Monday, January 28, 2008

Albuquerque's GHG "reductions"

John Fleck had a great article recently on Albuquerque's purported 6% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions since 1990. As he wrote in his lead:
It is a claim every Albuquerque resident who cares about global warming could be proud of: Since 1990, city residents have cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 6 percent.
It is also untrue.
The story is here.
In June, [Mayor] Chávez accepted an award from the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which declared Albuquerque "the greenest city in the nation." The award application, written by city staff, was based in part on the erroneous preliminary data.
John really takes the study apart. Read the whole thing.

I think this is an important story. A lot of cities are making similar claims (as did Portland, Oregon last year), and over the next few years, lots of countries are going to be doing the same thing. They are based on sketchy data and incomplete models, and often seem driven by political posturing more than anything, with the bureaucrats writing the reports determined to put their leaders in a good light.

It's too bad there's no way easily measure their claims by simply measuring regional GHG concentration levels. I expect a lot of cities and countries are going to be making similar claims over the next several years, but curiously the Keeling Curve will keep going up.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Life on Mars

"I'm certain that we'll find bacterial life on Mars."

-- Craig Venter, Digital Life Design Conference, Munich, Germany, Jan. 21, 2008

Saturday, January 26, 2008

indiscrete mathematics?

This is one of the most interesting ideas I've heard in a long time:
The linguist George Lakoff, of the University of California, Berkeley, along with Rafael Nunez, a cognitive scientist at the University of California, San Diego, have for several years advanced the argument that much of mathematics, from set theory to trigonometry to the concept of infinity, derives not from immutable properties of the universe but from the evolutionary history of the human brain and body. Our number system, they argue, and our understanding of addition and subtraction emerge from the fact that we are bipedal animals that measure off distances in discrete steps.

"If we had wheels, or moved along the ground on our bellies like snakes," Lakoff argues, "math might be very different."

Friday, January 25, 2008


The Egyptians can't keep the Palestinians from tearing down their pathetic walls, and all the Palestinians want to do is shop.

Imagine if they were really angry.

GM Food and Health

On Reason's Hit & Run blog, Katherine Mangu-Ward writes:
America has been chowing down on modified corn and soybeans for years now to no ill effect.
I know everyone says this, and I guess I more or less believe it too, but really, has anyone ever proven this? Are there scientific studies that show no consequences from eating GM foods? Even one? It'd be a difficult study -- you're have to account for a lot of different factors, and GM foods have only been around for ~7-10 years.

I'd just like to know if there is indeed any scientific evidence for Mangu-Ward's claim.

Economic Stimulus Package

I've seen very little (i.e. no) analysis of the "economic stimulus" package passed by the House, with the encouragement of the White House. It's about $150B. I assume this will all be added to the deficit. So it will cost something over the next X years. It will also presumably create some revenue over the next X years. So how does it all figure out? This, frankly, doesn't sound like a very hard economics problem, one with probably some existing data already. Are we gaining more in revenue than we'll be paying in interest? It's a simple question.

So where is this analysis? Or are we just going to pile this on top of the deficit without regard to its consequences? Can't the grown-ups in charge of our country answer even these simple questions?

Why aren't journalists insisting on this analysis?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Sacred Life

If life is so sacred, a gift from God and all that crap, I don't understand why pro-life groups aren't extremely opposed to the creation of synthetic life now taking place.

The Wonderful Health Care in the U.S.

George W. Bush: The US has "the best health care system in the world."
Rudy Giuliani: The US provides "the best medical care in the world."

Ellen Nolte and C. Martin McKee,
Health Affairs, The Public Journal of the Health Sphere
27, no. 1. (2008) 58-71:
The United States ranks last among 19 industrialized nations on preventing deaths by assuring access to effective health care, report researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

More than 100,000 lives per year could be spared if U.S. performance equaled the top-ranked countries on effective health-care measures: France, Japan, and Australia.

Friday, January 18, 2008


I saw Cloverfield this evening. Wow.

It is probably the most unique movie I have even seen. I want to think about it overnight and will post more tomorrow.

Just go see it.

PS: Don't surf around for reviews or spoilers or any more information about the movie than you know already from the very first trailer. Just go see it.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


I have done my fair share of interviews, and although I've never interviewed a Presidential candidate I've interviewed some important people and it's not *that* difficult. You prepare. You listen. You think. So when Mike Huckabee says something this stupid and offensive:

Well, I don’t think that’s a radical view to say we’re going to affirm marriage. I think the radical view is to say that we’re going to change the definition of marriage so that it can mean two men, two women, a man and three women, a man and a child, a man and animal. Again, once we change the definition, the door is open to change it again.
You call him on it. You immediately stop and ask him, are you really equating the love between two human beings with that of a man and an animal? And on what grounds? What is your logic?

That the BeliefNet writer didn't even do this tells me he is probably biased to believe what Huckabee said about gays without really thinking about it, that he (or she) more or less agrees with Huckabee on this issue and finds nothing remarkable that need to be verified. Either that or they're just an idiot giving him questions at rote. He just goes on to the next question, as if he's not even listening and doesn't even realize that something remarkable has been said. Which I wouldn't doubt at all. I just can't understand it.

Huckabee's Pandering

Andrew Sullivan highlight's Huckabee's "repulsive pandering":
Huckabee, today, in Florence, South Carolina: "I know what would happen if somebody comes to my state in Arkansas and tells us what to do, it doesn't matter what it is, tell us how to run our schools, tell us how to raise our kids, tell us what to do with our flag — you want to come tell us what to do with the flag, we'd tell them what to do with the pole."
Uh, Mr. Huckabee.... the rest of us DID come to Arkansas (and Alabama and Mississippi and Georgia and South Carolina) circa 1860, and again circa 1963, and we DID tell you what to do, and you eventually realized the shame and immorality of your racism and caved.... so don't go trying to put on a big show now. You lost that battle 40 years ago, as well you should have. Today, getting all puffed up, you just look foolish and ignorant.

Cloned Animals as Food

I have been thinking more about the prospect of eating cloned animals, which I first wrote about here, and I am not quite as sure about it as I was a few days ago. Clones appear to have biological problems. Or, at least, we don't know that they don't. The egg fertilization rate is very low. Many of the born fetuses die young. They are often born bigger than average, and may live shorter lives. Why? Scientists don't really seem to know. There are still a lot of uncertainties.

Why, then, the rush to approve their meat? How hard is the industry pushing for it? Can't we do a few more years of research to understand the nature of these pathologies?

For one thing, is it ethical to create an animal you know may have such problems?

For the other, do we really know enough about the biological roots of these issues to be declaring the meat healthy? It's difficult to tell from journalistic accounts like this one from the BBC, which mostly merely quotes the two different sides and doesn't provide a lot of insight into how the decisions are being made or on what basis. If food from clones is "essentially identical" to those of conventionally bred animals, why don't these animals lead equivalent lives?

Nonetheless, I expect the passive, stupid, ignorant, greedy American consumer, who say they are about two-thirds "uncomfortable" purchasing cloned meat, to immediately forget about their qualms and ignore the questions altogether.

Have you ever tried to ask your grocer about the genetic modification of their products? I asked one about four years ago, in New Hampshire, and they told me that none of the food they sold was genetically modified. I told that that was certainly not true, as most corn and soy sold in products on grocery store (even in 2004) shelves was GM. The manager seemed very surprised, and frankly I wasn't even sure he knew what I meant by "genetically modified."

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

MRSA Deaths

I heard this on NPR this morning, and was surprised: MRSA kills 19,000 Americans a year, and AIDS only 17,000.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Not that I am a fan of Mitt Romney, but I am extremely glad to see that Huckabee has done poorly in the Michigan primary. I was shocked and appalled at his pandering statement that the Constitution ought to be amended to adhere to "God's standards." There cannot be a more anti-American or dangerous idea in this country, and one more intended to take us backwards and not forwards, and Huckabee is hardly better than the Taliban, IMO. Perhaps this will be the last of him.

Funny Professors

Saturday, January 12, 2008

"Global warming" trend

Here's Blogpulse's trend line for the term "global warming" over the last 6 months. That spike in mid-October was when Al Gore was announced as the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. It seems to have increased interest in the topic by at least 50%....

Friday, January 11, 2008

HEP Budget Cuts

Robert Park summarizes the federal budget's high-energy physics cutbacks:

DOE will pull the plug on the PEP-II collider at SLAC on March 1, seven months ahead of schedule, resulting in the layoff of 125 employees. To keep the Tevatron at Fermilab going in the search for the Higgs, all employees will take 2 or 3 days a month of unpaid leave. Work on the International Linear Collider was terminated. The U.S. reneged on its commitment to the international fusion energy program, ITER. Other DOE programs were also cut along with NSF and NIST."
What a shame, and what a shameful disgrace for a country to value war and military spending over scienctific research. When I think about these things I am always reminded of the following exchange, one of the best rejoinders ever:
When Robert Wilson, first director of Fermilab, was in front of a Senate or House Committee, they would often ask him "What will your laboratory do to improve the defense of this country?" And basically what he said was, "What this lab does is make this country worth defending."

Thursday, January 10, 2008


I am absolutely sick of every pundit in this country, the Sullivans and Yglesias's and Klein's and Freddoso's and every other idiot who changes their minds every half-hour over the latest blip of a candidate's poll.

Here's the latest embarrassment from Andrew Sullivan. Now he's apparently for Fred Thompson. A few days ago he seemed to be for Barack Obama, because he was temporarily on-top, even though Obama is a liberal and Sullivan is supposed to be a conservative. It didn't seem to matter -- Obama was interesting. And then it was McCain. Lots of rationalizations throughout, of course. Now we're back to Thompson, a loser if there ever was one. It doesn't matter -- people are talking about him in the last 6 hours. So might as well go with it.

Such dishonestly. Such pandering for blog hits. Such an embarrassment. And this is supposed to part of America's intelligentsia??

Acer & CDW disappointments

I just bought a new system from Acer (Veriton 6900) via CDW, and man am I disappointed. The DVD drive button does not work, and the sound card does not work, and that's too many problems for a system that cost $730....

I just want to be able to plug in my components and let them go.... anything else is ridiculous, given how long PCs have been around now. Simple things like DVD players and sound cards should work from the get-go -- I don't have the time, expertise, or interest in fixing these kinds of problems, and I shouldn't have to.

I was really happy with a PC purchase I made from CDW circa 2003, and thought I would do business with them again. Big mistake. My purchase did not even make clear that I was buying a new keyboard/mouse with my system. That's inexcusable. The first day, when I called them, the person who answered the phone said simply "Hello," not even identifying themselves professionally.They have a lot to learn.

I will never do business with CDW, or Acer, again.

Today in Oregon

A tornado comes down just north of Portland early this afternoon, though barely a F1, and a fairly big earthquake (R 6.4) broke off the Oregon coast yesterday. No tsumani, though.

Also, in New Zealand, Sir Edmund Hillary is dead. He was a classy guy, refusing to say whether or or his climbing companion Tenzing Norgay was the first atop Mt. Everest until Norgay's death. They were a team, he always said when asked.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Clinton & Clinton

9:45 PST: Here's the picture the NY Times is running of Clinton's victory in NH:

I don't know.... there is something weird about having Bill Clinton in there.... It's very clear that the campaign welcomes it and wants him there.... as a reminder of something.... but it is really too much. Things weren't that great under Clinton, and there were lots of problems he didn't address (most notably, health care and global warming, the most dominant issues 0f his administration), and let's not hold him up as some paragon especially after he looked the country in the eye and lied.

He belongs on the sidelines,. not out front receiving congratulations. Those are for Hillary, not Bill. He can only mess things up....


You know, deep-down the truth is that I really hate politics -- especially campaign politics -- and it depresses me how many people seem to take it seriously. Here is Obama tonight:
"You know, a few weeks ago no one imagined that we'd have accomplished what we did here tonight in New Hampshire," he told supporters. "For most of this campaign, we were far behind. We always knew our climb would be steep."
Such weasel words, completely unlike what he'd say if he had just a few percent more of the vote, where it'd be a completely different fucking media story. The story is not that the Clinton machine gained 39% of the vote, but that the essentially forgotten and overlooked Obama ticket gained an amazing 36% of the vote.

The MSM, blind in ways bloggers are not, seems to completely misunderstand this point.

Clinton's teary moment

Terry McAuliffe, Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, is already attributing her NH win to her tearing up yesterday:
Mrs. Clinton’s chairman, on MSNBC attributes her apparent victory to her tearful moment yesterday: “That humanizing moment yesterday,” he says. “That did it.”
Jesus Christ, how absolutely stupid are campaign chairman. Does he really, honestly think that intelligent people saw her tear up for 1.3 seconds and said to themselves, that's it, I'm voting for he, regardless of her positions or her work or her experience or her character? What kind of fucking monkeys do they think we are? It's a terrible indictment and I just can't even fathom that he is so ill-exposed to the electorate that he thinks that. It's almost enough reason to vote against Hillary Clinton in any future election. Better he should just keep his mouth shut....


7:56 pm PST: The NY Times is calling the NH Democratic primary for Clinton, and isn't that interesting? All the pundits I read wrote seemed to write her off -- Sullivan, Yglesias, etc. etc., and it was certainly the sense after Iowa that Obama was the be-all and the end-all and that's that. Change, change, change, everyone said..... Turns out no one had any clue what they were talking about, and they all just seem to react to the email they received 3 minutes ago. It's very clear now that none of them knew what they are talking about and that America still has a little kick in her left yet.

Who knows... Oregon's May 20th primary just might matter at all.... sure.... I'm an independent so it wouldn't matter anyway (unlike NH where I was allowed to vote with the party of my choice)....


As Dan Kennedy writes, it's hard to believe that Romney is not finished. If he can't even win New Hampshire, next-door to Massachusetts, what chance does he have? ... Thank God. Romney is the phoniest candidate I have ever witnessed, a complete opportunistic liar and flip-flopper, and it redeems America a little that they see this. (Massachusetts should still be hanging their head in shame that they ever elected him.) Romney is everything you hated about the 3-letter jocks in high school, while you sat there in the bleachers pretending to cheer them on, and as far as I'm concerned nothing too bad can come of him. He is the America that will probably be, but there is still a chance to avoid this.


OK, so McCain wins New Hampshire. He won NH in 2000 as well. It just proves that NH is not providing the change their ego likes to think it does.

McCain would be over 72 years old upon being sworn-in as president. I'm sorry, but he is yesterday's news, fighting yesterday's battles, with yesterday's thinking. He believes Americans will not care if we are in Iraq for "10,000 years." He is Bush III (or is it IV now?). He wants nothing more than to cut taxes even further. He doesn't care a wit about health care. Look at his home page. It doesn't even mention health care. He doesn't even think it's a problem, or that some of us are dying for the lack of it.

Obama's Youth

Isaac Laquedem makes a good point:
On Inauguration Day 2009, Senator Obama will be 47 years, 5 months, and 16 days old, which is 1 year and 15 days older than President Clinton was on January 20, 1993 when he started his first term.

Dec 2007 Temperature

NASA GISS is out with their global surface temperature anomaly for last month: +0.60°C above the base period (1951-1980).

That makes 2007 the second warmest year on record, +0.73°C, after only 2005. Note: it was warmer, though only 0.01°C, than 1998. And it was by far the warmest winter. January 2007 was the warmest month since records have been kept, relative to its average.

I Drink the Wine

"We made a deal in the car.
You'd stay angry,
I'd do nothing at all."

-- Murder City Devils, I Drink the Wine

Enitech hoax

This is a hoax, but a bit clever.

Live 14 Years Longer

How to live 14 years longer:
  1. don't smoke
  2. exercise
  3. drink alcohol moderately (< 14 glasses of wine/week)
  4. eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day

Monday, January 07, 2008

American Prospect

Just to show you how pathetic this campaign has become.... you'd think that "reasonable" media outlets like the American Prospect would -- could -- send writers up to New Hampshire to capture the overlooked essence of the campaign, the side that the MSM doesn't/won't show you, a serious side focused on issues and ideas.... You'd hope.

Instead you get idiots like Tom Schaller, who with seeming pride captures this exchange with a son of Mike Huckabee:
So, I was pissed I couldn't get into the Barley ale house for the Huckaburger event. Huckabee's son, David (pictured), who was recently arrested on a gun charge, gave me the, um, skinny.

"It was a herb-rubbed bison burger with baby spinach on a whole wheat English muffin," he said.

Is it good?

"I've never had one."

Your dad's not a vegetarian, is he?


Are you?


Do you think your dad's weight loss is an issue in this campaign?

"I don't think so."

Then he got a bit edgy and said he wouldn't take any more questions.

--Tom Schaller

Yes, Tom Schaller, this is certainly why the American Prospect is paying your hotel and car rental fees up there, to bring us devastating and insightful commentary such as this. Please, keep up the good and important work.

Cat Breeding & Global Warming

I'm sorry, but I do not buy this:
Droves of cats and kittens are swarming into animal shelters nationwide, and global warming is to blame, according to one pet adoption group.

Several shelters operated by a national adoption organization called Pets Across America reported a 30 percent increase in intakes of cats and kittens from 2005 to 2006, and other shelters across the nation have reported similar spikes of stray, owned and feral cats.

The cause of this feline flood is an extended cat breeding season thanks to the world’s warming temperatures, according to the group, which is one of the country’s oldest and largest animal welfare organizations.

“Cats are typically warm-weather, spring-time breeders,” said the group’s president, Kathy Warnick. “However, states that typically experience primarily longer and colder winters are now seeing shorter, warmer winters, leading to year-round breeding.”

Winters have not shortened that much. Temperatures have increased roughly 1°C/century overall (perhaps a bit less), maybe +0.2°C in the last decade. Average temperatures increase about 0.3°C/day in places like New Hampshire, meaning winter has only been extended by about a day or two. That's supposed to account for a 30% increase in cat breeding? No way.

No doubt cat populations are increasing. And no doubt the globe is warming. That doesn't mean they're that strongly connected. There are plenty of other hypotheses to explain this problem.

Old Woman on the Street

I was driving back from visiting my sister this afternoon -- and may I say that my 3+ year old nephew is turning into such an astonishingly intelligent, bright, interesting, and funny human being that it almost brings tears to your eyes :-), -- when I got sidetracked trying to avoid some rush-hour traffic and ended up on a dark, deserted side street in a semi-industrial part of town. What freaked me out was that there walking along the sidewalk was a hunched-over old woman in a shawl, walking slowly but steadily with a cane on an unlighted sidewalk in a part of town I barely even wanted to drive through. I can't even imagine what she was doing there. The image still gives me the creeps.


This question of whether Hillary Clinton's eyes teared up, which seems to be the most galactically important question of the day, really angers me and simply generates disgust and disrespect for all of the journalists on the campaign trail. They all think this is some kind of Muskie moment. Some kind of game. My God, like people don't tear up for a second every once in a while. I do about three times a week. As Think Progress documents, so do most politicians. John Boehner seems to break down and cry about every three months in the House -- why does he get no grief for it. Who the hell cares? Our politicians should be crying, given the drastic scope of our problems. Are we really going to pick our next president on trivialities like this? What are we, third graders? It's this kind of false drama that journalists in places like Iowa and New Hampshire are looking for, and they really seem to be too stupid to understand the deep issues of importance here and to cover the campaign as nothing more than a horse race.

The MSM just seems to demonstrate their stupidity and irrelevant more and more every year. If they cannot provide real, insightful, useful coverage, they seriously need to go out of business.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Jacoby's Untruths

Jeff Jacoby is back with another anti-global warming screed in the Boston Globe. These are getting easier and easier to refute (and less and less worthwhile), and someday soon we will be able to outsource this task to third-graders for their study halls.

1) Weather is not climate.

2) According to the NASA GISS global surface temperature survey (, Jan-Nov 2007 was the 2nd warmest year on record, a mere 0.02°C below the record year of 2005. (Note: 2005 is globally the warmest year on record, not, as Jacoby claims, 1998.) And December's results are not yet in.

3) It is possible to cherry-pick lots of temporarily cold places, which is exactly what Jacoby has done here. It is not scientifically honest. It says absolutely nothing about climate.

4) Global temperatures ARE NOT flat since 1998. The 5-yr moving average has increased 0.34°C in the last 10-years. See . I have asked both Tim Ball and David Deming for their time series of data and their graphs, and both have declined to provide any data.

Huckabee's Mathematical Creationism

Huckabee is not only a biological creationist, he's a mathematical creationist as well. Have you see the way he figures his "Fair Tax" is 23 percent?
When people hear about a 23 percent national sales tax, they naturally equate it to the state sales taxes they are familiar with. If a state sales tax is 5 percent, then this means that if someone buys something for $1 they will pay $1.05 at the checkout. Thus they assume that the FairTax would cause a $1 product to cost $1.23 if it were to be enacted.

In fact, the rate is not 23 percent, but 30 percent. The 23 percent rate is arrived at by treating the tax as if it were already part of the price instead of being on top. Thus if a product were to sell for $1 and the FairTax added 30 percent, the 30-cent tax comes to 23 percent of $1.30. This is how a 30 percent rate is deceptively turned into a 23 percent rate. (Bruce Bartlett, Boston Globe).

This is such an astonishing (and trivial) piece of arithmetic deception that it seems hard to believe anything Huckabee would ever say after this, including that 2+2=4. How can any reporter let him get away with this?

People, when your leaders start lying to you about basic arithmetic, and right to your face, they will lie to you about anything. Anything.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Michael Pollan on Science Friday

Yesterday Science Friday interviewed food writer Michael Pollan, and it was one of the best interviews I have ever heard. Pollan said an amazing number of memorable and enlightening things per minute, from the lack of science behind nutrition to the fallacies of the age of nutrition, the fact that people ate healthily for thousands of years without knowing what an antioxidant is, or a saturated fat, or cholesterol, and much more. I highly recommend it.

Winter's Depth

Winter has reached its nadir here is Portland and is climbing back out.

On Thursday the average daily high was 44°F; yesterday it increased to 45°F. Only 13 days after the solstice.

In New Hampshire temperatures didn't reach a minimum until about January 24th.

Friday, January 04, 2008

NAS and Creationism

Today the National Academy of Sciences published a booklet titled Science, Evolution, and Creationism. The booklet is too scant to convince anyone of anything -- in that sense it's kind of like a Chris Mooney radio interview --but it does seem to go out of its way to say something quite extraordinary:
Science and Religion Offer Different Ways of Understanding the World

Science and religion address separate aspects of human experience.
Many scientists have written eloquently about how their scientific studies of biological evolution have enhanced rather than lessened their religious faith. And many religious people and denominations accept the scientific evidence for evolution.
This is an extraordinary concession and makes you wonder where the NAS is coming from. The truth is that there is not a single shred of evidence in the human experience pointing towards a religious interpretation of the world. It is a profoundly anti-scientific statement from a purportedly scientific organization.

In his What's New column today, Bob Parks writes
The panel that produced the report was headed by Francisco Ayala, a biologist at UC, Irvine, and a former Dominican priest.... Released on the day of the Iowa Caucus, the Science, Evolution, and Creationism report was all but ignored by mainstream media. The report stresses that acceptance of evolution does not require abandoning belief in God. However, there is a growing mountain of
evidence supporting evolution and not a shred of evidence for the existence of God.
Personally, this type of concession bothers me much more than government meddling in reports about global warming. There the facts are clearly against them and can be cleared up in subsequent reports. But to assert that a profoundly anti-scientific view of the world is equivalent -- or as successful -- as the philosophy of science is quite extraordinary.

Cloned Meat

The FDA is likely to approve the sale of cloned meat next week, and personally I don't have any huge problem with that. You're not squeamish about identical human twins, are you? (Well, perhaps just a bit, but not really.) So there's no reason to be weirded-out about cloned cows. They're just cows, like any other cow, and they have genes like any other animal. Who cares what they're a copy of?

Frankly I'm far more concerned about the putrid industrial farming conditions under which today's cows are raised, and the junk-food diet of corn and soybeans they eat, topped off with antibiotics. Yes, I know that clones aren't yet perfected and that they may suffer telemere problems that shorten and affect their lives. There's work to be done in this area and it may well turn out to be beneficial to ban all clones, of any species, for ethical reasons. But not for nutritional reasons.

Oregon covers the pill

Take your victories where you can find them: as of Jan. 1st, Oregon requires health insurance prescription plans to cover birth control pills. It's about time -- the Pill costs about $600/yr. The law is expected to cover 1.4M people. Plus:
The Legislature passed several significant health-related bills, including laws to expand chemotherapy treatment options, to require employers to accommodate mothers who want to breast feed their children at work, to extend the statute of limitations for people injured by Vioxx and Celebrex and to require insurance to cover alcohol and drug-related injuries and illness like other injuries and illnesses.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


Yes, perhaps Obama can beat off the forces of darkness and save America. It is certainly nice to see that a black man has won a national election in America. But I don't really trust Obama on health care, because he refuses to commit to insuring everyone -- and as a white, male, childless, single, middle-aged, maybe-middle-class, self-employed American, I am exactly the person who will be left-out, overlooked, and counted last in an Obama health plan.

Personally I prefer John Edwards, or even Clinton (though I absolutely dread reliving the inevitable Clinton hysteria akin to the '90s). Perhaps Obama's win in Iowa will kick Clinton out of her robotic phase (if indeed she has any other phase).

Huckabee Wins Iowa

It is unfortunate to see that Huckabee has won the Iowa Republican caucus. His religious pandering is so obvious and so obnoxious that I really thought people would see through it. But now it appears to be exactly what many of them want.

We -- and the world -- cannot afford another...idiot...who thinks the world was created 6,000 years ago, that humans were put here to exploit the earth, and that some magic man in the sky is personally pulling for him. I grew up thinking that the ultimate triumph would go to reason and enlightenment, but the older I (and the U.S.) get, the more it looks likes another dark age may well be looming. As I said before, this is turning into a pretty lousy century.

PS: Of course, I'm not a Republican -- let alone an evangelical -- and never would be. Obama or Edwards or Clinton could still win come November. I just... don't understand people.

Global warming deaths

A new study by Mark Jacobson at Stanford attributes 20,000 worldwide human deaths/year/°C of greenhouse gas warming.

Don't expect anyone to care.

Would we (collectively) care even if this number were 100 times bigger? I seriously doubt it. We might start to pay attention at 20M/yr. Maybe.

Portland's 2007 weather

According to the statistics from the National Weather Service, Portland (OR) was +0.37°F (+0.21°C) above the long-term (1971-2000) average.

The high temperature for the year was 102°F (7/10/07), and the low temperature was 19°F (1/15/07).

Total rainfall was 32.13 inches, 5.05 inches below average.

Number of cloudy days was 249, where the average is 223.

It rained on 57% of the days.

2008 Climate Prediction

The Meteorological Office in the UK predicts that 2008 will be +0.37°C above the long-term (1961-1990) average -- the coolest since the year 2000. Expect skeptics to make a big deal of it.

"The fact that 2008 is forecast to be cooler than any of the last seven years does not mean that global warming has gone away," said Phil Jones, director of climate research at UEA.

"What matters is the underlying rate of warming - the period 2001-2007 with an average of 0.44 degree C above the 1961-90 average was 0.21 degree C warmer than corresponding values for the period 1991-2000."

NOAA has already announced that 2007 is expected, globally, to be the fifth warmest year on record.


Common Tragedies blog:
By the industry’s own admission, cement-making accounts for some 5% of the world’s emissions of greenhouse gases—twice the amount attributed to aviation.

You Can't Win

In the You Can't Win department, lower greenhouse gas emissions in the northeast might be a bad thing:
Greenhouse gas emissions from Northeast power plants were about 10 percent lower than predicted during the last two years, because of milder weather and increased reliance on natural gas instead of oil.

But the decrease may have some unanticipated consequences for efforts to combat global warming: It could have the perverse effect of delaying more lasting reductions, by undercutting incentives intended to spur power plants to invest in cleaner technologies and energy efficiency.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Seligman on SETI

Martin Seligman, at The Edge, on the search for extraterrestial life:
Maybe intelligent life is so unimaginably different from us that we are looking in all the wrong "places." Maybe really intelligent life forms hide their presence. So I changed my mind. I now take the null hypothesis very seriously: that Sagan and Shklovskii were wrong: that the number of advanced technical civilizations in our galaxy is exactly one, that the number of advanced technical civilizations in the universe is exactly one.What is the implication of the possibility, mounting a bit every day, that we are alone in the universe? It reverses the millennial progression from a geocentric to a heliocentric to a Milky Way centered universe, back to, of all things, a geocentric universe. We are the solitary point of light in a darkness without end. It means that we are precious, infinitely so. It means that nuclear or environmental cataclysm is an infinitely worse fate than we thought.

Loser: Ocean Carbon Sequestration

Here's an interesting little article from IEEE Spectrum, choosing oceanic carbon sequestration as one of its technology losers for 2007. The reason: even if iron dust were dumped into all of the oceans amenable to phytoplankton growth, only about 10% at most of the world's annual production of carbon could be sequestered deep in the ocean -- about 1 Gigaton-Carbon/yr. (We're putting about 7.2 GtC/yr into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels, and about another 1.6 GtC/yr from land use changes.)

Not to mention, you'd be conducting a pretty massive biology experiment withn unforeseen consequences.
“If the trade-off is having to alter the biology of a big chunk of the ocean and what I get is a gigaton a year” of carbon uptake, “then I’m not interested,” says John Cullen, an oceanographer at Dalhousie University, in Halifax, N.S., Canada.
But... you have to start somewhere and study all this, as I think it's next to impossible for us to carbon-cut our way out of the global warming problem. Too many trends are all pointing too strongly in the wrong direction.

The Planktos ship Weatherbird II is currently somewhere in the equatorial Pacific ocean conducting a sequestration experiment.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Witten on "brane analog"

A few days ago Nature Physics published a letter by Bradley et. al. at Lancaster University on a supposed "brane analog" in low-temperature He3 physics:
In cosmological 'braneworld' models, our Universe exists on a brane embedded in higher-dimensional space. It's hard to test this theory, but there may be a laboratory analogue in helium-3 to probe brane-antibrane collisions — collisions that could have led to the Big Bang.
Here's the University's press release, which boldly begins:
Low-temperature physicists at Lancaster University may have found a laboratory test of the "untestable" string theory.
Peter Woit was skeptical, and notes how the UK press typically hyped the story -- here's the Telegraph, which makes the finding sound definite:
A "universe in a test tube" that could be used to assess theories of everything has been created by physicists.
And then it goes on and on about extra-dimensions and p-branes and all that.

So I thought I'd ask Edward Witten, one of the predominant string theorists in the world, and sure enough here's what he told me:
There is definitely no test of string theory here.
He goes on to say,
However, if one sets the bar a little lower, there is something that is interesting. Nature has a remarkable way of generating similar structures at different length scales, so the occurrence of various kinds of string and other topological defects in superconductors, liquid helium, etc. is a possible hint that nature likes such things at a much smaller length scale.