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Yes, please, bullet trains for Texas

June 17, 2021

railstopIf Texas ever had had forward thinking politicians in power, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin long ago would have been connected by high-speed rail. Anyone who has visited nations with good rail knows what a convenience that is. So I hope this recent news is a step toward an actual link between Houston and Dallas.

“The physics of climate change”

June 16, 2021

PhysicsOfClimateChangeThis new book does what it promises, bringing together in one concise text the basic physics of global warming. That being the chief good thing, Lawrence Krauss does a few other things I like. He gives some history of how the core principles were discovered. He describes the experimental measurements validating the role they play in earth’s climate. And he delves a bit into the geological data, doing a fair job of putting modern changes within the context of the geologic past. I would have enjoyed more of the latter two. The first half of the book covers the most certain area, the atmospheric physics. It then moves to sea level rise and ocean acidification. And there is a little on more speculative issues: I did not know — and was tickled to read about — the statistical derivation of climate change estimates from snapshot, global weather. I am glad, also, that he touches only lightly on the energy flow models, which are needed neither for basic understanding nor confirmation of the central facts.

The one thing I thought missing is some discussion of the astrophysical context affecting climate, and how we know those are not what is causing current warming. As easy example, there is no mention of Milankovitch cycles. Nerds who have had first courses in physics and chemistry will find this a fast read. Read Sabine Hossenfelder’s deeper review. Or just buy the book.

Dumb and dumber

June 15, 2021

Once upon a time, the reputable medical schools in the US required undergraduate applicants to have credits for a first course in physics, as well as inorganic and organic chemistry. Anyone who learned much from those would laugh at the notion that Covid-19 vaccines are turning people into magnets. Perhaps Dr. Sheri Tenpenny was paying attention to something else while in those courses.

SupercellLouie Gohmert wants to know if the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management might tune the orbits of the moon or earth. Despite hot competition from some new entrants, he is working hard to retain his title as dumbest congressman.

This video (youtube) on the infiltration of an Indian scam call center is the rare one worth watching. I normally view scammers as not much better than mobsters. Many of those working call centers in India are striving young people in a hard place, knowing they are compromising themselves and doing so anyway. The hero in that video is only a short way removed from those he exposed. And those scammed seem exactly those who otherwise would be sending their money to some patriot cause. The world never is black and white. It is a palette of grays and colors. Well, then there is Gohmert — he is vantablack.  

Philosophical tidbits

June 14, 2021

Analytic philosophy strikes me as a great starting point. Or training ground. I quite understand why some see it in crisis. It is great at clearing away; not so much at building up.

MorningLightYou might want to dip your toe into Derrida, before laughing at Sen. Pat Toomey’s desire for bankers to display the right amount of political correctness.

The photo shows the marina breakwater on a recent dawn. It has nothing to do with the links — I have been requested to post more shots of the local area.

Vaccine kudos

June 10, 2021

Kudos to everyone who helped make the plan to distribute a half-billion Pfizer vaccine doses globally. That should save hundreds of thousands of lives.

Kudos to the Houston Methodist hospital, for requiring its employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Johns Hopkins is following suit. That is the right thing for hospitals to do, for three reasons. First and foremost, hospitals should not risk that their patients, some of whom will have immune disorders or other relevant conditions, are exposed by their workers to a disease in the area for which there is a good vaccine. Second, hospitals are rightly concerned about the additional risk their employees face by virtue of working in a hospital. Third, hospitals should lead on public health practices. People rightly expect that hospitals are following the highest standards to stem the spread of disease. We do not expect that in a coffee shop or in a big box store or at the corner convenience store or in most other places we encounter workers. We should expect it in a hospital.

Alas, Houston Methodist has had to suspend workers who refused. Some of whom are suing. That reads like the claims were written by someone who should have been flunked from law school, representing clients who should have been flunked from biology.

Update: The workers’ lawsuit was punted out of court.

Foreign caution

June 9, 2021

Matti Friedman reminds us of the easy but always wrong tendency to view foreign politics through a local lens.

The origins of Covid-19

June 8, 2021

This month past, the media has been full of stories about the origins of Covid-19. Most of them are absolute crap, not even sensible enough to be called speculative. At the same time, geneticists at Temple University have published an important article on the topic.  (Cite.) How many working as science journalists and writing about the origins of Covid-19 will notice it? And read it? I suspect relatively few.

The Texas power scandal

June 7, 2021

IncaDovesWe came very close to an even larger catastrophe than happened. The Texas legislature is doing little to make sure it doesn’t recur. Abbott knew ahead of the blackout about the natural gas problems, and lied in response. Tim De Chant has done better reporting on that story than most. Which follows the pattern that any story with a significant technical component gets better reporting from the nerd side than from the mainstream.

Inca doves are a particularly close-knit species. The family shown huddles even on a balmy summer evening. Alas, the tepehuaje where they’re roosting did not survive the winter freeze.

More vaccines, please

June 3, 2021

Takeda, a large Japanese pharmaceutical company, announces that its dengue vaccine remains effective after three years. As that article explains, dengue exhibits antibody dependent enhancement (ADE). Those who have had it once carry the worry that a second infection likely will be worse. If this vaccine continues to prove well, that will be good news for my acquaintances who live in tropical areas where the disease is rampant. Maybe Takeda will tackle chikungunya next.

Those who work in community service, from medical providers to law enforcement, face a large problem in people who are not only ignorant about some kinds of risk, but who dig into their stance, convinced that they know more than those with some experience. That kind of stubborn stupidity kills in everything from wilderness settings to urban catastrophes. And in epidemics. It seems especially senseless when those who themselves work in community service succumb to it. Perhaps that deputy’s attitude stemmed from crazed politics. Likely, he never studied statistics. Yet he knew better than the damned elites! I hope all my family and acquaintances in law enforcement, whose jobs put them at higher risk, jumped to get one of the Covid-19 vaccines at first opportunity.

Crazy, but alas, not fringe

June 2, 2021

The QAnon crowd held a conference in Dallas. Unsurprisingly, Louis Gohmert and Allen West were featured attractions. Michael Flynn, too. And he now wants everyone to know that he does not support a coup against the US government. Or at least, wants to go on record saying that.

I agree with those who argue that this radicalization is not because of Trump, but rather, preceded Trump and was what enabled a showman and conman to ride to political power.