How genetics works

February 28, 2010

Genetics, how it works - gag photo from 9gagDOTcom 13068_700bReally? 

Really sad thing: This photo’s comic explanation is deeper and more accurate than the average creationist or other denizen of the Discovery Institute.

Tip of the old scrub brush to

Good news from Hawaii: No deaths, little damage

February 28, 2010

Hawaii missed a big tsunami.

That’s probably not entirely accurate, let’s rephrase:  Hawaii didn’t get a significant tsunami from the Chilean quake.  The Hawaiians didn’t miss it at all.  Hawaiians moved to higher ground.  They prepared for disaster.  Then the disaster didn’t occur.

That’s good news, especially since there remains disaster in Chile to worry about.

How long before some yahoo complains we shouldn’t trust USGS, nor NOAA?


Tsunami warnings for Hawaii: How science really works

February 27, 2010

As I write this it’s more than five hours away.

Earthquake map from USGS, showing location of the Chile quake 2-27-2010

Earthquake map from USGS, showing location of the Chile quake 2-27-2010 - click on map to go to interactive version at USGS site

A horrible, devastating earthquake hit Chile last night, on the west coast of South America.  Scientists at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center fear it may have triggered a tsunami that will hit Hawaii today (an AP story says at 5:19 p.m. Eastern; that’s 4:19 p.m. Central, and just after 11:00 a.m. in Honolulu, Hawaii, Hawaiian-Aleutian Standard Time (HAST).

HONOLULU (Reuters) – Hawaii prepared to start evacuations ahead of a tsunami generated by a massive earthquake in Chile, a civil defense official on the U.S. island said on Saturday.

It planned to sound civil defense sirens across the island state at 6 a.m. local time (11 a.m. EST) after the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said a tsunami was generated that could cause damage along the coasts of all the Hawaiian islands,

“Get off the shore line. We are closing all the beaches and telling people to drive out of the area,” said John Cummings, Oahu Civil Defense spokesman.

Buses will patrol beaches and take people to parks in a voluntary process expected to last five hours.

More than an hour before sirens were due to sound lines of cars snaked for blocks from gas stations in Honolulu.

“Urgent action should be taken to protect lives and property,” the Warning Center said in a bulletin. “All shores are at risk no matter which direction they face.”

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

The warning follows a huge earthquake in Chile that killed at least 82 people and triggered tsunamis up and down the coast of the earthquake-prone country.

The center estimates the first tsunami, which is a series of several waves in succession, will hit Hawaii at 11:19 a.m. Hawaii time (4:19 p.m. EST) in the town of Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii, with waves in Honolulu at 11:52 a.m.

Sardina said the Hawaiian islands could expect waves of six feet (two meters) in some places. Other estimates have been higher but he could not confirm those were likely.

Plate tectonics at work — the Pacific plate pushing underneath South America.  The epicenter was 22 miles deep.  We get a glimpse into how geologists and others work with a report from the Times of London:

Several big aftershocks later hit the south-central region, including ones measuring 6.9, 6.2 and 5.6.

The earthquake was caused by the floor of the Pacific being pushed below South American land mass.

This sudden jerking of the sea-floor displaced water and triggered a tsunami, which is now crossing the ocean at a speed of a jet plane.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a warning for Chile and Peru, and a less-urgent tsunami watch for Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica and Antarctica.

A spokesman said: “Sea level readings indicate a tsunami was generated.

Will a potential disaster in human lives be averted?

Isn’t this exactly how science is supposed to work?  Will the anti-science yahoos ignore the warnings?

Woo notice: Our dogs were restless last night.  I had to get up twice to let them out just to bark with the rest of the dogs in the neighborhood, who all seemed to be going nuts at once.  Looking at the news stories, it was just a bit before the big quake hit Chile.  It doesn’t make sense to me that dogs so far away from the epicenter would be affected that way.


Hawaii map and threat map from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center - 2-27-2010

Hawaii map and threat map from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, February 27, 2010. Click on image for current information.

Computer-aided study of the Venus de Milo

February 27, 2010

Oh, sure, it’s on the web more as advertising for Konica/Minolta.  But it’s still cool.

Close-up of arm of Venus de Milo - Wikimedia image

So-called “Venus de Milo” (Aphrodite from Melos), detail of the upper block: join surface of the right upper arm, with mortise; attachment holes, which probably bore a metal armlet; strut hole above the navel, now covered with plaster. Parian marble, ca. 130-100 BC? Found in Melos in 1820. Wikimedia image

Konica/Minolta scanned the Venus de Milo in great detail, and they have put up a Flash multimedia piece exploring the creation of the piece, techniques of sculptors of the time, and, most interesting to most of us, just what the piece was supposed to look like with her arms.

If your school district is nipple intolerant, don’t send your kids there.  If you have AP World History, your kids might benefit from seeing Konica/Minolta’s comments and study — you can check it all out in less than ten minutes.

Quote of the moment: Martin Niemöller, “. . . I did not speak out . . .”

February 26, 2010

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

— Pastor Martin Niemöller

Martin Niemoller on a postage stamp, painted by Gerd Aretz in 1992 - Wikipedia

German theologian and Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller on a postage stamp, painted by Gerd Aretz in 1992 – Wikipedia

It’s spring, and school curricula turn to the Holocaust, in English, in world history, and in U.S. history.

Martin Niemöller’s poem registers powerfully for most people — often people do not remember exactly who said it.  I have seen it attributed to Deitrich Bonhoeffer (who worked with Niemöller in opposing some Nazi programs), Albert Einstein, Reinhold Niebuhr, Albert Schweitzer, Elie Wiesel, and an “anonymous inmate in a concentration camp.”

Niemöller and his actions generate controversy — did he ever act forcefully enough?  Did his actions atone for his earlier inactions?  Could anything ever atone for not having seen through Hitler and opposing Naziism from the start?  For those discussion reasons, I think it’s important to keep the poem attributed to Niemöller.  The facts of his life, his times, and his creation of this poem, go beyond anything anyone could make up.  The real story sheds light.




“Brain rot” in the Lower Merion School District?

February 25, 2010

My Latin is not good.  My high school didn’t offer it, and I couldn’t squeeze it in to college, either.  Tom, one of my study group mates in law school, had four years of Latin with a Catholic priest who was a great and grave taskmaster.  Tom could memorize the hell out of anything (obviously what the priest was trying to instill).

I’ve lost Tom’s address.  I could use his translations now.

Remember the Lower Merion (Pennsylvania) School District?  That’s the one that issued Mac laptops to all the high school kids, and then got embarrassed when it was discovered that the computers came equipped with cameras that take pictures of the kids in their homes, according to the allegations in the complaint that started the federal lawsuit.

Since the lawsuit was filed, the FBI opened an investigation, and the district itself backpedaled fast, claiming that no photos were ever taken except when laptops were reported stolen, and issuing statements that the district and its employees did nothing wrong.  The district also says it has turned off the remote photo devices, and won’t turn them on without notifying parents.

Good.  We’ll watch to see how it comes out.

So, while pondering whether to post a follow up, the logo of the school district caught my eye and my curiosity.

Logo and web letterhead of Lower Merion (PA) School District

What does that Latin stuff translate to?

Okay.  “VE RI TAS” is a very Harvard-like claim of truth.  “Corpori,” obviously means body.  “Menti,” obviously refers to the mind.

“Moribus?”  Something to do with death.

“Body, Mind and Death?”  What sort of a motto is that?  I must have translated something wrong.

Here, I’ll use an on-line translator:  “Fleshly mind to die.”

Fleshly mind to die.  What?  Brain rot?  Does that slogan mean brain rot?

The Welsh Valley Middle School, part of the Lower Merion School District, says the motto means “Body, Mind and Spirit.”  That’s better.

But, “moribus” means “to die, wither away” according to the dictionaries I find.  I get the concept that a spirit remains after death — but is that what they actually say?

Back to the translator, if I ask it to translate “body, mind and spirit” into English, I get “Somes, mens quod phasmatis.” No moribus.

Back to the translator again.  “Spirit” into Latin comes up phasmatis, phasma, spiritus, animus, animositas — nothing about death, no moribus.

Maybe some kid from a Latin class in the Lower Merion schools can tell me how they get “spirit” from “moribus,” or alternatively, just assure me that the motto isn’t supposed to mean “brain rot.”

Did somebody pull a quick one on the LMSD when they adopted their motto?  Could there maybe be a better way to translate it?

Elbow! One day like this . . .

February 25, 2010

Digital television brings us an additional channel with KERA, our local PBS station.   The second channel carries programming from PBS World.

Great stuff, lots of repeats of the science shows, convenient rebroadcasts of The Newshour.  And promos with interesting music.  One promo features a twisting camera with odd angles on two people doing twists on a trampoline.  It looks like they are bungee jumping at first.  It’s got good music that qualifies as earworm stuff, ending with the vocal line, “It’s looking like a beautiful day.”

Finally took the time to track it down.  Elbow is the band, “One Day Like This” is the song.  Live version with the BBC Concert Orchestra and a choir called Chantage, below.  Obviously I’m not the only one who likes the performance.

How did we ever do this stuff before the internet?


February 23, 2010

It’s a day’s readership for Pharyngula.  It’s a trifle compared to those sites that cater to woo and disinformation.

A few people, perhaps, have found use in the posts here.  Two million looks passed about 8:00 a.m. this morning.

Thank you, readers.

We need free marketeers in the White House

February 23, 2010

Who said this?

We are pro-growth. We are fierce advocates for a thriving, dynamic free market. But we do think that there have to be some rules of the road in place in the financial sector that will create an even playing field and allow businesses to raise capital and consumers to buy products with confidence.

Coming out of this past decade, there has been a sense on the part of a lot of middle-class families that they have been left behind, even when we were expanding. And I talked during the campaign about the need for us to restore a sense of balance to the compact between business, government, and employees all across the country.

If businesses are making record profits but employees are seeing their wages flatline—and in fact, incomes decline over the course of the decade—that puts enormous strains on families. It puts, I think, a dampening effect on consumers who help drive this economy. We are going to be better off if everybody feels like they have got a stake in growth and innovation moving forward. And I think that balance got lost.

Now, making sure that we restore that balance without tipping too far in the other direction in ways that squelch innovation and investment is going to be an important challenge, and one that we take very seriously. But the important message I would have for the business community—and this is something that I emphasize every time I have lunch with CEOs, and we have had a lot of them in here—is we have every interest in you succeeding.

Another big hint below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

Does this photograph show Teddy Roosevelt at Lincoln’s funeral procession?

February 22, 2010

1865 - Lincoln's funeral procession; Passing the (Cornelius) Roosevelt Mansion, sw corner 14th Street, Broadway, view looking North on Broadway

1865 – Lincoln’s funeral procession; Passing the (Cornelius) Roosevelt Mansion, sw corner 14th Street, Broadway, view looking North on Broadway – Flickr image from Stratis

See the house on the corner, at the left?  Look at the second story, at the window on the side of the house facing the camera.  Is that young Theodore Roosevelt watching Lincoln’s funeral procession?

Stratis, who posted this photo at Flickr, added the note at that window:

6 year old, Theodore Roosevelt watches Abraham Lincoln’s funeral procession from an upstairs window of his grandfather, Cornelius Roosevelt’s mansion on Union Square with his younger brother Elliott and a friend.  Teddy lived at 28 East 20th Street.

Is that accurate?  Is that his grandfather’s house?  I assume that it is not 28 East 20th Street, which is where he was born and the house of his father.

A timeline of TR’s life said he watched the passing funeral entourage:

  • 1865  –  Watches Abraham Lincoln’s funeral procession from an upstairs window of his grandfather’s house on Union Square, New York City. With him are his younger brother Elliott and a friend named Edith Kermit Carow.

Interesting intersection of history.  This would probably be the only meeting of Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, though Teddy almost certainly knew Lincoln’s sole surviving son, Robert, pretty well.  Both were in Buffalo when William McKinley was assassinated; Robert Lincoln, having lived through his father’s assassination, and then been present at the assassinations of James Garfield and McKinley, declined an invitation to Roosevelt’s inauguration in 1905, not wishing to extend one of the oddest bad luck streaks ever imaginable.

Can you add details about the photo?


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‘Let me tell you a joke about Obama’s reading from teleprompters, just as soon as it comes up on my teleprompter’

February 22, 2010

Washington Monthly kills the punchline in the most serious conservative policy proposal in 11 months, a joke that has Obama reading to school kids from a teleprompter.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Dave, at Dave Does the Blog.

What’s gone wrong in Washington?

February 22, 2010

Lincoln, image by Derek Bacon for The Economist (2010)

Image by Derek Bacon, copyright The Economist 2010

Barack Obama announced his candidacy for president in Springfield, Illinois, on ground often trod by Abraham Lincoln.  As did Teddy Roosevelt, Obama studies Lincoln’s life and career, and presidency.  We know he devoured Team of Rivals, Doris Kearn Goodwin’s detailed history of Lincoln’s high-powered cabinet, all of who came to respect his leadership, and most to call him friend.

The Economist scores with another astonishing graphic for the cover of the print edition covering the week of February 18 — Lincoln’s exasperation apparent (image at right).

Is that all?

Again I lament not having an AP government class at the moment.  What an opening for discussion we have in Washington follies of the moment.  The story accompanying the graphic, plus an editorial that takes the Milquetoast way out — ‘Obama needs to try harder’ — poses questions we do need to explore, and which would be great in an AP classroom.

ACCORDING to Paul Krugman, the winner of a Nobel prize for economics and a columnist for the New York Times, modern America is much like 18th-century Poland. On his telling, Poland was rendered largely ungovernable by the parliament’s requirement for unanimity, and disappeared as a country for more than a century. James Fallows, after several years in China as a writer for the Atlantic Monthly, wrote on his return that he found in America a vital and self-renewing culture that attracts the world’s talent and “a governing system that increasingly looks like a joke”. Tom Friedman, another columnist for the New York Times, reported from the annual World Economic Forum in Davos last month that he had never before heard people abroad talking about “political instability” in America. But these days he did.

The growing idea among influential pundits that America is “ungovernable” is being driven in large part by Barack Obama’s failure so far to pass some of the main laws he wants to. And it is, indeed, a puzzle. Here, after all, is a president who only just over a year ago won a handsome mandate: 53% of the popular vote and big majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. He bounded into office with a mountainous agenda, including plans to overhaul America’s health-care system and cut its greenhouse emissions. He seemed until quite recently to be doing reasonably well. In a folksy December interview with Oprah Winfrey he awarded himself “a good, solid B-plus”.

Is America now ungovernable?  What are the limits of a federal system, and have the states capitulated too much power to Washington?  Is anything else feasible with our economy in the mess it’s in?

I can imagine a discussion of the limits of the Articles of Confederation to start, noting the requirement of unanimity from the states to do anything major — and how that hamstrung the growth of America until George Washington pushed Alexander Hamilton and James Madison to change things.  Washington’s goals were only partly noble, to see a new, unified nation.  That unified nation he saw as necessary to open settlement of the Ohio Valley, where Washington had several thousand acres of land he couldn’t sell until settlers moved in.

How does the current set of impasses affect business?  Consider any small business, or big business, which offers health care plans to its employees.  Health reform is stalled — a Blue Cross affiliate in California raised rates by nearly 40%.  Health care is the one section of the economy where growth — meaning costs — grew through the depths of our financial difficulties in 2008 and 2009.  The need should be clear, but there are blocks to getting anything done about fixing the system.

Or consider international affairs.  Pentagon analysts worry about governmental instability created by the effects of global warming — drought, weather disaster, shifting crop yields (up in a few places, dramatically down where a few billion people live).  Thieves stole e-mails from the scientists studying the issue, and subsequent propaganda based on the theft alone has stalled climate talks, worldwide, giving a huge economic advantage to China and India.

What should be the role of government regulation for clean air?  Is the Clean Air Act sufficient? (Texas initiated suit against the federal government last week, claiming that the science behind reducing air pollution is wrong, a suit given as a gift to Texas’s major industries, some of which depend on the ability to dump garbage in the air with impunity.)

Is the problem more organically rooted in our inability to defeat incumbents in Congress? 2010 is a Census year — we count Americans to see how many representatives there should be for each state in the House of Represtentatives.  The bitter redistricting fights will come in state legislatures next year.  Can we save the system when politicians design seats more to secure a safe majority for their own party, rather than to see that every American is adequately represented?

What about media?  Traditionally newspapers, aided by television, played the watchdog role on Washington politicians.  Americans aren’t reading newspapers much, anymore.  News holes shrink, and serious reporting on issues goes away.  Can an open democracy survive without healthy newspapers?  And if not, who can do what about it?

Go to The Economist and check out the stories (better if you’re a subscriber — the stories usually go away for non-paying browsers after a few days).  What can you do with them in the classroom?

What do you think?  What’s gone wrong in Washington?

Libertarians for junk science

February 21, 2010

Yeah, I agree — but ask yourself, you who call yourselves “libertarian” or “skeptic,” why you’re not asking the same questions?

From the Murph Report, “Libertarians for junk science.”  From a guy named Kevin Carson, a self-described anarchist — and voice in the wilderness.

He discusses the unthinking acceptance political libertarians and conservatives give to all stories against  doing something about global warming, and about DDT’s problems.

Two mil

February 20, 2010

Counted it again.  We should pass the two million views mark in the coming week.

Thanks, Dear Readers.

Annals of global warming: Columbia Glacier, Alaska (by James Balog)

February 20, 2010

Actual observations of the world show global warming.  Time-lapse photos of the destruction of the Columbia Glacier, in Alaska, by James Balog, should make any person start wondering how to control warming processes.

It’s a film documenting warming, a film that Joanne Nova and Anthony Watts hope you will never see.*

James Balog, at TEDS, explains the stuff in under 20 minutes:

From National Geographic’s site:

© 2008 James Balog/Extreme Ice Survey

This remarkable image sequence captures a series of massive calving events at Columbia Glacier near Valdez, Alaska. Composed of 436 frames taken between May and September of 2007, it shows the glacier rapidly retreating by about half a mile (1.6 kilometers), a volume loss of some 0.4 cubic miles (1.67 cubic kilometers) of ice or 400 billion gallons (1.5 trillion liters) of water.

The time-lapse was taken as part of the ongoing Extreme Ice Survey (EIS), an ambitious project to capture global warming-induced glacial retreat in the act. Beginning in December 2006, photographer James Balog and his colleagues set up 26 solar-powered cameras at glaciers in Greenland, Iceland, Alaska, the Alps, and the Rocky Mountains. Each unit will take a photograph every daylight hour until fall 2009.

In 2008, Balog’s team began to return to each of the camera sites to collect images. In the end, they will have more than 300,000 images to analyze and stitch together to produce more dramatic videos like this one.

This kind of multiyear effort, says Balog, is necessary to “radically alter public perception of the global warming issue.”

Don’t miss: Extreme Ice a NOVA/National Geographic Television special airing on PBS March 24, 2009 at 8:00 p.m.



Am I too harsh?  Go over to those blogs and see if you can find the WordPress pingback listed in the comments to those posts, for this post’s link to them.  No?  Then they’ve gone in and deleted the message.  It’s automatic on WordPress, and it works wonderfully.  But if they have the readership they claim, and if they are so certain of their views, why do they fear Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub?

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