Saturday, July 31, 2010

PepsiCo's New Blog

After a bunch of high-handed bloggers like David Dobbs and Rebecca Skloot threw a royal fit because the likes of them could not possibly be expected to share a domain -- a mere virtual address in Web space! -- with the likes of the obviously biased and rotten scientists from PepsiCo -- PepsiCo went off and did the brave thing: started a blog of their own to show their vitals.

So how horrendous has their blogging been -- how blatant have they posted against all the best science of the day?

They're asked questions about their own integrity (July 29th), questions at least as serious as any blogger ever asks about themself. They've discussed the role of sodium in diet, which you might assume is verboten for a corporate food scientist.

They've discussed scientific topics that I wonder if Dobbs or Skloot could have ever followed, let alone responded to in an intelligent fashion.

Funny -- nowhere in their posts do I see the words BUY PEPSI!.

So what was the problem here?

Chelsea Clinton's Wedding

Since when did Americans celebrate royalty?

And look: if this were one of GW Bush's daughter's children being married, so ostentatiously and so up-front New England bourgesie style, the NY Times and nearly every other newspaper would be all over it writing articles about $11K cakes in a time of 10% unemployment and all that.

And how did the Clinton's get so rich anyway, that they can spend $2-3M on a wedding? They've worked for government essentially their entire lives. Yes, they've written a successful book or two -- did that really make them the tens of millions of dollars they must be worth to splurge on such an expensive wedding?

They always tried to be low-key, Democratic, if you will. And kept their child there too. So what changed?

And what has Chelsea Clinton done to be so princess-worthy? Worked a few years on Wall Street doing... what? In what position? And aided how much by her family connections? Let's be real about this.

Perhaps the Clintons figure -- in the kind of gross political calculation that no one puts beyond them -- that they have nothing to lose here. Bill is history -- he could be doing a lot of good -- as much, perhaps, as anyone in history, including Gandhi and Mandela, but he is too tied to corporate rule and doesn't have the balls to give up all his dollars for that cause. He could be doing Bill Gates-type of good, or Jeffrey Sachs type of good -- but he is only shilling for Haitian earthquake relief. Hillary has acquiesced and knows she won't rise beyond Sec of State. Is this their last horrah?

And why aren't Americans complaining? Or are they, and I'm just not reading about it? Because the MSM seems entranced by all this, as if deep down they all with there were in this wedding -- or at least an usher or bridegroom -- and won't say anything against it.

Tuttle Farm Going Out of Business

The oldest farm in America is going out of business.

The Tuttle Farm in Dover, NH, in business since 1687, is calling it quits.

For some years I lived just a few towns over from the Tuttle Farm and shopped there often. Not that often -- it was, frankly, rather expensive. It was the absolute canonical family farm store selling its wares -- an immaculately clean store selling fruits and vegetables, cheese, some bread and meat and wine. It was deathly charming -- all products stacked to look fresh and earthly and just picked, the kind of thing that appeals to the affluent. You felt like a saint when you were there. Once in, you spent a few minutes sniffing around their greenhouse, and looking at their beautiful displays...and you could hardly get out without spending at least $40.

But it was New Hampshire where August and September is perfect and a bread, some wine and some cheese concludes a perfect day of running all around.

The farm was founded in 1632. They did fine for over 300 years. Imagine. I wish they weren't going out of business. I wish they were instead selling vegetables in a stand by the side of the road, for a little less, without the wine and bread sales, but I'm sure that was a difficult decision. Nobody respects farmers anymore. Americans will now eat pure poison if it is 20 cents/lb cheaper.

My last only hope is that the farm stay a farm, or at least is bought by someone like the Audubon Society. But no doubt it will be turned into yet another ugly condo development, and something precious will be, yet again, forever lost. And in 10 yrs no one will care in the least.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Again I Come to the End

Once again I am feeling that I'm not sure blogging is working out.

If I blog once a day, I get 100 visits/day.
If I blog several times a day about the latest topics I can find, at my wittiest, I get 160 visits a day.

Not that hits, or growth, is everything. I don't know.

I've been blogging for ~8 years now, and my readership has hardly changed at all. I need to admit that I just don't have the blogging touch, whatever it is that attracts readers and grows a site.

I should be working harder on the articles I have been commissioned to write, and that I hope to write for somebody. My blogging is certainly not making editors decide that they definitely ought to seek me out and hire me -- if anything, probably the opposite.

I should be working on a book or two -- if I don't now, I never will.

Blogging divides my attention with no recompense. I need to get more serious.

I need to make more money.

I also need to focus on my health. I need to lose weight, but more than that, since my episode of cervical stenosis this past winter, I am still having trouble walking correctly. You probably couldn't tell from looking at me walk, but my legs just don't work right. Even when I walk a few steps, they just don't work right. In the middle of the night when I walk up and have to go to the bathroom, I am peg-legged. During the day I have trouble walking for even 50 ft sometimes. Since my surgery I haven't walked for more than 10 minutes -- my legs just get tired and cramped up and it's like walking through mud. It's been six months since my surgery and is not getting a lot better. For someone who in their 30s went on a couple of memorable and magical long-distance hikes -- 350 miles in 6 weeks in 1994, and 1500 miles in 5 months in 1996 -- this is difficult to accept, and heartbreaking if I let myself think about it, which I have not done since my surgery.

--

Maybe I can't write books. But I used to make a decent living from writing articles, and I need to get back to that. In any case, I just can't spend any more time hoping that blogging will somehow build my name or make it easier (i.e. more profitable) to be a writer. It doesn't. I'm not an A-lister, and I never will be.

--

I watch Oliver, who is so little, and to whom everything is a wonder. Just jumping around is, for him, a definite joy. I remember that feeling, sort of -- do you? -- and I envy him.

Thanks for reading. I will definitely miss most of you.

I appreciate your readership, and, especially your comments. Take care.

Something Is Not Right With Me

Cold War Kids:
Something Is Not Right With Me Lyrics

I tried to call you collect,
you said you would not accept
Your friends are laughing
'cause nobody uses pay phones


Where are all the PepsiCo Complaints Now?

After being hounded out of town by uppity bloggers like David Dobbs, PepsiCo wisely started their own blog at http://foodfrontiers.pepsicoblogs.com/ . (Though unwisely they have not updated it in at least a week. Bad blogging, guys.)

What egregious corporate propaganda have they put up?

None that I can see. They even admitted that excess sodium is not a healthy choice!

I assume that David Dobbs undertook multiple back fllips at that point, which accounts for his lack of response.

In fact, as far as I can tell Dobb's hasn't paid PepsiCo's new blog any attention whatsoever, even though he was sure they would be the voice of the devil.

Funny. Where are all his objections. Or Rebecca Skloot's?

I mean, PepsiCo's posts must be crawling with compromises, right? Yet not one of these high-handed bloggers can find their way to even reading PepsiCo's science blog, it seems.

Which is exactly what I was talking about -- Dobbs et al are all talk and no action.

ClimateDepot's Declining Stats

It turns out that, contrary to what you might think, the ClimateDepot.com site of professional prevaricator Marc Morano actually has decreasing traffic since Cliamtegate:


That's a startling chart and indicates there's very little to worry about, until he works up the next fake crisis.

The Octopus Creeps

There is something very strange about octopuses -- they are unlike almost all animals we know, and they creep me out because I can easily imagine that the extraterrestrial species that will someday invade and takeover Earth (...) will be very octopus like. (A bit like the aliens in the remake of The War of the Worlds, the one with Tom Cruise, but worse.)

Anyway...they seem even spookier because there's something going up in their brains. This recent Boston Globe piece by Emily Anthes discusses their intelligence, and has a nice graphical guide to some of their shenanigans. Foremost among their tricks hiding themselves in coconut shells, that they carry around with them.  By any definition, that's pretty clever.

Here's a video showing how they do it:



It's easy to anthropomorphize animals, but it's become clear, I think, that it's very easy to underestimate them as well. The "intelligence tests" we subject them to look more for our type of intelligence than theirs.

The Cost of This War

By the way, the cost of the Iraq II/Afghanistan war is now the second costliest in US history, after only World War II. Over a trillion dollars has been spent so far.

The Wikileaks Documents

I applaud the courage of Wikileaks and Julian Assange (and whoever leaked the documents) for the release of the Afghanistan war documents, but unfortunately I think he's wrong to suggest this will be like the Pentagon Papers. The blatant truth, I'm afraid, is that American's just don't care about the war or whether Americans are committing war crimes or if American soldiers are killing innocent people, including children. We gave up caring about such things since our war in El Savador, at least. American's frankly don't seem to care about much these days (except perhaps making money), not the war(s), not climate change, not the corporate takeover of the US government, not the plight of the unemployed. They cared a little about the Gulf oil spill for a few weeks while that was in the news, but not enough to demand any real changes, and now the November election is coming and I don't think they care about that either, in the sense that they'll vote D or R when both parties have, for several decades now, showed themselves to be corrupt and inept and unable to get anything done except what the world's corporations want it to do. We are all bitching, but none of us is doing anything about it. So, expect more of the same.

Oliver Update

Thanks for all the advice about my kitten (especially from Steve B). The finger trick worked -- he licked some milk from my finger, then figured out he's supposed to lick it out of the bowl. He's using the litter box on his own now (as opposed to having to be set into it), and getting more independent, sometimes sleeping by himself and playing by myself. But he's discovering how sharp his teeth are, and has an unfortunate tendency to chew on wires, and on parts of me in the middle of the night. But he's really a great cat -- relaxed and normal. Tomorrow he gets a round of shots.

Quote for Today

"Give an infinite number of monkeys typewriters and they'll produce the works of Shakespeare. Unfortunately, I feel like I'm reading all the books where they didn't."

-- Anonymous at internetisshit.org, as quoted in Say Everything by Scott Rosenberg

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Quote 2

"Conspiracy theorists claim to believe that global warming is a carefully constructed hoax driven by scientists desperate for ... what? Being needled by nonscientific newspaper reports, by blogs and by right-wing politicians and think tanks? I have a much simpler but plausible ‘conspiracy theory’: the fossil energy companies, driven by the need to protect hundreds of billions of dollars of profits, encourage obfuscation of the inconvenient scientific results. I, for one, admire them for their P.R. skills, while wondering, as always: 'Have they no grandchildren?'"

-- Jeremy Grantham, contrarian hedge fund manager

Quote 1

"If we invest an additional $3 billion a year or so on clean energy, that’s roughly 50,000 jobs over the next five years."

-- Lew Hay, the C.E.O. of NextEra Energy, which owns Florida Power & Light

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Surrender on Climate Change

When the history of climate change is written -- from, presumably, a very well air-conditioned lair someplace -- this week's surrender by the Democrats will occupy a prominent chapter -- at least as prominent as that on Copenhagen Dec-09, and probably even greater.

The Democrats simply said: we give up. Perhaps Obama did not have much political capital left. Perhaps you can blame it on the deep and stubborn recession. Perhaps you can blame it on the professional prevaricators like Marc Morano and James Inhofe.

Without the US -- the world's only superpower and one of the gigantic historical contributors to climate change (and also, let's be fair, to revealing and understanding its science) -- then the rest of the world is unlikely to do anything significant.

And if we can't do it now, it's unlikely we'll be able to do anything for years. The issue is just not prone to crises and the American public is apparently too...dumb...to understand the long-term implications of our current energy usage.

And too selfish.

As I heard Nate Lewis (of Caltech) point out at a conference last year, we're really always planning for about 40 years down the road. In other words, the design + construction + working time for energy infrastructure is about 40 years. In other words, we're now pretty much guaranteed that energy production in the year 2050 is going to look pretty much as it does today. That's a frightening thought.

I can't imagine anything more that scientists, journalists, thinkers, concerned citizens, and writers can do to change this to any significant extent.

Not a thing.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Lou Reed - Sweet Jane - live in Paris, 1974

Here's a great song by the Velvet Underground.... It's a little obnoxious, because all of these guys with their '70s pants and their '70s haircuts clearly thought they were beyond cool.... it's a little off-putting, frankly, but it's a little bit attractive, too, because, in retrospect, none of us was ever that cool, but if anyone was cool it was the VU.

I wonder what they're all doing right now -- don't you? ...


Why Can't Ollie Lap Up Milk?

So, I've now had my kitten Oliver for 13 days, and he's a great deal of fun and is becoming more independent every day. He's learning -- slowly but definitely -- not to poop in the corner of the dining room, and not to walk on top of my keyboard.

I appreciate all the advice I've gotten from you guys....

But my question is: why can't he lap up milk from a bowl?

Tomorrow he'll be 7 weeks old. I've been feeding him specially formulated kitten milk for the last two weeks now, from a medicine dropper.... He loves it, in a huge way, but just can't seem to understand how to lap it up from the bowl. Even when I shove his face in it (as my local Pet store owner suggested).

What's his (or my) problem?

PepsiCo and the Shame of the Bloggerati

Yesterday I had a commentary piece in The Guardian,


(As usual, the editor and not the writer picks the title, but I'm OK with it.)

It did not go over particularly well and has been heavily criticized. Today David Dobbs had a piece in rebuttal in the same venue.

I think in large part Dobbs reply just proves my point: the PepsiCo blog was hounded out before it even published one word, not because of anything PepsiCo scientists had written, but because of assumptions about what they would write.

That's censorship, pure and simple. Prior suppression of speech. It should not be tolerated.

Dobbs wrote:
Again and again, people have asked, as Appell does, why Pepsi wasn't allowed to pop its can open, for we could have learned and accomplished something flinging the fizz around. They wish, as one person put it, that we had the Pepsi blog stand or fall on its own merits.
Yet how can a blog stand on its merits if it's propped into a standing position to start with with a stack of money? Merit, of course, is how you're supposed to earn a voice at a place like ScienceBlogs, or the Guardian, or the New York Times, or the local paper.
But Dobbs, or Seed, never gave PepsiCo a chance to even try and earn such merit!
It was simply assumed from the beginning that they could not possibly have any. That's (part of) my point.


Perhaps PepsiCo blog authors would have tried to hawk their corporate line. Perhaps they might be at least partly influenced by their salaries.... Is David Dobbs or Rebecca Skloot any different? Does Dobbs post thoughts he knows Seed and ScienceBlogs (and its readers) wouldn't accept?


Of course not. He knows he has to maintain a certain party line in his writings to that Seed/Scienceblogs continues to pay him. He can't post every thought that comes into his head -- only the "acceptable" ones.


What about authors hawking their books and movie deals, and their travel schedules? There's a pecuniary interest there.


And, of course, magazines and newspapers have long offered advertisers room for their views. Scientific American has often run multi-page advertisements highlighting the development of, and opportunities in certain countries (such as Singapore), and for a long time the New York Times sold space on their editorial page to Mobil, with a scarce showing that it was a corporate writing and not their usual op-ed offerings.


But in the same way, PepsiCo's blog on Scienceblogs was clearly labeled by Seed as purchased property. What's the difference?


Finally, let's note that at least Seed Scienceblogger (Greg Laden) was open-minded enough to let PepsiCo speak:

I think PepsiCo's research scientists have something to say that I want to listen to. So do the scientists at Coke. And Cargill. The reason I think this is that some of my own research involves diet and nutrition, and I assume that the bench scientists working in the food industry are busy figuring stuff out at the molecular and biochemical level that I would not mind knowing.
Strike that: I know they are figuring stuff out.
As Laden writes, to deny "corporate science" is to deny that which came from AT&T Bell Labs -- which won 7 Nobel Prizes.
Top that, David Dobbs.






Hot is the new normal

New York Times, today:
According to NASA, 2010 is on course to be the planet’s hottest year since records started in 1880. The current top 10, in descending order, are: 2005, 2007, 2009, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2004, 2001 and 2008.
Hot is the new normal.







I have a couple of op-eds out in the last few days (but neither is about climate):

Monday, July 19, 2010

Stephen Schneider in 1979

Here's a (scary) video of Stephen Schneider from 1979 -- 31 years ago. He's essentially unrecognizable. Wow.

 How old were you then? Were you even born? Do you realize you're aging at exactly the same rate he did? Doesn't this scare you to your bones?

Most of all: note how right he was even then.





Via: Only In It for the Gold

On Stephen Schneider

I only heard Stephen Schneider speak once, about two years ago at a conference for journalists on climate science, in Portland. I mostly remember his sense of impatience (and a bit of anger) at the world's continuing doubts about a human influence on climate.

Here's one of the last interviews from him, from an alumni mag at Stanford. Schneider was extremely concerned about the recent tone of the debate over climate science, especially since ClimateGate -- in fact, he worried that a climate scientists might end up murdered. (Personally, I don't think this is an idle concern.)

His voice, and his frustration, will be missed.

Carl Safina on the Gulf Disaster

Here's a very interesting TED talk by Carl Safina from the Blue Ocean Institute at Stony Brook. He especially gets going in the last 5 minutes, where he talks about how the roots of this disaster. Like the other crises our country is facing, it comes from the corporate favoritism and harmful deregulation during the Bush administration. But all 20 minutes are well worth watching:

Breaking News: Stephen Schneider has died

Graphics/Schneider12_191x177.jpg

Oh my gosh, famed climatologist Stephen Schneider has died....

Here is the text of the press release from Stanford:

Stanford's Stephen Schneider, a leading climate expert, dead at 65

Stephen H. Schneider, a Stanford biology professor and a leading researcher in climate change, has died.

Schneider was flying from a science meeting in Stockholm, Sweden, to London today, July 19, when he apparently suffered a heart attack. He was 65.

He had been at Stanford University since 1992 and was a lead author among scientists on the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore.

"Steve, more than anything, whether you agreed with him or not, forced us to confront this real possibility of climate change," said his colleague at Stanford's Woods Institute for the Environment, Jeff Koseff.

Schneider was influential in the public debate over climate change and wrote a book, Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save Earth's Climate, about his experiences. He also wrote a book about his battle with leukemia, Patient from Hell.

He had been a White House consultant in the Nixon, Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama administrations.

He and Terry Root, his wife and collaborator, jointly won the 2003 National Conservation Achievement Award from the National Wildlife Federation.

Schneider received his PhD in mechanical engineering and plasma physics from Columbia University in 1971. In 1975, he founded the journal Climatic Change. In 1992, he won a MacArthur Fellowship.

Arrangements for a memorial service are pending.

Related information:

Stephen Schneider's ClimateChange.Net website:

http://stephenschneider.stanford.edu/

And If Emissions Aren't Capped, Senator?

The new Senator from West Virginia, Carte Goodwin (a Democrat) says he won't vote for the current House legislation capping greenhouse gas emissions because
"From what I’ve seen, they are simply not right for West Virginia," Goodwin said at a press conference.... "I will not support any piece of legislation that threatens any West Virginia job or any West Virginia family."
Just once I'd like to see a reporter followup such a statement with the simple question, "How will West Virginia families be harmed if the legislation doesn't pass?"

Is that too much to ask?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Ask a Nobel Laureate -- David Gross

Here's an interesting feature on YouTube: physicist (and Nobel Laureate) David Gross answers a range of questions submitted from viewers:




My IT Buddy

Oliver helps out with a diagnosis of my router:

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Why I Might Quit Reporting on Climate

Believe it or not, I was once a skeptic about man-caused climate change.

Back around 1998-99, I often wrote to an ultra-progressive, liberal list whose name was something like positive-living. (I have searched for a half-hour, but can't find it on Google.) As you might expect, many of the participant were anti-GM foods, anti-western society, and firmly believed in anthropogenic climate change.

I had some fun debating them. At that point I didn't buy the case for AGW. But, in truth, I didn't know anything about it.

That fall I moved from Gilford, NH to Ogunquit, ME, and I started to read a lot of books. I read The Heat is On by Ross Gelbspan, and Spencer Weart's The Discovery of Global Warming and several other books, and I learned what people were concerned about.

I started reading papers and talking to scientists and reporting on the topic, mostly for Scientific American: Soon & Baliunas, Michael Mann, and several other stories on Sci Am, other outlets, and my blog.

That was fun. But that was then.

The scientific case for anthropogenic climate change has been proven to the extent it needs to be --  i.e. that society needs to take it very, very seriously and that it ought to change its methods of energy production.

Being inherently selfish human beings, the world won't undertake this change, of course. But so what?

So what's left?

Really, I have little interest in reporting on Christopher Monckton's 466 questions to John Abraham, or even worse, his absurd, cowardly and utterly transparent demand that Abraham be disciplined by his institution. Monckton has clearly been proven wrong (and not just wrong, but now he has revealed himself as a clown) and is just in this for the celebrity. He will apparently do anything to keep his name in the press/blogs.

Sometimes I think that's all I should do -- respond with prejudice and keep my name in the links and build up the hits. Crash conferences and write demanding emails because you won't (or can't) do the legitimate, hard-core work that science requires.

But this is getting silly and tiring, almost as stupid as the travails of Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston or whatever the Kardashian sluts do to keep in the news.

So what to do?

There are a lot of really important science news stories out there, it seems to me. The lack of regulation of new nanotechnologies. And especially what's coming to light about the role of environmental chemicals and their impact on our ecology and (probably) our very own species.

The enormous and embarrassing question in physics that the public has not yet grasped: scientists do not know what 95% of the Universe is made of. What could possibly be worse, from a scientific point of view? Or more interesting?

So while climate science is interesting, I'm not sure it's any longer that relevant, news-wise. It's a done deal. There's no longer any scientific basis for criticizing it, just personal gossip type stuff. Kind of desperate, and kind of boring.

david.appell@gmail.com

Stuff

I'm busy working, and also taking care of a (now) 6-week old kitten, which is more work than you might imagine. Especially when he prefers to be glued to you (almost literally).

Anyway, here is some interesting stuff I've come across:

  • Wimp.com has some of the most original video findings out there. This one of dinosaur models, from Australia (I think), is quite amazing.
  • I did not know that otters must be taught how to swim. The mother otter leaves them essentially no choice.
  • Wash Post op-ed: "The energy required to air-condition American homes and retail spaces had doubled since the early 1990s."

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Citizen Journalism Doesn't Cut It

A new study has shown the obvious: "citizen journalism" is, well, crap.

That is to say, not worth very much at all.
COLUMBIA, Mo. ¬— A team of researchers from the University of Missouri School of Journalism and two other schools say that even the top 60 citizen websites and bloggers are not filling the information shortfall that has resulted from cutbacks in traditional media.

"While many of the blogs and citizen journalism sites have done very interesting and positive things, they are not even close to providing the level of coverage that even financially stressed news organizations do today," said Margaret Duffy, associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism. "Not only do these blogs and websites lack the staff to adequately cover stories, but most citizen journalism managers do not have the financial resources and business experience to make their websites viable over time."

Duffy collaborated with Esther Thorson, associate dean for graduate studies at the MU School of Journalism, and Mi Jangh, doctoral candidate at MU, along with others at Michigan State and North Carolina. The Pew and Knight foundations underwrote the research.

The researchers identified a number of factors including how much linking each website included, how much public participation they allowed or invited, how frequently news and content were updated, and whether the citizen websites provided contact information for the public.

Duffy says it is important to understand how citizen journalism and legacy news organizations co-exist. She believes it is critical that democracy have an effective journalistic presence. With many newspapers and broadcast news outlets struggling financially, she is concerned about the future of journalism.

"A strong democracy depends on vibrant, robust news coverage with informed citizens and voting public," Duffy said. "If news media have to cut back and are unable to provide the same level of coverage for their communities that they did in the past, citizen journalism may need to step in. That is why it is important to examine what these websites need to do to improve and survive.
Hey, if I could make a mere $1500/mth of this blog, by reporting in the best, most objective manner I know how.... I would offer it. But I can't imagine that 150 readers would pay $10/mth, or even that 1500 readers would pay $12/yr.

These are the sad economics of the blogosphere. So where are things supposed to go, with secondary newspapers dying and blogs being economically unable to take their place.

Huh? (I'm just as confused as you are.

Seed Magazine

Freelance writer Gaia Vince presents an amazing (and, it seems to me, believable) claim about Seed Magazine -- that they killed her column on the Bhopol chemical disaster because it was critical of Dow Chemical (parent company of that which caused the 1984 explosion), who was about to become one of Seed's advertisers.

This is, of course, the most serious charge that can be leveled against a magazine.

Vince's piece eventually ran on the BBC.

It takes a lot of guts for a freelancer to do this kind of exposure, which necessarily burns bridges and endangers future bridges. And it's an enormous black eye for Seed, the subscription-cancelling kind. I'm amazed anyone in their editorial department would have even admitted it to her.

No response from Seed yet as far as I know....

Oliver, Day 3

Thanks very much for all the advice about taking care of my 5-week old kitten, Oliver (was "Anton," but that misfired; he also goes by "Junior"). It's been very helpful. He's definitely clingy and prefers to stay as close to me as possible. He's eating canned kitten food and special kitten's milk, and  more or less goes when I put him in the litter box, except for one accident on the kitchen floor. But accidents at his age are tiny.

The first morning after he came it took 3 hours to find him, crammed underneath a piece of furniture. My postal scale records his weight as 12 oz.

My other cat, Sophie, is only 14 months old, but has completely changed character since Jr's arrival. She herself had become very, very close to me in just the 10 days since Eli's death, but since Oliver has arrived she is now aloof and, I guess, confused. The first 24 hrs she hissed at him. Now she sniffs him for a bit, but then leaves him alone. I'm surprised, since I think of her as almost a kitten still herself and a very friendly one at that. She seems confused and I guess I can't blame her. I imagine that in a few months they will both be chasing each other like idiots, but this seems like a big change for her, especially following Eli's death. (She freaked out the other day when I finally picked up his bed to put it in the closet.)

Wouldn't We All?

Asked once for his [Seve Ballesteros'] thoughts on how courses should be changed, he said with a smile: “I’d like to see the fairways more narrow. Then everyone would have to play from the rough. Not just me.” -- NY Times.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Meet Oliver

What can I say -- I am a sucker for things that need a home. So meet Anton Oliver -- only 5 weeks old:



PS: I've never cared for a kitten less than 8 weeks old. So any advice would be welcome.

UPDATE: It seems his name was meant to be Oliver.

More on PepsiCo and Scienceblogs

The more I think about it, the more I think the PepsiCo/Scienceblogs episode was a great opportunity missed.

Yes, like many I'm concerned about the corporate infestation of government and of society. But the thing is, corporations like PepsiCo go to great lengths to isolate themselves and minimize (if not eliminate entirely) meaningful rebuttal.

Here was a corporation about to initiate daily conversations (and that's what blogs are) with readers who can write back for all to see. Commenters, other bloggers, and journalists could evaluate and counter PepsiCo's claims in near-real time, in the way only the Web/blogosphere can accomplish. They could cite the scientific literature to show how/if they were wrong, unlike any other medium possible.

Instead of merely be passively bombarded by PepsiCo's innumerable television commercials, here you could talk back and call their bluff, if appropriate. Readers could point out their factual and scientific errors, or call their point of view into question, or question their entire foundation.

Heck, done right, PepsiCo would have themselves withdrawn their blog in a few weeks, shocked at the implications of truly free speech.

Instead they are hounded out before they even said anything, and prominent science writers quit in a huff because sharing a forum with such cretins was beneath them.

The PepsiCo Blog

UPDATE: Scienceblogs has quickly caved and removed Food Frontiers from their lineup.

The science blogosphere is up in arms about Scienceblog's (a division of Seed magazine) decision to introduce a blog written by PepsiCo ("Food Frontiers") and its scientists. Some Scienceblogggers are resigning (David Dobbs and Rebecca Skloot -- Carl Zimmer is keeping a rundown here), and I've seen calls for the National Association of Science Writers to write Scienceblogs a letter expressing their displeasure.

Let's note: The PepsiCo blog hasn't even written anything yet, besides a simple introduction.

This suppression of speech not yet even expressed is disappointing, merely because a mob shouted it down. Imagine if this had happened in, say, climate science, where perhaps a Limbaugh- or ClimateDepot-inspired mob floods federal agencies and science organizations until a certain grant is revoked or a speaking invitation taken back.

It would have been far better to keep the blog up and let commenters chew it to pieces (as they would), if the science really was bad.

Intolerance and prior suppression of speech is unacceptable no matter where it happens.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Zweig Recollects

George Zweig, who as a graduate student independently proposed the idea of new particles inside protons and neutrons, has published an interesting paper recalling those years, titled "Memories of Murray and the Quark Model."

"Murray" is, of course, Murray Gell-Mann, who proposed the same idea independently, calling the particles "quarks." (Zweig called them "aces," because he originally thought there should be 4 of them. He says he would have called them "dice" if he'd known there should be six.) It's interesting to read about both their struggles trying to figure out if quarks were real, or just abstract accounting devices to account for the properties of exotic baryons.

Zweig also tells about a brutal Caltech seminar where Feynman and Gell-Mann sat in the front row and completely intimidated the speaker, who was a stutter. Gell-Mann rudely read a newspaper and waited for Feynman to tell him if anything important was going on. Feynman pressed the speaker again and again, which only made him more anxious and worsened his stuttering, until Feynman finally stormed out in a huff. Pretty obnoxious, actually.

Short Films Not Easily Forgotten

Here are a couple of post-apocalyptic short films (about 20 minutes each) that are scarier than just about any feature film I can recall: Day 26 and Connected. Especially the first one.


Still from the movie

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Not Encouraging:

Science magazine:
To look for unexpected influences on voting habits, researchers recently compiled the individual county outcomes of presidential, gubernatorial, and senatorial elections between 1964 and 2008 and compared them with local college football results during the same period. They found that a home team win in the 2 weeks before Election Day gave an incumbent politician a 1.05% to 1.47% bump in the polls. Areas with ardent football fans were even more susceptible to this effect. Where local game attendance is among the top 20 in the nation, incumbents gained an additional 2.42 points, according to a paper published online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers suspect that this effect comes from gleeful fans selectively remembering favorable policy decisions and sticking with the status quo.

Historical U.S. Energy Use

Source: EIA

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Britain Wants to Reduce Air Travel

The British government has announced that they will not build a third runway at London's Heathrow Airport, and it's two secondary airports, citing concerns about Briton's wanton travel and the country's GHG emissions.

This is a courageous stand, if perhaps misguided. But it's tricky.
The government decided that enabling more flying was incompatible with Britain’s oft-stated goal of curbing emissions. Britons have become accustomed to easy, frequent flying — jetting off to weekend homes in Spain and bachelor parties in Prague — as England has become a hub for low-cost airlines. The country’s 2008 Climate Change Act requires it to reduce emissions by at least 34 percent by 2020 from levels reached in 1990.

“The emissions were a significant factor” in the decision to cancel the runway-building plans, Teresa Villiers, Britain’s minister of state for transport, said in an interview. “The 220,000 or so flights that might well come with a third runway would make it difficult to meet the targets we’d set for ourselves.” She said that local environmental concerns like noise and pollution around Heathrow also weighed into the decision.


To an observer of the American political scene, it's beyond astonishing that any politician would take a stand against commercial growth in the name of GHG cutbacks. Simply unbelievable.

No one here would ever take such a published climate plan so seriously.

People everywhere, including Britain, seem to have decided that they're not going to lose any weight anyhow, so they might as well eat all the creamy desserts they want.

But I am not convinced that asceticism is the path towards solving the problem of anthropogenic climate change.

Look, people need to fly. People want to fly, to travel, to explore the world. Instead of denying them that ability, which I suspect is even more ingrained in Europeans than Americans, we need to find a way of flying that does not generate GHGs, instead of simply denying people's ability to travel.

This is, admittedly difficult. Of all transportation sector technologies, air travel seems to be the most dependent on fossil fuels, i.e. the technology that seems unreplacable by non-fossil fuel sources.

So what to do, besides more research...? Britian's decision is only likely to alienate their citizens, who might now just take the Chunnel to Calais and fly from there. That might even be a net increase in GHG emissions.

I just need to repeat: the answer to this immense problems is not austerity. It is new technologies.

Science Shows on TV

There seem to be a great many science shows on cable TV these days. My only complaint is that too many of them focus on the same old topics, especially cosmology and astrophysics. You can almost guess the sequence of their series: the Big Bang. The Solar System. Comets. Galaxies. Black Holes.... Maybe they get a little esoteric and cover Interstellar Travel, Time Travel, Parallel Universes....  It's just that there are a great number of other science topics that seem a bit neglected, especially in biology and genetics. (Or am I missing them?) I guess graphics of planetary collisions are more thrilling than those of epigenetics.

Anyway, the graphics on these shows have really improved a great deal in recent years. How the Universe Works does an especially good job, except, I'm sorry, but while Mike Rowe is a great host for a show like Dirty Jobs, he doesn't make a good narrator for science shows. Just not his image. (PS: Did you know he was once an opera singer?)

Anyway, one little factoid I learned from their show on the solar system (Episode 7) was about the role of Jupiter in protecting the Earth from comets and asteroids. Without Jupiter, the show said, the impact rate of asteroids on the Earth would be about 1000 times what we see today.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Evil TV

Everyone complains about how much TV kids watch -- but it turns out that the elderly watch even more of the damn thing.
Adults over 65 reported spending three times more of their waking hours watching TV than did younger adults. Older adults did not seem to experience the same “stress buffering” effects that younger adults did from watching TV, and TV use among older adults – unlike time spent on other leisure activities, such as socializing or physical exercise – was related to lower life satisfaction.

Data from other studies indicate that the average American household spends 4.5 hours watching TV per day and, in those over age 65, about 25% percent of their time is spent watching TV.
I wonder how these number would suss out if you included total screen time, or at least time(TV+online videos).

Sometimes I think you can date the beginning of the decline of civilization (which I'd put at 1955 to 1975) as due to television, and how it ruined neighborhoods and families -- pulling people indoors, away from their porches and their neighbors, and even away from their family members. People haven't involved to really care or understand what is going on across the country or across the world -- we have lost a sense of community and television directly contributes to that.

Twilight, Vampires, and all That

Elena Kagan was asked about the movie Twilight in her (utterly vacuous) confirmation hearing. I have never gotten the vampire thing -- it bores me completely. Why are they so interesting to so many people and the subject of so many movies? And why is the idea often mixed up with romance?