October 20, 2010

xkcd: The Economic Argument



November 05, 2009

The Prius of the sky

The Prius of the sky - James Fallows:
A contest for fuel-efficient small airplanes has a winner: a modified VariEze that gets 45 mpg at over 200 MPH with two people aboard, and nearly 100 mpg at a lower "maximum range" speed.

December 06, 2006

Race Against Time - World AIDS Day Speech | U.S. Senator Barack Obama

Re: Race Against Time - World AIDS Day Speech | U.S. Senator Barack Obama:

.... I also believe that we cannot ignore that abstinence and fidelity may too often be the ideal and not the reality - that we are dealing with flesh and blood men and women and not abstractions - and that if condoms and potentially microbicides can prevent millions of deaths, they should be made more widely available.  I know that there are those who, out of sincere religious conviction, oppose such measures.  And with these folks, I must respectfully but unequivocally disagree.  I do not accept the notion that those who make mistakes in their lives should be given an effective death sentence.  Nor am I willing to stand by and allow those who are entirely innocent - wives who, because of the culture they live in, often have no power to refuse sex with their husbands, or children who are born with the infection as a consequence of their parent's behavior -suffer when condoms or other measures would have kept them from harm.
We should never forget that God granted us the power to reason so that we would do His work here on Earth - so that we would use science to cure disease, and heal the sick, and save lives. And one of the miracles to come out of the AIDS pandemic is that scientists have discovered medicine that can give people with HIV a new chance at life.
My faith also tells me that - as Pastor Rick has said - it is not a sin to be sick. My Bible tells me that when God sent his only Son to Earth, it was to heal the sick and comfort the weary; to feed the hungry and clothe the naked; to befriend the outcast and redeem those who strayed from righteousness.
Or we can embrace another tradition of politics - a tradition that has stretched from the days of our founding to the glory of the civil rights movement, a tradition based on the simple idea that we have a stake in one another - and that what binds us together is greater than what drives us apart, and that if enough people believe in the truth of that proposition and act on it, then we might not solve every problem, but we can get something meaningful done for the people with whom we share this Earth.

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May 16, 2006

Re: Science and the First Amendment

[Re: Science and the First Amendment in The Nation 5/16/2006]

Excerpts from a great piece by a science teacher about what keeps her going in the fight with the right over teaching science:

The past five years have shown me that the Constitution is valuable only insofar as people are willing to stand up for the rights it protects. Our freedoms are guaranteed only as long as ordinary, everyday people are willing to claim them--indeed, to insist on them.

... freedom of religion is the bedrock foundation of liberty in this country. If we allow certain special-interest religious groups to co-opt the public school science classroom, to use it as a vehicle for converting children to religious views their parents don't hold, if we allow them to spout outright lies about the nature and content of science, what do we really have left? If you can lie about science and get away with it, you can lie about anything.

... The lies about science are not limited to evolution. .... Lies about stem cell biology, lies about global warming, about clean air and water, lies about sexuality, about conception and contraception, lies about the effects of hurricanes on metropolitan infrastructure.

... it really is fair to forbid teachers to lie to students, to prohibit school boards from using the power of the state to convert children to other peoples' religions.

... But it turns out that standing up for freedom and democracy is a lot like doing science. You start with noble principles and do the best you can, but when you get right down to it, you spend a lot of time dodging elephant dung.

Defending the Constitution is a messy business, but is it worth it? You betcha. Our future depends on it.

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December 16, 2005

Re: Federal Judge Sharply Critical Of Lower Court Decision To Remove Pro-Creationism Stickers From Textbooks [HP]

[Comment to the Huffington Post 12/16/2005; slightly edited]

What is the criteria for stickers?  That they be technically accurate?  Here are some suggestions to festoon our kids' textooks:

Intelligent Design is a belief, not a scientific theory.

There is no proof of God.

The Bible contradicts itself.

History is all in the past.

Evolution is the study of how life evolves, not the origin of life  -- that would be abiogenesis.

Intelligent Design can be a fascinating study of propaganda.

November 09, 2005

Re: Kansas Board Approves Challenges to Evolution [NYT]

[Re: Kansas Board Approves Challenges to Evolution 11/9/2005]

To the Editors of the New York Times:

The Kansas School Board requires teaching the “controversy” about whether life on earth has evolved.  With the principle established, let’s apply the standard to every part of the curriculum.

Creationists dispute radioactive carbon dating: a “controversy” that physics isn’t real.  They say fossils can’t have formed by chemical replacement over millions of years: we’d better warn our kids that chemistry may not exist.

Most of history is just things written down by people who weren’t there, so off with its controversial head!

No one has produced an authenticated birth certificate for Jesus Christ and there are billions of adherents with competing claims for God, so “controversy” stickers must be placed on any bible, Koran, or other document making theistic claims that children might see.

The Board’s lesson?  There are no facts, just opinions; every kid should be free to choose to believe what they want.

Heavens, it makes you wonder why we have public schools anyway when it is all just some fluff that those darn liberals made up to confuse us!  With no facts to burden us, our minds will be free at last!

September 12, 2005

Al Gore on the American Challenge

In the last two years, Al Gore has been one of the most forceful speakers in America on America.  I missed his Portland speeches last week, but here is the transcript from a few days later in San Francisco, which is definitely worth a read.

Below are some key excerpts I pulled out:

On Katrina, Global Warming
Speech given by Al Gore


In the early days of the unfolding [hurricane Katrina] catastrophe, the President compared our ongoing efforts in Iraq to World War Two and victory over Japan. Let me cite one difference between those two historical events: When imperial Japan attacked us at Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt did not invade Indonesia....

We were warned of an imminent attack by Al Qaeda; we didn't respond. We were warned the levees would break in New Orleans; we didn't respond. Now, the scientific community is warning us that the average hurricane will continue to get stronger because of global warming. ....

It is important to learn the lessons of what happens when scientific evidence and clear authoritative warnings are ignored in order to induce our leaders not to do it again and not to ignore the scientists again and not to leave us unprotected in the face of those threats that are facing us right now.....

The president says that he is not sure that global warming is a real threat. He says that he is not ready to do anything meaningful to prepare us for a threat that he's not certain is real. He tells us that he believes the science of global warming is in dispute. This is the same president who said last week, "Nobody could have predicted that the levees would break." It's important to establish accountability in order to make our democracy work....

It is time now for us to recover our moral health in America and stand again to rise for freedom, demand accountability for poor decisions, missed judgments, lack of planning, lack of preparation, and willful denial of the obvious truth about serious and imminent threats that are facing the American people....

Some are now saying, including in the current administration, that the pitiful response by government proves that we cannot ever rely on the government.... The fact that an administration can't manage its own way out of a horse show doesn't mean that all government programs should be abolished. FEMA worked extremely well during the previous administration....

This is a moral moment. This is not ultimately about any scientific debate or political dialogue. Ultimately it is about who we are as human beings. It is about our capacity to transcend our own limitations. To rise to this new occasion. To see with our hearts, as well as our heads, the unprecedented response that is now called for. To disenthrall ourselves, to shed the illusions that have been our accomplices in ignoring the warnings that were clearly given, and hearing the ones that are clearly given now....

To those who say  [solving globaly warming is] too big for us, I say that we have accepted and successfully met such challenges in the past.

  • We declared our liberty, and then won it.
  • We designed a country that respected and safeguarded the freedom of individuals.
  • We freed the slaves.
  • We gave women the right to vote.
  • We took on Jim Crow and segregation.
  • We cured great diseases.
  • We have landed on the moon.
  • We have won two wars in the Pacific and the Atlantic simultaneously.
  • We brought down communism.
  • We brought down apartheid.
  • We have even solved a global environmental crisis before - the hole in the stratospheric ozone layer - because we had leadership and because we had vision and because people who exercise moral authority in their local communities empowered our nation's government "of the people by the people and for the people" to take ethical actions even thought they were difficult.

This is another such time. This is your moment. This is the time for those who see and understand and care and are willing to work to say this time the warnings will not be ignored. This time we will prepare. This time we will rise to the occasion. And we will prevail.

Thank you. Good luck to you, God bless you.

See also my blog entries of letters to the editor last week: Re: For Bush, a Deepening Divide [Washington Post], Bush and Katrina [Christian Science Monitor], Bush and Katrina [Oregonian, Bush and Katrina [USA Today], Re: It's Not a 'Blame Game' [New York Times]

September 07, 2005

No alternative theories to evolution [News-Register]

[Submitted 9/7/2005 to the New-Register published 9/17/2005 as Scientists have explored and rebutted Creationism]

To the Editor -

Lately, some readers have written to extoll the idea of teaching creationism or intelligent design alongside evolution because, they assert, these are alternative theories that address perceived weaknesses in evolution.

Over the years, literally hundreds of claims against evolution have made by creationists and “intelligent designerists”.  Yet, every single claim has, in fact, been subjected to scientific inquiry ... and found to be wrong or not applicable (not relating to scientific inquiry).  One can find a compilation of some 600 claims and read for each claim a summary of the investigation rebutting them here.

There is no alternative scientific explanation, not a bad one, nor a weak one, nor even one that scientists are too close-minded to consider: on the contrary,  scientists have looked at every claim in order to see if there was anything there!

This is a serious issue because evolution rests on the underlying science of physics, chemistry, etc.  Once, as a society, we choose to be relativists about evolution and leave it up to each school kid’s opinion, then that is a slippery slope: to reject evolution requires rejecting the other underlying science and this becomes rejection of science in general over time.

Instead of using science to tell us if a species is threatened with extinction, we’ll ask the politically appointed Interior Secretary to choose.  We’ll ignore global warming.  We’ll decide more arsenic in water is cleaner water.  Whatever!  After all, it is all just opinion!

So then those with political power will decide what the "facts" are in order to justify pre-ordained policies instead of politics being used to determine what policies should address the facts.

September 06, 2005

Bush and Katrina [CSM]

[Submitted 9/6/2005 to the Christian Science Monitor ]

Earlier in the Bush administration, the FEMA Bush inherited from Clinton was an admired model for rapid, large-scale response to domestic disasters, including horrendous hurricane damage in Florida.

Our Republican Party-controlled government has systematically routed out scientists and ignored experts’ warnings in all fields from yellow cake in Niger and enough soldiers to secure the peace in Iraq to global warming, from the EPA and to, now, the weather service warnings about hurricane Katrina.

Having firmly planted a conservative brand on government, we know how to identify it: it is less informed than the average TV viewer; it cannot do the job; and it won’t take responsibility.

August 23, 2005

Re: An inventor's battle for recognition -- and riches [Oregonian]

[Submitted to the Oregonian 8/23/2005; The Oregonian doesn't have the article online (here's their teaser), but it was from AP and here the Boston Globe story: An inventor's battle for recognition -- and riches]

Although I know the Lemelsons, what interested me about your two-part series on Jerome Lemelson was as someone in the high-tech field for 25 years as an entrepreneur, angel investor and venture capitalist with friends holding patents.

If one wants to look for a problem in the patent world that is really depriving consumers of choice, causing economic harm and stifling innovation, there are better places to look than a story of some corporate “Goliaths” exulting in winning a battle against a now-deceased inventor “David”. 

Big pharmaceutical companies impose a vastly greater burden on society by systematically gaming the patent system to prevent other companies from introducing “generic” versions of their drugs after a reasonable period of time.  This artificially inflates costs to consumers, probably on the order of 100s of billions of dollars.  That is a problem needing attention and a solution.

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