Friday, February 03, 2023


"The richest 1 percent of people on Earth made almost two-thirds of the new wealth created since the pandemic began, Oxfam said in a report released Monday, the opening day of the World Economic Forum in Davos, a ski resort in the Swiss Alps." (WaPo, a while ago

Humans have the largest ratio of brain mass-to-body mass of any mammals, but of all species ants have the largest ratio at about 15% (NdT)

(Ants are insects, not mammals.)

Anyway why is it the ratio that matters? If the brain is basically a computer, why isn't its size (proportional to the number of neurons and synapses?) the relevant metric, and not its relative size to body mass?

The Japanese Meteorological Association has measured 2022 to be the 6th-warmest year since 1890.

I also heard on YouTube Shorts that all mammals take 21 seconds to empty their bladder, regardless of their mass and size. (Can't find the link, sorry.) My own investigations have varied somewhat, but I'm no longer at the optimum human age. 

I don't want to live in a world without elephants, if from human avarice and stupidity they ever go extinct. What a miserable planet that would be. Just take me too.

Book recommendation: The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. Once I started it was difficult to put down.

Then, don't ever see the movie. How dare they.

Sea Ice Extent Update

Sea-ice extent in the Arctic was 3rd-lowest for Januarys, starting in 1979.

For the Antarctic it was the lowest ever for Januarys. 

But the Antarctic SIE continues to be...weird...inscrutable...confusing...intriguing. Here's its 12-month moving average:

The data are here -- choose #2.

Friday, January 27, 2023

The Direction of Suicide Jumpers on the Golden Gate Bridge

I came across this chart of the locations of suicide jumps on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, from Wikipedia:

This is strictly a technical observation...but I think it's very interesting that the vast majority of jumps have occurred on the east side of the bridge, which faces the city and communities beyond (like Oakland and Berkely), compared to the west side of the bridge, which faces out to the huge and endless Pacific Ocean. [Views]

Caption: West to the right, east to the left.

Of course I don't know why, and can only speculate. I would guess that view to the east, the side of the bridge from which the vast majority of jumpers jump, is more "friendly" -- in the direction of people, of humanity, of life. The view to the west is pretty rough, just impersonal ocean, waves and current going out rapidly.

Why would jumpers prefer to jump towards civilization instead of into a relative abyss? Of course, I don't know that either. Maybe it's some bare, atavistic impulse to still want to be involved in life, even as it ends.

I remember the story, when I lived in New Hampshire, of a man with a terminal illness. He had always loved hiking in the NH mountains, of which the White Mountains are the most prominent and spectacular. To die he choose to climb to the top of one of them, in a colder time of the year, and sit there until he froze to death. 

Dying alone, that's got to be a tough choice. Hardly typical. Except suicide is always a lonely choice. But maybe, just perhaps, brave in a way. I wonder if jumping to the west of the Golden Gate Bridge isn't somehow equivalent, when jumping to the east might be a last, if fatal, sign of hope. These things are very deep and I don't know if we can ever understand them. I don't really need to. But the Wiki chart made me think and wonder.


Added: the Golden Gate Bridge now has suicide nets, since 2013:

They do seem to have helped some, though not solving the problem completely:

Added: trailer for the documentary film The Bridge.

Added: the story of one jumper who came out unscathed. (Only about 1% of jumpers survive.)

Thursday, January 12, 2023

US Government Finances

Mostly recovered since the depth of the pandemic, but still not great. 

Here's the federal deficit at any point in time for the prior 12 months:


Saturday, January 07, 2023

This and That

 Items I found interesting:

  • songbirds reach 90% of their adult weight 10 days after they're born. (Via The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman, which I'm currently reading.)
  • "US renewables generated more power than coal and nuclear: More than one-fifth of all electricity in the US now comes from hydropower, wind, and solar, meaning that renewables have narrowly overtaken coal and nuclear, which make up 20 percent and 19 percent of the energy mix respectively. The only other year this was the case was 2020—but back then overall power generation was reduced due to the pandemic." (Wired
  • Dana Milbank on the spectacle of the Republicans being unable to elect a House speaker:
    "This is what happens when a political party, year after year, systematically destroys the norms and institutions of democracy. This is what happens when those expert at tearing things down are put in charge of governing. The dysfunction has been building over years of government shutdowns, debt-default showdowns and other fabricated crises, and now anti-government Republicans have used their new majority to bring the House itself to a halt.

    "This is insurrection by other means: Two years to the day since the Jan. 6 invasion of the Capitol, Republicans are still attacking the functioning of government. McCarthy opened the door to the chaos by excusing Donald Trump’s fomenting of the attack and welcoming a new class of election deniers to his caucus. Now he’s trying to save his own political ambitions by agreeing to institutionalize the chaos — not just for the next two years but for future congresses as well." (Washington Post)
  • Scientific American, on the heart injury to a Buffalo Bills football player Damin Hamlin:
    "This ordinary violence has always riddled the sport and it affects all players. But Black players are disproportionately affected. While Black men are severely underrepresented in positions of power across football organizations, such as coaching and management, they are overrepresented on the gridiron. Non-white players account for 70 percent of the NFL; nearly half of all Division I college football players are Black. Further, through a process called racial stacking, coaches racially segregate athletes by playing position. These demographic discrepancies place Black athletes at a higher risk during play."
    Personally I think this incident has been dramatically over-covered -- even NPR is giving updates about it -- when about 1,000 Americans a day have heart attacks. But it was on TV! That's present day America for you. But I believe the racial consequences the article points out.
  • US per capita consumption of cheese is 40 pounds/year. I like cheese but I'm sure I'm way below that.
  • But no doubt higher on per capita consumption of wine. Red. It's good for your heart, yeah, right, huh.
  • Tuesday, January 03, 2023

    Faulkner Quote and Book

    I've been avoiding Faulkner for a few decades, ever since I struggled through the first section of The Sound of the Fury, which is told as a stream-of-consciousness thinking of a very mentally disabled young man. I never did finish the section or read the three others than came after that. 

    But the other day I decided it was time to try Faulkner again, as I've had As I Lay Dying on my bookshelf since (checks inside cover) April 1994, when I bought the book in (checks inside cover again) Albuquerque, New Mexico. What a fabulous book. It's also told in a stream-of-consciousness style, this time from the points of view of about a dozen different characters. It's set in Mississippi in the 1920s, and the main characters are poor, rural people, so their streams can be a little hard to grasp. To get started it helps to have a look at the character list and, gradually, the plot synopsis.

    Still, the characters are, with only a couple exceptions, uneducated, so their diction and thinking can be lean, subtle and sometimes confusing. You have to pay close attention, and when you think you are missing something (like one woman's shy visit to a pharmacy seeking medication for an abortion, in a time and place where that issue wasn't talked about except in very general terms that beat way around the bush), it helps to glance quickly at the plot summary. But Faulkner also puts noble thoughts in their presentations, like the quote above, words that sometimes seem above them and are really Faulkner putting his own ideas and philosophies into their stream.

    But soon the book starts to make sense as you get the characters straight in your mind, and their mission, which revolves around the trials and tribulations of transporting their dead mother 40 miles away by mule-and-wagon for her burial with her people. The story was gripping and, to my surprise, I couldn't put the book down once I was about a third of the way into it.

    I highly recommend this book, if only to see what all the acclaim about Faulkner is about (though he didn't always write in a stream-of-consciousness style). You just have to read carefully and look outside the book when you need a little help. 

    The best books I've read this year! 

    Central England Warmest in 364 Years

    The Hadley Central England Temperature (HadCET) set a record high in 2022.

    The record -- the longest instrumental record in the world -- consists of monthly temperatures (absolute) since the year 1659 -- though the data for 1659 - Oct 1722 are much less accurate. If you ignore that period, it's still the warmest in 300 years! 2022's annual average was 11.1°C (52.0°F).

    (click picture for a clearer version)

    Here is the Hadley Centre's page about the data and the record.

    Tuesday, December 27, 2022

    Schopenhauer on Pessimism

    "The best consolation in misfortune or affliction of any kind will be the thought of other people who are in a still worse plight than yourself; and this is a form of consolation open to every one. But what an awful fate this means for mankind as a whole! We are like lambs in a field, disporting themselves under the eye of the butcher, who chooses out first one and then another for his prey. So it is that in our good days we are all unconscious of the evil Fate may have presently in store for us — sickness, poverty, mutilation, loss of sight or reason."

    -- Arthur Schopenhauer, On the Suffering of the World

    Merry Christmas

    Saturday, December 24, 2022

    Victor Venema Had Died

    And Then There's Physics reports that Victor Venema had died. 

    That's sad and a loss for the climate community, and decency in general. Victor was a scientist at the University of Bonn who worked on the homogenization of climate data*, and very active on social media. I corresponded with him several times, asking question about temperature data. He was always kind and thoughtful and pleasant. I'm sorry to hear he has passed.  

    * homogenization is the science of bringing data from different time periods and locations into a common baseline. For example, how do records of temperature in the past need to be adjusted, if at all, in order to be compared to temperatures taken today -- given changes in instrumentation, weather station moves, changes in the time of day the thermometers are read, incomplete data, etc. Yes, adjustments are necessary, and doing them correctly is a complicated science. 

    Here's an excellent article about these adjustments.


    "Understanding adjustments to temperature data," Zeke Hausfather, Climate Etc., 7/7/2014.
    "Berkeley Earth: raw versus adjusted temperature data," Robert Rohde, Zeke Hausfather, Steve Mosher, Climate Etc., 2/9/2015.

    "Understanding Time of Observation Bias," Zeke Hausfather, Climate Etc., 2/22/2015.

    Friday, December 23, 2022

    A Decline of About 15 Percent.... global grain production per capita. Almost looks permanent.

    Global grain production (Statistica)
    World Population (Fred)

    Wednesday, December 21, 2022

    100 Million COVID-19 Cases in US

    US just reached 100 million cumulative cases of COVID-19.
    Daily cases are growing here but not yet too bad. Still, I've started wearing a mask again when I visit big stores. Five vaccination shots and still COVID-free, though I did have a bad virus this summer that led to walking pneumonia. ("Walking" means I didn't have to be hospitalized.) But I tested negative for COVID. I'm wondering if it might have been RSV -- it was the sickest I've been in many years. It was strange being so sick in the middle of summer.