14 May 2011 posts

Workout notes I did these in the afternoon due to graduation.
Swimming: 10 x (25 side, 25 side, 25 free); couldn’t quite do these on the 2:15; this set took about 22:30 to do. Then I did 5 x 50 free on the 1: 54-55 mostly. Goodness, I am SLOW. But that is what one expects coming back from being off for so long. And no, I don’t anticipate getting faster anytime soon.

Weights After swimming. I didn’t superset much but rather did rotator cuff between sets…and did the exercises for BOTH shoulders.
Incline bench press: 10 x 115, 7 x 135, 6 x 135, 5 x 135
dumbbell curls: 4 sets of 10 x 25 lb.
pull downs: 3 sets of 10 x 140 (shoulder friendly grip)
rows (Hammer machine): medium grip: 10 x 200, 10 x 200. Narrow: 7 x 230, 7 x 230.
Sit ups: 4 x 25 (varied incline)
hip hikes, back stuff, etc.

Assorted things
Graduation: lasted 3 hours, 10 minutes. The student name readings lasted about 2 of those; that is 1 hour of preliminary yick-yack.
Ray LaHood (Secretary of Transportation and former Representative of IL-18) was the featured speaker.
He reminded us that politics in the United States has always been divisive (and featured actual fist fights at times). But he said that he is serving in President Obama’s administration because he wants to do good for America and that this is a calling that goes beyond Republican or Democrat (that got applause).
Ok…that is fairly standard “let’s all get along” boilerplate.

He mentioned that the internet atmosphere sometimes allows for less civility, though the internet is also helpful at times (e. g., in spreading some of the pro-democracy movements in the world).

He then talked about the generation of undergraduates. He mentioned that the New York Times had “almost a whole issue” devoted to “when will this generation finally grow up”…he then said “many people agree with that….but NOT ME.” I had to laugh…that is the old “hey, others say you are a scumbag but I don’t think that you are” sort of trick. Such “complements” rarely make the recipient feel good. 🙂

We also had the usual case of an administrator talking about the changes that he/she instituted; he/she wondered what the undergraduate experience would have been like without those changes……..then later, after the name reading and diploma receiving, we had someone come up and get their commission via R. O. T. C… the reserves…and got a standing ovation. My wife told me that she got tears watching this on the live stream; I got….well it meant that the exercises were over so I was happy.

Here is the President on energy policy and oil.

I don’t like all of this “new drilling” stuff as I don’t think it is a long term answer. Note: before anyone accuses me of being a hypocrite, be advised that I walk to work every day. So I do my part in conservation. 🙂

Back to the President’s program: He talks about the removal of the tax breaks, but in a letter sent by his campaign to supporters, he warns us that this tax subsidy removal will not happen with the current composition of Congress, so don’t expect it:

The CEOs from the five major oil companies — which together booked $36 billion in profits in the first quarter of 2011 alone — went to the Senate yesterday to try to justify the $4 billion in tax giveaways they’re receiving this year.

It’s a head-smackingly obvious example of how broken Washington is that there’s even a question about this. These companies don’t need and don’t deserve taxpayer money — especially with a budget deficit to close and gas prices at or near record highs.

Even worse is the fact that when the Senate tries to strip these oil company giveaways, it’s likely that a minority of senators will block a vote from happening. And even if the Senate manages to pass a bill eliminating the giveaways, there’s little chance it will be brought up for a vote in the House.

Here’s why: These five companies are expert manipulators of the money-for-influence game in Washington that the President is working to change. It’s simple math — they spent more than $145 million last year on nearly 800 lobbyists whose job is to defeat bills like this one. The $4 billion they’ll likely get to keep as a result represents a 2,700% return on their investment.

I’d like to be able to say with certainty that you can do something to help pass this bill, but the fact is that at this stage we may not be able to affect the outcome of next week’s vote.

What we can do is build a campaign that will keep a spotlight on issues like this and the fundamental reasons why Washington doesn’t work.

I enjoy the blog Conservation Report. Here is a video that a recent post linked to:

This is about how a colorblind fish (cuttlefish) manages to camouflage itself. Note that we see an experiment in which the cuttlefish is placed against a background that does NOT occur in nature.

Human evolution
New evidence has come in: it appears that Neanderthals actually lived as recently as 33,000 years ago; this is based on a tool find in the Ural mountains:

A Neanderthal-style toolkit found in the frigid far north of Russia’s Ural Mountains dates to 33,000 years ago and may mark the last refuge of Neanderthals before they went extinct, according to a new Science study.

Another possibility is that anatomically modern humans crafted the hefty tools using what’s known as Mousterian technology associated with Neanderthals, but anthropologists believe that’s unlikely.

“We consider it overwhelmingly probable that the Mousterian technology we describe was performed by Neanderthals, and thus that they indeed survived longer, that is until 33,000 years ago, than most other scientists believe,” co-author Jan Mangerud, a professor emeritus in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Bergen and the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, told Discovery News.

Most anthropologists believe modern humans began to replace Neanderthals starting around 75,000 to 50,000 years ago. Project leader Ludovic Slimak said the study suggests “that Neanderthals did not disappear due to climate shifts or cultural inferiority. It is clear that, showing such adaptability, the Mousterian cultures can no longer be considered as archaic.” […]

Note: some of us actually have some Neanderthal DNA; evidently some mated with us in our distant past.

I wasn’t going to talk about this topic, but some philosopher posted the following comment on their Facebook wall:

Question of the Day: Why are most (not all) atheists so terrified to admit that their theological beliefs involve an element of faith?

Of course the hypothesis of the question is completely wrong:
1. atheists, in general aren’t “terrified” and
2. not believing in some supernatural entity is hardly “faith”

What many will never understand is that atheism is really about “belief” and an atheist doesn’t believe in gods, deities, spirits or whatever. That requires no “faith”.
Not it is true that one might deem the atheist position to be “more likely” based on the fact that one uses evidence (e. g. lack of design in nature) to make one’s conclusion, and when one does that, one assumes that the laws of science operate consistently. That assumption might be false so accepting the laws of science might be considered some sort of faith by some. I don’t see it that way; I accept the laws of science because they have consistently worked…and I am happy to revise them when new evidence comes in. Science can be falsified….”faith” can’t.

True, one might see this process of revising the laws based on evidence to be based on a sort of “faith”, but I have little patience with this sort of word-salad play. I am not interested in it.

The other thing about atheism that many don’t get: when I say that I am an atheist I am NOT saying that I can prove that no god exists: that is impossible! I am saying “I don’t believe it”. But few atheists say that they know “for certain” that there is nothing beyond the ability of our senses to detect, or that there is something that we haven’t detected yet….not even Richard Dawkins! Here is an excerpt from a discussion between him and Francis Collins from Time Magazine (and I respect both of these men):

“DAWKINS: To me, the right approach is to say we are profoundly ignorant of these matters. We need to work on them. But to suddenly say the answer is God–it’s that that seems to me to close off the discussion.

TIME: Could the answer be God?

DAWKINS: There could be something incredibly grand and incomprehensible and beyond our present understanding.

COLLINS: That’s God.

DAWKINS: Yes. But it could be any of a billion Gods. It could be God of the Martians or of the inhabitants of Alpha Centauri. The chance of its being a particular God, Yahweh, the God of Jesus, is vanishingly small–at the least, the onus is on you to demonstrate why you think that’s the case.”

In short, if there is some “spirit of the universe”, it might have NOTHING to do with any deity that any human has worshiped.

It would be foolish for me to claim that I KNOW that no such entity exists, but I am comfortable in rejecting any of the gods that I’ve heard about.

The other topic of discussion was how pervasive religion is among humans. The claim was that “if so many believe this, then this belief cannot possibly be delusional”. It just so happens that Jerry Coyne talked about a similar topic (not as a part of our thread). He was talking about an Oxford University study about how pervasive religious belief is. Coyne critiques one of the conclusions:

“If you’ve got something so deep-rooted in human nature, thwarting it is in some sense not enabling humans to fulfill their basic interests,” Trigg said.

“There is quite a drive to think that religion is private,” he said, arguing that such a belief is wrong. “It isn’t just a quirky interest of a few, it’s basic human nature.”

“This shows that it’s much more universal, prevalent, and deep-rooted. It’s got to be reckoned with. You can’t just pretend it isn’t there,” he said.

And the Oxford study, known as the Cognition, Religion and Theology Project, strongly implies that religion will not wither away, he said.

“The secularization thesis of the 1960s – I think that was hopeless,” Trigg concluded.

That’s hogwash. As we can see from the tremendous secularization of the world over the past few centuries, especially in Europe, it is not impossible for religion to wither. The pervasiveness of a belief gives no warrant that that belief will be with us forever. Look how pervasive, only a century ago, was the idea that women were second-class citizens. This was true in nearly every society. Ditto for gays and ethnic minorities. And look how attitudes have changed! Granted, women, for instance, still get the short end of the stick, but in many parts of the world they’re much better off. Most of us now realize that people should be treated as equals, regardless of gender, color, and sexual orientation. That would have been inconceivable a few hundred years ago.

He is right of course; in fact some of the data about how secular much of Europe has become can be found here. Mano Singham points out that this change (from mostly religious to secular) has occurred in about one generation.

So we’ll see how long it lasts….I certainly won’t live to see religion’s extinction but perhaps when I am in my final days, maybe the United States will be like Europe is now.

May 15, 2011 Posted by | 2012 election, alternative energy, atheism, Barack Obama, biology, economics, economy, evolution, IL-18, Illinois, lahood, nature, Peoria, Peoria/local, Personal Issues, religion, republicans, republicans political/social, republicans politics, science, swimming, tax cuts, taxes, weight training | 3 Comments

3 June 2010 (am)

Workout notes Yoga, rotator cuff exercises, then 5 miles of walking: 1 on the treadmill, 1 on the track (1 lap on, 1 off; 8 laps to the mile), then 3 outside. My shins are bothering me a bit; my guess is that my legs are becoming straighter.

So, I had better continue with the toe raises and shin flex exercises.
Here is a study of the numbers of people with degrees per square mile. I find Rob Pitingolo’s analysis to be interesting:

It’s becoming increasingly accepted that there is real economic value to bringing a lot of smart and entrepreneurial people together in the same place. This can be tough to measure, unfortunately. Perhaps best proxy we have available is educational attainment – usually measured as the number of people in a particular place with bachelor’s degrees or higher, as reported by the Census Bureau.

I have seen this done in two ways. The first approach reports the proportion of college degree holders in a particular city. Usually, college towns like Austin, Texas and other stereotypically “brainy cities” like San Francisco and Seattle do well. The second approach looks at the raw number of people with bachelor’s degrees in a particular city. Using this approach, big cities usually do the best, as they should. New York City has a huge population, of course many of its residents will have college degrees.

Both of these approaches have flaws. The theory that there is economic value to having smart people together rests on the assumption that smart people collaborate with each other. You could have a whole bunch of smart people in one place, but if they don’t interact with each other, what’s the value?

That’s why I propose we start using educational attainment density, measured as college degree holders per square mile.

Note: this is not the same as “number of degrees in a city” nor “proportion of those with degrees in a given population”; the idea is to see how many people with degrees are packed together in a given area with the (hope?) that those who live nearby might interact more.

Even more interesting: check out the discussion here. The Republicans are crying “foul” over the fact….yes, the “bluer” regions are deemed to be smarter by such an analysis.

I think that they protest too much. If I wanted to try to make the case that Republicans are mostly idiots I’d cite this:

PRINCETON, NJ — There is a significant political divide in beliefs about the origin of human beings, with 60% of Republicans saying humans were created in their present form by God 10,000 years ago, a belief shared by only 40% of independents and 38% of Democrats.

Or I might cites these videos from various Republican primaries:

But…that would be misleading. Example: walk into any UU church; it is likely to have mostly liberal congregants. And yes, you’ll find a high rate of belief in new-age woo things (e. g. homeopathy, magnet therapy, etc.)

Paul Krugman hammers the “common knowledge” that the Republicans continue to spout off: yes, it is mostly nonsense (e. g., Freddie and Fannie caused the housing bubble, etc.)

Whose Fault Is It? When things go wrong:

blame the liberals for the BP disaster as Sarah Palin did:

This is a message to extreme “environmentalists” who hypocritically protest domestic energy production offshore and onshore. There is nothing “clean and green” about your efforts. Look, here’s the deal: when you lock up our land, you outsource jobs and opportunity away from America and into foreign countries that are making us beholden to them. Some of these countries don’t like America. Some of these countries don’t care for planet earth like we do – as evidenced by our stricter environmental standards.

With your nonsensical efforts to lock up safer drilling areas, all you’re doing is outsourcing energy development, which makes us more controlled by foreign countries, less safe, and less prosperous on a dirtier planet. Your hypocrisy is showing. You’re not preventing environmental hazards; you’re outsourcing them and making drilling more dangerous.

Extreme deep water drilling is not the preferred choice to meet our country’s energy needs, but your protests and lawsuits and lies about onshore and shallow water drilling have locked up safer areas. It’s catching up with you. The tragic, unprecedented deep water Gulf oil spill proves it.

We need permission to drill in safer areas, including the uninhabited arctic land of ANWR. It takes just a tiny footprint – equivalent to the size of LA’s airport – to tap America’s rich and plentiful oil and gas up north. ANWR’s drilling footprint is like a postage stamp on a football field.

Oh…so the environmentalists had SUCH an impact during the Bush administration (how many votes did we have?) and, by the way, you (and your allies) continued to push for OFF SHORE drilling.

But wait…it was an Act of God:

(does this confirm the suspicion that the Republicans worship the oil industry? 🙂 )

And about that Israeli attack on the Gaza relief flotilla: it was OBAMA’S FAULT. Really. 🙂

June 3, 2010 Posted by | alternative energy, Barack Obama, creationism, Democrats, economy, environment, evolution, green news, mccain, Middle East, Political Ad, politics, politics/social, quackery, religion, Republican, republicans, republicans politics, science, social/political, training, walking | 2 Comments

Scifri Videos: Rumble In The Jungle

Science, technology, environment and health news and discussion from the makers of the NPR public radio program Science Friday with host Ira Flatow.

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Jerry Coyne has more here: he thinks that this will be some sort of mating call (a ‘froggy flirt”) and goes on to talk about scientific papers and how to “sell” your work to the journal.

May 30, 2010 Posted by | alternative energy, biology, blogs, brain, cosmology, dark energy, disease, environment, evolution, frogs, green news, health, matter, nanotechnology, nature, neuroscience, physics, public policy and discussion from NPR public radio program Science Friday with host Ira Flatow. Science Videos, science, Science Friday teachers, Science Friday teens., technology | Leave a comment