Friday, January 28, 2011


Polamalu was asked if he wished he could use his pulpit to address subjects other than football.

“I’d rather not talk at all, to be honest with you,” he said.

-- NY Times, Jan 12, 2011

Egypt, Cut Off

One of the interesting side stories to the revolution now taking place in Egypt is, what happens to a modern country when it disconnects itself from the Internet (let alone cell phone service)?

James Cowie, CTO of the internet monitoring group Renesys, writes:
What happens when you disconnect a modern economy and 80,000,000 people from the Internet? What will happen tomorrow, on the streets and in the credit markets? This has never happened before, and the unknowns are piling up.

US vs Europe

While U.S. particle scientists are being told to soon shut down their equipment, European scientists are being given another year to keep looking for the Higgs boson.

Just a data point in the bigger picture....

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Rand Paul Would Annihilate US Science

Rand Paul (R-KY) has a (somewhat) detailed plan to cut the federal budget by $500B, which is still only 1/3rd of the budget deficit. It would absolutely annihilate spending on science and research:

  • National Science Foundation: -62%
  • NASA: -25%
  • EPA: -29%
  • DOE: -100% (some functions transfer to Defense Department)
  • NIH: -37%
  • Agriculture: -30%
  • NOAA: -36%
About the NSF, he says, "Research in science is best conducted by private industry for economic purposes." Which is such a short-sighted point of view it's difficult to even know what to say. 

His budget would essential dismantle US science just when it's needed the most to build knowledge, solve problems, and (hence) create not just jobs, but entire industries.

Cut Them, Not Me

In a Gallup poll taken before the State of the Union speech, a majority of Americans favored cuts in only one area: foreign aid. "More than 6 in 10 opposed cuts to education, Social Security, and Medicare. Smaller majorities objected to cutting programs for the poor, national defense, homeland security, aid to farmers, and funding for the arts and sciences."

Unfortunately (for those polled), foreign aid is only about 1% of the US budget, or about $30B/yr. Americans vastly overestimate how much of the budget goes to foreign aid, with the median estimate at 25%.

Really, it's difficult to see much budget cutting ever taking place, once it's put into actual numbers.

Jenny McCarthy Body Count

Yes, someone is keeping track.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Albuquerque Sun

Just came back from four days in Albuquerque, cleaning out my mother's house. She died this past September, and my sister and I have been working to get her house onto the market.

It is a complicated process.

The weather in Albuquerque was glorious this past weekend, almost total sunshine, 50+ deg F but much warmer than that seems in the thin-air, low-humidity environment of Albq. Every day we took an hour out and just sat in my mom's backyard, soaking in the sun, repairing the Vit D deficiencies we've acquired in Oregon.

Then we hauled items out of every corner of the house.

I went to college there, and such weather makes it easy to think about moving back. The town seems so new and clean, so tidy and maintained.

We discovered that she had a safe deposit box, and after jumping through numerous bank requirements discovered that...she had not a thing in it.

We hauled all kinds of stuff out of closets and down from the attic, and it seems my mother saved everything -- all of our school pictures and compositions and report cards, every Christmas ornament we ever made, every Boy Scout medal, every card she ever received, no matter from whom. Of course we had to sort through all that and reminisce/cry about it. I learned she had an older brother I never knew about, who died in infancy. I learned my father wrote her love notes from his time in the Air Force in Korea that I never would have guessed about, given what I saw of their marriage.

I saw her report cards from Catholic boarding school in Pittsburgh, and the school newspapers where she was the editor, and pictures of her in her 8th grade class alongside the nuns and the schoolgirls standing in as angels. It was surprisingly easy to pick my mother from these pictures taken in the '50s, alongside all her girlfriends, now all in their '70s, becoming weaker and feeble and maybe even dying.

She had the darkest hair, and was very pretty.

The more I learn about my mother, some if it (too much of it) after her death, the more I feel like I never really knew her at all. Or, rather, that I only knew a part of her, that she had a life before me and after me, which surprises me though I know (now) that it shouldn't. She was a girl then, long ago, with all the friends we all had then, with all the parental problems we all thought we had, with all the same feelings, though she told me hardly anything about it.

And the people she worked with loved her more than I ever knew.

I thought I knew my mother, but ironically I've learned at least as much about her since her death as I knew about her before it. It is confusing.

We weren't one of those happy families, in the sense Tolstoy wrote about in Anna Karenina -- "All happy families resemble one another; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

Who is happy in the way, really?

But since her death I have seen a strength in my mother that I never saw before. She was certainly as mixed up as any of us -- certainly as mixed up as I am -- but I have learned that she worked hard on herself, even into her seventies. I saw her fears, but never fully acknowledged her strengths. I saw too much of how she affected me, but too little of how she affected others.

My mother loved more than I realized, and what do you do with that?

Offsetting Obama's Hot Air

The National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) has purchased carbon offsets for Obama's motorcade tonight from the White House to Congress (and back) for the SOTU address. They figure it's 100 lbs of CO2, and they're paying $10/ton. Clearly, symbolic. But clever.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Vitriol of the Climosaurs

While the extreme vitriol of the extreme right-wing in still in our minds since the Tucson murders, can we (again) talk about the extreme rhetoric and hatred coming from those angry about climate change?

And the rhetoric of the right has clearly moved from denial to anger, led, primarily, by climate dinosaur ("climosaur") Marc Morano. Did you see his extreme, personal, unacceptable attack yesterday on Kevin Trenberth?

There is no other way to interpret this but as a direct and dangerous attack on a scientist doing the best work he can with absolutely no evidence of wrongdoing on his part, except that he has come to a scientific conclusion of which Morano and his backers do not approve.

Morano's demonization of Trenberth is not only wrong, but just as dangerous as the crosshairs Sarah Palin put on Gabrielle Giffords.

And the sickest part of of all this is that Morano will no doubt claim this label with pride.

I still worry that there is a real danger that someone in the climate community is going to get hurt over this kind of demonization. As ever, extreme climosaurs like Morano will maintain that (wink, wink) they had absolutely nothing to do with promulgating such hatred.

Wink, wink -- sure.

What Are We if We Can't Even Afford This?

In 1969, Robert Wilson, the director of the then-being-created Fermilab, was called to justify the multimillion-dollar machine to the Congressional Joint Committee on Atomic Energy. "Bucking the trend of the day, Wilson emphasized it had nothing at all to do with national security," rather:
It has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to make it worth defending.

Fermilab, of course, went on to become on of the most successful high-energy labs of all time, including the discovery of the bottom quark.

But now the U.S. can't even come up with $35M to continue work on the most important issue in experimental physics (and, almost surely, a Nobel Prize):

Researchers working at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Batavia, Illinois, had wanted to run their 25-year-old atom smasher, the Tevatron, through 2014 in hopes of spotting the so-called Higgs boson before their European counterparts could discover it with their newer, more powerful atom smasher. But officials at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), which funds Fermilab, informed lab officials this week that DOE cannot come up with the extra $35 million per year to keep the Tevatron going beyond September.
-- Adrian Cho, Science, Jan 14, 2011

Thursday, January 13, 2011

MMR Vaccine and Autism

The story of the MMR vaccine and its purported relation to autism just got even more outrageous.

As you probably saw, the study on which the purported connection between the MMR vaccine and autism was found to be, not just wrong, but fraudulent. Now it comes out that the doctor involved (Andrew Wakefield) almost immediately (and secretly) tried to cash in on the "finding," even while the first child was still in the hospital.

This will surely be one of the most infamous cases of fraud in scientific history, perhaps worse of all because of all the needless worry and concern it caused parents.

Two lessons:

1) Science is self-correcting -- perhaps slowly, but it eventually and always corrects errors, usually with dispassionate, devastating force.

2) Like the case with crop circles, some people will never be convinced even when the errors and fraud are directly revealed. Jenny McCarthy writes:
For some reason, parents aren't being told that this "new" information about Dr. Wakefield isn't a medical report, but merely the allegations of a single British journalist named Brian Deer.
That's untrue. The paper was retracted. Andrew Wakefield was found guilty by the UK General Medical Council of dishonesty and flouting ethics protocols. Such retractions and findings happen after a lot of investigation and are far more than the findings of a single journalist.

And the incidence of measles is way up in the UK and elsewhere.

More on 2010

So 2010 was not only the warmest year in the records, but the wettest as well (both NASA and NOAA data). NYT:
It was the 34th year running that global temperatures have been above the 20th-century average; the last below-average year was 1976. The new figures show that 9 of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since the beginning of 2001.

...over all the year was not as exceptional in this country [USA] as for the world as a whole. In the contiguous United States, for instance, the NOAA figures showed that it was the fourth hottest summer on record and the 23rd hottest year.

Of course, it's the long-term trend is the most worrisome, as James Hansen said in a NASA press release:
Certainly, it is interesting that 2010 was so warm despite the presence of a La Niña and a remarkably inactive sun, two factors that have a cooling influence on the planet, but far more important than any particular year’s ranking are the decadal trends,” Hansen said.
The release also has a nice summary of the differences between the different temperature sets and base periods and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Beside the Point Now

Jonathon Capehart in the Washington Post:
So far, there's no connection between alleged murderer Jared Lee Loughner and the extremes of the Tea Party movement. But that's beside the point now, if you ask me. The horrific violence in Tucson saw Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) go from being in the crosshairs of opponents metaphorically to literally being gunned down on Saturday. As a result, we are now finally engaging in a long overdue conversation about the violent rhetoric and imagery polluting national political discourse.

Indeed, the reason so many people instantly thought of Tea Party/Angle/Palin/Jesse Kelly-type rhetoric when they heard about the Tucson shooting is exactly because it was/is so shocking and so recent that no one was surprised that it might lead to such an event.

That it might not have (which still needs to be sussed out) directly led to the Tuscon shooting makes it no less unacceptable, dangerous, and in need of discussion.

Monday, January 10, 2011

US vs European socialism

"The Global Budget Race"
by Douglas J. Besharov and Douglas M. Call, Wilson Quarterly, Autumn 2010
A common misconception is that Europe is home to socialized medicine, probably because it has long provided universal health care. But with a few notable exceptions, such as Britain’s National Health Service, most European systems require consumers to pay more money out of pocket for medical care than Americans do. According to Jacob F. Kirkegaard of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, “In reality, America’s health care system is already more ‘socialized’ than in most European and other developed countries.”

Although U.S. employer-provided health insurance plans increasingly require beneficiaries to bear more costs themselves—through paying deductibles, coinsurance, and direct payments to medical professionals—such cost sharing is still much more common in Europe. In 2006, out-of-pocket payments made up about 12 percent of total U.S. health care expenditures. The average in Europe was about 17 percent, with a low of six percent in the Netherlands and a high of about 31 percent in Switzerland.

In many European countries, patients often make direct payments to physicians—to purchase treatment that is excluded from coverage, to move up in the queue, or to get better service. In France, individuals directly pay between 10 and 40 percent of their own costs, with different rates for drugs, lab work, and other services. Such cost-sharing requirements are means tested. In France, low-income consumers are eligible for free government-provided supplemental insurance that pays for any cost sharing, and in Switzerland, households receive an income-based subsidy.

Frum: What Palin Needed to Say After Giffords’ Shooting

David Frum:
Palin failed to appreciate the question being posed to her. That question was not: “Are you culpable for the shooting?” The question was: “Having put this unfortunate image on the record, can you respond to the shooting in a way that demonstrates your larger humanity? And possibly also your potential to serve as leader of the entire nation?...

Of course, Palin has yet to give the answer called for by events. Instead, her rapid response operation has focused on pounding home the message that Palin is innocent, that she has been unfairly maligned by hostile critics. Which in this case happened to be a perfectly credible message. And also perfectly inadequate. Palin’s post-shooting message was about Palin, not about Giffords. It was defensive, not inspiring. And it was petty at a moment when Palin had been handed perhaps her last clear chance to show herself presidentially magnanimous.

Right Next to Manson

This picture will certainly go down in the annals of our fucked up culture, won't it? Right next to Charles Manson....

A photograph of Jared L. Loughner released by the Pima County Sheriff’s Office:

The tragedy wouldn't change this basic fact....

George Packer in The New Yorker:

"...the tragedy wouldn't change this basic fact: for the past two years, many conservative leaders, activists, and media figures have made a habit of trying to delegitimize their political opponents. Not just arguing against their opponents, but doing everything possible to turn them into enemies of the country and cast them out beyond the pale. Instead of “soft on defense,” one routinely hears the words “treason” and “traitor.” The President isn't a big-government liberal—he's a socialist who wants to impose tyranny. He's also, according to a minority of Republicans, including elected officials, an impostor. Even the reading of the Constitution on the first day of the 112th Congress was conceived as an assault on the legitimacy of the Democratic Administration and Congress.

"This relentlessly hostile rhetoric has become standard issue on the right. (On the left it appears in anonymous comment threads, not congressional speeches and national T.V. programs.) And it has gone almost entirely uncriticized by Republican leaders. Partisan media encourages it, while the mainstream media finds it titillating and airs it, often without comment, so that the gradual effect is to desensitize even people to whom the rhetoric is repellent. We’ve all grown so used to it over the past couple of years that it took the shock of an assassination attempt to show us the ugliness to which our politics has sunk.

"The massacre in Tucson is, in a sense, irrelevant to the important point. Whatever drove Jared Lee Loughner, America's political frequencies are full of violent static."

Well Worth Thinking About

Stephen Budiansky :

"For as long as I can remember, I have heard conservatives blaming everything that is wrong in the universe, from violent crime to declining test scores to teen pregnancy to rude children to declining patriotism to probably athlete's foot . . . upon Dr. Spock, Hollywood liberals, the abolition of prayer in school, Bill Clinton, the "liberal 1960s," the teaching of evolution — in other words, upon symbols, rhetoric, cultural norms, and the values expressed by political and media leaders. Yet from the moment when someone gets a gun in their hands, apparently, society ceases to have any influence whatsoever on the outcome and individual responsibility takes hold 100%. Something is driving the tripling of death threats against congressmen (and the concomitant rise in threats against Federal judges and other villains of the right, from Forest Service rangers to climate scientists) and it isn't the sunspot cycle."

Methane Update

Remember methane?

It has 22 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide, though it resides in the atmosphere for much less time.

Anyway, its atmospheric level went mysteriously flat over much of the '00s. But it's back on the increase -- here is NOAA's latest data:

(The gray values are preliminary....) Nevertheless, this doesn't bode well (especially if it's a result of Arctic tundra melting....), and it's never good when scientists don't quite have a handle on what's going....

2011's Taxation Without Representation

Did you know that one of the first acts of the new (Republican) House leadership was to deny voting rights to millions of Americans who pay taxes?

(Associated Press, Jan 5, 2011)

Loughner's Reading List

Can we please stop the growing meme that Jared Loughner's reading list alone paints him (alone) as a kook or a left-wing radical?

Andrew Klavan in City Journal:
He read books by Hitler, Marx, Plato, and Orwell, among others. He did not believe in God.
Look, any intelligent young person ought to be reading Hitler, Marx, Plato, and Orwell. And much more. I suspect most of you here have read most of Loughner's favorite books, and if you'd listed your favorite books when you were his age it'd probably look equally bizarre. Remember The Hundredth Monkey?

Here's his own list of favorite books, from his YouTube channel:
I had favorite books: Animal Farm, Brave New World, The Wizard Of OZ, Aesop Fables, The Odyssey, Alice Adventures Into Wonderland, Fahrenheit 451, Peter Pan, To Kill A Mockingbird, We The Living, Phantom Toll Booth, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, Pulp,Through The Looking Glass, The Communist Manifesto, Siddhartha, The Old Man And The Sea, Gulliver's Travels, Mein Kampf, The Republic, and Meno.
I don't know about you, but were assigned to read Mein Kampf in high school history class. Also Marx's Communist Manifesto. Also Rousseau, Locke, Hegel, Nietzsche, Trotsky, Trevor-Roper, Kissinger, and many others I've surely forgotten. I did have a truly great history teacher, but I think any intellectually curious young person ought to be reading these writers.

(Though maybe listing Mein Kampf as a "favorite" is a little suspect.)

Just Asking

From the Portland Mercury blog:

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Surveyor Symbols?

natthedem: Of course they were surveyor symbols, because we all know how
much time Sarah Palin spends doing cartography.

Original Tweet:

On those Crosshairs....

ebertchicago: Let's say those weren't cross-hairs on a gunsight. Let's
say they were map references. Why did Plain take them off-line?

Original Tweet:

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Q for Sharron Angle

Q for Sharron Angle: is this a "Second Amendment remedy?"


"I can't tell from what I've heard about Jared Loughner whether or not
he's a RWNJ [Right Wing Nut Job] or a LWNJ [Left Wing Nut Job]. He just
seems like a NJ."

Original Tweet:

Flashback: Giffords on being on Palin's crosshairs target list

"Sarah Palin has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district and when people do that, they’ve gotta realize there are consequences to that action."
-- Gabrielle Giffords, March 2010


Paul Krugman:
You know that Republicans will yell about the evils of partisanship whenever anyone tries to make a connection between the rhetoric of Beck, Limbaugh, etc. and the violence I fear we’re going to see in the months and years ahead. But violent acts are what happen when you create a climate of hate. And it’s long past time for the GOP’s leaders to take a stand against the hate-mongers.

Huff Post: 2nd person arrested in AZ shooting....

Picture of Jared Loughner?

Jared Lee Loughner's YouTube Channel(?)

Jared Lee Loughner's YouTube Channel(?):

(this is a good time to be skeptical about such things)....

More on Laughner

PhotobyWendyLLC: Jared Laughner, the man who shot Congresswoman
Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), was described by eyewitnesses as a young

Original Tweet:

Jared Laughner's Youtube Channel.

peculiarways: Looking at Jared Laughner's Youtube Channel... some of his
favorite books are 'The Communist Manifesto' and 'Mein Kampf' #ok

Original Tweet:

Gunman reported as Jared Laughner of Arizona

BreakingNews: RT @RussertXM_NBC: Federal authorities identify the gunman
as Jared Laughner of Arizona, born September 1988

Original Tweet:

Federal Judge John M. Roll killed in Arizona attack

Federal Judge John M. Roll killed in Arizona attack, NBC News reports

Original Tweet:

Federal Judge among those shot

ACTORSandCREW: TPM's confirming that a Federal Judge was among those
shot at the shooting this morning in Tucson. WTF.

Original Tweet:

Tweet forwarded by @qsoup

eugeniedfranval: RT @benpolitico: NY Post: Her father wept when asked if
his daughter had any enemies. "Yeah," "The whole tea party."

Original Tweet:

Sent via TweetDeck (

On Palin's Hit List

Gabrielle Giffords was on Sarah Palins "hit list": 

Gabrielle Giffords

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was the wife of astronaut Mark Kelly of STS-134....

Friday, January 07, 2011

Steve Goddard's Big Error

Ladies and gentleman, rarely are you privileged to see such levels of stupidity.

Steve Goddard, trying (I guess) to claim some kind of Al Gore effect because it's going to be cold in Denver in mid-January (who would have imagined?) during some climate conference, writes:

Umm, Steve.... Actually that forecast is for 16 F (-8 C), not -8 F (-22 C). 

Of course, not one of his commenters sees the error....

Deaths Due to Secondhand Smoke

Amazing: Secondhand tobacco smoke caused 603,000 deaths worldwide in 2004, according to a recent report in The Lancet -- about 1.0% of worldwide mortality.

28% of these deaths occur in children.

Not only that, it causes 10.9 million years lost due to disability (0.7% of the worldwide disease burden).

And we drive ourselves crazy worrying about an airplane crash here and there and low-level toxins in our drinking water.

If tobacco were created today it would never be allowed on the market. Not even close.

Congressional Priorities

Approximate increase in the U.S. federal debt during the hour and a half the new House majority party choose to read aloud the U.S. Constitution: $237 million.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Two Recent Pieces

"Health," n+1: Year in Review, Part 2, January 2011.

"Are Recent Snows From Global Warming?" Oregonian, January 3, 2011.

About Concensus

Any scientist would, of course, love to disprove any "consensus" view in his/her field, if he could -- he would be immortalized in the field's history.
My experience with climate scientists suggests that they would be the first to revise or discard a hypothesis if data did not support it. 
-- Jeffrey A. Myers, Oregonian, Jan 5 2011

Legacy of the Bush Administration

Harold Meyerson, Washington Post:
"The decade just concluded is the first in which Americans, on average, have seen their incomes decline. Median household income increased by about $4,000 per decade in the 1980s and '90s: from $42,429 in 1980 to $46,049 in 1990 to $50,557 in 2000 (in 2007 dollars). In 2009, the most recent year for which we have figures, it had declined to $49,777 - but 2009, of course, was a year of deep recession. If we go back to the peak year of the last decade, 2007, we find that median household income was just $50,233- roughly $300 less than it had been in 2000."

UAH Data for 2010

UAH data places 2010 as statistically tied for the warmest year, with 1998.


I have to admit, I haven't calculated the statistics for the RSS data I mentioned the other day.

While 1998 and 2010 were both El Nino years, 1998 was clearly a much stronger El Nino than 2010. So to me it seems surprising a good question is: why are weaker El Ninos now just as warm?

Tuesday, January 04, 2011


Clearing tabs:
  • IKEA will no longer sell incandescent light bulbs in its US stores. This should give talk show hosts an hour or so's worth of whining material.
  • John Cook from has a produced a nice document: "Scientific Guide to Global Warming Skepticism."
  • Apparently European television is no better than American television on covering science or utilizing experts.
  • I think this is the most single shocking summary of the US deficit situation: "The U.S. government currently borrows 41 cents of every single dollar that it spends." (More tax cuts for everyone!)
  • An amazing photo gallery: Detroit in Ruins (Guardian).

Interesting Charts

Here are two interesting charts from an interesting collection. They have more punch when you see all these indicators together.

Monday, January 03, 2011

RSS: Warmest Decade, Second Warmest Year

RSS (Remote Sensing Systems) temperature anomaly data for last month is in, so we can make some broad conclusions.
  • 2010 was, globally, the second warmest year in their records, after only 1998.
1998: +0.55°C
2010: +0.51°C
  • The decade of the 2000s was, globally, by far the warmest decade in their records.
'80s: -0.06°C
'90s: +0.08°C
'00s: +0.30°C

Reminder: this RSS satellite data covers the period Jan 1979 - present for the lower troposphere (viz. below about 10  km); global data is from -70 deg to +82.5 deg latitude, and their base period is 1979-1998.