Tuesday, April 29, 2008

McCain and the Uninsured

John McCain has (at least, partially) addressed what he wants to do with those uninsured Americans who have pre-existing conditions. According to the NY Times:
But rather than force insurers to stop cherry-picking the healthiest — and least expensive — patients, Mr. McCain proposed that the federal government work with states to cover those who cannot find insurance on the open market. With federal financial assistance, his plan would encourage states to create high-risk pools that would contract with insurers to cover consumers who have been rejected on the open market.
This has been tried before, and it has utterly failed. I know from experience -- when I moved to Maine for the winter in 2003, I was put in a pool for the insured-but-self-employed. Even my state representative admitted to me on the phone that it was a failure -- the healthier people on top opted for other policies, leading to a "death spiral" for those left in the uninsured pool, with their monthly premiums growing at an ever faster rate.

It will be absolutely no different on a national level.


After remaining essentially flat for several years, global atmospheric levels of methane may be on the rise again, possibly due to the feedback effect of melting permafrost....

Monday, April 28, 2008


Oil would have to rise to $134/barrel to have the same impact on incomes as it did in the early-80s, says The Economist. That should take, what, about another month?


"I tattooed my body so I couldn't fall back on anything. I purposely did that so I couldn't get a normal job and live a normal life. I did it so I had to play music."

-- Travis Barker, drummer, +44

Sunday, April 27, 2008


"The closer you look at something, the more complex it seems to be."

-- Vincent Cerf, Esquire

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Frontline: Sick Around the World

Frontline had a very good show last week, Sick Around the World, made by my friend Jon Palfreman (who's also now in Oregon). It's about five different health systems around the world (Great Britain, Japan, Germany, Taiwan, and Switzerland). All cover all of their citizens at substantially lower costs than does the United States. Best of all, the show disproves many of the myths about universal health care that foes cite here as scare tactics, while being objective about their strengths and their weaknesses.

Fortunately, you can watch the show online. (Have you noticed that you can watch pretty much anything online these days? I gave up my TV 9 months ago and don't feel like I've missed a thing, except lazy nights slumbering on the couch watching whatever trash was beamed at me. Now I just watch what I want and do a lot more reading in the evenings. Plus, every time Bill O'Reilly or Glenn Back says something outrageous, you can be happy that at least you're not paying them for it.)

Anyway, I still do not think the US will ever have a universal health care system. Americans insurers, the medical industry, and the pharmaceutical companies won't allow it, and increasingly business pulls the strings in this country. Even Hillary Clinton's health care plan has a place for insurers, despite ample evidence that health care does not work in a traditional free market system. No way are these companies going to accept being even heavily regulated.


I don't really understand these "nanoparticles" being touted as additives to products. Are they just...molecules added to increase the functionality of the product? In that case, would iodine be an "nanoparticle" added to salt? Is fluoride a "nanoparticle" added to drinking water?

I guess I tend to think of nanoparticles more in a Drexlerian sense.

Or are people just trying to make money off the word "nano?"

Friday, April 25, 2008

Climate Change and the Food Crisis

OK, I can kind of see people getting a little annoyed at the climate change problem because of the rise in food prices. Probably all the basic feedstuffs being diverted towards the production of ethanol is part of the problem. But why are we still doing this in light of recent studies that biofuels aren't a solution to the climate change problem? What's the point of paying researchers to do these studies if we're not going to listen to what they say?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Run on Rice

I don't generally buy apocalyptic scenarios -- I think the future, even if dire, will be much more interesting than that -- but if I did, today's news that Sam's Club and Costco are limiting rice sales would be the third paragraph of the first chapter of any novel I were to write on the coming apocalypse, if I were to write one. It'd be that one little detail that came to importance in chapter 4.

I don't know what's worse news, that some customers feel they have to hoard grain or that the greedy merchants of capitalism can't sell it all to them.

It just makes you think. If the grocery stores were to close, it'd take me about three days -- maybe five -- until I had to become a rampaging thief.

The line it really quite thin, and getting even a tiny glimpse of it makes you think.


Via: Dark Roasted Blend

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Appell's Theorem

Appell's Theorem:
Despite the worst threats to the planet, earthlings will burn whatever it is that keeps them warm.
Proof: "Despite Climate Worry, Europe Turns to Coal," NY Times, April 23, 2008

Phoenix on Mars

Did you know that NASA will be landing a new lander on Mars in about a month?

Phoenix will land near Mars' north pole, where there's water, where there might be life. Unlike the rover landings, the spacecraft will descend via thrusters and not via encasement in a big bouncing balloon. Mars is so far away (10 light-minutes) that is must all be automated.

It'd be great to find microscopic life there. Unfortunately, I don't think even that would make much difference to the average person on Earth, or slack their quest for Big Gulps and McMansions.

Perlmutter profile

I have a profile of Saul Perlmutter, the astrophysicist who co-discovered the acceleration of the expansion of the universe and, with it, the existence of dark energy, in the May 2008 issue of Scientific American.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Gail Collins Misunderstands Climate Science

Just a few days after the NPR/Kristen Byrnes debacle, we have another example of the mainstream media's failure to understand even the simpliest things about climate change science.

On Saturday Gail Collins of the NY Times wrote:
"George W. Bush says we’re on track to meet the nation’s goals for
curbing global warming.

"I see some hands waving out there. Didn’t know we had any goals for
curbing global warming? Where were you in 2002 when the president put us
on the road toward reducing the growth of greenhouse gas emissions by 18
percent by 2012?"
In fact, Bush never committed to reducing the growth of greenhouse gas emissions by anything. Growth is change in quantity over time.

Rather, in 2002 Bush "committed" to reducing greenhouse gas intensity by
18% over the next ten years.

Intensity is quantity over GDP.

In doing to, Bush relied on the mainstream media's inability to grasp the nuances of his argument -- in other words, on their basic scientific and analytical ignorance, their inability to distinguish GHG intensity from GHG growth from changes in the rate of GHG growth.

This ignorance is written all over Gail Collin's op-ed piece. She kind of gets that Bush is being sneaky, but she doesn't have the ability to pull apart the different numbers. She says she doesn't really understand changes in rates of growth, yet more evidence that calculas should be required of journalism students. In the end her piece ends inconclusively and without any real understanding that she's been had. Her analogy to Bush's weight is flawed (it would be weight compared to calories ingested), Her readers are, I'm sure, left even more confused.

Worse yet, this confusion is exactly what the Bush administration wanted to happen when they focused on GHG intensity instead of GHG levels themselves -- the latter being the only relevant parameter in climate science.

They wanted to make it look like they were making progress in the fight over climate change, when in fact GHG intensity has been declining for decades and decades, simply because we all want to use energy more efficiently in order to save ourselves money. Bush's "committment" was nothing more than to the rate at when GHG intensity has been declining for almost a century.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Re: Defense of Kestenbaum

Usually I get where Michael Tobis of Only in it for the Gold is coming from, but I'm afraid that this time I'm completely lost. (Also, I wish that just once he'd spell my name right.)

To begin: he writes:
Science functions in a social context. Emergence of an educated class is as disastrous as emergence of a wealthy class.
Science might function in a social context, but that is not where scientific advances are made. An educated class has certainly emerged in the last 150 years and it is certainly where all scientific advances are made -- all of them. The average person in the average social context has little-to-no idea of what scientific advances are going around them -- it's strictly a function of the educated, scientific elite. I can't image it being anything else, ever, not in the time of Newton, or Kelvin, or Maxwell, or Bohr or Feynman or Weinberg or Guth or Witten. Ground-breaking science has always been in such a class.

Enough of that. Tobis writes:
The problem isn't that just one person gets it wrong; the problem is that it is easier to get it wrong than to get it right.
I have no idea what this means. Wrong is wrong.

Yes, science can get very "hairy." So what? QED is hairy -- every try to read Schwinger? Or Dirac on quantum mechanics? Or any modern physicist on quantum field theory? Or ... go on, and on....

Which is exactly why Kristen Byrnes isn't a scientist. She lacks the subtlety and deep thought required of them. She's a cut-and-paster, without benefit of much critical thinking, if any. She's just a kid, for god's sakes. Few to none of them have any sophisticated idea about what science is about. It's tough stuff. There are few real geniuses around. She certainly isn't one of them.

So what is she contributing? I really can't tell, at all. She's just some average, mediocre blogger. It's an extreme embarassment that NPR would treat her as the equal to people who have spent decades studying this subject in excruciating detail.

Somewhere in Toledo there is a girl scout troop meeting every Tuesday evening. I certainly hope they're having a good time. But I hardly am going to believe their calculations for the cross section of Higgs production at the upcoming LHC run, or their thoughts on the efficacy of SSRIs for long-term depressives. Are you?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Kristen Byrnes on NPR

Yesterday NPR published one of the most atrocious, absolutely embarassing pieces of scientific journalism I have ever witnessed.

David Kestenbaum -- who I thought was hired by NPR because he had some scientific training -- profiled a girl in Maine with a Web site that questions the canonical view on global warming:

"Teenage Skeptic Takes on Climate Scientists,"

Ms. Byrnes' Web site is an absolute joke, full of errors, entirely unscientific. For example, her graph of CO2 levels in the atmosphere showed it flat until about 1950, which is simply wrong. I corresponded with her for months and months about this, as did many other bloggers, until she finally hid her error without acknowledgement of what was correct.

You can see semblances of it at http://home.earthlink.net/~ponderthemaunder/id23.html, "Global Mean Temperature over Land and Ocean," light blue line.

Profiling a high school girl as if her science stands up to the best peer-reviewed results from professional scientists and academic journals, as if she matters one iota, is a joke and reflects very, very poorly on NPR, and especially on their science desk.

This would not matter if global climate change were not such an important topic -- one that, literally, threatens the existence of future generations. Nothing but reporting the best science can suffice.

Kestenbaum should be ashamed. Personally, I will never be able to believe anything he ever reports again, and, for that matter, the entire NPR Science Desk. This is pathetic.

Bush and Greenhouse Gases

I mean, how can you not just laugh out loud?

Today Bush says he wants the US to set a goal for stopping the growth of greenhouse gases altogether, proposing 2025.

I guess 2064 wasn't available. And no one would believe 2143. So 2025 it is.

This is such a huge joke on the entire world that it's amazing Bush isn't ashamed to even propose it. He's so completely divorced from the entire populace of the real world that he apparently has no shame whatsoever for this proposal. It really is a sick joke.

His father committed the US to greenhouse gas reductions about 12 years ago. He then completely ignored it. So did Clinton/Gore. So did Bush Jr.

They have come up with every possible excuse to deny the scientific findings of our time. Bush Jr. lied to the American population about regulating CO2 when running for president in 2000 -- just outright baldfaced lied -- and went back on his word only 2 months after being elected. He could hardly have taken less time to admit his lie.

Since Bush I GW skeptics have gone though every possible excuse. No, the world isn't warming. Yes, the world is warming but it's natural. OK, maybe it's not all natural, but man's contributions can't be proven. Yes, maybe man is contributing a little, but there's nothing we can do about it. We'd wreck our economy. We'd bankrupt the world. Adaptaion won't kill us. The measurements are rancid. On and and on and on.

And now Bush II proposes something completely meaningless. No real committment, no real sacrifice at all. It's far worse than his Moon/Mars proposal -- this one is completely meaningless. 2025 is essentially infinity. It means nothing to today. It's like all the other officials and governors promising to cut GHGs by 80% by 2050. They have no clue how to do this, as it requires a complete reengineering of civilization. Which is of course not going to happen.

What is wrong with the analytic capabilities of our media -- their very critical thinking skills that they claim to prize so highly --that they can report any of this with a straight face? Do they not h have even the slightest degree of numerical and analytic thinking? Will they believe anything a politician says as long as they stand up in front of a podium.

It is not reality that is going to sink us. It is our stupidity and utter inability to think beyond the latest American Idol show. We are fucking doomed.

Monday, April 14, 2008

I'm not posting this video for any reason other that I love the dogs running together at 3:36 - 3:55. There's something about a pack... I mean, tell me the truth, don't you wish you were part of a pack, that it was part of your soul and part of your DNA, part of your very being, embedded deep in the molecules and neurons of your consciousness? Instead of you sitting there all alone, mousing around the Web, an stupid human individual, completely on your own, part of this ugly fucking human race where we're all supposed to be competing against one another in an obscene Darwinian fashion, but instead to have buddies who have your back, friends who will spill their blood for you, running together but still alone through the dark of the night, with their existence as important as your own, and you don't even know why, it's just the way you are built, you giving as much as they ever would -- and even....

That must be great.

Rowling's Hypocrisy

J.K. Rowling, who has earned over a billion dollars with a series of silly fantasy books, is upset that someone is publishing some works that refer to hers.

Of course, she fails to acknowledge the vast array of literature that previously laid out the roles of trolls and flying witches, or sacred children in orpahanges who imagined all sorts of harm, or any magical what-so-ever at all.

Like she thought all that up on her own.

It's particularly revolting to see such an author, who really had a very limited imagination, in the grand scheme of things -- just variations on a theme -- complain that someone is making some money off her works.

Hey, she made $1B+ on these themes.... Who does she think she is?

McKibben's Fantasies

Bill McKibben thinks that we're supposed to go back to a time when we all raised our own hamburgers.

This is a common fantasy, and I myself have had it many times. But it is seriously wrong.

We are not going to solve the problems of this world by reverting back to Civil War standards of living. Yes, we need more community. Yes, we need to expend less greenhouse gases. But pretending all live in grand little Amish community where we all spin our own wool is not the answer. And if it were, people like McKibben -- intellectual writers about abstract topics -- would be the first to starve.

But people did not lead such great lives in such a scenario. The average American death age for males in 1900 was about 45-50 years old. McKibben would be dead already. So would I. Few men would live to see their grandchildren. They would instead die miserable deaths from infections and similar diseases we cured 50 years ago.

There's a reason why people don't take environmentalists very seriously, and this is it. Short-sitednees. Fantastical thinking. Pretending that the past was the best time of our lives. It's dumb thinking, frankly, and McKibben has devolved into it more and more.....

John Wheeler

John Wheeler died yesterday. He was not a physicist's physicist, but, I think, a student's physicist, someone who inspired a couple of generations by his insights, kindness, enthusiasm, and understanding. That is an overlooked role among great scientists.

As an undergraduate I learned a lot from his Spacetime Physics book written with Taylor. Special relativity, especially in its modern formulation, really is the gateway to all of modern physics, and I was fortunate to study with teachers (especially Daniel Finley at UNM) who knew that.

Of course, every graduate student knows about Misner, Thorne, and Wheeler, a huge treatise on general relativity that itself has nearly the mass of a small black hole. I studied and studied it, and learned a lot, but never as much as I thought I should. But it looks great on your bookshelf, and it's still there today. Sometimes I even consult it.

We need more like him.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Climate Change and Witches

Nicholas Kristof serves up the kind of thinking that makes global warming ripe for parody:
As we pump out greenhouse gases, most of the discussion focuses on direct consequences like rising seas or aggravated hurricanes. But the indirect social and political impact in poor countries may be even more far-reaching, including upheavals and civil wars — and even more witches hacked to death with machetes.
There are lots of good reasons to curtail dangerous warming, but avoiding the consequences of the ridiculous beliefs of ignorant people is pretty far down the list. I'm pretty sure they will find excuses to hack one another to death whether the climate is warming or not.

Friday, April 11, 2008

CO2 trends

CO2 emissions are increasing in the last few years, not decreasing (or even holding at a steady rate of increase):

Source: Earth Policy Institute.
Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the burning of fossil fuels stood at a record 8.38 gigatons of carbon (GtC) in 2006, 20 percent above the level in 2000. Emissions grew 3.1 percent a year between 2000 and 2006, more than twice the rate of growth during the 1990s. Carbon dioxide emissions have been growing steadily for 200 years, since fossil fuel burning began on a large scale at the start of the Industrial Revolution. But the growth in emissions is now accelerating despite unambiguous evidence that carbon dioxide is warming the planet and disrupting ecosystems around the globe.
We are not going to be cutting CO2 expenditures anytime soon. And it's folly to think we could ever cut them by 80% by 2050, as some governors and governments are pointing towards. It's just an arbitrary goal picked out of thin air -- they don't have any idea how to reach it, I'm sure.

Gore and the Press

This is a really dumb move on Al Gore's part:
Al Gore is speaking at the RSA security conference in San Francisco this afternoon. But good luck finding out what he says: Reporters are banned from the event.
Banning the press just makes it look like Gore has something to hide. Whereas he's only going to win this argument by following the tenets that global warming science has followed for the last three decades, and which science has followed for the last four centuries: complete and total openness. This is not the kind of debate you win by fooling the other side, or convincing them by subtle and complicated arguments -- this is a debate about fundamental facts and fundamental physics, and you win by not deviating from them. Indeed, the pro-global warming side is already winning by following exactly this path. Just keep it up. Yes, it might take 20 more years. It might take 5. But you're not going to win by manipulating the press coverage. Gore has a Nobel Prize. He has a unique platform. He should act like it, instead of acting like he has something to hide.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Re: Dr. Laura gets weekly segment on Fox News

Think Progress is complaining that Dr. Laura is getting a spot on some Sean Hannity show, pointing out all the outrageous things she's said lately. As if that's supposed to keep her off any show.

Obviously, she's being brought on the show because of the outrageous things she says. They get attention. They will get the show attention. That will raise their ratings, and that will raise how much money they can make.

Think Progress is cute. But they should leave 2nd grade and join the real world. It is best to just ignore Dr. Laura and Sean Hannity. (You will be a lot happier for it.)

Global Warming is Back

After a brief holiday, global warming is back:
March 2008 (GISS, land + ocean) = +0.67°C above the long-term average
Now the skeptics can go back to denying the validity of the surface temperature data, instead of using it to prove global cooling.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

April Fool's

April Fool's Day on the Internet has gotten pretty lame. This is probably the only decent thing I saw this year:

It got me, I have to admit.

Hillary and Portland GHGs

Hillary Clinton was in town today and she "praised Portland for cutting its greenhouse gas emissions and said she wanted to follow suit nationally."

Apparently no one told her that the is little truth to the veracity of such cuts.

Hey, who cares as long as it sounds good....

Reporting CO2

Oregon plans to require its leading companies (several hundred of them) to report their carbon footprint.

Coming next: the battle over the legitimacy and accuracy of GHG models.

Yang Quote

"There exist only two kinds of modern mathematics books: ones which you cannot read beyond the first page and ones which you cannot read beyond the first sentence."

-- C.N. Yang

via Not Even Wrong.


Via: Dark Roasted Blend (although they got the sum wrong).

Another good image from that site:

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Oregon Snow Pack

I heard on the radio that snow pack in the central Oregon mountains is currently 160% above normal, and 470% above normal on the Coastal Range.