A Christmas Carol

I've been looking for this version of "A Christmas Carol" for years. I remember seeing it as a kid on our old black and white TV. It seemed scary at back then; perhaps that's one of the reasons I remember it. According to IMDB, it won an Oscar for "Best Short Subject, Animated Films." It has been unavailable for quite some time, but now anyone can watch it on Google Video. Enjoy!

Incentive vs. Penalty

Greg Mankiw posts a little something on the equivalence of the government fining someone $1000 and the government giving a $1000 tax rebate to everyone except that one person. What he doesn't mention is something I have thought for a long time, i.e. that the Federal government can and does use a similar technique to overstep the limits of its authority under the Constitution. If, for example, the Feds want the drinking age raised to 24, they run into constitutional trouble with legislation that simply fines states that don't comply. But if they threaten to withhold highway funds for non-compliance, then somehow this is perfectly fine. Isn't taxing everyone, but then funding only to those in compliance effectively the same thing as a fine?

Religion in the Presidential Campaign

The right-wing blogosphere is abuzz today with talk of the damage that the focus on religion is doing to the Republican presidential campaign. I've even seen the term "political suicide" come up. I couldn't agree more with Charles Krauthammer, in his piece "Redundance on Religion."

I find the way these candidates are wearing their religion on their sleeves distasteful. Now they seem to be in a fight to "out-Christian" each other. I think that religious faith is a positive aspect of a candidate, but religious tolerance is a "litmus test" issue to me. Further, I think that if a presidential candidate believes that the Earth is a few thousand years old, or does not believe that natural forces have in some way shaped life on Earth, then his scientific ignorance makes him unqualified for the office. That means you, Mr. Huckabee.

Huckabee's surge has the potential to be every bit as damaging to the GOP as Dean's was to the Dems last time around. I originally liked Romney. Now I find the campaign focus on religion driving me more and more into the Guiliani camp.

War on Science

Mixing of science and politics has been in the news a lot lately. Usually, the Bush Administration gets knocked in particular for its position on stem cell research (c.f. the so-called "Republican War on Science", see also this article in the Volokh Conspiracy for a very nice critique.) Why is it that the Left, and Tom Harkin in particular, are not criticized for their undying support of alternative medicine? And by "support" here I mean direct federal funding. The budget for the NIH's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine is $121,465,000. I tend to agree with this guy.

Housing Bailout

Kudos to Michelle Malkin for telling like it is on the proposed mortgage bailout. Read the comments too. Housing prices are finally starting to come down here in the Boston area, to the point where my wife and I can consider buying. Now speculators are demanding the government step in to protect their investment, aka gamble. Like it does by bailing out people who build houses on the beach in hurricane zones, the government seems intent on rewarding reckless behavior and punishing the fiscally responsible. And I have no sympathy for lenders here either. If they made risky loans to people who couldn't afford them, that's the bed they've made. Let them lie in it.

Update: Via Instapundit, Going Under In A Lexus.

"Stupid men, Stupid Parents, Stupid Madison Avenue"

From The Anchoress. Right on sister!

Revisionist History

Finally, the truth can be told about the Cold War

RANDY FORSBERG, who died this month at age 64, left a remarkable legacy: She helped end the Cold War, the most costly and dangerous confrontation in world history. ... . In 1980, she invented the call to freeze the nuclear arms race, and this simple but compelling idea - essentially, a moratorium on new nuclear weapons as a prelude to gradual disarmament - became the rallying cry for millions of people sickened by the rush to develop and deploy new nuclear weapons and missiles, space weapons, stealth bombers, and all the other expensive, provocative gadgets of the arms industry.

Yes, that's exactly how it happened. The Soviet Union was brought down by the "nuclear freeze" people. I can't wait until the history of the Iraq war comes out, naturally attributing its end to the tireless efforts of Cindy Sheehan, Code Pink, and the 9/11 Troofers.

Spectacular Football Play

I don't watch much football anymore, just a few games a year. I figure I've pretty much seen it all. But I never saw anything like this.

Nobel Peace Prize Back on Course

The Nobel Peace Prize is back on course, i.e. on a downward spiral approaching zero credibility. Last year's award to Yunis and Bank, a reasonable choice, can be seen as an aberration.

  • 2007 Gore and the IPCC: His Holiness Chicken Little and a self-appointed, self-aggrandizing pseudo-scientific bureaucracy.
  • 2005 ElBaradei and the IAEA: More bureaucracy, dedicated to enabling and empowering dictators and despots.
  • 2002 Jimmy Carter: For his philosophy easily summed up as "I never met at terrorist or autocrat I didn't like, except of course for George W. Bush."
  • 2001 The UN and Kofi Annan: See 2005.
  • 1994 Yasser Arafat: For grand theft and mass murder.
  • 1990 Mikhail Gorbachev: For rolling tanks over the Baltic States, but not over Moscow, er... much. Like giving a prize to a guy for not beating his wife.
  • 1989 UN Peacekeepers. Perverts, but so ineffective!

Who takes the Peace prize seriously anymore? At least they didn't give the prize to Gore in Physics. Remember the 1995 prize in Chemistry to the "Ozone Hole" guys? What? You don't even remember the "Ozone Hole?" It was the Religion before Global Warming.

Cox & Forkum

In case you haven't heard, Cox & Forkum have decided to call it quits. It's a shame they were never picked up my more than a few newspapers.

Governor Patrick vs. Democracy

Our Governor Patrick has signed into law a bill that permits unionization without a secret ballot. It's clear what this is about. It's about union leaders strong-arming employees into unionizing when they can't do so through a legitimate vote. Since when is Democracy something to be feared? Governor Patrick's approval of this law is appalling.

What is knowable?

I have been thinking about the limits of what is "knowable" or "measurable." Specifically, I'm looking at this paper: Dickey et al., "Recent Earth Oblateness Variations: Unraveling Climate and Postglacial Rebound Effects", Science, 298, 6 December 2002, 1975-1977. This is a well-known study by a JPL group of the oblateness of the earth based on satellite data. From the abstract:

We have determined that the observed increases in J2 are caused primarily by a recent surge in subpolar glacial melting and by mass shifts in the Southern, Pacific, and Indian oceans. When these effects are removed, the residual trend in J2 (-2.9 x 10^(-11)/year) becomes consistent with previous estimates of PGR from satellite and eclipse data.
So they are saying melting glaciers are helping make the earth fatter near the equator. What's J2, you ask?

J2 is the coefficient of degree 2, order 0 of the non-dimensional spherical harmonic representation of the mass distribution of the Earth system. It is directly related to the diagonal elements of the inertia tensor of the Earth by J2=-(Ixx+Iyy-2Izz)/(2Ma^2) where the z-axis is orientated along the rotation axis, M is the total mass, and a the mean radius.
Ok, I agree that is a reasonable measure of fatness.The paper's data indicate that J2 has varied between -20 and 20 x 10^(-11) between 1984 and 2002. The image shows the graphed data.

Now my question... 10^(-11)??? Is such a tiny dimensionless quantity really measurable like this? Using sattelite data? Suppose I gave you some nearly spherical object, and asked you to measure how different from one the ratio of the longest to shortest axis is, i.e. Along/Ashort-1, a unitless number, not unlike what the JPL group is measuring. You may use whatever measuring device you want, in any lab you like. Is there any measurement system that would give you such an accuracy? 10^(-11) is one in a hundred billion. It's astounding to me.

Zero Tolerance

Haven't we had enough of these Zero Tolerance disasters? It seems there is a new one of these every week.
A school officer found a Swiss Army knife in Chandler’s car’s console. Under the school’s zero tolerance policy it was an automatic suspension for Chandler. The next day, the Chandlers found out Will had also been charged with a felony. “We found out that my son, there’s a felony warrant out for him. It just seems like a nightmare. We’re still in shock,” said Sharon Chandler.

This kid's future (with a felony record) now hangs in the balance due to legislative stupidity. Calling the policies themselves "stupid" gives them more credit than they are due. The term "Zero Tolerance" literally means that no thought process at all is required. The ability to weigh the merits and seriousness of a case is essential to our legal system. I blame the existence of these laws on lefty anti-gun and anti-weapon zealots, and also right-wingers who support draconian anti-drug laws and seek to limit the discretionary power of judges and district attorneys. There is plenty of blame to go around.

Shame on US

I am a proud, patriotic American. However, I strongly disagree with certain things we do.

Taiwan has the right to independence, just as we had. We should openly declare our support for this democratic nation and stand up to the brutal dictators in Beijing. Our behavior here, and our "never miss a chance to kiss China's butt" foreign policy is an offense against the ideals on which our nation was founded.

French Doctors Make House Calls

You will often hear about how French doctors make house calls. Usually this is noted as some sort of evidence on the superiority of the French health care system.

I work in a hospital. I see doctors working all the time. In general they are very pressed for time and must manage it wisely in order to get all of their duties done. When I hear about French doctors making house calls, I think to myself "Don't French doctors have anything better to do than run across town to wipe some kid's snotty nose?"


I've seen this bumper sticker around town a few times.

I don't want to split hairs or anything, but isn't there something missing here? A religion of roughly a billion people? And when did "transgender" become a philosophy?

Unsettled Science

Check out this Global Warming video:

The music makes it absolutely hilarious. I challenge you not to laugh when the hockey stick appears. Hat tip to the Reference Frame.

Hoover Dam Bypass

They are building a bypass bridge over the Hoover Dam. I was in the area a year ago. Imagine standing on top of the towering Hoover Dam, itself a very impressive construction, looking down at the river far below. Now look up, way, way up to see a highway bridge soaring overhead. The roadway will be 840 feet above the river below. It's going to be a spectacular sight. It was clear to me that once it is completed, it will open up the area between Las Vegas and the major cities of Arizona tremendously. The Hoover dam is a real bottleneck. There is going to be a boom in the area, and there is already a lot of land speculation going on.

Despite the positive effect this will have on the economy around there, I couldn't help feel a little bit sad about it. The road now is just a lonely two-lane highway through relatively remote and desolate desert. When a modern freeway replaces it, something will be lost. I'm glad I got to see it before that happens.

Global Warming Calculator - Part II

I have updated my Global Warming Calculator, described in an earlier post. Essentially, I have added a few more variables and tightened up the math a bit. I have also added some analysis at the bottom of the page. The bottom line is that the predicted 1C to 5C predicted increase in temperature doesn't seem to be out of line with the model. The model seems quite sensitive to changes in the input percentages. However, I wonder if natural variation in the parameters might overwhelm changes caused by human activity

Pet Peeve No. 0001 - Dad/Husband is an Idiot

The older I get, the more pet peeves I develop. Indeed, I am well on my way to becoming a cantankerous old coot. I think pet peeves have the potential to provide an endless supply of blog material. So here's one, numbered 0001, but not necessarily the most peeving.

Haven't we had enough of the "Dad/Husband is an Idiot" theme in commercials? Commercials having to do with health, home repair, or technology seem to be especially likely to run with this theme. Typically they show a wife and/or child getting things done despite lovable ol' dunderhead dad. There's one spot on now where Dad tells the family that 5x5 is 26.. "carry the one" he insists. Mom and kids know he's wrong of course. It's not that these are offensive per se, it's just that it's been done to death. Who is still amused by these? Enough already.

Sober in the Sun 2007 - Outcome

Sober in the Sun 2007 went pretty well. I messed up a few times, but I don't think it was too bad. I was using a clip-on microphone, and that worked well. I was pretty nervous. There was a nice crowd listening, and they seemed to enjoy it enough. It was a beautiful day too. So, all in all it was a good experience. Here are a couple of pics taken by my lovely wife.

Yma Sumac

When I was a kid, my dad had an album by Yma Sumac, called Voice of the Xtabay. I remember she seemed so mysterious and exotic. This video certainly doesn't change that impression:

Clifford Brown

There is a clip of Clifford Brown on YouTube:

This is apparently the only video record of Clifford Brown in existence. There is a poignant message from Clifford's nephew to that effect in the clip's comment section. YouTube does serve a purpose.

Global Warming Calculator

Update: See Part II.

I thought it would be fun to create a calculator to compute Global Warming. You can find it here: Global Warming Calculator. The method uses conservation of energy and the climate dynamics shown in the figure here, and in the Wikipedia article on the Greenhouse Effect.

The figure itself (by Robert A. Rohde, Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial License applies) is based on the work of Kiehl & Trenberth, in their well-known article "Earth's Annual Global Mean Energy Budget" Bull AMS 78(2) Feb 1997, 197-207. The baseline data for the calculator was also taken from Kiehl and Trenberth's publication.

The method works by finding the steady state corresponding to the percentages you enter into the calculator. The default values are the ones from Kiehl and Trenberth shown in the figure. The only "difficult" part is figuring out the total flux from the ground (Eg) as a function of incoming solar flux (Es). The formula is


where Pas is the portion of atmospheric radiation sent into space, Psg is the portion of solar radiation reaching the ground, and Pgs is the portion of ground flux radiated into space. Here "ground flux" includes radiation into space and the atmosphere, as well as energy transfer via evaporation, thermals, etc.

Although quite simple compared to other climate models, that doesn't mean it's not sound as far as the physics goes. Of course, it's only as good as the information you put into it.

It is interesting to see how sensitive the degree of warming is to changes in the percentages. Remember that the IPCC prediction of warming over the next 100 years is anywhere from 1 to 5 degrees.

Who Knows Science?

You try to pay some attention in science class. You watch nature shows on T.V. You try to keep up with scientific advances. However, for everything you know, there are a million things you don't. For example, would someone please explain to me how tomorrow's lunar eclipse can be visible until 08:24 am EDT here in Massachusetts, when according to the weather almanac, sunrise is at 06:04 am EDT?

What is Science?

When I was in grade school, our class was taught the Scientific Method. This method, which we were told guides all scientific research, involved the following steps:
  1. Observe some phenomenon in nature.
  2. Form a hypothesis to explain or model the phenomenon.

  3. Design an experiment to test the hypothesis.

  4. Carry out the experiment, recording all input data and output measurements.

  5. Analyze the results of the experiment.

  6. Determine whether or not the results support the hypothesis.

Suppose you are interested in determining the population of ancient Troy from its founding through it's abandonment. You consult historical records. You examine the ruins of the city, to determine its extent. Perhaps you conduct some experiments, carbon dating say, to determine the age of certain artifacts. From this collected data you make an estimate of the city's growth and decay. Is this science? In my opinion, it isn't. It's Quantitative History, but it isn't science. There is no experiment being made that can be verified with a new collected data set. There is no natural phenomenon that is being modeled and explained. While some of the steps in the Scientific Method fit to a certain extent to the process described, overall it doesn't really fit the working definition of science.

It is said that the "science is settled" about Global Warming. That the Earth has warmed 0.6C in the past century is practically written in stone. But was this conclusion based on science? In fact, it was based on the statistical analysis of temperature data taken at weather stations and ships at sea since 1860. It was not based on laws of physics from the theory of heat transfer and fluid dynamics at all. There was no repeatable experiment conducted. There is no ability to predict the future from the data; it is not even tied to an increase of greenhouse gasses. Like the analysis of Troy's population, this is quantitative history, not science.

The Earth may indeed have warmed over the past century. But when I hear that the "science is settled," I think to myself "what science?"

Sober in the Sun 2007

I'll be playing flute as part of a Celtic/Bluegrass band at the Sober in the Sun Festival next Sunday. It's just a short bit, about half an hour or so, but it's enough to get me nervous. Mostly I'm doing it because my friend Bob really enjoys playing (fiddle) in public, and I want to help him out. It should be some fun, as long as I don't mess up. I will be getting $25 for my efforts though. How cool is that? My first professional gig! I won't be quitting my day job, believe me.

Mortgage Bailout

I agree completely with Michelle Malkin about the idea of a mortgage bailout. Boston home prices are sky high, and I attribute much of that to banks lending out too much money. It has fueled the speculative bubble. Banks even announced, to much fanfare, that they would begin granting mortgages to "undocumented workers." How can you justify the risk of granting a 30 year mortgage to someone who is not even in the country legally if not as speculation? Now it looks like the bubble is about to burst, and I and the rest of us renters are going to be "asked" to bail out those who acted irresponsibly and borrowed beyond their means. It's not enough to give folks a tax deduction on mortgage interest? They want to do away with the alternative minimum tax too, so they can get even more. Adding insult to injury, all this means that I'll be paying a higher than free market price for a house if I can ever afford one. How about we bail these people out, then tax their "windfall profits?"

Turkey Day

There was a commotion outside the other day. Several neighbors were standing around looking at something. When I went outside, I was amazed to see a flock of turkeys surrounding our house. No, not the neighbors. Real wild turkeys! There are many around the Brookline area, and they are becoming a nuisance. When Turkeys Attack: Bostonians Battle Wild Birds. I like them though. Better than those damn Canada geese. Here are a few pics I took.

Creative Destruction: Should a professor require students to attend a teach-in?

My Old Chum C.W. answers a question I sent him anonymously:
Creative Destruction: Should a professor require students to attend a teach-in?
I agree with him for the most part. What put this situation beyond what I think is reasonable was the requirement that students either pay the cost of attending or "earn" their attendance by working for the organizing group. It seemed just barely reasonable to me without that bit; I have doubts that this particular teach-in would provide a balance of views.

On another note, as I recall from earlier posts, C.W. has expressed his belief that as a professor, one of his roles is to provide views that his students would otherwise not hear. I agree with that, although my impression is that very few students will be willing to engage in a lively honest discussion with a decided professor on matters political. There is little incentive to do so, and in the mind of the student there is always the possibility that it will affect his or her grade. So in general, the idea that a professor who appears non-neutral on an issue can foster classroom debate seems a bit naive.

Confession about Reading

I don't read novels. Indeed, I almost never read a book cover to cover. This is not to say I don't read, of course. I read all the time; a substantial part of my day is spent reading. For pleasure I mostly read articles on the web, but also some magazines and the occasional newspaper. For work I read journals and text books. But the fact is that I rarely enjoy reading book fiction. Every once in a while I try to read a novel, because it's one of those things I'm "supposed to do." I lose interest after 100 pages or so. Give me a good movie instead. A novel to me is like a 24-hour long movie. No story is that good. I don't think that political persuasion has anything to do with it though:

Pat Schroeder never seemed too bright to me. I once saw her lose terribly on Jeopardy, playing against Al Franken and another guy. Al tried to give Pat an opportunity to answer a question, under the category "Congress," pausing before finally giving his answer: "What is cloture?" He then paused and said "you know... one of us was actually in Congress..." Burnnnnn!

Climate Cryptography

Here's an intentionally provocative post. Suppose you have temperature data T(x,t) over space x and time t, and the slope of your regression line indicates an average rate of increase of 0.6 degrees per 100 years. Suppose you need to allow others to verify that 0.6 number, but for whatever reason, you would not like to give out the raw data T. What to do? Choose a "private key" g(x), a function of space alone, which you keep secret. Publish and release to the public only "temperature anomaly" data T1(x,t) = T(x,t)-g(x).
http://lwf.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/research/anomalies/anomalies.html http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/cru/data/temperature
You can claim that T1 is a normalization of the data, accounting for local climate variations, or some such. It's clear that T can not be recovered from T1 without g. So your data is safe. However, it's also clear mathematically that the regression line through T1 will yield that same 0.6 number you obtained. Cryptography has allowed you to keep your data private, while permitting others to "verify" your results!

Update 9/8/2008 : more detail.

Atmospheric "Saturation"

There was a debate recently between the RealClimate folks:
and Lubos Motl, on his "Reference Frame" blog:
regarding whether or not the marginal increase in global warming should lessen as more and more greenhouse gasses are added to the atmosphere. I made a few calculations on the subject for myself, eventually coming to agree with RealClimate that it need not. And yes, it pains me to say so. A slightly mathy write-up, in pdf format with spiffy imbedded links, is here:
Check it out if you are interested. It's intended to be self-contained for the most part.

Hello World!

I think I'll try this blogging thing... I don't know how long the urge will last, but it's best to get it out of my system. Welcome to my blog!