Wednesday, April 30, 2008

April Photos

Close-up of Rackham

School of Public Health
Buildings One, Three (and Two)

City Hall cows

Diag covered for graduation ceremony (they put chairs out)

Behind a massive LCD monitor array set up for 2008 Graduation

One problem of listening to too much news

No, I'm actually not going to focus on the problem of becoming too depressed from listening to the news. This one is more insidious, but might well be only an issue for me: writer's block.

I don't know why it happens, but I become more "verbose" in my writing when I'm not listening to so much radio or television news (I don't always watch the screen when the news is on - it doesn't always add that much more to the discussion of events). This being National Poetry Month, I had thought to myself, "Self, why not put together a poem or two? You know, something to do with wind, sky, air, water, spring, life, etc.?" Well, it is now the last day in April, and I just realized that the implication of that was that I had not composed a single poem for this month. True, I did post one poem, but that was one I found online.

So what should I write about now that the end of the month is so near? Should I not worry, and try and throw something together really quickly? Should I be angst-ridden and worry over each line? How does this all relate to writer's block (and should that be the subject of my poem)?

Well, to answer the last (non-parenthetical) question first. I have found that I've been suffering from a massive case of writer's block. I've also realized that I have these when I am listening to a lot of NPR and watching a lot of BBC. I've just now turned off the Beeb and am listening to the flowing water of my housemate's large fish tank. The sun is setting, and the light is shafting in through the front-door window. I'm sitting, thinking about going out in an hour to Leopold Bros - getting in a last couple of visits before they up-and-go to Denver, CO.

So, here's my thrown-together, semi-thought-through poem:

The end of this month arrived so fast.
Through many weeks of work and celebration,
It sneaked up on me.

The end of this month looms ahead.
And I realize now, with a warm setting sun,
It will slip softly by.

The end of this month is so easy to see.
A campus devoid of stressed scholar-students,
Lies recovering in the sun.

The end of April, the cruelest month,
Will flow out with a soft, cool, breeze;
A sylph's caress upon the brow of Time.

Anticipate May.
May Day through and past Memorial Day.
Sunny, warm, and May.

Just started out with So far, so good. However, with such an eclectic taste in music, I wonder who will be classified as "neighbors" for me. I guess I'll just have to wait and see.

Today in history: Fuehrerstodestag!

On this day in 1945, ten days after his fifty-sixth birthday, Adolf Hitler killed himself and his wife of one day - Eva Braun - in his Berlin bunker as Soviet soldiers raised the flag of the USSR over the Reichstag. The end of the nightmare leading up to and through WWII was soon about to be over. (The Third Reich - what Hitler claimed to be a "Tausendjähriges Reich" - would finally crumble completely on May 8.)

Hat tip to Respectful Insolence.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Old Red Gown

The mist hangs round the College tower,
The ghostly street
Is silent at this midnight hour,
Save for my feet.

With none to see, with none to hear,
Downward I go
To where, beside the rugged pier,
The sea sings low.

It sings a tune well loved and known
In days gone by,
When often here, and not alone,
I watched the sky.

That was a barren time at best,
It's fruits were few;
But fruits and flowers had keener zest
And fresher hue.

Life has not since been wholly vain,
And now I bear
Of wisdom plucked from joy and pain
Some slender share.

But, howsoever rich the store,
I'd lay it down,
To feel upon my back once more,
The old red gown.


The poem was about my alma mater, St. Andrews University, in St. Andrews, Scotland.

Pray-in to solve gasoline prices?

Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars wrote a blurb about this amazing story of illogic running (near) rampant in San Francisco:

Pray-in at S.F. gas station asks God to lower prices

Rocky Twyman has a radical solution for surging gasoline prices: prayer.

Twyman - a community organizer, church choir director and public relations consultant from the Washington, D.C., suburbs - staged a pray-in at a San Francisco Chevron station on Friday, asking God for cheaper gas. He did the same thing in the nation's Capitol on Wednesday, with volunteers from a soup kitchen joining in. Today he will lead members of an Oakland church in prayer.

Yes, it's come to that.

"God is the only one we can turn to at this point," said Twyman, 59. "Our leaders don't seem to be able to do anything about it. The prices keep soaring and soaring.

Ummm... What? Come again?

"Our leaders" (well, our CiC and his [Good 'ole Boy] Party) seem unwilling to do anything about it. The President doesn't want to take action, his appointee in the EPA is dragging his agency's feet on monitoring CO2 as a pollutant, and the administration doesn't want to allow California (and 17 other states) to strengthen Clean Air Act requirements (which CA is allowed to do under the CAA). All of this, even though the Supreme Court made a decision last year that CO2 was not exempt from pollution monitoring.

Okay, so this isn't only about climate change/global warming. This is a discussion about the price of gasoline, and it's recent meteoric rise (see left). However, if Twyman wanted to make some real impact, maybe he should talk with Gordon Brown to have him work more closely with the strikers at Grangemouth. I mean, now that they are striking, the price of gas has increased past £5 per gallon (roughly $10/gallon)! If there isn't a strong argument for a cause-and-effect relationship between a human action (union strike) and the price of a human-manufactured commodity (petroleum), I don't know what is.

Of course, Twyman could have exhorted activists to talk with Chevron - make the oil company responsible for human life (something that Xtians always seem to point to in their vaunted morals) caused by extraction. If Chevron (and other oil/gas companies) didn't pay so much for their lawyers and public relations firms, possibly the price of gas might be a little less. And if not, then it would at least be easier to bend over and take it at the pump, knowing that - at least - the company reaming us (thanks to a myopic, all-eggs-in-one-basket method of automotive technology development and synergistic urban planning trajectory over the past several decades) is socially aware, and not merely spreading poverty and multi-generational toxic health hazards to poor parts of the world for the benefit of our modality of life. (I'm sorry, am I coming across a little strong there?)

But this isn't a single-sector, single-nation issue, right? Maybe the whole thing is too big for one person to do anything about. Well, instead of praying that gasoline prices drop, Twyman could pray that people change their actions to bring about a change in the gasoline price. Or Twyman could tell people petition their government (a very constitutional thing to do) to provide incentives for people to purchase urban-friendly electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles; cities to increase the number of bicycle-friendly bike lanes and bike parking; invest in public transportation; etc. In other words, provide real alternative options for people to solve their transportation problems. Gasoline prices might well be less of an issue once the need for it is diminished.

Ahcuah (one of the commenters of Ed's post) made the comparison between Twyman's call-to-prayer with Georgia's Gov. Sonny Perdue's call-to-prayer for rain (much more of a traditional reason to pray - harkening back to times when people beseeched a divine Otherness (deity, nature spirit, ancestors, etc.) to provide something over which the supplicant had no control). The governor's prayer for rain seems to have had rather ... 'parched' results (see right). Although I can see the comparison between the two, I don't think it really is an apples-to-apples comparison. Gov. Perdue's prayer is for something outside the 'human-realm'; over which we have little actual control. On the other hand, Twyman's is for something that is entirely in the 'human-realm' of possible action. Twyman's actions are akin to praying for lower medical costs (a 'human-realm' issue) because our government leaders can't reach a compromise on how to tackle the problem of national health insurance (something that will have an effect on the 'human-realm' of issues).

Of course, people are allowed to pray for anything they want (far be it for me to dictate what people should and shouldn't pray for), and prayers for world peace are made every day. However, prayer by itself is not as effective as prayer followed by constructive action. It's for this last reason (the disconnect between what we may wish - and therefore pray - and those things that we can actually act on - and maybe pray for the conviction or endurance to pursue) that I'm most peeved with this story.

Final thought: maybe this was prayer motivated by feelings of frustration with the government. Maybe this is equivalent to the "clinging to guns and religion" we heard so much negative press about. If this is the case, then perhaps Obama had it right, after all. (I'm convinced he did, but that's just one small voice, and what does one small voice know about anything?)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Graduation and a bunch of celebrations

The end of this Winter 08 semester has been - for me - somewhat hectic. (Admittedly by being social with people who will be soon leaving the nice safe confines of academia to enter into the real world.)

4/15: A colleague's birthday celebrations at Cafe Habana, followed by post-M.S. project presentation celebrations at Grizzly Peak, then followed by celebrations at Bab's Underground.
4/16: SNRE Spring Picnic in the Nichols Arboretum, followed by socializing at the wondrous (although slightly expensive) Dominick's. (This time, however, someone got bad pizza... Boo.)
4/17: Fundraising event for Environmental Justice track, held at the Elks lodge.
4/18: Celebration of a friends successful dissertation defense, held at Dominick's.
4/19: A [belated] birthday celebration of a graduating department colleague at Pub 13 in Ypsilanti.
4/20: Ushering at the Dalai Lama's visit to Ann Arbor from 7AM - 4:30 PM. Crashed after getting home; slept 14 hours.
4/21: Rest.
4/22: Rest.
4/23: "GreenDrinks"/Net-impact networking event at the Arbor Brewing Company, followed by a colleague's birthday celebrations at Conor O'Neil's.
4/24: Rest.
4/25: GEO BBQ in celebration of the new contracts (and the great efforts of the bargaining team).
4/26: SNRE graduation ceremonies. (I skipped out on the general graduation ceremony on the Diag, even though it was converted to accommodate several thousand seats.)
4/27: BBQ to celebrate the graduation of a friend from the IPCAA program (that's the Classical Archaeology dept for those of you not in the know).

Now is Monday, and the Diag is having its coverings removed. Hopefully, all will be back to summer-time normalcy by tomorrow. (Although I think that is being unreasonably hopeful.)

Friday, April 11, 2008

I step in on the topic of the Olympic torch protests

Via Dispatches from the Culture Wars:
I've been watching the protests around the world as the Olympic torch makes its way toward China. My thoughts are this. First of all, I don't think the US should boycott the Olympics. I think that was a mistake in 1980 and I think it would be a mistake now. All that does is deprive hundreds of American athletes of a lifelong dream they've worked endless hours for (my friend Vinx had his dream destroyed in 1980 when he was on the Olympic team in the triple jump). And it doesn't do anything positive to make up for that.

But having said that, I'm happy to see these protests going on and I'm particularly happy to see them happening in so many different nations. I think that's very hopeful. I am always glad to see large groups of people stand up against oppression. Liberty lives first in our minds and when we casually accept its destruction for others, we let that flame burn out. So I hope the protests continue. It may not change the Chinese government, but it's still sending a strong message against tyranny.
Did anyone hear or read the recent statements made by the governor of Tibet?

Via The Press Association:
Champa Phuntsok, the Chinese-appointed head of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, said he believes supporters of the Dalai Lama, who Beijing has accused of instigating last month's unrest, will seek to use the Olympics to publicise their cause.


Champa Phuntsok pledged that the relay will be "completely successful and safe" in Tibet, adding that authorities have made special security preparations.

"During the torch relay in Tibet and in climbing Mount Everest, if anyone should attempt to disrupt or undermine the torch relay, then they will be dealt with severely according to the law," he said.
This seems - if it were made by a governor of a province/state in a Western country - a ludicrous position. You are the governor of a province that has - for better or worse - a romantic place in the hearts of many Americans and Europeans. It is presently in a state of [controlled] upheaval; protests by the native people against what they still consider as a foreign occupier. The national regular military has already been sent in to quell the worst of the rioting. (Which would cause a massive uproar if something similar was tried in the United States with the regular military.) Why are you blaming the very internationally popular and charismatic exiled and politically powerless leader of the country that is now your province, as well as threaten anyone in your province who is exercising what many people in the Western world (who generally follow a similar model of human rights) consider their right to free speech with a crack-down which may well again involve the use of military force? One obvious reason is that you don't see it the way one might in the West.

Two nights ago on the 10PM EST news show BBC World News America, the commentator said that China was more interested in national security than on its international reputation. This was the main reason that no one in the government would ever talk with the Dalai Lama - doing so would be seen as talking with an illegitimate head-of-state, and a concession of some sort of legitimacy. I suppose the fear is that the unpopular imposition of a Han-Chinese-based form of national identity upon the millions of non-Han peoples (a.k.a., "forced acculturation") would quickly devolve into chaos if the central government made any concessions in Tibet. A part of me is hoping that - as the time of the Olympics draw closer - more ethnic minorities start to protest throughout the country. (If it really got out of hand, it might be the first time that an Olympics was canceled by a host nation for a reason other than a World War. Tragic for the athletes, but I think that they can get over it, but well worth it, imho, if it means greater social and political freedoms for the Chinese people.)

However, one major thing that the Chinese government has working in its favor is its firm control over state media and information. If you look at stories covering Chinese national media coverage of the flame protests throughout the world, you will notice a disturbing trend - Chinese state media covers the protest story hours (if at all) after their first story of how great it was that the flame was making its way around the world.

Recently, the Australian PM, Kevin Rudd, gave a speech at Peking University and made some pointed comments in Mandarin when he went to China the other day. (Apparently, Chinese officials didn't like some of Rudd's comments.) Many of these were focused on China needing to be in harmony with the rules of the world to work toward utopia. (The speech linked to above is apparently a translation from Mandarin, and, as such, draws many allusions that work better in Mandarin than in English.) The fact that he spoke fluent Mandarin meant that his words couldn't be censored by translators, and could only really be censored by omission for later broadcast.

I only bring this up because if you talk with Chinese people - even Chinese nationals in the United States - there is a great defensiveness when it comes to any criticism of their government, or their "right" to hold the Olympics. The root of this type of sentiment may - I assume - be a result of the understanding that citizens not question the policy of the central government, and to unquestioningly accept the statements of history and policy that are fed them. (Ask a Chinese national you know how many wars China started since 1949, the state of human rights in China today, etc., and you are likely to get a very defensive - or completely uninformed - response.)

Going back to the issue of the Olympic flame and the Chinese government, I have to agree with Ed, in that I, too, am "happy to see these protests going on and I'm particularly happy to see them happening in so many different nations." However, I believe that so long as the Chinese government maintains control over all media and information, Chinese people won't understand why people are protesting. I believe that so long as Chinese people are disallowed from openly questioning their government, they will not understand why people are protesting. I also believe that so long as Western nations rely on non-Chinese speakers to deliver international policy statements in China that censoring their speeches will be too easy, and the Chinese people won't be allowed to understand why people are protesting. Finally, I agree with the statement from the BBC, that China is more concerned with its national security than on its international image. It will hold on to as much state control of the media, will attempt to limit the movements of the press during the games, and go back to business-as-usual after the games are over. All this means that - yes - the Chinese people won't understand why people are protesting.

Maybe I'm wrong. Hopefully I'm wrong. I'm scared of how much I may be right.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Problems with EToH fuels

Reading through my usual news feeds (mostly related to science), I found that there were three stories - all through the newsfeed - about how fuel ethanol was becoming less favored around the world. This is not a surprise for me, since I have been - for over a year - skeptical about the claims of how wonderful this new technology is for people and the environment.

The spinners failed (ha!) to show how much energy is required to move energy feed stocks from farms to energy plants. They failed to show how much energy is required to make the ethanol. They also failed to show how much energy is required to transport the ethanol to market. And this is only looking at the direct energy inputs to the system.

Indirect energy inputs to this whole system comes from the energy needed to pump and spray groundwater; create and transport fertilizers and pesticides; clear and plow the fields; and remove the byproducts of stalks and stems to name a few. Then there are non-energy costs to a system of ethanol production which include nitrogen loading in rivers; increased sediment runoff into lakes, ponds, and streams; loss of wetlands; increased use of GMO crops (and we still don't know if there are negative impacts of GMOs in the wild); eutrophication; and burning former conservation lands to name only a few that come to mind.

Stack on top of that rising costs of food around the world (mostly blamed on a hungry India and China); a declining value of the US dollar (causing international oil prices - set to the USD - to rise); a skyrocketing national debt figure; and lowered environmental regulations, you start to get a picture of how bad things might actually be.

And all this I knew before even reading the articles. (I still haven't read through them at the time of this writing.)

The first article - Fueling ethanol production while protecting water quality - talks about the need to minimize the amounts of N and P entering into water systems. Increased levels of N and P have been linked directly to anoxia in the Gulf of Mexico and inland water systems, respectively. The article reviews the benefits of different types of ethanol production - some of which are still experimental - and doesn't really make the point that once a major investment takes place in one form of infrastructure, there is little desire to chance that infrastructure, especially if there are more costs to be incurred. (People want returns-on-investment, not more costs.)

The second article - World cooling on biofuel solution to climate change - touches on some international perspectives of the different needs of food producers and energy producers. It seems to be rather a basic overview of different points-of-view.

The third article - Study finds concern with biofuels - is a summary of an academic essay - Biofuels and Biodiversity: Principles for Creating Better Policies for Biofuel Production- from Conservation Biology. The essay has a nifty table showing that corn has roughly 81-85 kg CO2 emission/MJ energy - one of the highest of all the energy conversion options reviewed. Within the "grass -> ethanol" category, "native prairie grasses" had the lowest GHG emissions potential, with -88 kg CO2 emission/MJ energy (that's right: negative). However, the overall winner (since I presented corn as the overall loser) across categories is using microalgae to make biodesiel, with a whopping -183 CO2 emission/MJ energy!

Speaking of microalgae to biodesiel, there was a story in EcoGeek recently about this. However, I'll not go into it in more detail here. And wouldn't you know it? Just as I went to check on this story, PhysOrg's newsfeed gave me:

Algae could one day be major hydrogen fuel source. Serendipity?

Not really April Fool's Day humor

Via Evolving Thoughts comes a response to the claim that Darwinism was the cause of Jewish persecution. Although done using the satirical application of crossing out whatever religion was persecuting Jews and replacing it with "Darwinism," the underlying message - that Jews were persecuted throughout history, long before Darwin was born - is quite clear.

I have yet to see the film Expelled, because it hasn't come to Australia yet, but I have become absolutely convinced that Ben Stein is correct. Darwinism causes antisemitism. I have therefore conveniently listed all the cases known of this below the fold. I'll stick with those in which Jews were killed or which led up to justifying such killings. I have of course had to correct the Darwinian fake history, which I have done with strikeouts and italic insertions so you all can see how perfidious these Darwinian revisionists are.

38CE: Thousands of Jews were killed in Alexandria, under Darwin's influence, as reported by Philo.

Christian Darwinist era

315CE: Constantine published the Edict of Milan. [...] Jews lost many rights with this edict. They were no longer permitted to live in Jerusalem, or to proselytize.


Eleventh Century

The eleventh century saw Muslim Darwinist pogroms against Jews in Spain; those occurred in Cordoba in 1011 and in Granada in 1066.[3] In the 1066 Granada massacre, a Muslim Darwinist mob crucified the Jewish vizier Joseph ibn Naghrela and massacred about 4,000 Jews.[4]


Twelfth Century

1189 CE: At his coronation, under Darwinian influence, the rumour came that the new king Richard Lionheart wanted Jews killed for not showing reverence to the cross (a common trick by the Darwinists to disguise their activities). Several Jews were killed when mobs of Darwinists set fire to their houses at night.


Thirteenth Century

1205 CE: The Darwinist Pope declares that Jews are in eternal servitude because they killed Christ, a view that originated with the Darwinist Church Father, St John Chrystostom.


Seventeenth Century

In 1648 the Commonwealth [of Poland-Lithuania] was devastated by several conflicts, in which the Commonwealth lost over a third of its populations (over three million people), and Jewish losses were counted in hundreds of thousands. First, the Chmielnicki Uprising when Bohdan Khmelnytsky's Cossacks massacred tens of thousands of Jews and Poles in the eastern and southern areas he controlled (today's Ukraine). It is recorded that Chmielnicki told the people that the Poles had sold them as slaves "into the hands of the accursed Jews". The precise number of dead may never be known, but the decrease of the Jewish population during that period is estimated at 100,000 to 200,000, which also includes emigration, deaths from diseases and jasyr (captivity in the Ottoman Empire). The Jewish community suffered greatly during the 1648 Cossack uprising which had been directed primarily against the Polish nobility. The Jews, perceived as allies of the nobles, were also victims of the revolt, during which about twenty per cent of them were killed.

Nineteenth Century

1809CE: Charles Darwin, the Destroyer, the Evil One, is born

Yes, it is a long piece, but it seems quite extensively researched. I could be wrong, though, since I'm not a student of history. However, any time someone pulls out the Darwin-caused-Nazism canard, point that ignoramus to this page.

Or you can point him to a number of other pages, including PZ Myer's latest statement on how, for such a long time in history, the knowledge that "If members of a population die or are killed off, they will leave no descendants for subsequent generations." Well, duh. That's why so many kings ensured the presence of their "line" by having so many children (which would come to haunt them in the end, as so many claimants for a vacated throne would rally for power).

Wonders of AF'sD.

Via Inhabitat: "New Frank Gehry Residence in Los Angeles."

It is not often that an architecture master reinvents himself, but that is precisely what Pritzker Prize winning architect Frank Gehry has done. Gehry, who first won international recognition with his own residence, a masterpiece of post-modern architecture, has revealed what can only be described as the first post post-modern architectural work, the New Gehry Residence, completely confounding both his critics and promoters alike.


If it seems like this is simply a McMansion, be assured, it is not. This is the work of a modern genius, an artist in his prime. The New Gehry Residence is a masterful adaptation of the architectural typological expression of the modern American homeowner. It expresses, both without any irony and by having a profound sense of modern causticness, the expression of contemporary urbanism. A critical look at the consumer expressionism of the spatial factors involved in the formal relationships of how the shapes simply seem as though they formed themselves. It is a simple, yet brilliant reinvention of the modern American house. It is a work of genius.

Via Wired Online: "Top 10 Creationist Discoveries of All Time."
This has been a huge year for intelligent design research, we took a look back at some of the most important moments. Until recently, Wired has been too hard on the proponents of creationism. To rectify that, our science desk has hired a full staff of religious zealots. Here is their first story:

10. T. rex ate coconuts
According to experts at the Creation Museum, our favorite predatory dinosaur would have fit right in at Whole Foods.

9. The Earth is only six thousand years old
Carbon-13 and potassium argon dating are myths created by the devil to cast doubt on the existence of God.

8. Stem Cells are evil
Curing terrible diseases is not worth the trouble of sacrificing some abandoned eggs from the deep freeze at a fertility clinic.

7. NASCAR is the official sport of the spiritually enlightened
Some forms of entertainment were meant for the pure of heart.

6. Guns were created by God to kill deer
It is our responsibility as humans to encroach on their habitats by building track homes and then blow the sweet crap out of them so that they don't starve to death in the winter.

5. Liberals are evil
Even though most of the truly bizarre sex scandals have involved republicans, and democrats prefer to have affairs with women of legal age, left-wing politicians are morally more morally bankrupt than their conservative counterparts.

4. Civil Liberties are for sissies
Under the benevolent Bush II theocracy, we don't need privacy. Like the Pope, he is in direct contact with God, so we can feel secure knowing that every one of his decisions will be fair.

3. President Bush can look directly into our souls.
Bush II looked directly the soul of Russian President Vladimir Putin and saw that he is a good man!

2. Iraq had ties to Al-Qaeda, was enriching Uranium, and all that jazz.
By bombing Iraq back into the stone age, then occupying it, we have protected our country from terrorism. Who cares if we destroyed our economy while in the process? Dubai is certainly not complaining.

1. Evolution is a myth.
Just ask Ben Stein, evil academics suppress any luminary who dares to question the mounds of evidence that life evolved gradually. Get your facts straight. It took seven days to make the earth.

Via Google: Gmail Custom Time. I love the tagline: "Be on time. Every time." Geeky brilliance.