Monday, December 31, 2007

Oil '07

Oil started the year at $61.05/barrel, and ended the year at $95.98/barrel.

That's up 57% for the year.

Gasoline up, though, only 8% for the year....

D.B. Cooper

Today the FBI put out a press release asking -- again -- for the public's help in running down D.B. Cooper, the man who stole $200,000 from a hijacked plane in 1971. (FYI, $200,000 in 1971 is about $1.04M in today's dollars.)

D.B. Cooper fell somewhere around here north of Portland, and if he survived that descent he deserves the money. A young boy found some of his money in 1980.

You'd think maybe the FBI would move on to more pressing cases... but no, the FBI wants you to know they are still going to get Cooper: "Would we still like to get our man? Absolutely." Which would be a disaster for mythologists everywhere.

Provo scams

I see that mathematical quack Mark Provo is back with a new paper about how his theories "explain" the large-scale structure of galaxies. Needless to say, this is complete and utter quackery, and a complete joke. His "theories" explain no such thing, except in the first-grade sense that he wrote a sentence with "galaxy" and "spiral" in it, and there happen to be some spiral galaxies. His paper, PROVOGALAXIES.PDF, does not contain a single equation, hypothesis, or conclusion.

Naturally, he thinks it's quite profound.

Warning: do not give money to this charlatan.

I have tried for months to ask journalistic questions about his work: where he's given the talks he claim have received great acclaim, why he doesn't attempt to publish in the peer-reviewed literature, why he won't even submit his work to the ArXiv. He ignores my questions because it's much easier for him to simply proclaim that I'm crazy.

I know, he's just another quack. That's OK, there are lots of quacks. But I'm concerned that people are actually giving him hard-earned money, thinking that he's on to something. That'd be a huge waste, and people need to be warned.

"I Am Legend"

I saw the movie I Am Legend yesterday, starring Will Smith. I went into the theater expecting to like the movie a lot, but came out with mixed feelings. (Stop reading here if you don't want to hear of any spoilers....)

The cinematography and special effects were good for the most part, even great... the scenes of an abandoned New York City were right on and very eerie.... and Will Smith played the last man on earth about as well as anyone could have. The dog was pretty good, too.

But the CGI zombies weren't convincing. They moved too fast and and with too much power. They just didn't look believable. What virus is going to do that to people (and canines)? Every time I've ever gotten a virus I can barely stand vertical -- why do all these movies -- I Am Legend, 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later -- have virus that turn people into raving lunatics? It's supposed to be scary, I know, but to me isn't nearly as scary as the virus in The Stand, which just devastatingly and thoroughly incapacitates people. Or something like ebola, where you just bleed out of every orifice on your body. Frankly, the zombies in The Omega Man 36 years ago were scarier.

Still, the movie was interesting, and even scary, especially if somewhere deep down in your psyche you have an issue with the apocalypse. But then it all ended too fast -- one minute Will Smith is trying to save his newfound friends, and the next minute the movie is suddenly over. It brings you out way too fast and you blink your eyes a few times and just feel unsatisfied.

I think that virus-devastating-mankind movies have about run their course, though, and are going to need a seriously new angle if they're going to be considered as interesting.

Saturday, December 29, 2007


I just came across this quote on The Beast very entertaining list of 2007's Fifty Most Loathsome People:
Tim Russert, on a Bill Moyers' show about the pre-war performance of the press on the WMD story: "...there were concerns expressed by other government officials. And to this day, I wish my phone had rung, or I had access to them."
Wow. That just pretty much sums up the whole fucking mess there, doesn't it?

The Day the Earth Stood Still

In other interesting sci-fi film news, they're remaking 1951's The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Unfortunately, it's going to star Keanu Reeves as Klattu.

Interestingly, in the original trailer they say the aliens came from "250 million miles" to save Earth. That's only about the distance from the sun to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Friday, December 28, 2007


"We live in a society, and dare I say a University, where few would admit—and none would admit proudly—to not having read any plays by Shakespeare or to not knowing the meaning of the categorical imperative, but where it is all too common and all to acceptable not to know a gene from a chromosome or the meaning of exponential growth."

-- Larry Summers

(via Matthew Yglesias.)

PS: And you can go and Google "categorical imperative," but before you do that just realize that is is another damn moral imperative whereby Kant thinks you're supposed to act this way because morality compels it.... He, of course, fancies it up quite a bit but ultimately he gives it no more significance than this, and don't fall for any of this kind of crap....

Colossus Remake

This should be good: Ron Howard is remaking the 1970 movie Colossus: The Forbin Project, the story of supercomputers who achieve sentience and attempt to take over the world.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Dylan's "Series of Dreams"

This is quite possibly the best song I have ever heard, in my life..... It proves my theory that any song that sounds like galloping horses is sure to be a hit.....


You know, I am starting to resent weathermen. Well, not starting -- I resent the hell out of them, and their local television stations. They call for big snowstorms, and then nothing happens and all you get is a little rain. This was the case back in New England, and it's the case here in Portland. We were supposed to get 3-7" here in downtown Portland -- and then slowly but surely they backed off, to where it was only 3", and then only 1", and finally just rain.... and it always seems to be like this. Hype the forecast for sensationalistic reasons, to get people to tune in.... and then slowly but surely back off until your forecast means nothing whatsoever.....

Gladly, I gave up on TV five months ago, and even then I didn't watch local news. It is clearly useless, disappointing, and I'm sorry that so many people waste their time watching this shit.

More Global Warmign Hysteria

More global warming hysteria from the left, though this time with an ugly we-told-you-so political edge that hopes for the worst for some:
The area that will by completely inundated by the rising ocean—and not in a century but in the lifetime of my two cats—are the American southeast, including the most populated area of Texas, almost all of Florida, most of Louisiana, and half of Alabama and Mississippi, as well as goodly portions of eastern Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.
The author is Dave Lindoroff, and his bio says he's "a 34-year veteran, an award-winning journalist, a former New York Times contributor, a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, a two-time Journalism Fulbright Scholar." How standards have fallen -- there's hardly anything scientifically accurate about his essay.

Cats live about 15 years, and global sea-level is rising about 3 mm/yr. So in the time span he envisions, sea-levels will rise only up to about 50 mm, or 5 cm, or .... 2 inches. Which isn't going to "inundate" anything.

Who cares, though, if it makes your political point? That, again, seems to be the attitude of the left these days.

This kind of alarmism does a lot of damage to the cause.

Monday, December 24, 2007

10 F

This is what bothers me about the Grist/Kos crowd -- they're extremists. Read this post by Joseph Romm and notice how he goes straight to the high end of the IPCC scenarios: is increasingly clear that the assault on the Christmas tradition by those who oppose action on global warming goes far beyond the inevitable reduction in late December snowfall we will face when the country is 10°F warmer (or more) by century’s end.
This is just an outright lie. The IPCC forecast calls for a warming of 2.0 and 11.5°F -- the likelihood of 10°F or more is really quite small, yet Romm portrays none of that subtlety.

Warning: Do not take your science news from environmentalists. They are as biased as the skeptics, and will stretch science and even lie to make their points.

"IBM Next Five in Five"

IBM has revealed 5 ways in which our lives are going to change in the next 5 years:
  1. It will be easy for you to be green and save money doing it.
  2. The way you drive will be completely different.
  3. You are what you eat, so you will know what you eat.
  4. Your cell phone will be your wallet, your ticket broker, your concierge, your bank, your shopping buddy, and more.
  5. Doctors will get enhanced “super-senses” to better diagnose and treat you.
Click here for more details on each of these.

I'm sorry, but I don't buy any of these. Maybe a little of #1, a miniscule amount of #2, none of #3, perhaps some of #4, and none of #5.

Especially #3:
You are what you eat, so you will know what you eat: We've all heard the saying 'you are what you eat', but with foods being sourced across international borders, the need to 'know exactly what you eat' has never been so important. In the next five years, new technology systems will enable you to know the exact source and make-up of the products you buy and consume. Advancements in computer software and wireless radio sensor technologies will give you access to much more detailed information about the food you are buying and eating. You will know everything from the climate and soil the food was grown in, to the pesticides and pollution it was exposed to, to the energy consumed to create the product, to the temperature and air quality of the shipping containers it traveled through on the way to your dinner table. Advanced sensor and tracing systems will tell you what you eat, before you eat it.
This would all very very nice, and probably even possible in 5 years in an enlightened world. But our government and corporate overlords will never allow it. The won't even let us know if our food is genetically modified, or if our milk contains rBST. You think they're going to let you see what all pesticides have been dumped on your food? No way. Agribusiness and the FDA will say that pesticide-laden foods are "substantially equivalent" to organic foods, like they do with GM foods now, and say there's no need to label them. Same will go with food from China -- you think they want you to know where every stalk of celery comes from? -- and other countries will balk as well. This prediction just isn't going to happen.

Five years ago was 2002. What really has changed since then? Some Web 2.0 technology, a little cell phone technology. Not much more. Facebook hasn't rocked the world by any means.

Ron Paul on Fascism

Dec. 23rd interview with Tim Russert:

REP. PAUL: ...I think this country, a movement in the last 100 years, is moving toward fascism. Fascism today, the softer term, because people have different definition of fascism, is corporatism when the military industrial complex runs the show, when the--in the name of security pay--pass the Patriot Act. You don't vote for it, you know, you're not patriotic America. If you don't support the troops and you don't support--if you don't support the war you don't support the troops. It's that kind of antagonism. But we have more corporatism and more abuse of our civil liberties, more loss of our privacy, national ID cards, all this stuff coming has a fascist tone to it. And the country's moving in that direction. That's what I'm thinking about. This was not personalized. I never even used my opponents names if you, if you notice.

MR. RUSSERT: So you think we're close to fascism?

REP. PAUL: I think we're approaching it very close. One--there's one, there's one documentary that's been put out recently that has generated a lot of interest called "Freedom to Fascism." And we're moving in that direction. Were not moving toward Hitler-type fascism, but we're moving toward a softer fascism. Loss of civil liberties, corporations running the show, big government in bed with big business. So you have the military industrial complex, you have the medical industrial complex, you have the financial industry, you have the communications industry. They go to Washington and spend hundreds of millions of dollars. That's where the control is. I call that a soft form of fascism, something that is very dangerous.

Notice that Russert's only follow-up to Paul's highly significant statement here is about the provenance of a Sinclair Lewis quote. Nothing else. Some interviewer.

Carbon-neutral Campus

The College of the Atlantic up in cute little Bar Harbor, Maine -- a tiny college with only 300 students where everyone majors in "human ecology" -- has become the first college in the US to become carbon neutral. They've purchased carbon offsets for the 2,488 tons of carbon they've emitted over the last 15 months, for about $25,000, or about $10/ton.

They're purchasing the offsets from The Climate Trust of Oregon, which in turn is buying the offsets from the city of Portland (Oregon) from a project they have that will improve the timing of traffic signals (total net savings, 171,786 tons of CO2 over five years).

OK. I'm happy to help the College of the Atlantic reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. But shouldn't the traffic engineers of the city of Portland already have been working to optimize the timing of their traffic signals? If fact, I thought they would have done this a long time ago just because, you know, it's part of their job. Does there really have to be a special project with outside funding to make it happen?

If I hold my breath for a minute, will someone pay me a dollar?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Human Genetic Variation

Science magazine has chosen its Breakthrough Story of the Year: "Human Genetic Variation." Bob Park of the American Physical Society doesn't seem to have a strong opinion of it:
The journal Science announced in today's issue that "Human Genetic Variation" is the Breakthrough of the Year. It's been seven years since we learned how we differ from other species. With faster and cheaper sequencing technology, we're learning how we differ from one another.
In my opinion, this is a huge disaster, one guaranteed to rent great turmoil in our society. This is the dream of every bigot throughout history. Not only are the haters going to find "justifications" for their disgusting discrimination, but, more importantly, insurance companies and health providers everywhere throughout the US are going to find a great many reasons about why they should not cover you, me, and your neighbor. You have a BR78T gene? You're a loser, man. Who needs you? Society, frankly, can't afford you.

The United States is too late coming to the table of universal health care, and now the genomic era is here and insurance companies know it. The more individualized genetic information we have the worse off we are all going to be. (And it's a few decades too late for the United States to escape its established corporate tyranny.) In seven years you will have to submit to a genomic scan in order to purchase insurance, and if you have a wrong gene in the wrong place they will charge you an extra $100/yr, or they might well refuse to insure you at all. Just you watch.

This is going to be a disaster.

Asteroids on Mars

OK, it's 2:43 pm Pacific Time on the Friday before Christmas, but... the leading story on CNN is about a 1-in-75 chance that an asteroid will hit Mars.... Mars.... next month. Are you kidding me? We have tens of millions of people in the US without health insurance, the US science budget is being cut left, right, and center, dozens of soldiers are still being killed every month in Iraq... and the top story is about Mars?

It's no wonder most people have given up hope on the MSM.

Bush on Climate Change

Bush concedes on climate change, admits the existence of carbon dioxide.

(The Onion.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Expelled the Movie

Ben Stein, who was once supposedly a respectable intellectual and who then became a host for some kind of television game show or something -- I don't know, I've never watched that kind of crap -- hosts this movie on Intelligent Design, called Expelled. Everything in the Universe, he thinks, was created by a "loving god," without specifying in the least where this god came from. It seems it's OK for his god to be unexplained, but not the universe.

But Stein and his movie friends claim the IDers are somehow being prosecuted by the science community, when they are not really practicing science in the first place. And the poor souls are unable to get tenure, all because they oppose Darwin. The media, the courts, the educational system, are all in on the scam and holding them down. They apparently don't understand that they aren't practicing science, but instead merely asserting that they should be allowed a place at science's table....

Just watching this film is dangerous, says Stein! You might lose your friends, or even your job! Oh dear....

What a load of crap.

Wash Post headline

Washington Post, today:

Someday, you can hope, this headline will read, "House Approves $70 Billion More for Children's Health Care."

Until that time, don't think we are an advanced nation....

Carbon Sequestration

I am all for sequestering carbon underground.... I think. But did you know that emissions of CO2 from underground reservoirs have killed thousands of people in the not-too-distant past?
On August 21,1986, a cloud of carbon dioxide gas was released from Lake Nyos [Cameroon, Africa]. Because carbon dioxide is more dense than air it hugged the ground and flowed down valleys. The cloud traveled as far as 15 miles (25 km) from the lake. It was moving fast enough to flatten vegetation, including a few trees. 1,700 deaths were caused by suffocation. 845 people were hospitalized.
That's got to be a terrible way to die.

Carbon sequestration, unless out in the deep ocean, still carries with it the possibility of leakage and, therefore, of harming a great many people. It seems to me to have killed at least as many people as Three Mile Island + Chernobyl combined. I'm surprised environmentalists aren't more concerned about this type of environmental disaster.

Health Care Costs

If everyone in the United States had health care, the country would save about $150B/yr, according to a new report, or $1.5T over 10 years.
Currently, health spending in the U.S. is predicted to increase from $2 trillion to more than $4 trillion over the next 10 years, and to consume one out of every five dollars of national income as increases outpace income growth by a wide margin. According to the report’s findings, it is possible to curb health care spending, and simultaneously enhance the overall performance of the health care system. And the sooner policy changes addressed at reducing spending are enacted, the greater the cumulative savings for families, businesses and public health insurance programs. In fact, even modest changes can quickly add up to billions. However, authors caution that in order to see real savings and higher value, policies must address overall health system costs and not shift cost from one part of the health care system to another.

Meyerson op-ed

Harold Meyerson has a good op-ed in the Washington Post, excoriating Bush and the Republican presidential candidates for their hypocrisy on religion. I wish there was more of this type of questioning from the reporters covering the White House and the presidential campaign. I don't like to see religion mixed up in politics, but if the president and the candidates are going to do it, then they're fair game for some pretty pointed questions.

Eli Has Diabetes

Yesterday I learned that my cat Eli has diabetes. We have started him on insulin injections, and a couple of medications for his liver, and a new diet, and he seems alright so far. The worse thing is he doesn't like having the pills shoved down his throat.

He had more-or-less stopped eating about five days ago, and now that I think about it he had been drinking more water than normal for about a month. Stupidly, I thought it was perhaps evaporation. He's 8.5 years old, and has always been a huge cat, but he's been overweight for a few years now too. At the moment he weights 19.8 lbs, but has been as high as 23.6 lbs, and I've worried about exactly this scenario. He's been eating dry diet food for a couple of years now, but had only lost a little weight during that time.

I blame myself and I feel guilty. Too many little kitty treats and snacks here and there. Now he's paying the price. He's a great cat and a great buddy and I feel like I've let him down. I know it's possible he'll live a long, health live from here on out, but it's also possible the disease will take its course and he'll go blind and worse.

Giving the injections isn't as difficult as I thought it would be, though I drew a little blood this morning. The vet conveniently shaved off four spots on his shoulders and hindquarters as injection sites. He looks a little ridiculous, but I don't think he knows that....

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Tax Break for Bicycling Commuters

Did you know there was a tax break for those who bicycle to work in the Energy Bill working its way through Congress? There was -- $20/month for bicycle commuters. It just was stripped out in the Senate, which I think is a good thing. How do you enforce such a tax break? What if someone rides their bike 15 days out of the month, but not 20? What if they're sick a couple of days and have to take their car?

What about telecommuters? They're using even less resources than bicycle commuters -- why shouldn't they get an even bigger tax break?

What if you don't like arriving at work dripping in sweat or drenched in rain? What if you have children you need to drop off on your way to work? What if you're disabled and can't bike -- why should you be subsidizing other's transportation choices?

By all means, bike to work if you want. It's good for you, it's good for your town, and it's good for the planet. But can't that be enough? To we have to micromanage behavior and everyday simple choices like this via the tax code? Please.

PS: And, yes, let's get rid of Hummer tax loopholes and all of that, too.

Winter Solstice

In case you were wondering, the Winter Solstice is this Saturday (12/22) at 1:08 am EST (6:08 UT).

Holier Than They

Judith Warner in the NY Times:

These days, however, for all the talk of religion, there is little public soul-searching about the absence of care and compassion, love, acceptance and inclusion – the things that many consider to be the essence of Christianity – in the words of our purported Christian leaders.

The Christian conservative vote is, apparently, splintering. Younger evangelicals are increasingly said to be interested in putting their faith to greater use than bashing gays, promoting guns and putting God on the presidential ticket. That would seem to indicate that we’re facing a moment of opportunity: a chance to expand and amplify the reach of the voice of religious moderation. The silence I’m hearing makes me think, though, that as a society we’ve come to accept the slippage of prejudicial and hateful attitudes into religious doctrine as somehow normal. Whether that’s due to cynicism or due to cowardice, it’s very troubling.

Reminds of of what G.K. Chesterton said:

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Top Science Stories

Time magazine's Top Ten science stories of 2007:
  • stem cell breakthroughs
  • human mapped (Craig Venter)
  • brightest supernova recorded (SN 2006gy)
  • hundreds of new species
  • building a human heart valve
  • "hot Jupiters" discovered
  • a big birdlike dinosaur
  • man's migration out of Africa (25-65 kya)
  • the world's oldest animal (405 yr-old clam)
  • real-life kryptonite
Might have been better to title this list "Top Ten Splashiest Science Stories of 2007." In terms of sheer potential, they missed this prime factorization quantum computing story.

NYT on Bali

The New York Times editorial board agrees that the Bali climate conference ended in "disappointment."
Despite pleas from their European allies, the Americans flatly rejected the idea of setting even provisional targets for reductions in greenhouse gases. And they refused to give what the rest of the world wanted most: an unambiguous commitment to reducing America’s own emissions. Without that, there is little hope that other large emitters, including China, will change their ways.
Remember when Bush campaigned on reducing carbon dioxide emissions? That looks more and more like a deliberate lie.

El Nino

El Nino: no impact on the economy at large.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

On Bali

Andrew Light, environmental ethicist, University of Washington:

“We could have moved on from here with a confident range of future cuts,” Mr. Light said. “Instead we have to move on with the same continued uncertainty. At the beginning of the week I was really heartened by the public praise the U.S. delegation was giving to the I.P.C.C. and now I can’t help but think, was it all lip service?”
(NY Times)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Portland's Tuba Christmas

Went downtown this afternoon to meet my sister and her family and listen to Tuba Christmas, a collection of 200 tubas playing Christmas songs at Pioneer Square. Could have been cool.... but the truth is, it was pretty lame. The tubas never got uncorked and played everything kind of slow and dreary, and the MC talked too much and thought he was funnier than he really was. We left halfway through and went over the Nordstrom's, where we drank some iced tea and my nephew ripped open sugar packets and scrapped them up, until he turned cranky from the lack of a nap.

Bali's Failure

I just don't get this. All the papers are talking about a historic agreement in Bali -- even the British papers -- but to me it seems like a massive failure. It would have been a great agreement -- if this were 1987. But all they've agreed to is to delay emissions targets by at least two more years and to keep on talking. Big whoop. The US is already starting to act squirrely again.

The world needs to start reducing its carbon emissions and it needs to start doing it 20 years ago. Second-best would be if it started do it now.

The same issues and barriers are going to be at Copenhagen 2009 as were at Bali 2007. Granted, Bush will be gone, and perhaps a better administration will be in place. Perhaps not. But the one definite thing is there will be ~50 billion more tons of CO2 in the atmosphere two years from now.

Like I said, I just don't get this. Only in fantasyland can agreeing-to-some-other-day-agree be considered significant.

Friday, December 14, 2007


Father: I thought you were the kind of girl who knew when to say when.
Daughter: I don't really know what kind of girl I am.

-- Juno

"Framing" Science

Thankfully, Matt Nisbet is too sick to present his ideas of "framing science" to a Princeton conference tomorrow.

I can't think of a worse idea.

Science needs no additional framing -- science is already framed, the most important and significant framing of the last 400 years. The idea that it somehow needs to be repackaged and formulated for the masses, so that they will finally believe in it, can only come from a couple of English majors (or the equivalents) who do not know what science is and who have never practiced it. It is a horrible idea.

Science is, by far, the dominant paradigm of the modern world. It has run wild against all competing ideas, especially and including religion, but including various social ideas of the last 200 years. Just because the current administration chooses not to follow it is absolutely no reason to abandon it and acquiesce to their game.

Science is not about spin-control. It cannot be reduced to modern-day politics, odious as they are.

Science is about truth. And you don't compromise truth, you don't repackage it, you don't spin it, you don't "frame" it. My God, that would be a disaster.

Instead you present it as straightforwardly as you can. You present your facts and your truth. That has worked absolute wonders over the last 400 years, propelling humankind into unimagined standards of living.

Why stop now, just because, for a few years, you encounter some resistance? So suddenly we're all supposed to learn lessons from political communicators and spin the truth?

"Framing" cannot predict the g-factor of the electron, or the perihelion shift of Mercury, or the warming factors of CO2 and methane. Only science can do that. And it has done that. And that alone has been responsible for the rapid advancement of science in this century, even if some people want to stick their head in the sand. Science has run roughshod over them in the past, and it is today.

The truth needs no spinning. And spin always looks foolish, some time later. Always.


Here's the best clip yet from the upcoming JJ Abrams movie about a big, huge monster in NYC, titled(?) Cloverfield.

Intimate revelation of the evening: deep, deep, deep down I hope that something like this happens in my lifetime.

Presidential Science Debate

Imagine: You're a Republican candidate for President.

Then: You get asked to participate in something called the 2008 Presidential Science Debate.

You: Notice that one of its principle organizers, purportedly a "journalist," has written a book called The Republican War on Science.

Question: Which way do you run?


Michael Vick says he is an animal lover.

Doesn't it seem like the need for self-delusion is perhaps the strongest instinct among the human species?

Bush Wins Bali

Just heard this on the BBC while I was driving to get groceries, though I don't see it on the Web yet: officials in Bali have decided to drop explicit calls for a 25-40% reduction in GHG emissions, although the final report will "reference" documents that call for such reductions.

The United States Bush Administration wins.

The German environmental minister says:
"I think the situation is good ... and we will have success in the end," Sigmar Gabriel told reporters, declining to give details of the talks. "We are sure we are able to reach an agreement."
Right. I know the diplomats feel pressure to call any final document a "success," but this is drastically overreaching. The fact is clearly that by not setting definite emissions targets this conference has been a complete failure.

Pascal's Wager

Pascal argued that one should believe in God because, well, what do you have to lose? It seems a pretty lousy way to determine reality. And it has another downside, as Eduardo Porter points out in today's NY Times:
In my view, however, the biggest flaw in Pascal’s argument is that it understates the costs of belief. Because believing, it seems to me, is not free.

Belief in God too often spawns reasons to punish sinners — “adulterers” in Saudi Arabia, gays for some Republican presidential candidates. Through the ages, it has provided people of all sorts of creeds a great argument to kill and maim the people from the next creed over. If it turns out that God doesn’t exist — having bought into the notion, it seems to me, would prove a pretty bad wager indeed.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Top 10 Physics Stories of 2007

The American Institute of Physics is out with their top ten physics stories of 2007, and although it isn't yet on their Web site it will probably be here when it appears. There's nothing too terribly exciting. Here they are, in chronological order:
  • light, slowed in one Bose Einstein condensate (BEC), is passed on to another BEC
  • electron tunneling in real time can be observed with the use of attosecond pulses
  • laser cooling of coin-sized object, at least in one dimension
  • the best test ever of Newton's second law, using a tabletop torsion pendulum
  • first Gravity Probe B first results, the measurement of the geodetic effect---the warping of spacetime in the vicinity of and caused by Earth-to a precision of 1%, with better precision yet to come
  • the MiniBooNE experiment at Fermilab solves a neutrino mystery, apparently dismissing the possibility of a fourth species of neutrino
  • the Tevatron, in its quest to observe the Higgs boson, updated the top quark mass and observed several new types of collision events, such as those in which only a single top quark is made, and those in which a W and Z boson or two Z bosons are made simultaneously
  • the shortest light pulse, a 130-attosecond burst of extreme ultraviolet light
  • based on data recorded at the Auger Observatory, astronomers conclude that the highest energy cosmic rays come from active galactic nuclei
  • and the observation of Cooper pairs in insulators
For my purposes, the most exciting result is MiniBooNE's ruling out of a 4th neutrino species. But at this rate it appears that the 21st century is really going to be the century of biology.

Amazon's Kindle

Jonathan Franzen:
"Yes, in theory, words are words. But literature isn't data. The difference between Shakespeare on a BlackBerry and Shakespeare in the Arden Edition is like the difference between vows taken in a shoe store and vows taken in cathedral."
Via Virginia Postel.

"Death to Corals"

Today Science has a paper on corals, basically, that there aren't going to be any for much longer. Scientists are calling for "immediate action" to prevent their deaths, but of course that isn't going to happen. We just do not care. We don't. Let's face it.

Here's why I don't think there will be a science debate: science appears nowhere in the top seven topics that people say they care about. People, and the press, seem much more interested in which magic-man-in-the-sky a candidate believes in than anything having to do with the larger forces shaping our world.

Why, if you were a candidate looking at this data, would you agree to a debate about science?


So Roger Clemens was juiced. Man, that's disappointing. You see someone like him and you think you're seeing one of the all-time greats, a real hero in the sport, both in terms of intensity and longevity. And he probably would have been even without taking steroids. But that apparently wasn't good enough. Now this undoes all those good years of fantastic pitching and calls everything into doubt. I was never a huge fan of his but more an admirer, but now somehow I feel cheated.

This is turning into a lousy century, isn't it?

In other crappy sports news, they're going to sell off the naming rights to the Rose Coliseum here in Portland. It's owned by Paul Allen, Microsoft billionaire (net worth ~ $20B). Allen will get maybe $10M/yr, and what was once a pleasant, charming name for a stadium will turn into just another monstrosity.

Hadley Center on 2007

The Hadley Center has 2007 as, so far, the 7th warmest year on record....

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

More Richard Thompson

Since posting Richard Thompson yesterday, Cooksferry Queen, I came across this (also) live version, and it's even better:

I love watching the drummer on this one....

Vetoeing Children's Health Care

Bush once again vetoed health care for poor children, saying " moves our country's health care system in the wrong direction."

Why is it OK to socialize American home owners by giving them a tax break on their mortgage interest (cost to the government: ~$100B/yr) , but it is the "wrong direction" to socialize the health care of poor children?

I'm just asking.

Crisp Words

Yesterday I wrote to a scientist -- someone whose name you all know, a prominent skeptic, though one of the more scientific ones out there (I thought) -- asking for a copy of his most recent paper, and a few minutes after he sent the paper along I got a second email message from him:
... waitaminute ... Appell ... Appell ...hmmm ... HEY, aren't you the guy that always spins things on behalf of the catastrophists?
I won't name him... but it is rare that I encounter such unprofessionalism, simply for asking for a copy of a paper....

Paris Hilton's carbon footprint

Yes, I know these are easy pickings.... but it still needs to be pointed out: celebrities who buy a few compact fluorescent light bulbs and maybe a hybrid car aren't really don't that much for the environment, given their lifestyle. The latest example: Paris Hilton.

"I changed all the light bulbs to energy safe light bulbs and I'm buying a hybrid car right now,'' Hilton said, adding she also turned off the lights at home, didn't leave the TV on or the water running when she left the home.

''Little things that people can do every day to make a huge difference.''

In fact, little things don't make a big difference if you live a high-consumption, jetsetting lifestyle:

The professional shopper proved she doesn't just throw out her clothes after one wearing, when she showed up to the Paris (France) airport on Tuesday, with over a dozen suitcases.

Marburger Speech at AGU

John Marburger gave a speech at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting on Monday -- "Reflections on the Science and Policy of Energy and Climate Change." Here's a copy, if anyone is interested.

Ray Pierrehumbert was at the speech and has comments here on RealClimate.

It's a quite remarkable speech, though not really surprising. Some highlights:
As a scientist, I am humbled by the power of the media in this debate. Issues that should be matters of fact are lost in oversimplifications and hyperbole. Issues that are clearly matters of opinion are marketed as scientific certainties. The complexity of the phenomena far exceeds the capacity of conventional public discourse, which is not unusual for scientific matters, but rarely do such matters intrude with such amplitude into the public domain. The visibility of the issue, which is entirely justified by its importance, guarantees that it becomes an object and an instrument of politics. Many scientists have willingly participated in the inevitable simplifications that are conventional in politics, acting from the same desire that motivates us all to have our societies do what we believe to be the right thing. From my perspective, science has lost credibility in this discussion in a subtle way. Critics and advocates all stamp their positions with the brand of science. They all claim that science supports their particular views. The subtext is that science is incapable of distinguishing among their views. The latter is more likely than the former, and the distressing fact is that science is being pressed into an awkward service here, and I know I am not the only scientist uneasy about it.
One of the most important decisions governments must make now is how to balance investments in adaptation versus mitigation of climate change. The tone of current public discourse seems to be biased against adaptation, which is incomprehensible to me (and I hope I have judged the mood incorrectly). Social returns on adaptation investments begin immediately and last indefinitely. Social returns on mitigation investments are likely to be negative in the near term, and produce their positive impacts far in the future. Both, however, are necessary.
Why shouldn't the goal be simply to reduce the absolute carbon emission toward zero? Why bring in the notion of "intensity?" Because the cause of our climate anxiety in the first place – the root cause – is the overwhelming desire of people everywhere to improve their lot. That desire will not be denied. From all I have ever read or seen of human behavior, the will to better human circumstances must be accommodated in any social plan of action, and especially one designed to persist over decades, perhaps centuries. If we are to make any progress in mitigating anthropogenic climate change, it will be necessary to break the link between economic development and fossil fuel emissions. Simultaneous economic development – i.e. growth in GDP – and CO2 reduction implies reducing carbon intensity. This is a point of the utmost importance in crafting a successful global climate strategy.
In view of all these considerations, what constitutes a rational path forward? First, every major economy in the world needs to make some kind of commitment to long term emissions reduction. I do not think it is possible to force such a commitment. Each country must conclude that it is ultimately in its best interest to join in at least what has been called an "aspirational goal." Developing nations must be included in this framework. Second, technology development must focus on scalable sources – nuclear and coal, while maintaining progress in other areas such as renewable power and efficient end uses. Third, although I have not made a point of this, we need better data and agreement on data definitions and measurements that permit comparisons of energy use not only among countries, but also in different economic sectors within the same country. This is essential to the effectiveness of any international agreement. Fourth, we need some sort of international financial framework that takes into account private as well as public investments in energy infrastructure. Fifth, much, much more attention needs to be given to adaptation. And finally, increased focus on research in low carbon energy technology in all countries. Most of these points are addressed in President Bush’s recent initiative with the major economies of the world to develop a framework of action to create and achieve long term carbon emissions goals.
Someone at Bali said the mood is, they are standing around the bed of the Bush Administration, waiting for it to finally die. You can see why.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Richard Thompson

Good stuff: Richard Thompson, Cooksferry Queen

Lyrics here....

"adaptation apartheid"

I came across a new term today in a UNFCCC press release: "adaptation apartheid." That's where rich countries invest heavily in adaptation and climate infrastructure, and the world’s poor are left to "sink or swim" with their own resources.

Gas Prices

The Common Tragedies blog has a very interesting graph showing US gas prices as a function of per-capita wealth for the last several decades. Have a look at the graph, but bottom line is, gas prices have been falling as a percentage of personal wealth for decades.

LESSON: The United States can afford higher gas taxes. Significantly higher gas taxes. Well, at least the upper- and middle-classes can.


I was too quick to talk about a "cooling trend" yesterday. As James Hansen points out today in his email blast:
Through the first 11 months, 2007 is the second warmest year in the period of
instrumental data, behind the record warmth of 2005, in the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) analysis. The unusual warmth in 2007 is noteworthy because it occurs at a time when solar irradiance is at a minimum and the equatorial Pacific Ocean has entered the cool phase of its natural El Nino – La Nina cycle.

Gore's Nobel Acceptance Speech

Here's Gore's Nobel acceptance speech, if you've been looking for it. With video.

This Blog's Readability

Hmm, this is a little higher than I am aiming for....

UK out of ILC

Britain says it can no longer afford to be part of the International Linear Collider, and pulls out.

Presidential Science Debate?

There's a call for a presidential debate on scientific issues -- here on Facebook. (I guess you have to be a Facebook member, which leaves me out. Seems silly to wall it off like that.) Michael Lemonick of Time magazine repeats it here.

I can't see the Presidential candidates going anywhere near this one -- especially the Republicans, but including the Democrats. There is just too much opportunity for them to look stupid, and they know it. I also think that, unfortunately, the majority of Americans don't care about scientific issues (and the candidates know this). They rarely if ever poll very high, even global warming, even now. There is little mention of them in the day-to-day discourse of the presidential campaigns, dismal as it is. And most Americans are creationists anyway, which speaks volumes about their scientific awareness.

UPDATE: Here's the Web site: .

I'm not going to sign on to this petition -- as a journalist, I don't feel it's my place to be advocating for or against anything like this.

Monday, December 10, 2007

God's trigger

"I was given the assignment to end this before it got too much worse."

"I give credit to God."

-- Jeanne Assam, Colorado Springs
Left unsaid was why God required 4 deaths before this assignment was made, or how Assam's actions conflict with God's commandment that "Thou shall not kill."

Nov 2007

November 2007 was +0.64°C above the long-term average, the 5th warmest November in recorded history. I guess you can't set a record every month. More to the point, it appears this has been a very slight cooling trend over the last year or so -- or, at least, not a warm trend.


I'm traveling down to southern Oregon to do some interviews for a story. Back tomorrow night.

Sunday, December 09, 2007


The Bali climate conference has been going on for a week now -- so how's it going?

Not very well.

The United States, leading GHG emitter in the world, refuses to even play ball. Thumbing their nose at the UN, they say they and their buddies will develop their own plan. It will most likely be a voluntary plan, if we know Bush, and we know how much good that has done over the last few years.

Now the Canadians (emissions up one-third since 1990) have said that if the US won't participate, we won't either. Everyone is worried about the other guy having an advantage.

The European Union has committed to binding emissions reductions of 20 percent by 2020. Left unsaid is why they can meet that goal when they couldn't meet their (more modest) Kyoto targets.

The developing countries are saying, don't look at us!

Al Gore wants to bypass governments all together and rely on "people power," which he likens to the ban-the-bomb movement of previous decades. Yes, we all know how well that worked.

Things don't look very good, do they?


It's snowing in Portland! Lightly, but it's snow.

First of the year.

Saturday, December 08, 2007


Gail Collins in the NY Times:
"...Romney had his attention fixed on the approximately 35,000 Iowa religious conservatives who will tip the balance in the first-in-the-nation Republican caucus.

"Can I pause here briefly to point out that in New York there are approximately 35,000 people living on some blocks? If my block got to decide the first presidential caucus, I guarantee you we would be as serious about our special role as the folks in Iowa are. And right now Mitt Romney would be evoking the large number of founding fathers who were agnostics."

Swimming for Global Warming

A few students here in Portland are going to swim across the Willamette River -- muddy and contaminated as it is -- to call for a solution for global warming. That ought to do it.

Friday, December 07, 2007

William Connolley

Wow, I am late getting to this, but I see that William Connolley has announced his retirement from RealClimate and from climate science, in favor of software engineering.
...Much of the main areas of climate science have now become much clearer than when I began to be interested; the obstacles to progress are now very obviously political not scientific.
He has been a friend, if virtual, for several years, and I am sorry to see him go. I wish him the best of luck -- any field would be lucky to have him join it....

HIV+ Visitors

You know, probably, that the United States has banned HIV+ visitors since 1990. To our shame.

The proposed Bush administration policies to alleviate the situation are only going to make things worse, says the HIV Medicine Association.

In other science news, premature births in the U.S. were up again last year, and still no one really knows why. The premature birth rate (12.7%) is up 20% since 1990, and up 30% since 1981.

Thursday, December 06, 2007


I was surprised by this statistic:
In the next 24 hours, deforestation will release as much CO2 into the atmosphere as 8 million people flying from London to New York.

-- "Deforestation: The Hidden Cause of Global Warming"
Daniel Howden, The Independent UK, May 14, 2007

Pac NW Flooding

Here's a picture of I-5, the Interstate highway between Portland and Seattle, originally covered under 10 feet of water at Chehalis, Washington (about halfway between Portland and Seattle). Now it's down to 3 to 4 feet, but still isn't expected to reopen until the weekend. Engineers say the problem is too expensive to fix.

Another Bali Footprint Calculation

The Bloomberg News Agency estimates the carbon footprint of the Bali conference to be 40,700 tons.
The total of 40,700 tons of gas created by the conference is equivalent to the annual emissions of 20,350 mid-sized cars, each traveling 12,000 kilometers....

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Peter Garrett

Peter Garrett, that big, tall, bald Australian dude who was the lead singer of Midnight Oil (think 1980s....), was named Minister for Environment, Heritage, and Arts in the new Rudd government.

That's the kind of career I wish I had. Lead singer one decade, minister in another....

Pac NW Floods

It is scary how isolated you can get. We had a huge storm here the last few days, lots of rain (~4") and wind over Sunday and Monday, but today in Portland there was bright blue skies and with the clearing it almost seemed like spring.

But elsewhere in Oregon and Washington people are scrambling to get away from floods and literally running for their lives.

But, jeez, you'd never know it by me. I don't have television anymore (and never watched local news even with I did) and don't listen to the radio. I read all the national newspapers (NYT, WP, BG, LAT) on the Web, and I read the local paper (Oregonian), but it's real easy to just skim over the headlines and it doesn't really sink in in that skimming that the stories are real and people are suffering. I walked to the library today, and then to the office supply store, and earlier went to Safeway for some lunch... It was a beautiful day in the city. I read some papers and did some research and answered some email... but you can spend your entire day with your head stuck up your little life and hardly even aware of what is going on, even 20 miles away from you.

Is this a good thing, or a bad thing? It's about what you would have experienced 100 years ago, but was that a good thing or not? Of course, they didn't even know to ask the question.... I often think that the world is going mad for worrying about what is taking place a half a continent (or planet) away, about every little shooting and murder and child abduction, and that it's ruining our society, at a time when many people don't even know their neighbor's names... so I am not sure. It is confusing.


A couple of physics-related things you might find interesting:
  • for a nice stroll through the problems, challenges, and possibilities of today's high-energy physics, read Michael Dine's article in the December issue of Physics Today: String theory in the era of the Large Hadron Collider.
  • John Baez has a nice explanation of what Krauss and Dent really meant in their paper, as opposed to what New Scientist reported they meant.

Health Insurance

"Bow your heads and raise the white flags. After facing down the Third Reich, the Japanese empire, the U.S.S.R., Manuel Noriega, and Saddam Hussein, the United States has met an enemy it dares not confront--the American private health insurance industry.

"With the courageous exception of Dennis Kucinich, the Democratic candidates have all rolled out health "reform" plans that represent total, Chamberlain-like appeasement. Edwards and Obama propose universal health insurance plans that would in no way ease the death grip of Aetna, Unicare, MetLife, and the rest of the evildoers. Clinton--why are we not surprised?--has gone even further, borrowing the Republican idea of actually feeding the private insurers by making it mandatory to buy their product. Will I be arrested if I resist paying $10,000 a year for a private policy laden with killer co-pays and deductibles?"

-- Barbara Ehrenreich, "Crush This Enemy," Progressive, Nov. 2007

Monday, December 03, 2007


"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes."

-- Marcel Proust

YouTube's for Science

They're here: YouTube's for science content:
Here's a CNN article about them....

These could be useful for certain applications.... On the other hand, I find watching online videos to be somewhat wasteful. I almost always get more information per minute reading something in print than I do watching it on video. Of course, video is unique for visually spectacular events. But as a simply way of transferring information, it lags behind text, often significantly so. Often times you send up sitting through a five-minute video only to find you could have gleaned the same point in 30 seconds of reading. A lot of times I won't even start a video because I doubt it's really going to be a good use of my time....

First Flight

This is just too good -- 24-hour-old ducklings make their first flight out of their nest.

Oregon storm

The big Oregon storm is lashing at my windows as I write, with three inches of rain here in Portland in the last day or so. They had 120 mph winds at the coast overnight, with up to 70 foot high waves. It is the kind of day when you are very happy to be able to work at home.

More on Bali Carbon Footprint

The UK Times has their own estimate of the Bali conferences' carbon footprint, and it's more than three times mine:
“Calculations suggest flying the 15,000 politicians, civil servants, green campaigners and television crews into Indonesia will generate the equivalent of 100,000 tons of extra CO2. That is similar to the entire annual emissions of the African state of Chad.”
Their person who did the calculation asks:
“One wonders how many people would have gone if the conference had been held in a wet October in Pittsburgh.”
Are the emissions worth it?
Achim Steiner, director of the UN Environment Programme, said such conferences could never be small. “If you want to tackle an unprecedented global challenge like climate change then people have to meet and talk. Bali remains the world’s best hope to minimise the effect of global warming.”
Of course, most people who travel, certainly for business, feel their across-the-world flights are equally essential. Could the UN have shown their concern by organizing the conference as the world's largest and most sophisticated video conference ever?

In any case, UN officials are going without suit and ties, to save on air-conditioning. So maybe this time they're really serious.

Via Dot Earth.