Saturday, February 28, 2015

Methane-Based Life On Saturn's Moon Titan? Possible, Says Team Of Researchers

Saturn's moon Titan
I'll begin with quotes from two articles in two separate publications, because this seems a subtle "discovery" (if that's even the right word) that requires some pondering.

First, from Safar Haddad at Perfect Science, we have an article titled Life not dependent on Water could exist on Saturn’s Moon Titan:
Researchers have recently presented a template for life that could exist in harsh, cold conditions of Titan, the giant moon of Saturn. Titan has a great possibility of harboring methane-based, oxygen-free cells. What the researchers have suggested from their new theory is that absence of water in seas of Titan does not undermine the chances of life existence.

A cell membrane has been theorized by the scientists, claiming it to consist of smaller organic nitrogen compounds. The cell membrane has the potential of functioning in liquid methane temperatures of 292 degrees beneath zero, said the researchers. The details of the theorized cell membrane have been published in Science Advances.

And from Muhammad Ashan at SMN Weekly, an article titled Methane-based Life Possible on Saturn’s Moon ‘Titan’:
In a new study researchers have modeled an oxygen-free form of life that can sustain on methane gas and also can reproduce in [a] way being done on earth. That type of life may exist on the methane lakes [that] exist on Saturn’s moon Titan.

“We didn’t come in with any preconceptions about what should be in a membrane and what shouldn’t. We just worked with the compounds that, we knew were there and asked, ‘If this was your palette, what can you make out of that’,” said lead researcher Paulette Clancy.

“We’re not biologists, and we’re not astronomers, but we had the right tools. Perhaps it helped, because we didn’t come in with any preconceptions about what should be in a membrane and what shouldn’t. We just worked with the compounds that we knew were there and asked, ‘If this was your palette, what can you make out of that,’” said Clancy in a statement.

Next, let's make it clear what the team did NOT do. They did NOT...
  • send a spacecraft to Titan;
  • discover living organisms there, say, birds which they named, say, "the shy wrens of Titan";
  • do actual experiments, on Earth, with chemicals known to be present on Titan.
What they did do is use best available information about methane-based compounds present on Titan to construct a mathematical/chemical model of interactions among those compounds which might result in the formation and operation of a cell membrane, similar (if possible) to CHON-based cells on Earth. Maybe what they formally modeled is "life"; maybe not... but that's not the question they set out to answer. Theirs is perhaps a first step toward that much larger question: are all the components present on Titan to construct a methane-based cell, and what might be the processes of its chemical operation?

I'll take their question, unmodified, without any quibbles: it sounds like a good question to me, and an affirmative answer would go a long way toward suggesting that somewhere in our universe (not the whole multiverse; just what we've got here), if not on Titan then elsewhere, cells that could act "alive" could exist. I'm not betting on Yes or No, but I'm surely intending to keep track of what they find out.

(Oh, how we need Leonard Nimoy now, to write the poetry...)

Friday, February 27, 2015

Leonard Nimoy (1931—2015)

Nimoy in 2011
... dead at age 83, of complications of COPD. He was Spock and a whole lot more; I can't think of a single public figure who lived a fuller life. Just look at that works list on Wikipedia! What comes next? I don't know, but Nimoy was still wishing people LLAP ("live long and prosper," a canonical Vulcan greeting) even near the end of his life. If that's possible, Nimoy is just the post-Vulcan soul to do it.

AFTERWORD: Stella likes classic TV. I like Erle Stanley Gardner, in print or in Raymond Burr's fine realization of Gardner's character Perry Mason. Between the two of us, we watch a lot of Perry Mason, and I happened to be watching an episode on MeTV tonight, "The Case of the Shoplifter's Shoe." When the soon-to-be-revealed murderer took the stand, I thought I recognized the actor, but didn't believe my eyes. When the credits rolled at the end, my initial identification was confirmed: yes, it was a very young Leonard Nimoy! His long and prosperous career as Spock notwithstanding, Nimoy was capable of doing just about anything he set his mind to, including hardboiled detective fiction.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

FCC Does Its Job On Net Neutrality

DSWright at FDL:

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted today to approve a rule to regulate internet service providers to promote an open internet often known as net neutrality. The vote marks a stark loss for the ISPs who aggressively fought the rule and has said they plan to sue to overturn it.

After a federal court rejected a compromise proposal using Section 702 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 due to a lawsuit of the ISP companies, the FCC has decided to approve a more rigorous and legally sound rule under Title II authority of the Communications Act of 1934. The use of this rule means ISPs will be classified as “common carriers” and regulated as utilities.

The vote was 3-2 with both Republican commissioners – Michael O’Rielly and Ajit Pai - opposing the rule and citing the dangers of regulation in stopping service innovation and expansion of internet access. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the internet was too important to be controlled by either “government or corporate,” calling the internet too important to have ISP “making all the rules.”

Right... let's have just the ISP telecomm megacorp's make all the rules. As if that would be an improvement...

This is still not over, but it's a damned good start.

GOP Lawmaker: Cancer Is A Fungus; All You Really Need Is Baking Soda To Get Rid Of It

So says Nevada State Assemblywoman Michele Fiore (R-Ignorance Nevada Dist. 4). Take your choice of sources: Kos, MSNBC, ThinkProgress, etc. etc. ad nauseam. If you still really need big blonde politicians, try Texas... the hair is probably bigger and blonder here, and the brain is indisputably larger.

Clarification: I have no objection to people's trading on their good looks (if indeed that is possible for Ms. Fiore). There are jobs for which a pleasant appearance is a primary or even a sufficient qualification. I'm afraid I don't agree that legislatin' is such a job. And the unlicensed practice of medicine is most certainly not.

Now THAT Is 21st-Century Technology!

Contributors at Juan Cole's Informed Comment outline for us an emerging technology use by Kenya's nomadic shepherds that may possibly leapfrog that nation into the 21st century in a hurry: solar panels attached to the sides of donkeys. Usage is straightforward: the panels are mounted on the sides of donkeys, which are then released for some unspecified time to graze; when the donkeys return, the charged panels are dismounted and used to power cell phones and lighting in the shepherds' manyattas (encampments or settlements, often temporary) at night:

Note how neatly this avoids the need for a grid or a connection to a grid, at least on the client end... expect TV ads here in the US, explaining to us why the same approach wouldn't work here, in three... two... one...

(UPDATE: Oh, and don't miss this:
Google Wants To Help You Buy Solar Panels For Your House. Seriously.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Heh... Gotta Laugh To Keep From Crying. OR SCREAMING...

Here's Donna Cassata of AP at TPM News:
WASHINGTON (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday turned down an invitation to meet privately with Senate Democrats next week during his visit to Washington, saying the session "could compound the misperception of partisanship" surrounding his trip.

Everybody got that? Good. Don't bother trying to explain it to me.

Let's see. A foreign head of state accepting an invitation outside diplomatic channels from America's House Speaker John Boehner (R) (an elected official whose office is undeniably partisan in character) to speak to Congress... that's not partisanship; go right ahead. That same leader accepting a subsequent invitation from Senate Democrats to speak to them... oh, no, can't have that; that would be partisanship.

When, exactly, did international diplomacy become the Speaker's purview? And how is it that Netanyahu, a foreign national, became the one to decide that?

From our viewpoint, both these men
lean to the right
Before Nothin'‑yahoo became the effective dictator of Israel, I used to be a supporter, hell, even an admirer, of Israel. Bibi has just about cured me of that. And I'm not the only American to have experienced the revelation that Israel is no longer "the Middle East's only democracy," even if it once was. Actually, sometimes it seems Israel is America's 51st state... but you know that isn't so, because no other state has nearly that much unrestrained influence on our federal government.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Breaking: Obama Vetoes Keystone XL

This just happened; Meteor Blades at Kos gives the scant detail known now. GOPer override attempt expected by Mar. 3 at the latest. Thank the President and urge him to maintain a stiff spine in this matter; Keystone XL is one of the dirtiest fossil fuel pipelines ever proposed.

(FWIW, and to me it's worth something, Sierra Club was first in my mailbox informing me of the veto. Other environmental org's got around to it within a few minutes, but Michael Brune broadcast it immediately.)

Your Cell Phone: Hacked By Governments, Handed Back To You With ‘Enhancements’

(This is several days old, but I suspect it will be painfully significant for literally years. - SB)

Jeremy Scahill and Josh Begley at The Intercept:
AMERICAN AND BRITISH spies hacked into the internal computer network of the largest manufacturer of SIM cards in the world, stealing encryption keys used to protect the privacy of cellphone communications across the globe, according to top-secret documents provided to The Intercept by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The hack was perpetrated by a joint unit consisting of operatives from the NSA and its British counterpart Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ. The breach, detailed in a secret 2010 GCHQ document, gave the surveillance agencies the potential to secretly monitor a large portion of the world’s cellular communications, including both voice and data.

The company targeted by the intelligence agencies, Gemalto, is a multinational firm incorporated in the Netherlands that makes the chips used in mobile phones and next-generation credit cards. Among its clients are AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint and some 450 wireless network providers around the world. ...

And now if you'll excuse me, I have to charge up my tracking device; otherwise the government might miss something I say or email or text or snap or...

Misspeak Of The Day

Electrical short
Electrical shortage
A reporter for Houston's ABC13 News said it, not once, but several times over the course of the early morning news. Referring to a residence (apartment? house? I don't remember) that burned, the reporter, obviously following a script, said that arson investigators had determined that the fire was due to an electrical shortage [sic]...

Radio Right To Rack And Ruin? Remarkably, Rush And [O']Reilly

Two articles at Kos about righties:
Ahhhh, words to gladden the progressive/liberal heart...

Monday, February 23, 2015

‘I Never Metadata I Didn't Spike’: FBI Finds Ways To Broaden Internet Dragnet

emptywheel has such details as are available in her post "How Internet Dragnettery Got Way More Permissive Under PRISM". "Metadata" is being significantly redefined for surveillance purposes, and now includes some content. Welcome to our shiny new engine of internet freedom, folks...

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Lesley Gore (1946—2015)

Lesley Gore, from intro to PSA version of
"You Don't Own Me," urging women to vote
(implied: for Democrats), 2012 Elections
Apologies for missing Gore's passing away about a week ago; Peter Rothberg at The Nation sums up her life and career for others who may have missed her departure, or are too young to have heard her when she was actively performing. Now there's a memory of my youth I can celebrate! I do wish she could have stuck around longer; 68 seems far too young to die.

Check out the PSA version of Gore's song You Don't Own Me, made independently as her statement on the Obama v. Romney race; it's the last video on Mr. Rothberg's post.

(If you ever have the unenviable task of posting a pic of me for my obit, please post one showing something approximating my true age at death. I am no kid; neither was Ms. Gore. My strong sense: she would want her gravitas revealed in all its glory. Me too.)

Saturday, February 21, 2015

War And Peace War And Police

I promise this post is shorter than the first proposed title would indicate. But the subject it addresses - the military-style up-armoring and officer training of America's police departments - is already underway and growing rapidly. Tom Engelhardt has the basics in his article at The Nation, What Does the Future Hold for a Country Forever at War? — The domestic arms race in America is a one-way street—and the question is what awaits us up the road. Two paragraphs out of the middle should crystallize what concerns me... and of course Engelhardt himself... so much:

Reminder to officers:
Don't be a cartoon!
The occasion for such reflections: machine guns in my hometown. To be specific, several weeks ago, New York Police Commissioner William J. Bratton announced the formation of a new 350-officer Special Response Group (SRG). Keep in mind that New York City already has a police force of more than 34,000—bigger, that is, than the active militaries of Austria, Bulgaria, Chad, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Kenya, Laos, Switzerland or Zimbabwe—as well as its own “navy,” including six submersible drones. Just another drop in an ocean of blue, the SRG will nonetheless be a squad for our times, trained in what Bratton referred to as “advanced disorder control and counterterror.” It will also, he announced, be equipped with “extra heavy protective gear, with the long rifles and machine guns—unfortunately sometimes necessary in these instances.” And here’s where he created a little controversy in my hometown. The squad would, Bratton added, be “designed for dealing with events like our recent protests or incidents like Mumbai or what just happened in Paris.”

Now, that was an embarrassment in liberal New York. By mixing the recent demonstrations over the police killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and others into the same sentence with the assault on Mumbai and the Charlie Hebdo affair in France, he seemed to be equating civil protest in the Big Apple with acts of terrorism. Perhaps you won’t be surprised then that the very next day the police department started walking back the idea that the unit would be toting its machine guns not just to possible terror incidents but to local protests. A day later, Bratton himself walked his comments back even further. (“I may have in my remarks or in your interpretation of my remarks confused you or confused the issue.”) Now, it seems there will be two separate units, the SRG for counterterror patrols and a different, assumedly machine-gun-less crew for protests.


The cop to viewer left
does not give me confidence...
In America, the police should emphatically not be viewed as a branch of the military, or as a separate military entity for domestic use. That way lies the demise of our freedom, probably quickly and certainly not cheaply in money or lives. The situation is not mitigated by the obvious readiness with which grand juries nationwide are willing to no‑bill law enforcement officers who may have committed crimes in performance of their purported duties. (We'll never know, will we, if no trials ever take place.). The people who put these institutions in place in virtually every big city in America (and not a few smaller ones) need to read their goddamned history! And they need to do it before we find ourselves living in pre‑W.W. II Germany. (Yeah, I know; that knocks on the door of Godwin's Law. Better that than a no‑knock raid...)

The other great loss, of course, is that of the wisdom conveyed by active public protest. (If you think there is no such wisdom, you've probably ended up on the wrong blog; maybe you need something more toward the right.) In my younger, healthier days, I felt confident in standing in the Main Street esplanade traffic circle in Houston, holding my own handmade sign or one end of a banner, with people of similar mind, demonstrating (word chosen advisedly) the nonviolent alternative to conventional wisdom to a public that might otherwise never give it a thought... the conventional wisdom always being "go to war, America!". For better or worse (I can see it either way), the groups I participated with were always orderly, never violent and on the rare occasions a permit was required (usually when we anticipated blocking traffic), duly filed for one. That was enough to keep us out of jail, though that was not a primary goal.

Today, literally any protest, however orderly, would be deemed "terrorism," and paddy-wagons full of protesters would promptly be on the way to jail or, worse, to a hospital to be patched up after they were beaten. Yes, by cops, drunk on the power conferred by all their new equipment and (inadequate) military training.

Do we want to have and keep the freedoms talked about by our nation's founders and fleshed out by many of our forebears since the founding? This is sure as Hell not the way to get to them!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Rehnquist Death Court At Work

Here we are, nearly a decade after William Rehnquist, 16th Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, died, yet some of his most morally offensive, full-blown batsh!t crazy decisions continue to affect... for the worse... the world we live in. An example struck me recently (no, I was not injured) in Kos writer Shaun King's article Did you know the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that it's legal to execute an innocent person?.

If you read that post, please also skim a few of the comments (not all 200 or so; that would be injurious to your mental health): you'll find basically two kinds of comments... those by opponents of the death penalty, and those by lawyers. The latter seem to feel certain they can convince the former of the error of their ways if only they are allowed to browbeat them sufficiently on the legal issues surrounding capital punishment, not realizing that for some of us it isn't a matter of whether the state can legally execute someone, but whether they ever should, not a matter of whether it can be done constitutionally, but whether it can be accomplished humanely...

Chain of being [i.e., being whacked]

Oh, that, and the little matter of how much taxpayers' money could be saved by simply eliminating the death penalty and all the lawyers dancing on heads of pins that inevitably surround every single case in which it is sought. The cost of the trial and subsequent imprisonment for "life-without-parole" doesn't even begin to compare with the cost of the dancing... and if, in the end, the guilty verdict turns out to be factually unsupported, the punishment is a whole lot easier to reverse.

Lethal Booby Trap

Police: Michigan GOP Official Fatally Shot Herself While Adjusting Bra Holster. Contrary to what you might think from TPM's headline (or mine), she did not shoot herself in the breast; the accidental shot went into her eye. Also contrary to at least my intuition, the official was a Navy veteran, so she surely had had adequate training in firearms handling at some point in her life.

We have two choices. We could conclude that this is one of those senseless, avoidable tragedies that life hands out to the most unlikely and undeserving people. Or we could instead contemplate the fact that the woman obviously joined the GOP voluntarily, and wonder if doing so had a stupefying effect on an otherwise bright person...

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Emergency Responders Saving Man Mere Moments Ago At Downtown Houston Construction Site — UPDATED

(Warning: if you read far enough into this post, you will very probably groan at the horror you encounter...)

I turned on the TV to fill the time it took me to eat breakfast/lunch (not fancy enough to call it "brunch") and immediately happened upon breaking news: at an office building construction site in downtown Houston at the corner of Main St. and Texas Ave., an emergency crew was using some sort of crane-and-pulleys arrangement to lift a stretcher containing a man who had fallen, apparently into the deep hole in which the building will eventually be built. The man was strapped securely into the stretcher, which looked more suited to an ancient Egyptian mummy; the main cable(s) lifted the stretcher painstakingly slowly, while two yellow ropes attached to the head and foot ends of the stretcher served to stabilize the stretcher so that it didn't gyrate wildly.

The fixed screen caption read something like "Construction Site, Downtown Houston, Main & Texas." The news announcer, who was understandably repeating herself quite a lot because no one had provided her any more information than the rest of us had, kept saying, "You can see the two yellow ropes attached to the ends of the stretcher." Her repeated remark made me realize I'd seen this show before, and I even knew the theme song...

Wait for it...

The Yellow Ropes at Texas.

(Oh, groooaaannn!)

When I left the screen scene, the crew had the man back at ground level and were preparing to load him into an ambulance. I'll report more when I know more, but the good news is that one thing Houston has in great abundance, packed full and running over, is hospitals.

UPDATE Wed. morning 2/18, apparently from yesterday afternoon's Click2Houston news: the man was taken to Memorial Hermann Hospital (that's where I had my surgery done two years ago), and although there hasn't been a formal report of the worker's condition or announcement of his name, the consensus of people who saw him right after his fall from a crane is that his injuries were not serious and he was alert and responsive. Good... I'd hate to be laughing at his expense if he had been seriously hurt. One of many things I liked about my occupation in my working years is that it involved neither dangerous heights nor precarious balancing acts... well, there were those occasionally tense meetings with the bosses...

Monday, February 16, 2015

Not To Be Too Piketty About The Matter...

Piketty: young man, endearing demeanor,
serious book — what's not to like?
... but about six months after I put myself on the hold list at Houston Public Library for French economist Thomas Piketty's book (in Arthur Goldhammer's English translation), Capital in the Twenty-First Century, I picked it up and held it in my hands today. It is no small book, let me tell you!

Why should anyone but a professional economist read this book? There are at least a couple of reasons...
  • One is that, in the year or so since its publication (Aug. 2013 in French; Apr. 2014 in English), it has consistently caused RWNJs to soil their pants and indulge in slinging that soil as only a RWNJ can sling... for some of us, that would probably be reason enough to examine the actual contents of the book. 
  • Another is that Nobel-prizewinning economist Paul Krugman has written many columns and blog posts on Piketty and his (in)famous book. To read them, you can google "krugman on piketty"; that will get you many of Krugman's columns, his review at New York Review of Books, articles by many of Piketty's detractors (a list that overlaps heavily with Krugman's detractors), a few posts at certifiable right-wing sites that I, at least, don't spend much time at, and a handful of Krugman's articles debunking the debunkers.
I notice Piketty was born in 1971, the year I received my Master's degree. All I can say is, this young whippersnapper had better be as good as his reviews say he is...

The book is just shy of 700 pages; I'd better get started. I'll comment on it more as I absorb a bit about what Prof. Piketty has to say.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Ars Longa, Vita Brevis — Antoine Forqueray And His Son; Gustav Leonhardt And His Students

I spent part of the afternoon listening to a CD of the late and truly great harpsichordist Gustav Leonhardt (1928‑2012), performing works mostly by Antoine Forqueray (1671‑1745) as arranged and amended after his death by his son Jean‑Baptiste Forqueray (1699‑1782).

Father and son were reportedly both cranky people, and one of the son's arrangements was from his father's viola da gamba composition to the son's transcription for harpsichord (no small step!), with some movements newly composed by the son, all two years after his father's death. Had they lived in a different era, that family was almost dysfunctional enough to have been American!

But the music was stunningly, breathtakingly beautiful. Here is the recording (if I got the link right in spite of YouTube's new "simplified" mechanism for chaining volumes together (so "simple" that you'll likely do just that even when you don't intend to):

Life is short. Music is shorter (with the exception of a few pathological 20th-century works; some of those are still going well into the 21st century). Fathers write music and perform it; sons learn how to play in part from their parents, but again in pathological cases await their parents' departure from this world before tinkering with their parents' music.

Performers relearn the essence of a particular work sometimes literally centuries after the work was created; then they pass their own performance traditions on to their students, who do their own things with the work.

Is the work recognizable as the one the composer created centuries ago? Some performers don't care. Some care so much they obsess over every particular of style and craft. Music is an emphatically human activity, engaging every human foible; when music-making involves multiple generations of a family, well, that's when it gets really challenging.

I guess if I intend to leave any compositions to my child or my student, I'd better, first of all, write some music, and second (and not incidentally), have some kids, or at least some students...

ASIDE: lately I feel too old and tired to participate in even the passing-on-traditions part of the process (let alone passing on genes or technical advice on playing an instrument). Would one or more of you do all that for me, please? I can't promise your efforts will be appreciated, except by me...

ANOTHER ASIDE: I've had the privilege of rehearsing and performing with one of Mr. Leonhardt's excellent students, an American now living in Amsterdam (I think) with her cellist husband and their two sons. Like all of Leonhardt's students I have met, she was aware of the community in which they all participated, and, again like all of his students, was crestfallen at his death; it's going to be tough without him. But whatever tradition that family and I were once part of for about a decade in Houston continues, different in every particular in a land utterly familiar to that family and utterly foreign to me, but still a part of a tradition. I worry about humankind a little less every time I think of them.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

AZ GOPer Representative Confuses Boko Haram, Boca Raton

This article by Tracy Walsh at TPM was just tailor-made for the category label I'm using for it (see below this post):
Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) confused the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram with a mid-sized Florida city during an appearance Tuesday on CNN, the Sun Sentinel newspaper in Florida reported Wednesday.

Gosar said that if the U.S. were to pay ransom to terrorists, then "every American citizen traveling abroad becomes a subject in regard for kidnapping and then the plight of how much money has been captivated in the Boca Raton group."

Not since IBM developed its first PC there in 1981 have the terrorists of Boca Raton so disrupted the world...

For Rep. Gosar's edification, I'm including pics:

Boca Raton
Boko Haram

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Naming Of Bad Places

Wish fulfillment map of US
with Alabama sunk as deep as Lake Michigan
When I was perhaps three or four years old, some of my mother's elderly relatives, farmers like my grandparents, living in a tiny country town in Texas, hard-shell Baptists who thumped their Bibles as hard as anyone I've known before or since, used to tell me that if I misbehaved, I'd be sent to the Bad Place. Even at that age, I considered that threat unlikely to be realized. But they were sure I was headed straight for the Bad Place.

They never told me its name is Alabama...

(Be sure to watch the video. I know the news and the D-leaning websites have been heavy on police violence lately, but you need to see this one for the full effect.)

In this case, the police have regressed from their usual beatings of African Americans after "questioning" them to decking a 57‑year‑old man visiting from India, a man walking down the street in front of his American family's home, a man whose primary crime was that he spoke no English. The cops decked him, paralyzing him (possibly only temporarily) in the process. They apparently decked him because he did not understand commands they had been shouting at him (we don't have details there; the confrontation, if that's what it was, happened before the apparent cell phone video starts).

I don't have much patience with the police terrorizing people from India. It's hard to generalize about a nation with that many people, but I think it's fair to say that most Indians from families well-off enough to move to or visit the United States are likely to be well-educated, hardworking, very family-oriented, and civilized to a degree not often found in Americans. If I were to be assigned a roommate for the duration of a trip, or a coworker for a technological project, I'd rather he (or she, in the case of the IT coworker) be Indian than Alabaman, 9 times out of 10. (The 10th one is too addicted to tobacco to be able to put it aside as a courtesy or smoke outside even for the duration of a trip. Been there; choked on that.)

In short... for partaking of a culture dramatically different from white-bread America's, the people of India who come here have on average a lot of Americans' classic virtues, for which we can only admire them. Could we please restrain the worst of our police from beating them to a paralyzed pulp when they come to visit?

Extensible Slogan?

There's a chain of jewelers around here named Kay. Their slogan seems to be
Every kiss begins with Kay™
Hmm... OK, I got it. So when does a urologist open an office with the slogan
Every piss begins with pee™
<grin‑duck‑run />

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Alabama Redneck Has A Sense Of Humor About Gay Marriage

There is hope yet for Alabama, as long as people like Jeremy "J.T." Addaway live there and project dry humor about a subject that seems to have upset a lot of Alabamans:
Redneck though he may be, Mr. Addaway has a better attitude than a lot of people confronted with the fact that gay marriage is quickly becoming a reality everywhere in America. If gays marry in Alabama, why should anyone be anything but happy for the young (or old) couples? It's not as if they head right away for a pile of brush on your land as soon as the wedding is over, And sure enough, I just looked out the window, and there are none falling from the sky...

ASIDE: Stella has still not voiced any suggestion that gay marriage in Texas, when it gets here RSN despite legislative temper tantrums, will adversely affect our relationship. I was really worried: Our House doesn't have room for all the LGBTs who would doubtless flock to our door when the law is changed...

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Could Global Climate Change Be Backed Out By Science, Technology? Short Answer: No

Zoë Carpenter at The Nation:
When Mount Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines in 1991, the volcano shot 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere. Those particles reflected enough sunlight to cool the earth by about one degree [Fahrenheit] ... Why not, some scientists have asked in the decades since, counter climate change by reproducing the effects of Mount Pinatubo ... ?

That question was held up for scrutiny on Tuesday by the National Academy of Sciences, which released a study (funded, in part, by the CIA) of two ideas for staving off the worst effects of climate change via technological manipulation of the climate: to remove carbon-dioxide from the atmosphere and sequester it elsewhere, or to reflect sunlight away from the planet by what’s known as albedo modification, à la Mount Pinatubo. The unequivocal message from the committee was that the world cannot expect to geoengineer its way out of the climate crisis. [Bolds mine. - SB]

“There is no silver bullet here. We cannot continue to release carbon dioxide and hope to clean it up later,” said committee chair and Science Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt at a press briefing in Washington. [Bolds mine. - SB] The climate “doesn’t go backwards. It goes different. And we don’t even understand where that different state ends up,” said another member of the panel. ...
There is real irony here: human science is sufficiently advanced to understand, more or less, what needs to be done... but is not capable of doing it, and cannot become capable of doing it. 

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the behavior McNutt describes is characteristic of chaotic systems: you cannot "back up" their motion by applying the same forces but in reverse order and direction, each for the same duration.  Ask your favorite applied mathematician about the term "chaotic" in a scientific context. Many of the dynamic systems Isaac Newton and the crew thought they understood and had complete mathematical descriptions of, were in fact chaotic. For example, weather and climate events are chaotic. Good luck trying to reverse all of last season's hurricanes, let alone backing out all the thermodynamics of the oceans.

Oh well, I suppose it was worth a few minutes' thought. But please understand: it's not that scientists lack the techniques or technology... it's that reversing climate events cannot be done in principle. Remember the wag who recited to you the whimsical "three laws of thermodynamics" in your college course in that subject? Right:
  1. You can't win,
  2. You can't even break even, and
  3. You can't get out of the game.
Your climate, and welcome to it!

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Two Seasons — How Long Before It's Just One?

It's still the first half of February: the Sun is shining; the temp at noon is 75°F and climbing. Houston has taken a bold step straight into Spring ([/a‐CHOOO!] no, I don't mean the small, well-appointed community north of Houston); and... hey, wait a minute! It wasn't like this when I was a kid! Summer didn't begin in February!

Before she headed to work, Stella dutifully turned off both heating and cooling systems, leaving me with importunate instructions to turn the A/C on before the house gets up to 79°F... not being a native Houstonian, she does not tolerate days like this one in which the temp ranges over 30°F from mid‑afternoon to midnight. Me, I shrug and doff or don layers of clothing as needed, but in fairness, I grew up thinking 87°F was a pleasant Spring day, and A/C was not turned on in a day that was forecast to peak at less than 92°F.

The subject of this post is for real. For two or three decades now, Houston has done without Spring and Fall. At most, those seasons lasted a week... if that long... and now they're effectively gone altogether.

How long before there's just one season here... Summer? I may live to see the day.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Thirty-Seven Years Ago Tonight...

... I performed my only faculty recital at University of St. Thomas-Houston, where I taught on the adjunct faculty at the time as (get this title) "Lecturer in Recorder."

18th cent. alto recorder
made by J. W. Oberlender the Elder, Nürnberg,
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Back then, UST was the only university in Houston that took recorder seriously enough to offer applied lessons for credit, though the others with music schools typically had someone on faculty who could teach it privately. There was no degree program in it even at UST, of course; that would confer too much dignity on a "child's toy." But by golly, I performed in the faculty early music ensemble, which, to no one's surprise, was named Aquinas Ensemble. Ah, those were the days!

NOTE about the pitch of the pictured instrument: the Met Museum online catalog lists this instrument as being "in F‑sharp." The maker certainly wouldn't have recognized it as such: he built either an alto in F, well high of our modern pitch, or an alto in G, about a half-step low of our pitch. In those days, different communities in Europe had different pitch standards, and it behooved a professional performer to own (or have access to) an assortment of instruments suited to the pitch standards of all the cities in which s/he performed. For better or worse, today's EM performers have emulated their predecessors, not because of community pitch standards, but because for historical and acoustic reasons, concerts are frequently performed at pitches other than today's standard. I own a set of Baroque recorders at A-440 (i.e., the note "A" sounds at the frequency 440 Hz), another set at A-415, several transverse flutes all at A-415 and one transverse flute at A-392, which in the late 17th and early 18th centuries was French court pitch (Louis XIII and XIV). It's a damned nuisance for the performer, but I have to admit the music sounds better played at something close to the pitch the composer heard three centuries ago.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Dem TX State Rep. Supports Open Carry In Principle, But Won't Vote For Bill Because He Was Confronted-Threatened In His Office

Kudos to Texas State Rep. Poncho Nevarez (D-Dist. 74) for refusing to be threatened in his office by a group of gun‑toting gun nuts very demonstrative open‑carry supporters into voting for their proposed open‑carry bill, which allegedly would mandate the death penalty for an official who restricted a citizen's open‑carry "right".

The head nut OC supporter published (on Facebook and YouTube), then retracted by claiming a copyright dispute, a video in which he ranted about the Constitution and the need for the death penalty. (I have not seen the video, which was apparently up for only about a half hour; I'm depending for my facts on the TPM article by Ahiza Garcia.)

I'm sorry, but passionate support for open-carry legislation may NOT be legally (or even sanely) conveyed to legislators by filling their offices with men carrying presumably loaded guns. That's not how it's done in a democracy: a roomful of tin-pot dictators is no better than a single tin-pot dictator.

An open-carry group demonstrates
in sight of TX state capital in Austin.
(Not sure, but this is apparently NOT the same
OCT group that threatened Rep. Nevarez.)
UPDATE: Richard Rowe, in an article cross-posted at Crooks and Liars, managed to capture and post the video of the encounter in Rep. Nevarez's office. According to Rowe, this particular group within Open Carry Texas is so extreme that other OCT groups really don't want to be associated with them. I don't blame them; neither would I if I were in their shoes. Click the link, go over to C&L, read Lowe and watch the video, shudder, then have a good stiff drink... presuming you're not packin' at the moment...

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Welcome To McAllen, TX — Here's Your Walmart Library Card!

Perhaps I've died and gone to some sort of heaven. Where else would Walmart shut down a facility in a city in extreme south Texas, which then repurposed the building, parking lot, etc. as a public library? Well, actually, that happened in McAllen, TX...follow the link to Kos for some pics of the striking, spacious facility, as nice in appearance as the public library at the end of my street in Houston, and one heckuva lot bigger...

They probably need the extra space: McAllen's population is over 77% Hispanic/Latino, so it is appropriate that they have the space to house the bilingual (actually multilingual) collection in the largest single-floor library structure in America. And the food facilities, inside and out, exceed the food courts in a lot of strip malls and even larger malls.

Good for McAllen! When can I move there?

Here are a few pics a LOT more pics, including these of two huge rooms (among many similarly large spaces) ... and I didn't even bother with the food areas!

NC Senator Would Not Wash His Hands Of The Matter

When Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) offered his opinion that food workers at public accommodations like restaurants should be allowed to opt out of the legal requirement that they must wash their hands, I thought he was joking, perhaps satirizing the anti-vaxxers. I should have known better.

As Jen Hayden at Kos points out, quoting the CDC:
The spread of germs from the hands of food workers to food is an important cause of foodborne illness outbreaks in restaurants. It accounts for 89% of outbreaks in which food was contaminated by food workers. Proper handwashing can reduce germs on workers’ hands and the spread of germs from hands to food and from food to other people. [Bolds mine. - SB]
In other words, a food worker's handwashing is all that stands between you and food poisoning.

But in these days of utter Republican insanity, the whole GOP seems as dependent on magic as the wizards at Unseen University, with results no better than many of those wizards achieve. Basic precautions known to health workers for at least two or three centuries are both necessary and sufficient to prevent devastating outbreaks of some kinds of disease. People who believe they have some sort of personal individual right to ignore the laws establishing those precautions in public accommodations like restaurants are themselves a danger to society. People who are both stupid and hostile make me sick: their liberties must end with their endangerment of the community's health.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

FCC Net Neutrality: Proposed Rules Appear A Respectable Beginning

FCC Chairman Wheeler proposes some rules. — c|net reacts basically positively. — Computerworld emphasizes other desirable aspects of the proposal's net neutrality rules. — And Computerworld's Matt Hamblin talks about the telecomms' inevitable lawsuits...

More later; I'm in kind of a hurry at the moment.

Five Ways To Peel A Hardboiled Egg

... collected all on one web page for you at epicurious. I haven't tried any of them yet, but after having had completely unpredictable results from one egg to the next, peeling them by hand in the obvious way, I'm willing to try something else.

I must say, though: however well his method works by comparison to the other ways of doing it, the guy in the first YouTube video ... his name is Tim Ferriss; yes, he's moderately famous; no, he's NOT the pretentious neoliberal science and political writer we all know and don't love... that's Timothy Ferris... and yes, Tim Ferriss, uh, well, to put it bluntly, Tim Ferriss really blows eggs:

I can't wait to try it, preferably within Stella's field of view! First, though, I have to find the baking soda...

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Cities That Outlaw Feeding The Homeless

Michelle Chen at The Nation tells us the story.

The problem with preventing the offering of free food in the public commons should be obvious to any civil libertarian: how do you tell a multi-family picnic in the park from an organized effort to feed a group of homeless people in the same park? The potential problems of public park usage are virtually the same in the two cases.

Are all the people at an outdoor holiday meal for a family of 50 or 100 actually related? Do they all even know each other? If each family member at a "family" picnic brings a friend, that creates a group with (say) 50 family members and 50 unrelated people; how does that differ from a charity-organized meal with 50 volunteers doing the feeding and 50 homeless people being fed?

I've heard it argued that meals for the homeless (e.g. in the winter holiday season) create an unacceptable mess as all the people being fed simply dump their uneaten food, plates, cups and plastic utensils on the ground, in a way that "normal" people (grrrr!) would never do (yeah, right). And indeed that would pose a legitimate problem if the statement were not false on its face.

Back in my pre-crippled days I've volunteered help for a couple of feedings. I've also attended a large number of family/friends picnics in my life. And I have seen absolutely no difference in the amount of mess created by the two kinds of events. Moreover, the easy remedy is the same in either case: find a small number of people (volunteers for feedings in the first case; willing family/friends in the second) to collect and dispose of trash.

Of course a city (*cough* *cough* Ft. Lauderdale *cough* *cough*) can pass laws to make absolutely certain that any kind of public feeding will NOT work, e.g., by removing trash cans from public parks... see the Nation article linked above. But this forces local families who want to picnic in a park near their home either to pack out their trash (risking accusations that they are "camping" in the language of some ordinances) or to throw the trash right on the ground at the meal site (you may be surprised that the overwhelming majority of people are NOT willing to do this).

The core of the problem is that these cities are neither making a legitimate effort to end homelessness nor striving to provide food for indigent people through outlets that have none of the unpleasant consequences described above.

But it's worse than that: some of these cities have an approach to homeless people that can only truthfully be called the "get out; go to another town" approach; that becomes less and less effective as the homeless and indigent rates increase, not just in big cities that are formerly the centers of industrial economies, but also in small towns, suburbs, bedroom communities, etc. In short, the homeless cannot simply move away from community discontent, nor can communities simply force the homeless to do so.

When times are tough and resources are scarce, the "homeless problem" eventually becomes almost everyone's problem, whether or not any given individual is homeless or not. It would certainly be an improvement if at least the government entities (city councils, county commissions, etc.) stopped all the finger-pointing, and comfortably well-off people who use the parks would forget their hostile shouts of "get a job." Believe me... the accused would gladly do just that if they could.

Here ends the rant for the day...

From the Houston Food Not Bombs web site...

(I have no connection with this group myself, but they seem to have made a go of it since 1994. They serve only vegan meals; there are other org's in Houston if you want to serve something else.)


This is the sort of thing Bryan calls a "palate cleanser":

Three tunes in a row

(heard together on Radio Swiss Jazz)

Three relentless human enterprises that often chafe my butt

(inspired by reading Sir Terry Pratchett's Small Gods)
  • Religion
  • Politics
  • Wealth acquisition
(no order - any permutation will do)

Three Baroque composers (NOT the "big three")

(I spent a lot of time listening to my music collection this week...)

Monday, February 2, 2015

M.D. Anti-Vaxx Nut-Job Doesn't Care If His Kids Endanger Your Kids: ‘Not My Responsibility’

Brendan James at TPM:
An Arizona cardiologist told CNN in an interview that went online Monday that he doesn't care if his refusal to vaccinate his kids gives other children grave, preventable diseases.

“I’m not going to sacrifice the well-being of my child. My child is pure,” Dr. Jack Wolfson said in the interview. “It’s not my responsibility to be protecting their child.”

[/sigh] Dr. Wolfson, put aside your Hippocratic Oath for a moment. Put aside every physician's minimal commitment to do no harm.

Rather, place yourself simply in the role of a responsible parent, and then apply the Golden Rule.

Finally, think about the consequences if you follow through with your threat NOT to apply the mutual do‑unto‑others rule... what will another parent whose child becomes gravely or terminally ill because of your indifference be justified in doing in response?

How about... PICKING UP A SHOVEL AND BASHING YOUR GOD‑DAMNED BRAINS OUT, DOCTOR? I'd probably vote to acquit if I were on that jury...

I'm not arguing for that action and I certainly would not undertake it myself; people who know me well think I am a pretty peaceable guy... but that possible consequence is very real. Does it change anything for you? If you don't care about the other parent's kids' wellbeing, do you at least care about that possible outcome?

I've occasionally run across the anti-vaxx argument that not vaccinating kids is actually better for the kids. (Dr. Wolfson offers a version of the same argument.) This changes nothing. People have a right in America to believe things that are merely incorrect, things that are flagrantly in contradiction of well‑established facts, even things that are full‑blown bat‑sh!t crazy... but their right to act against other people based on those beliefs is still limited by law. Get over it, folks; we live under a government of laws, not a government of (possibly crack‑brained) individuals.

Email Coincidence

In my inbox I saw a message from Blood Pressure Solution with a subject something like 1 food that keeps you off BP meds. I grabbed the mouse and reached for the button labeled "Spam" ...

(Hey, could you have resisted it?)

Robert Reich Explains The Trans-Pacific Partnership

This thing is pretty scary, and Reich explains it quite clearly:

Now there's irony for you: TPP is clearly a creation of the ultra-right-wing corporatocracy, and I always thought the Right was horrified at the notion of a world government. But what is known about the TPP so far (shhhh! it's a secret!) sounds a whole lot like a de facto world government to me, all the bad parts and none of the good...

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Guns For Self-Protection: What Else Is A Toddler To Do?

AP via TPM:
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A 3-year-old boy found a handgun in his mother's purse and fired just one shot that wounded both his parents at an Albuquerque motel on Saturday, police said.

According to investigators, the toddler apparently reached for an iPod but found the loaded weapon. Police believe the shooting to be accidental.

The bullet first struck his father in the buttock and then hit the right shoulder of his mother, who is eight months pregnant, police said. His 2-year-old sister was present but unhurt.

An N​R​A official who spontaneously materialized in an Albuquerque newspaper office milliseconds after police secured the scene of the incident was NOT reported to have asked, "If the mother's handgun had not been accessible, loaded and unlocked, how would the child have protected himself against not one but both parents?"

Also for your edification, take a look at the state of Georgia's open-carry law, less than a year old now:

Text: Firearms dealers no longer regulated by GA. Dept. of Public Safety / Elimination of fingerprinting for renewing weapons carry licenses — Non-security personnel permitted to carry guns in K-12 schools / Allows silencers for hunting, putting bystanders & other hunters at risk — Allows firearms in public housing / Regulation of firearms and other weapons by General Assembly only, no more local control

You think maybe Georgia has taken things a bit too far?

(Regular readers know I'm neither a gun nut nor an anti-gun nut; I just hate to see avoidable violence within a family. Unsecured guns and very young children don't mix well at all, no matter which parties end up getting hurt. If you can't take the post in a rational spirit and comment accordingly, don't bother commenting at all, or I'll just have to delete your comment.)

News Flash! Grumpy Grandpa But Powerful GOP Senator Doubles Down On Ham-Fisted Insult To Antiwar Group

That would be John McCain (R-Get off MY Lawn) slandering Code Pink, of course, as the byline-free story at HuffPo tells us:
The Grumpy Old Man™
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Sunday that he will not apologize for calling protesters "low-life scum" at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing earlier this week.

"I think they're terrible people," McCain said of Code Pink, the women-led grassroots peace and social justice group that protested the hearing, in an interview on CNN's "State of the Union."

Code Pink brought signs and handcuffs into the hearing to protest the presence of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, demanding that he be arrested for his role in alleged war crimes during the Nixon and Ford administrations. The protesters objected to the U.S.'s use of the poisonous chemical Agent Orange in the Vietnam War, the bombing of Cambodia and other issues.

McCain, the chairman of the committee, became particularly enraged when a member of the group dangled handcuffs over Kissinger's head. "You're gonna have to shut up or I'm going to have you arrested," McCain said at the hearing. "Get out of here, you low-life scum."

I have personally known a few Code Pink members during my own years of protest, and I take personal offense at his statement. Terrible people? Senator, who in HELL are you to judge?

And for the record, though I thought at one time you were among the more moderate Republicans out there, I have been disabused of that notion long since. I think you're a TERRIBLE PERSON.

You may be a superb political savant, and you clearly were a helluva pilot, but you are an utter failure as a human being, and your deplorable slander of one of the signature antiwar groups of our era proves it.

Go to Hell, Senator; you'll fit in just fine there.

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