC has the same fundamental properties as the Standard Model Higgs boson. Most other measurements are measuring cross sections or branching fractions, which tell us about the particle’s interactions with other particles. So far, everything looks remarkably like the Standard Model Higgs.