The NOAA radar feed for the Great Lakes region has an interesting feel to it today. You can see the storm that closed schools in the Lexington and Columbus areas (locales of FB friends) heading off to the east, and also see lake effect snow, as clouds shoot off of Lake Michigan onto the western side of the Lower Peninsula.
Not much at Midland's latitude, however. There seems to be a gap between a southern snow-band (Muskegon to Benton Harbor) and a northern snow band (Traverse City to Petosky) that leaves the US-10 corridor largely untouched.
We've got temperatures well below normal for mid-November, the beginnings of what may well be another very cold winter. Here, at least, climate change is changing in the cold direction with "polar vortex" becoming part of the lexicon. It doesn't disprove global warming worries, but it sure doesn't help proving them.
I'm having to gear up for a trip into the teeth of the Great Plains going out to Colorado to visit my in-laws over Christmas. This is the first full winter Eileen's folks have spent out there, and all those snow gates on the highways in Nebraska and Colorado might actually come into play rather than being a quaint conversation piece as we bop along in the spring and summer.
It's only 24 in Midland as we go to press, but it feels a lot colder, almost as cold as the political climate in Washington.
Might computerization and robotization be a bigger problem for our culture than climate change?
In its report to The Cryosphere journal, the AWI team does not actually calculate a sea-level rise equivalent number, but if this volume is considered to be all ice (a small part will be snow) then the contribution is likely to be on the order of just over a millimetre per year.
For those who are metric-challenged, there are 25.4 millimeters per inch. At that pace, we'll have seas rise an inch by 2040 or so. For areas that are on the verge of going under, that might tip them over the edge, but the raw numbers don't justify the nightmare scenarios of New York City turning into Venice by mid-century.
It would seem to me that managing any modest changes that do happen would be easier than to try and micro-manage the world economy in order to cut CO2 emissions. I don't think that that's denying science, just taking it at face value.
Meanwhile, we have an interesting piece on HTML creator Tim Berners-Lee.
“Companies are increasingly going to be run by computers. And computers are getting smarter and we are not.” The only solution, he argues, is for people to embrace new technology, and accept that some jobs will simply disappear.
The idea of automation making more and more jobs obsolete isn't new, but we're on the verge of having robotics of varying sorts making a number of jobs go the way of the dodo. This piece of mine from 2004 (my most Googled post thanks to the title) on mundane jobs comes to mind; here was my final paragraph
Someone's going to have to pick up the trash, man the school cafeteria, drive the trucks and stock the grocery-store shelves. Hopefully, those people will move on to better things, but let's respect those who are there and the businesses who hire them. Some would like them to get a lot more respect on payday, with better wages and more health benefits; however, that's going to raise prices and may force companies out of business, which will mean zero wages and no benes for those who are laid off.
We might well see truck drivers made obsolete in a decade or two. If self-driving vehicles continue to evolve and become a reality on the roads, truck-driving might be handed over to a computerized system rather than a human driver.
"What if the computer fails?" is the common reply. We have wetware failure on a regular basis with human drivers, so if the computer is more reliable on average than an human that gets tired and distracted, it might become a safety precaution to have a computer behind the wheel. That would decimate the Teamsters and do a number on the truck stop industry, as an automated truck might need gas and tires but not food and hot showers.
The grocery-store shelves might be stocked by a robot in the not-to-distant future. I recall reading where Google's working on a prototype of such a critter; I can't quite place that via its flagship search engine, but here's a piece where that other CMU has made an inventory robot.
Automation might well be accelerated by government policy. Minimum-wage increases and mandatory health insurance are driving the cost of labor up and Moore's Law and growing expertise in robotics will drive the cost of automation down. At some point, the curves will intersect and Robbie the Robot might take the wheel or take the push-cart away from a worker.
Lower-grade automation will also cut employment; self-checkout lanes at grocery stores are a now-common example, which let one supervising worker manage a half-dozen or more lines. Some Chilis restaurants are experimenting with tablet mini-kiosks at customer tables where they can order items and pay their bills with a credit card. That will let waitresses cover more tables per person and cut on the number of staff needed.
Economic theory would suggest that other jobs will come up as folks are automated out of their old jobs. However, that would require the culture to come up with new tasks that need or want to be done that aren't being done now.
The dystopic vision of an automated future has a underemployed underclass who has next to nothing to do, since the computers and robots are doing all the basic stuff that unskilled labor used to do. The creative class will still have their outlets and people will still be needed to program and make all those computers and robotics, but grunt work will be largely phased out in that universe.
How do we create those new jobs? How do we find things that people want done that aren't being done now? Some of those things we might not even think about right now. A guy working as an on-line tutor with a hobby of writing essays on a computer-broadcast journal called a "blog" would have been science fiction in the 1980s; the Web as we know it just became able to get a drink this year, since it was codified in 1993.
The people who will be on the outside looking in as this automation trend continues aren't likely to be writing blogs or tweeting. Figuring out how to make those folks useful and fulfilled will be a small-m ministry in the years to come.
Let me get this straight. We're going through one of the coldest winters on record in Michigan (this skeptic site had the UP having the coldest winter per NOAA) and the senior senator from Nevada thinks that this crazy weather is a sign of global warming?
"Every day that goes by, every week that goes, every month that goes by, every year that goes by ... there’s more evidence of the dangers of climate change," Reid said Tuesday afternoon, in response to a question from THE WEEKLY STANDARD. "The more climate changes, the more extreme the weather gets, and we’ve seen that in spades."
We have outliers on both sides of the thermometer. If we get a cold winter, the skeptics sneer at the warmists, and if we get a heat wave, the AGW mavens will give the deniers both barrels.
More outliers doesn't mean more warming, especially cold outliers like the Great Lakes region in 2014. If Sen. Reid has his way, we'd be erring on the side of making things even colder. That might make Nevada a bit more bearable in the summer when things get beastly hot in the inland southwest, but it doesn't do much for Michigan.
We've hit a plateau on the global temp graph almost two decades long. It could be a pause before things get warmer or it could be a leveling off. If global temperatures were a stock, the techies would say we're in a trading range where it's hard to be bullish or bearish on a stock.
Stretching that analogy near the breaking point, the AGW mavens are bulls. "Temperatures are near all time highs" the bull-techs are hollering, proclaiming that a breakout on the upside is just around the corner.
Or, we could be due for a correction. Hard to tell for the moment.
I was running errands in the mall quadrant of Midland this morning. When I was a kid, the area was largely unused wilderness, but the Midland Mall went in in the late 80s. First, the folks in the exurban township where the mall was going in fought it and the traffic it would bring, then the environmentalists tied things up for a couple of years.
The plan that wound up placating the greens was to create replacement wetlands for the stuff that would get malled. That sounded like another does of anti-progress monkey-wrenching at the time...
...but it has its benefits. I saw a flock of geese coming overhead over the Wal-Mart parking lot in their classic V formation, then slowly descend like paratroopers landing at a stadium in a pre-game ceremony, landing in a pond across the street.
This might well have been a pit stop for the geese heading south for the winter. They'd have had to have found a new place somewhere in the increasingly suburbanized Larkin Township area north of US-10 were it not for the foresight of their wingless friends.
So, I'll give the greens a nod.... this time.
This was going to happen in some college town the way things were going, but UVA's home town of Charlottesville is now a drone-free zone.
The resolution, passed Monday, "calls on the United States Congress and the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia to adopt legislation prohibiting information obtained from the domestic use of drones from being introduced into a Federal or State court," and "pledges to abstain from similar uses with city-owned, leased, or borrowed drones."
I guess that's full employment policy for city pilots. On the domestic level, civil-liberties groups are fearful of eyes in the sky on too regular a basis; it was a civil-liberties maven who spearheaded the Wahoo ban.
However, I don't see that much, if any, of a difference between an old-school bear-in-the-air police plane or helicopter than a drone. If the cops see something naughty going on from the air in your backyard, that doesn't strike me as an unreasonable search; that doesn't change if the aircraft in question has a pilot or not.
There does seem to be something...unsporting about drones. "Be a man and fly over yourself" seems to an underlying theme, especially when it applies to using armed drones to take out al Qaeda types.
I'm reminded of the Bill Maher quip about modern Air Force pilots dropping bad juju from 5 miles up being cowards compared to the 9/11 bombers; the latter takes more guts, even if it was badly misguided at best. Add the even more remote nature of the modern drone compared to the stealthy manned bombers of the turn of the millennium and that yeller meme is amped up a notch from that.
The rifle was sneered at when introduced; real warriors used arrows, not bullets. Rifles didn't require as much skill as a bow, which reduced the value of the warrior class as an elite. It also allowed to rain down death at a longer distance which was harder to counter at first.
Some of that might be at play here; drones seem wimpy, somehow.
However, do we want to have live pilots delivering the bad juju? Do we want the occasional death or capture of a pilot if a plane gets shot down or crashes due to malfunction or other accident? Not if we can help it.
The judge, jury and executioner nature of the "kill list" rubs our due-process sensibilities the wrong way; however, having a cruise missile or manned bomber deliver the rough justice won't change that problem. To the extent that things are dealt with from a military perspective rather than a judicial one, "taking out" an enemy combatant is legit; we're not in position to drive up to their hide-out in the back country of Yemen or Pakistan and serve them a warrant.
That warfare approach is the real issue, not the drones. Drones just add that odd, unsporting sense of detachment that will help sway public opinion against both domestic police surveillance use and international military combat use.
Marco Rubio's not the only one in doubt about the age of the universe. However, the level of doubt is a bit tighter in the astrophysicsts; about 4.5 billion is the concensus, but they're working on nailing it down a bit tighter, wanting to get the next digit nailed down.
The unknown seems to be the makeup of the Earth's core. If we know what the core's made up and what the crust we're walking on is made of, the radioactive decay rates will dictate how long ago it formed. We're working on getting to the mantle at present, so the core will be largely out of reach for a long while.
I like learning about astronomy, especially in this era when new discoveries are popping up on almost a daily basis. Here's the lastest of the list, where they've discovered a free-agent planet that was not orbiting a star.
Astronomers have spotted a "rogue planet" - wandering the cosmos without a star to orbit - 100 light-years away. Recent finds of such planets have suggested that they may be common, but candidates have eluded close study.
The proximity of the new rogue planet has allowed astronomers to guess its age: a comparatively young 50-120 million years old.
That last sentence makes being a Bible-totin' evangelical with a sci-fi geek inside problematic, for you need to tell the Answers in Genesis people to stuff a cork in it while you ponder the universe. Either the scientists are off with their ages, or the young-earthers are off on theirs.
One can split the difference in astronomy by making the days of Genesis eras; God's still in charge, but you can read modern science without having to flag an astrophysicist 15 yards for Time-Line Interference every time a reference to a time frame in millions of years or higher shows up. It doesn't violate inerrancy, it just violates a very literal version of it; a 24/6 creation is problematic since the sun and moon don't show up on day one.
Anyways, back to the science. The new rogue planet Palin-2012a- no, CFBDSIR2149-0403 is its designation- is big as planets go-
The team believe it has a temperature of about 400C and a mass between four and seven times that of Jupiter - well short of the mass limit that would make it a likely brown dwarf.
What remains unclear is just how the planet came to be - the tiny beginnings of a star, or planet launched from its home? Study co-author Philippe Delorme of the Institute of Planetology and Astrophysics of Grenoble, said that the latter implied a great many planets like it.
We may find that the line between a big planet and a brown dwarf will be hard to draw. On one level, Jupiter is a brown dwarf, for it radiates more energy than it takes from the Sun; it just doesn't quite have the size to start the internal nuclear fusion that marks a star. Many systems have multiple stars; it isn't too big of a stretch to see a super-Jupiter not-quite-star get kicked out of the nest and go rogue in intersteller space.
The Jupiter-sized rogues will be harder to see at a distance, so their might be quite a few rogue planets, but since they don't radiatate much energy and don't do eclipses of their star to be detected via the changes in light, it may take far better telescopes to pick up the smaller ones.
It looks like Curiosity might be getting some company on the Red Planet-
The Indian government has approved a mission to Mars in what would be the country's first visit to the red planet. The news comes just four years after India launched its maiden mission to the Moon – Chandrayaan-1 – and days after NASA landed the Curiosity car-sized rover on Mars.
The £70m mission will be launched in November 2013 from India's spaceport at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre on the island of Sriharikota using the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. The mission, which will orbit Mars and study the planet's geology and climate, has already been allocated £26m in the country's science budget.
"I think they look at this in a similar way [to how] the US looked at Apollo – in that they are trying to demonstrate that they are a technologically advanced country and a leader in Asia," adds [John Hopkins' scientist David] Plescia. "Space programmes are not really about science, they are about national prestige and national security. The mission would also be a source of pride and excitement to the country, much like the Curiosity mission is in the US."
With China going forward with an aggresive space program, playing 40 years of catchup with the US and Russia, India doesn't want to be left behind. It's got a heck of a tech presence and can use this as a tool to show that India can do big-power things and possibly create a space industry of their own.
In the new study, however, published yesterday in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers from the University of Vienna gave six grey parrots a slightly more complex task. Instead of being shown an empty and a full canister, the researchers merely shook one of the containers, so the parrots could hear either the sound of walnuts rattling around inside or silence.
When given the chance to select a canister, the parrots consistently chose the one with the walnuts, whether they had heard the shaking of either container. They were able, therefore, to determine both that a noisy shaking meant “food is inside” and that a noiseless shaking meant “no food is inside, so it must be in the other one.”
They were African grey parrots, which brings to mind the old anti-stereotype joke where a African-American customer meets up with the pet store's smartest African grey parrot
"Polly wanna cracker.... polly wanna cracker?"
The bird replied "Leroy wanna watermellon?"
While we're in the neighborhood, what does a 800 pound parrot say? Either "Here, kitty, kitty, kitty" or "Polly wanna cracker... now!"
The DC area got hit with a bad line of thunderstorms, knocking out power to about 2M folks and doing a number on this weekend's golf tournament. Both the BBC and ESPN pieces mentioned a new word to me-derecho.
Here's an interesting 2006 piece on that style of storm; check out the video on that page for a quick primer-
Derechos are elongated, straight-lined windstorms that often have bands of rapidly moving thunderstorms associated with it. These little-known atmospheric phenomena often stretch for hundred of miles and cause multiple tornadoes. Meteorologists usually issue a severe thunderstorm watch when they see an approaching derecho.
If this Wikiepedia list of derechos is any indication, we get a few of those each year.
I've never seen or heard that used before; I'm not a meteorologist, but I picked up quite a bit and was surprised that this one showed up on my radar for the first time today.
Interesting effort in Holland, where they're looking to create lab-grown hamburger by growing synthetic muscle using cow stem cells. A PETA grant is behind it, with the idea that some meat could be made without killing animals in the process down the line.
The process is far from market-ready, as the first faux-burger will have about $300K of development behind it; not exactly cost-effective. Also, the process tends to create small bits of meat that lends itself more to minced applications like hamburger or meat sauces than steaks and roasts. However, if they can scale up the process where fauxflesh might become cheaper than traditional meats, pressure will be on folks to give up the traditional slaughterhouse, so that meat doesn't have to be "tasty, tasty murder" anymore.
Such a critter would have some interesting implications. Would a fauxbeef cheeseburger be kosher? Would folks who are vegan on anti-cruelty grounds be open to fauxbeef? Would we see the left split into pro-organic, anti-genmod folks fearful of lab-grown muscle fighting with the PETA crowd? We're a few years off from that, but I recall one sci-fi millieu where fauxflesh was the norm by 2100 and traditional meat-production had the moral standing of cockfighting today.
It will have to get past the "yuck" factor, but meat production has a bit of that already. I recall a scene in Douglas Adams' The Restaurant at the End of the Universe where sentient cattle happily show off their body parts to the patrons before going out back to be freshly slaughtered, prompting a "that's just not right" feeling in the reader as they meet the meat. Contrasting that with lab-grown frankenfood might not be as hard as it seems.
I've been walking wounded (or sittlng-in-comfy-chair wounded) for almost two weeks with a sinus infection that morphed into bronchitis. Early on, I took a week's worth of amoxicillin, the most common antibiotic; it was somewhat bootleg, left over from a family member who fought off an infection quickly and left the lion share of their dose for the next person to get a bug.
Needless to say, it didn't work. That means it was either a viral infection (which doctors can't do much about save treating symptoms) or a Moxy-resistant bacteria. I figured the former until today, when my bronchitis got bad enough to get into my allergist, who doubles as a GP for his allergy patients.
Turns out it was the latter. Moxy has the advantage of being cheap; some places (like the Meijer chain here in the Great Lakes region) will give it away as a loss leader. However, that means that critters have had a chance to develop a tolerance for it; according to my allergist, it only works on about half of modern-day bacterial infections. Bringing out the heavy artillery from the get go might be more expensive, but it heads off a second trip to the doctor when Moxy doesn't hunt and be a better buy over the long haul.
We'll see if the better drugs work.
The media is playing the death of Steve Jobs in a way I haven't seen since John Lennon, treating him as a sort of secular saint and calling him the modern Edison.
Not that groundbreaking, as this nice Rick Newman obit notes. He's not quite Edison, more like Tesla with a second and third act. The first act, inventing the Apple and the Mac, was a bit like Tesla, who did a lot of innovating but lost out on the really big bucks to IBM and Microsoft. Apple perfected the modern PC, but IBM put it on office desks and Microsoft's DOS running on IBM clones brought the price point down to consumer levels.
Jobs then had a decade hiatus from Apple, in which time he gave us Pixar; not bad for a second act, but the third act was a doozy, turning Apple into a mobile electronics giant. There was a bit of a role reversal for Apple; now,they were popularizing gizmos rather than inventing them.
There were smart phones before the iPhone, MP3 players before the iPod and notepad computers before the iPad. However,they popularized all three, giving a cache that was both trendy and mature at the same time. Even then, Apple wasn't able to expand its desktop and laptop sales too much, as Jobs wanted to keep Apple's OS proprietary, scrapping a plan to have Apple clones available.
I've yet to enter that universe as a user. My laptop has my MP3 stash, and I have yet to get a smartphone or a pad-computer; however, that will probably change the next time I replace my cell-phone, for the entry-level iPhones or their Android rivals are now the freebie-with-a-renewal phones these days.
Before we knew of Jobs' passing, I saw this piece on the Corner about the Wall Street protesters and their allies-
I might have told him that if he really wanted to “protest capitalism,” he could start by ditching his $2,000 MacBook Pro, which is produced by one of the largest corporations on the planet — Apple (AAPL) — currently trading at more than $370 a share, on Wall Street.
Apple has something of a near-cult following that leans a bit left but doesn't exclude the right, other than occasionally getting PC over some more pointed anti-gay aps and podcasts. The new high priest of the cult presided over a new iPhone earlier in the week, but he likely won't have Jobs' iconic status.
You've probably seen the T-shirt with police officer Einstein-"186000 miles per second. It's not just a good idea, it's the law."
Well, just like you and I have likely fudged at least the 5MPH above the posted speed limit, it seems that neutrinos are a bit of a subatomic leadfoot. As best as folks from the CERN atom-smasher can figure, they were clocked at 60 nanoseconds over the speed of light. They've run as many double-checks as they know how, but the results still have the neutrinos coming in statistically significantly faster than light. Yes, they are that precise that 60NS can be significant and measurable.
Chances are there was something the folks that gave us the Web missed, since there are a lot of critics that are doing a lot of dis-CERN-ing. Messing with Einstein usually ends up like the jerks in the jerky ad messin' with Bigfoot; the scientist usually gets his research drop-kicked into the next area code.
However, might the neutrino be a smidge faster than an electron? It's a smidge lighter, if I recall my physics (a year's worth back in high school where I don't recall covering neutrinos, so take it with multiple grains of salt), so it may well be a smidge faster.
Here's an interesting piece on the prospect of plate tectonics on Mars. That doesn't seem too shocking; if that's the standard theory of Earth geology, why should Mars not have the same type of dynamics, albeit on a slightly different beat?
The many ridges and scarps on the rumpled apron of land north and west of Olympus Mons are likely signs of tectonic thrusting, according to the study. And this activity could be very recent — within the last 250,000 years or so.
"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." We're starting to get some details on the heavens, and God seems to be using the same tool kit on Mars. That doesn't mean that there is or isn't life there, but that rocky planets like Earth and Mars may have similar dynamics.
The story out of Hungary is disturbing, where a bauxite plant's waste-water pond gave way and dumped a flood of red toxic sludge into the neighboring town and into the river system. The news of the day is that it now has made its way into the Danube, the main river of southeastern Europe.
The headline wrote itself, and does two things at once; first, it give a bad visual earwig (eyewig?) from 2001, where Blue Danube is the soundtrack while the shuttle docks at the space station orbiting Earth. Yes, I am like the aging narcissist, I'm dating myself.
Secondly, since a lot of the sludge might have been the product of the Iron Curtain days, it begs a cheap shot at the Communist's lack of environmental care during their days running Eastern Europe.
However, it is a cheap shot, for we've seen a couple of bad leakages into our waterways that didn't get as much press, even if we write off the BP case as a one-off likely not to be repeated. A similar coal-waste pond let loose in Kentucky almost a year ago, doing a number on the rivers and towns downstream. Here in Michigan, a oil pipeline leak did similar damage to the rivers southwest of Lansing earlier this year. Thankfully, both got contained before the stuff got into major waterways like the Danube.
This type of accident is the kind of environmental issue that shouldn't be a left-right fight; these are external costs to the communities that the company's making them need to do a better job of preventing. Meanwhile,the communities that get hit clean up as best they can; pray for the folks in Hungary and the rest of SE Europe as this heads downstream.
We now have a second morning-after pill to head off unwanted pregnancies (and induce abortions in already existing ones). RU-486/Plan B is the one that is currently on the market, but ella (it seems to be lower case by design) was given the thumbs up the FDA. Both block progesterone, which gets the system ready to let a embryo find a home. Cutting off progesterone also tends to kick out any newly attached embryos as well. Ella is longer-lasting than RU-486, lasting a week rather than three days.
The coverage is interesting. CNN basically gives a press-release style announcement without any critical comment, while the Washington Post gives a solid look at the pro-abortion-rights slant of the Obama-era FDA and the pros and cons, including comments from pro-lifers and the prospect that pharmacists might want to pass on ella like they currently pass on proscribing Plan B.
The WaPo is slanted a bit on the pro side, but CNN ignores the cons altogether. Chew on that one for a bit.
A bit of a flap is happening north of the border, as science minster Gary Goodyear is under fire for not whole-heartedly backing evolutionary theory. Damian Penny has some bloggage on the issue from his secular-libertarian standpoint. The general gist, which we've seen south of the border as well, is that religious conservatives are anti-science if they don't buy into evolution.
One thing that crossed my mind this afternoon is that scientists might have a different reason to shout out any doubts on evolution is that it brings the prospect of a personal God into the mix. Whether a boss goes with a literal young earth creation stance or buys into Darwin hook, line and sinker is actually secondary; it is more of a marker of whether you're going to bring a tighter set of ethical standards to the mix that will give a researcher a bit less freedom to maneuver. Interestingly, it would most likely not be in the realm of evolutionary biological research.
I've yet to hear anyone state that theologically conservative folks in authority have vetoed research on the grounds that it's advancing evolutionary theory. A creationist would probably like to see more research, for it will (if they are right) find more holes in naturalistic evolutionary theory that only a Creator can fill. It may cast doubts on young-earth creationism, that things seemed to take longer than six literal days to do, but it should settle the issue eventually.
What I think (warning-very broad brush) scientists are more worried about with a creationist is that the creationist, by definition, will generally believe in a capital G God that has moral standards. That's going to make some research problematic, if it runs afoul of a naturalistic utilitarian paradigm. Embryonic stem cell research is one area that this shows up, but it also extends to various end-of-life issues, where utilitarians are quick to want to pull the plug on negative NPV projects people.
A creationist boss will have tighter ethical standards on research than on average, at least one that buys into the idea of a hands-on God. That, rather than the debate on how life got started and came to be in its present form, seems to be what worries the naturalistic side of the aisle.
At least that's what's floating through my head at present. Is there something to that idea?
I saw this MSNBC piece on alien life back during fall term, but the series got fubared when I went back to it the next day; I don't read MSNBC much at home, but since the Sullivan U computers come with IE and generic pre-set bookmarks, MSN and MSNBC is the default news site if I don't want to call up my Firefox bookmarks from my flash drive.
I came back to it yesterday, and the series is back working again. SETI's Seth Shostak is the main speaker in the piece. Here's my money graph-
You've got that right, Dr. Shostak. Yeah, but it's from that dreaded diploma mill called Cal Tech ;-). I think the guy knows his stuff.
However, we've got one data point for life in the universe, and it's here. Lots of possible candidates, but only one proven to this point.
Given the size of the universe, we can't be that lucky. Either life should be relatively bountiful or something other than random chemical processes got us here.
Something like an intelligent designer, maybe? A Guy who's in the miracle business.
That's not to say that there may not be life elsewhere. Most of the Peanut Gallery can recite Genesis 1:1 from memory-"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." Even the non-church goers in the crowd would have that down, especially after we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 8 reading of Genesis from lunar orbit last week. Genesis goes into detail on what happened on the Earth, but nada about the heavens.
SETI scientists hope to find other life in the universe. Others of us are also interested in eternal life and some of those miracles, the biggest coming back in Bethlehem and Golgotha about 2000 years ago.
I'm still getting used to being in Lexington. One of the things that is interesting about our local paper is that the sport section is that they love horses almost as much as UK; they have a daily full page on horse racing, which is not that surprising, given the large horse industry in the area.
However, this piece from their Breeder's Cup coverage (that's this weekend on ESPN if you want to slide some racing in between college football on Saturday) has some implications far beyond the Keeneland crowd.
The silver-colored gelding named Greg's Gold gives new meaning to the words "self-healing."
He will race Saturday as third betting choice in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Sprint.
But he is racing only as a result of successful treatment for a ruptured tendon by means of stem cells taken from his own body.
[Greg's Gold trainer David] Hofmans recalled some of the former treatments for bowed tendons: sending a horse off to Montana to tighten its legs by letting it run in the snow all winter; treating the site with thermocautery, called "firing"; and slicing the tendon during surgery.
It's much easier now. The horse's attending veterinarian removes a few tablespoons of fat from beneath his tail, then sends the fat off to a lab called Vet-Stem, near San Diego.
About 8,000 stem cells -- the horse's own -- are harvested from the fat, then returned overnight in syringes to the veterinarian, who injects them at the site of the injury.
The stem cells "go in there and imitate the (local) cells, then become those cells," said Hofmans. He said the treatment costs about $2,000. That's a small price to pay to return a horse like Greg's Gold to racing.
"I did it with another horse, Hofmans said. This was a 2-year-old who bowed both front legs. "He came back and won three races."
"What the stem cell does," Hofmans added, "is it allows the tendon to still have elasticity so it can stretch and not tear. That's just coming from me, from my observations."
Please note that this is using adult stem cells. No horse embryos needed to be pureed in order to make these, just some fat cells from his own behind.
The stem cells from the horse's rear started acting like muscle. Meanwhile, your fans of embryonic stem cell research often act like a horse's .... rear.
We're going through a chilly week in Michigan, where we're expecting close to a half-foot of snow tomorrow. We're not alone; Drudge has this piece featured up front and large, mentioning that New York is on pace for its second-coldest April ever.
Curmudgeons on the right will be quick to question global warming during such cold snaps, but they miss the bigger picture. The general consensus on global warming is that things warmed up by a degree in the 20th century. One degree.
Our extended winter will see us have a low of 28 this evening and a "high" of 32 tomorrow. Had we been suffering from a similar chilly outlier back in 1907, we'd have a low of 27 and a high of 31, assuming that the extra degree is evenly spread.
What the current issue is with climate change is that the birds fly south a bit later and head north a bit sooner, or not fly south at all if the change makes the area bearable year round. Plants move a bit further north or a bit further up the mountains. Winters are just a smidge warmer and the heat waves in the summer are a bit nastier, but not to a point where a layman can really tell.
There are some areas where the change can be seen. For instance, Lake Superior is warming up not one degree but 2.5 in the last 30 years. That's some chilly water up there, even in summer, so the picture of the 60s beach quartet is a bit bogus; you risk freezing your noonies swimming in Superior without a wet suit.
However, that extra warmth, even it doesn't make it swimmable, will cause less ice and more open water, thus more evaporation and a lower water level. Since Superior flows down into the other Great Lakes, what happens there will flow (or not flow, as the case might be) down the watershed. I recall going up to my grandparent's old cottage just off Lake Huron on Tawas Point; the beach is a lot bigger than the ones I remember as a grade-schooler.
That lack of ice will have business benefits, as the shipping season can go on a bit longer before the ice makes thing impassable for the rest of the winter. However, the shrinking lakes will mean that piers and boat ramps will have to be moved, replaced or lengthened and water inlets might be high and dry.
It's these small changes that can add up over time. Just because they're small doesn't mean there not there. Outliers will still be outliers; modest climate change will merely nudge them a tad in one direction.
Here is an interesting NYT piece on Algore and climate change. It isn't a hit piece on Gore, but it does mention that many rank-and-file academic climatologists think Gore is exaggerating the threat while giving him his props for bringing things to the public eye.
There needs to be some central ground between the folks on the hard left looking for The Day After Tomorrow to become reality in short order if we don't slam on the CO2 breaks yesterday and the folks on the hard right who look at any conversation about slowing climate change as a needless bow to the business-trashing tree-huggers.
Things aren't likely to be as bad as the doom-sayers think, but the effects seem to be far from non-existent. I'm not sure how to steer a reasonable central ground, but giving the sober scientists a listen may well be helpful.
This is a troubling piece; the America Council of OB-GYNs is recommending universal first-trimester screening for Down syndrome.
The main reason: Tests far less invasive than the long-used amniocentesis are now widely available, some that can tell in the first trimester the risk of a fetus having Down syndrome or other chromosomal defects.
It's a change that promises to decrease unnecessary amnios -- giving mothers-to-be peace of mind without the ordeal -- while also detecting Down syndrome in moms who otherwise would have gone unchecked.
It's not just a question of whether to continue the pregnancy. Prenatal diagnosis also is important for those who wouldn't consider abortion, because babies with Down syndrome can need specialized care at delivery that affects hospital selection, he added.
I'm not quite sure about that last paragraph; what universal screening will do is pressure many women to abort a Down baby. That pressure will mount if coupled by a shunning of Down families from utilitarian folks who look upon the child as a negative net present value project. Many women don't want such screening so that they don't get pressure to abort, accepting whatever God sent their way.
Universal screening will make having a Down baby a choice of the mother rather than just a bad roll of the genetic dice. An expensive choice at that, since such kids will be more expensive to treat.
A more utilitarian culture might deny health insurance coverage to Down babies and make their parents or charity pick up the tab; they could treat Down's as a preexisting condition of sorts and deny coverage. Public schools might deny special-ed to Down's kids-"His parents knew what they were getting in to, it wouldn't be fair for the rest of us to finance the bad choices of those [fill in anti-Christian pejorative]."
Even if culture doesn't put financial roadblocks in front of Down families, they could give the cold shoulder to the families. Genetic defects would now be a choice, but a choice that less-loving and less-life-affirming parts of society would look down upon as a drain upon societal resources.
That's why campaigning for a "culture of life" that transcends just abortion is important. Looking beyond the future earning capacity or health care costs of a person to their inherent value as a child of God is important, especially when some look upon the enfeebled as having lives not worth living.
There's a pick-up truck ad where the vehicle is shown getting a workout on a farm. One of the tasks is to "take Norm up to see the ladies;" a properly-dangling bull is shown standing in the back of the pickup. What would be the harm of cloning Norm and having a legion of Norm 2.0s "seeing the ladies" around the country?
The early answer is "nothing," according to the FDA. The meat and milk of cloned cattle and pigs are safe, as are the products of their progeny.
The meat may be safe, but is the practice?
Two problems come to mind; the first is that we'll potentially have a set of genetically-similar cattle, if most of the cattle are descendants of Norm or a few other star breeding cattle. When the royalty of Europe intermarried, making their family trees look like intertwined vines, they had a nasty tendency for hemophilia. Any bad generic traits that Norm might have will be passed on to all his offspring; if a Norm 2.0 mates with another Norm 2.0's child, you won't get the genetic balancing that you get from a wider gene pool.
That's going to lead to a strong possibility of the herd being prone to a certain problem; in the animal world, the rather inbred Dalmatians have a bad tendency towards deafness. We might not find out what the wild-card in Norm is for a while. It might not affect the meat from Norm cattle, but it might effect the usefulness of Norm cattle.
Secondly, there might be a disease that Norm is susceptible to, one that we might not know about yet. If a big chunk of Norm cattle drops ill all at once, it could do a number on our food supply.
A third fear is that the products of cloned cattle might be bad in some way that needs longitudinal testing; a steady diet of cloned meat might have some effect that only shows up after years. You can't prove that for decades, since some of the things that are problematic don't show up for decades, like some chemicals doing a number on someone's reproductive system if exposed to it in the womb; that's something that will by definition take close to two decades to find out.
However, we're unlikely to put that rigid of standard on cloned meat. That would stifle nearly all private research if it takes twenty years to get an OK on a product; the payback needed to fund that long of an R&D trail would have to be extraordinary.
Cloned breeding stock doesn't seem to be much of a problem, but there are issues that the various industries will have to keep abreast of, like making sure that their breeding stock doesn't get too inbred and to make sure to look for long-term problems from such inbreeding.
P.S. When Eileen was teaching at SVSU this semester, one of the things that they did with the teachers of ENG 080 was have a set of meetings where grading standards were fine-tuned, so that the idea of a B, C or D paper was standard across classes. They called those meetings "norming sessions."
"Taking the ladies to see Norm?" was my standard joke, since most of her colleagues were female.