Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Westboro Baptist Church

A couple of years ago when I lived in Lee, New Hampshire, there was a big ceremony a few miles down the road at the arena of the University of New Hampshire, for the Rev. Gene Robinson, who was being made the Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire. Robinson is gay, so this was a big deal, and my friend Holly and I went down to watch the protests. There were plenty of people on the pro-gay side of the argument, all standing around in the rain, and after a good while a small delegation from the Westboro Baptist Church rolled up and took their appointed place amongst the protest ropes laid out by the police. These are the followers of the odious Fred Phelps of Kansas. They had all their "God hates Fags" signs out, and stood around in their appointed spot and tried to make a scene.

I had a notebook and an umbrella and so I pretended I was a reporter on a deadline and went up and talked to someone in their pit. I stood next to a woman who was protesting and asked her for her thoughts. She started talking but there was something really weird about her, like she was strung up on something and not really herself. She talked to me about her feelings about gays, but it was more like a rant, and more like something she had had drilled into her -- there was something robotic about her words, and nothing that seemed to convey any emotion. It seemed all very rote. The most notable thing was that she refused to look anywhere close to my eyes.... After about two minutes I stopped and since it was raining really hard I stepped aside and let them protest another 10 minutes or so, when they they marched out of the area, to jeers mostly, and got back on their bus.

All in all they seemed pretty pathetic. And completely ineffectual.

So I am surprised to see someone awarded $10.9M dollars because the Westboro Baptist Church protested at his son's funeral. His son was a fallen Marine. I am more than sure than this man grieves for his son. I think the Westboro Baptist Church are bastards who one should get their comeuppance. But I don't think that matters. I think the Westboro Baptist Church has a right to protest at this guy's funeral, and express any thoughts they want, however odious. I don't think the courts have any business fining them for expressing their First Amendment rights. This is a classic first amendment case -- that is, the only ones who really need first amendment rights are those don't seem to deserve it. They were cited for emotional distress and invasion of privacy, but come on, any judge should surely know this kind of speech is allowed under the First Amendment. This is why the First Amendment was invented. But all-in-all I think they have the right to be there.

I can't take the Westboro Baptist Church seriously, especially based on what I saw that day at UNH. I saw that there is no passion behind their words, just a form of... well, evil. Not inherent evil -- I don't believe in that. These were just poor people -- and they were mostly kids who were protesting -- who had been severely warped by their parents and grandparents. The parents and grandparents were noticeably absent. But when you looked them in the face, you saw they were just pathetic, not threatening. They won't look you in the eyes. In a way, it says all you need to know.

Bumper Sticker

Bumper sticker I saw on the way to the store:
The Emperor has no brain.

Biology animation

One of the reasons I've felt like I never have understood biology to the degree I feel I understand physics is because I can never understand how all those big macromolecules get all that cellular work done. Maybe I never will, but this neat animation seems to give a glimpse of the poetry of what might be going on.

Via: Dark Roasted Blend

Saturday, October 27, 2007

response to "The End of Science"

Lubos Motl has a pretty good response to John Horgan's continued insistence that science is coming to an end. There have been very significant findings since Horgan's book came out about 10 years ago, in physics, and especially in biology/genetics. Every day my Inbox overflows with new discoveries -- every day, it seems, literally, a new human gene is discovered.... and in any case I don't know what Horgan expects. It seems to me that science is progressing at least at the average rate it has over the last 400 years, and probably a lot faster. I don't buy Horgan's argument.


"...60 percent of Roman citizens died, from all causes, before age 20...."

Friday, October 26, 2007

Universities and Colleges

I see that some conservative organization named Family Security Matters has named the Ten Most Dangerous Organizations in America. They list "Universities and Colleges" at #2.

OK, let's take them at their word. I'm sure, therefore, if they think Universities and Colleges are so dangerous, that they will be more than willing to forego the discoveries and benefits which have come from these institutions. Let's construct a partial list:

1) x-rays, discovered in 1895 by Wilhelm Rontgen at the University of Wurzburg. When they break a bone, Family Security Matters members can decline an x-ray and just let their doctors feel around for a bone break, guessing as to its extent.

2) nuclear fission, finally demonstrated by Enrico Fermi at the University of Chicago. Family Security Matters members will, I'm sure, be more than willing to do without the Gigawatt-hrs of electricity produced in this manner around the world.

3) Giant magnetoresistance, discovered at a university in Paris. Family Security Matters members can do without hard drives or anything of the sort which make a modern computer useful.

Do we really have to go on? You can fill in the rest as well as I can. FSM can decline to take many of today's pharmaceuticals. I'm sure they won't mind exiting themselves from anything having to do with gravity or astronomical research, discovered and perfected by Newton, Einstein, and others all at universities. Are they willing to live with polio? In 1950 William Hammon at the University of Pittsburgh isolated a serum from the blood of polio survivors.

Would FSM members like to benefit from solar energy? Fuel cells? Nanowires?

Do we really have to go on?

The fact is, the liberal traditions of free speech and open inquiry are exactly what have brought us these advances over the decades. FSM can put their conservative ideas out in the intellectual marketplace for approval and advancement -- the truth is, over the last several decades, these ideas have mostly been found to be wanting and deficient. It has almost always been open, liberal ideas that lead to advancements of our society, not closed, regressive, conservative ideas.

FSM can criticize these ideas if they want. If they do, they should be forced to live without them.


This is not far from my typical morning:

Your Phone Number

Via David Brooks in the NYT:
I read in a piece by Clive Thompson in Wired that a third of the people under 30 can’t remember their own phone number.
Wow, is this really true? Is there anybody out there who really doesn't know their own phone number?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

David Reinhard wrong... again

The other day David Reinhard,the conservative opinion-monger for the Oregonian, thought he could get away with disparaging the parents of Graham Frost, implying that that they were so well off financially that they could afford private tuition for their children, and that, thus, they didn't deserve government-sponsored health insurance (SCHIP).

Mr. Reinhard is, in fact, quite wrong, and I don't understand why he won't admit it.

As reported in the Baltimore Sun on Oct. 10, and in Time magazine on the same day, the Frosts received financial aid (a scholarship) in order to privately school their children.

Mr. Reinhard is unwilling to accept this error. He needs to be called out until acknowledges the truth. Isn't that what journalism is supposed to be about?

Bridge article

I have an article in the November issue of Scientific American, just out:
"Repairs without Rivets:
Carbon-fiber composites could lead to quick fixes for old bridges"


The problem with my profession: no haka.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Carbon Intensity

I am really astonished at yesterday's announcement that the world's carbon intensity has been increasing since about the year 2000. Carbon intensity had been decreasing for a hundred years and I thought it was akin to a law of nature that carbon intensity always and forever decreases, because people are always and forever naturally striving to use energy more efficiently.
Up until 2000, carbon intensity had, over the last 30 years, been decreasing by about 1.3% per year. Since 2000 it has been increasing by about 0.3% per year.
This is huge, it seems to me. I still do not really understand it and am still studying this paper to figure out what's going on.

Dot Earth

Andrew Revkin of the NY Times now has a blog:

Dot Earth

Monday, October 22, 2007

Oil Production Peaks

Oil production peaked last year, says an energy group in Germany, much sooner than experts predicted. (The International Energy Association isn't worried.) Production will now be decreasing 7% a year, they say.
"The world soon will not be able to produce all the oil it needs as demand is rising while supply is falling. This is a huge problem for the world economy...."
Current supplies are good only for about 30 more years, they predict.

May you live in interesting times.

Conscious machines

A British Telecom futurologist, Ian Pearson, predicts that there will be conscious machines by 2015-2020 (whatever that means--in fact, he predicts that we won't really understand it) and that one will win the Nobel Prize by 2020. (Imagine the conservative snipping about that.)

Oceans taking up less carbon

This is not encouraging: in the last 10 years the oceans have been taking up significantly less carbon dioxide than they once did: 50% less in the North Atlantic, since measurements began about 10 years ago.

The researchers who did the study admit they can't attribute this to human-caused climate change -- they simply have no baseline against which to compare, and it's possible there are significant natural fluctuations in the ocean's ability to absorb carbon dioxide. Definitely something to keep an eye on. If the ocean sink saturates climate change is going to happen even that much faster.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Lucinda Williams - Drunken Angel

In memory, supposedly, of Blaze Foley:

NYT Letter to the Editor

Mitchell Turker, here of Portland, has a letter in today's New York Times that perfectly encapsulates my feelings after seven years of the Bush administration:
As an American citizen, I am tired of being disgusted with my government. We deserve better.

How to Save the World

This is a pretty screwed up world, there's no doubt about it. Answers seem few and far between, and it's hard to believe we are not doomed in 50 years, if we will even make it that long. But some people refuse to accept this fate, and they speak out, with answers that are simple but aren't easy to admit:

Friday, October 19, 2007

Marburger and 2 C

Wow, I am amazed to read this: John Marburger, the President's science adviser, yesterday refused to acknowledge that climate change ought to be limited to +2°C.

2°C is 3.6°F. That is a huge amount of warming. It is absurd for Marburger to claim that that amount of increase "is not actually linked to regional events that affect people's lives." Simply absurd. It is one of the most unscientific statements I have read in a long time.
In its April report, the IPCC outlined a range of environmental impacts that could transpire if temperatures rise 1.8 to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above 1980 levels. These include placing between 20 and 30 percent of all species "at increasing risk of extinction" damaging most coral reefs; and "increased morbidity and mortality from heat waves, floods and droughts."
Marburger said, "you could have emerging disasters long before you get to two degrees. . . . There is no scientific criterion for establishing numbers like that."

There is no scientific criterion for establishing any number -- such establishment is a question of values, not of science. Marburger looks foolish for even implying otherwise.

In 50 years, the world is going to look back on the climate criminals of the turn of the century. Marburger just established himself as one.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Oregon & Storms

The thing I miss the most about living here in Oregon compared to New England is...the lack of storms.

It just doesn't storm here. It was supposed to be a big, stormy day here today, wind and rain, but in the end it was all just a little breeze and some pissy rain. Nothing at all. Certainly nothing like a nor'easter. Nothing at all.

Back east, when it storms, you know you've been rained upon. It clouds up and either rains all day or, in the summer, it gathers in the afternoon, and builds up to some unsustainable level of humidity where it lets loose and rains a good half-inch in 20 minutes, absolutely pounds the ground and trees and scatters twigs all around.

Nothing like that here. Here it rains a little and a few leaves come down, but then it stops and you can walk out and stay dry. The sodden leaves are scattered all along the roads and sidewalks, and they get plenty slippery, but it's not the same. No one takes the storms seriously. They just wait it out. It is anticlimactic, and it is somewhat disappointing.

There are plenty of beautiful things about Oregon, but its storms aren't one of them.....

"Choctaw Bingo"

"Choctaw Bingo"
James McMurtry:
Strap them kids in
Give'em a lil bit of vodka
in a cherry coke
we're goin' to oklahoma
to the family reunion
for the first time in years
it's up at Uncle Slaton's
cuz he's gettin' on in years
no longer travels but he's
still pretty spry
he's not much on talk
he's too mean to die

Monday, October 15, 2007

Giuliani and Alien Attacks

Could you write a more preposterous account if you even tried?

Giuliani, campaigning in New Hampshire, was asked how the U.S. would respond in case of an alien attack. Without even pausing to think, he replied,
"Of all the things that can happen in this world, we'll be prepared for that, yes we will. We'll be prepared for anything that happens," said Giuliani, who spent the day campaigning in the key early voting state.
That's right, folks, we'll be prepared to confront beings who have the means to travel hundreds of light-years across the galaxy and who are most likely millions, if not billions, of years more technologically advanced than we are, because, well, damn it, because we're the United States of fucking America.

More than likely, the aliens will land here and step out of their massive spaceship, saying, like Kid Rock, "You've never met a motherfucker quite like me."


And we're supposed to take these politicians seriously.

Tim Ball's comments

The other day I challenged Tim Ball's assertion that "the world is cooling." I showed temperatures plots for the last several years, and of course it depends on how you want to define "climate" -- do you consider it the last one year of temperatures, the last five years, the last ten years, etc.? Of course, none is inherently correct -- there is no fundamental definition -- but all are meaningful to consider.

As I noted, all moving overages over the last 25 years are increasing, though there is perhaps a small flattening in the last few months of the 5-yr moving average, which frankly doesn't seem all that important.

I wrote Tim Ball and challenged him on these facts, and got back some answers that frankly don't make a lot of sense to me. First he accused me of being with NASA (when really my email address is from NASW), as if that matters to the facts, but then he responded:
Your use of moving averages is misleading.
This didn't make much sense to me, since what is a climate time series except moving averages? So I wrote him back. He responded:
Moving averages have considerable limitations, not the least of which is leaving out data and smoothing a curve to obliterate information. There is also the problem of the loss of data at the beginning and end of a curve depending upon the period chosen for the moving average. Both these points are evident in your curves. You concede the curve is flat "for the last year or so" a vague comment maybe because of the limitations of moving averages, but it requires explanation. It certainly doesn't fit with the CO2 trend.
Of course, I included several different moving averages in my analysis precisely to overcome the problems he tries to imply. You have to have endpoints to your data somewhere. Then he writes:
I am in agreement with Sherwood and Craig Idso that there is no warming evident in the record since 1930. The problem with global temperatures as reported by NASA GISS are well documented at Climateaudit ( including the problems of not adjusting for the Urban Heat Island Effect (UHIE) adequately and the condition of the recording stations.
This strikes me as absurd. The NASA GISS temperature series is corrected for the urban heat island effect, and the "problems" cited at ClimateAudit are neither systematic (as Eli Rabbett has shown) or peer-reviewed. They're just some amateurs trying to poke holes here there, without much success as far as I can ascertain.

I've asked Ball for the data which he thinks does show no temperture increase since 1930.


Oil is now about $86/barrel, about 45% higher than it was a year ago. Are we really supposed to believe that the Consumer Price Index is only 2% above a year ago? I just don't believe it.

Oil and heating and transportation costs permeate our economy. I just don't believe that a 45% yearly increase in such a basic commodity leads to only 2% inflation. I have some idea how they calculate the CPI, and although I don't know every detail I don't for a minute think that the cost of living is increasing only at 2% a year and yes, I am even prepared to believe there is collusion among economic officials to keep the stated CPI down. I have no evidence for this, and I'm sure one couldn't get it without a 6-month investigative study, and I hope someone is doing this, but something here seriously does not make sense....

Sunday, October 14, 2007


"...winning the Nobel Prize does not automatically qualify you to be commander in chief. I think George Bush has proved definitively that to be president, you don’t need to care about science, literature or peace."

-- Stephen Colbert

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Gay rights in Oregon

Gay-rights opponents fail to get second referendum on ballot.
As a result, on Jan. 1 Oregon will have a law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and a law allowing domestic partnerships for same-sex couples.

Friday, October 12, 2007


Here in Portland this week the newspaper has been overwhelmed with letters about this hunting story, where 10-year old Vanessa Smith was introduced to grouse hunting via her grandpa Al Thomas. People seemed especially upset about Al's gleeful countenance during the shoot, wondering how he could be such a bloodthirsty bastard:
Tuesday, October 09, 2007

"A-Hunting She Will Go" (Oct. 7) was a shocker! It turned my stomach. The picture of grandfather Al Thomas's face registering such ecstasy because his granddaughter had killed the grouse was sickening. Why are they so happy when they kill something? Fortunately hunting is becoming an anachronism -- no longer needed. We can achieve conservation without the blood sport.

CLIFF GOLDMAN Northeast Portland

OK, I'm on-board with that. I don't enjoy hunting and there is an element of barbarism to it. I grew up in rural Pennsylvania, where everyone hunted, and we even had the first day of deer season off from school. My dad took me hunting when I was 12, and mostly it struck me as a good way to walk around with a heavy gun in your hand, trying to stay warm. My mom gave me some chocolate bars beforehand.... out in the field, my dad stationed me at a trail intersection and told me to keep my eyes open while he tried to drive some game down my way. 20 minutes later he crept up on me as I was opening a Hershey bar, and I think it was about then that he decided I just wasn't going to cut it as a hunter and we walked straight home. We never went hunting again, to his great disappointment. I was always more interested in algebra.

Anyway, the Portland urbanites have been making their displeasure known about hunting and hunting stories, but someone today finally hit the nail on the head:
Friday, October 12, 2007

If I were a prey animal, I would rather pit my natural wits against a hunter in the wild than be caged in a factory farm -- something to consider for all you nonhunting meat eaters out there.

MARTIN J. CLAXTON Southwest Portland

And I think Martin Claxton has hit it right on the head, as much as I hate to admit it. It's easy to dismiss hunters as bloodthirsty barbarians, but almost all of us are eating meat and the way it's raised and slaughtered in this country is a moral tragedy. Factory farming is about the worst genocide you can imagine. Each and every one of those lives matter no less than do a deer in the wild. But I'm eating chicken and beef and (although I try and avoid it) pork, and I feel extremely morally culpable about it. I have tried to be a vegetarian, and it works for 3-4 months and then I start to feel weird, and seriously start to crave meat. I am, let's face it, an omnivore. Perhaps I should suck it up morally and stick to vegetarianism, cravings be damned. But so far I have not been able to do that. I hate thinking about the tens of millions of pitable chickens and cows and pigs who are suffering here and around the world for the sake of our diet. They lead horrible, horrible lives. I try to buy free-range chicken when I can afford it (not always). I would prefer stickers on my meat about the conditions under which it was raised, but so far Safeway won't comply.

Deer in the wild certainly lead better lives than do the factory farmed animals that all of us eat, and in that sense it's better they be shot in the wild than herded in a slaughterhouse. It's easy to categorize hunters as murderers, but they are only being honest about the situation. Too many people are forgetting that.

It has come to the point where I hate thinking about my diet, and I hate that I hate thinking about it. Frankly I'd like to live on a little farm and raise a few chickens and a pig and a cow, beings I could pamper until it came time to quickly slit their throat. Sometimes I hate the compromises of the modern age.

Flying to Oslo

You knew this was coming:

John Tierney:
I don’t want to dampen the celebration over Al Gore’s Nobel Peace Prize, but I wonder if this is, as they say, a “teachable moment.” Should he skip the trip to Oslo, Norway, on a fuel-burning jet and instead accept the award by teleconference?
Tierney quotes Gore on flying, and Gore would not doubt reply something like that he has been buying carbon offsets all along. Whatever. It'd be nice if Gore flew a little less, but let's be honest, global warming is not going to be solved by returning our standard of living to the 18th century. Or even by eating kangaroo meat instead of beef. We are still going to drive and fly and explore the world, not matter what. We will heat our homes by cheapest means possible -- that's human nature.

What will make a difference is if it becomes cheaper and easier to buy electric or even hydrogen cars. If solar technology makes it amenable to heat our homes most of the time via the sun. If wind and tidal technologies become so well understood that we use them the rest of the time. Despite what Joseph Romm says, we are not going to tax coal plants out of existence, as long as they are what is cheapest. It is going to be new technology that makes the difference.

So ultimately Gore will be flying to Oslo via some low-carbon-emitting airplane. And the rest of us will still be vacationing in Venice or London or Cancun. That's the future we need.

2006 Heat

Most of the anomalous heat in the US in 2006 was due to human influences, conclude scientists:
Martin Hoerling, et. al., Geophysical Research Letters: "...over half of the anomalous warmth in 2006 is attributed to greenhouse gas forcing, whose strength now exceeds the standard deviation of natural fluctuations. We conclude that the record warmth was primarily due to human influences."

Gore's Money

SF Chronicle:
Gore, 59, said he planned to donate his half of the $1.5 million prize to the Alliance for Climate Protection....


"About 2,000 scientists from more than 100 countries have participated in the IPCC since 1988."

Science & Morality

I really like how NYT's Andrew Revkin captures the essence of today's Peace Prize: how appropriate it was that both the IPCC and Gore received the prize -- the IPCC representing the cold, logical, scientific side of this huge equation, and Gore representing the ethical, moral, emotional part of the story. Both are absolutely necessary, as in any big story. Some people understand or prefer to listen to one side of the story; others respond to the other side. But the latter is not cut-and-dried -- it is as big any value-laden issue, and global warming is as value-laden as it gets. Gore might not always get every iota and detail correct -- his critics don't either -- but there is still a lot of uncertainty about all this and someone has to say, look, this can get really serious. Recently we've seen that predictions made 7 or 10 years ago underpredict today's reality -- the situation does indeed appear to be on the serious side of things. In a very real way Gore has done more good for the world than had he been elected President in 2000.

Portland's Toxicity

Closer to home, Portland, Oregon, widely vaunted as a center of green environmentalism, is ranked the third most toxic city in the United States. Lovely.

Nobel Peace Prize

I guess the Nobel committee is not as tight-lipped as I thought.

I like that they gave the prize both to Gore and to the IPCC. The latter certainly deserves it as much as Gore, probably more, and it's an acknowledgment of a lot of work done by a lot of scientists over the years. It's too bad they all can't get a little medal out of this.

I am skeptical that this will mean much change, though. It will give Gore some moral authority, but only among the choir. The right long-ago dismissed the Nobel institution, and their attitudes about global warming aren't going to suddenly change this morning. People aren't going to suddenly drive less or fly less or even, I think, be more willing to pay something like a carbon tax. The corporations that fund and control the reins of power in this country are not going to stop digging in their heals -- the stakes are far, far higher than that. The Chinese will not suddenly agree to dial down their 8% rates of growth. And, of course, this prize won't mean one iota to the current administration.

Gore will gain even more rock star status among the converted, and if anything, this award is a personal victory for him, especially after all he's been though the 2000 election. He could have gone back to Tennessee and walked around with his head down, but he reinvented himself and kept going.

One hundred years from now the Iraq War and "war on terrorism" will look as meaningless and inconsequential as does the Spanish-American war today. Instead, the world will be wondering how in the hell we knew the facts and consequences of greenhouse gases and yet still didn't act on it. This will at least tell them that some people were trying.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Gore's Nobel Prize?

It doesn't make sense to me that Al Gore's cancellation of a Thursday appointment means he's been tipped off about winning the Nobel Prize. Prize recipients do not need to be in Sweden when they receive word of their winning -- indeed, Americans are usually rousted out of bed for a phone call. Secondly, I have never heard of a Nobel Prize being tipped off (it may happen, but I've never heard of it), and I think the prize officials are about as secretive as they come....

We'll see soon.

2nd Warmest September

Last month was (tied for) the second warmest September in recorded history, +0.71°C above the long-term average.

Year-to-date, 2007 is tied with 2005 as the warmest year on record, +0.76°C above the long-term record.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Pregnant Moose

This makes sense, although I wouldn't have guessed it: pregnant moose in Yellowstone move closer to human roads and infrastructure as they're about to give birth, for protection from predators who customarily avoid those areas.

More Climate Hypocrisy

Thomas Friedman of the NY Times tells us that he spent last week flying and driving around the country -- Alabama to Mississippi to Chicago to Massachusetts -- and then acts angry when his daughter asks him why the Arctic ice is melting.

It's melting because you won't stay home, Thomas. But he thinks it's up to the presidential candidates to propose a climate change mitigation plan, and I guess he is just along to observe.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Nobel Prizes

Yesterday when Americans won 2/3rds of the Nobel Prize in medicine, the NY Times had it has a headlined story on their top screen. Today when two Europeans win the physics prize, it's a one-line headline tucked away under "More News." A little American bias there, I think.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Sons and Mothers

A really interesting study from Finland, discussed in the October issue of Scientific American, shows that:
  • sons reduce a mother's life span by an average of 34 weeks.
  • girls from mix-gender twin pairs are 25% less likely to have children, had at least two fewer children, and were about 15% less likely to marry than those born with a sister.
  • mothers of opposite-sex twins end up with 19% fewer grandchildren than moms of same-sex twins.
  • 100 to 150 years ago, 40% of babies died before they reached adulthood.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Top 50 Dystopian Movies

Dark Roasted Blend, an absolutely great blog, has a nice list of the top 50 dystopian movies of all time. I love dystopian movies, I'm afraid. The sad thing about my life, I think, is that over these last few decades, it has not become clear which direction the future of humanity will take -- utopian, or dystopian. We had our chance. But frankly, at this point I can see it going either way, but as I get older and older and shit like this keeps cropping up, the dystopian branch seems more and more likely. Technology is not a clear good, and the forces of darkness crop up all around, even here, even in the last seven years. You cannot count on anyone with a good word and a smile. I worry -- frankly I am not so sure I'd want to be alive in the year 2100....

the Nobel Peace Prize

It is Nobel Prize season, and I'd like to suggest that the Noble Prize committee track down this man and give him the Peace Prize -- name me one person who was more courageous in the last 50 years, who demonstrated what it is all about:

The older I get, the more I realize how fragile democracy is, how easily it is escaping us, and how brave a few people can be. This man deserves a medal if anyone ever did.

Tim Ball is Wrong

Via Deltoid I see that Tim Ball is back with his assertion that global temperatures have been flat since 1998.
"The world is cooling. Global temperatures have declined since 1998...."
This is simply wrong. Just plot the NASA GISS global temperature data:

Blue = 1-year moving averge
Orange = 5-year moving average
Yellow = 10-year moving average
Pink = 25-year moving average

Not one of these is declining. Ball's claim is false.

Gay Rights in Oregon

I am certainly happy to see this: efforts to roll back gay rights in Oregon are failing. Maybe this will be the end of it and the troglodytes will start to realize that the point of freedom is to move it forward, not backwards.

Friday, October 05, 2007

How Far We've Come

My God, Matchbox 20 actually has a cool song out, a really cool song: "How Far We've Come," which rocks to the first order:

Nobel Prizes

Wow, it is already October. I feel like I have barely even enjoyed the summer, and I'm certainly not prepared for autumn. Here in Portland the weather has quickly turned from the endless sunny days of summer to the cloudy, pissy days of autumn. But what can you do? -- life churns ahead and there's nothing you can do about it.

October means Nobel Prizes, is how I've always thought about it. I have no idea who will win the Physics prizes -- I never do, it always seems to be people I've never heard of in subjects I've only vaguely guessed were important -- though Wilcek's prize in 2004 was a notable exception, because QCD is sometime I know a little bit about, even if it's 20 years old.... -- but I would be really happy to see Al Gore win the Peace Prize for his work on global warming. I'm not really sure he deserves it -- he made a film and has had a lot to say, but the world hasn't exactly come around to his point of view, and I don't think he's defended his position particularly well -- but, frankly, the world's governments don't seem to give a shit about global warming -- not the US, not China, not India, not Australia, not any of the European states that matter. Who does -- Norway? Big deal..... So you can give it to Gore, but I'm not sure it will matter.... the world already knows his message, and although he has done yoeman's work in advancing it, it has not mattered down on the ground.

PNW energy generation

Though it has just 3.5% of the nation's population, the Pacific Northwest (Washington and Oregon) accounts for 24% of all renewable power in the U.S.

That's exclusive of hydropower. Most of this comes from wind.

That's pretty good.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Nike Football Ad Music

I'm still hoping someone can tell me what music is playing along this Nike Football ad.... I feel like I have to know.... C'mon, one of you must be able to tell me....

UPDATE: After some Web searching, I've determined that the song is "Promontory" by Trevor Jones, from the movie version of The Last of the Mohicans. A great movie, perhaps the quintessential movie about the northeastern United States -- I knew I loved that song from somewhere. Here's an MP3.

Missing TV during the Baseball Playoffs

I got rid of my cable TV about three months ago. I was watching a little too much of it, and it costs $50/month, but it was all the same old crap again and again -- I'd seen every episode of Star Trek:TNG about three times, and every episode of Seinfeld at least five times, and I felt I was starting to seriously waste my time. I haven't really missed it until the last few days when the days are becoming noticeably short and the baseball playoffs are on. The MLB playoffs are usually about the most exciting sports drama around, in my opinion, and I definitely miss not being able to tune in and be part of the story for three weeks or so. I have great memories of watching the Red Sox win the World Series in 2004. It definitely mattered that I was in New Hampshire then and there was a real feeling of team identity and even of history--at least for those who grew up soaked in the story of baseball. I remember the crisp, cool nights back there and the feeling that baseball mattered. That was reason enough to watch.

Here in Portland there is basically no team identity whatsoever, not for the city, and not for the entire state. A few people cheer for the Seahawks, but really they're pretty far away, and usually losers besides. And I'm sorry, but I just can not care less about the Trailblazers, or anything to do with basketball for that matter. It is a game for mutants, not the average person. It is meant to be a winter game, when the gym is warm and the security guards struggle to keep the doors closed again the cold and the locker room smells like used-up socks. Here in Portland we get none of that, just pissy rainy that sadly passes for a season. It is not really fair that Portland lives without an ML baseball team, and I hope that someday it gets one. Even if they are perennial losers like I'm sure they will be, like my boyhood Pirates. There is just something noble about baseball, that other sports lack.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Great Commercial

This commercial from Nike is pretty good (although they could use a better server).

Does anyone know what music accompanies it?

Water Bridge

Some results in science aren't earth-shattering, just really cool, like this water bridge.

When you place a high voltage on the water in the two beakers, the water climbs out of each beaker to meet in mid-air. The diameter of the bridge is about 2 mm, and remains if the beakers are less than 25 mm apart.

Another Global Warming Poll

There's another global warming poll out, and this one has some information on how much people are willing to sacrifice.

  • 38% are "completely convinced" global warming is happening, and 34% are "strongly convinced. 57% think is is mostly caused by humans.
  • Surprisingly, though (and someone of a victory for skeptics, I think), 40% think there is "a lot of disagreement" among scientists that global warming is happening.
  • 68% support cutting GHG emissions 90% by 2050.
  • 85% support requiring automakers to increase the fuel efficiency of cars, trucks and SUVs to 35 miles per gallon, even if it meant a new car would cost up to $500 more; and 82% support requiring electric utilities to produce at least 20% of their electricity from renewable energy sources, even if it cost the average household an extra $100/year.
  • Over 2/3rds oppose carbon taxes on gas or electricity.
So better technology good; carbon taxes bad.

40% say that a presidential candidate's position on global warming is it at least "very important." I guess I'll believe that when I see it -- I don't see much discussion of global warming on the campaign trail, which seems to be dominated by Iraq and then next by health care. Personally, I'd rather see the next president solve the health care crisis than the global warming crisis, if I had to pick one over the other.

The Speed of Evolution

This is very interesting: no more than 6 mutations per genome per generation, or a species has a strong risk of becoming extinct.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Giuliani Visits Portland

Rudy Giuliani briefly alighted in Portland on Saturday, and in his short time here he was taken not to any local landmarks to meet local people and experience local diversity, but to a "New York-style" deli so he would feel "at home." Yes, why would he want anything like a local experience to see what the people he wants to represent are all about? Let's show him whatever makes him comfortable....

Tainted Toothpaste

Why it pays to know a little science: you might have to tell your national regulators how to do their jobs.