Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas in St. Andrews

St Andrews University - my alma mater - uploaded a series of videos for Christmas about what students like about St. Andrews University:

The video from around the (older parts) of the town bring back memories. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like they interviewed many biologists... (Or Scots.)

Regardless of whether I liked (or you liked) the videos, I hope you have a very Happy Christmas day.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Gov. Snyder vetos concealed weapons law; gun supporters make bad arguments about why this is a bad thing

In a bit of a surprise, Governor Snyder vetoed the concealed carry law that passed both houses along mostly party lines.

Already you're getting people saying, "Well, that won't stop criminals!" Of course it won't stop criminals. Neither does the threat of jail. Or the threat of the death penalty. Why? Because people who want to break the law will do so.

To all the people who think that social laws actually, directly cause people to do things, you're missing the point of what laws do, and I think you know that to be the case. Laws are not magical incantations that will cause people to change their minds, which is basically what you're saying laws amount to when you say, "Well that won't stop criminals!" Stop it: you're making yourself look stupid.

Okay, so what do laws do? Well, they provide guidance to the public as to what things are socially permissible and within what guidelines of permissibility. Don't want to follow those laws? Okay, well, there's a legally defined penalty. Don't like these laws? Well, you can try to change the guidelines or you can move to a place that doesn't have those guidelines. Laws also provide guidance to government as to what priorities for governance are as well as the procedures for pursuing that form of governance.

Using the argument of, "Well that won't stop criminals," for this ban makes you look both stupid and hypocritical when you try to ban abortions without applying your argumentation of, "Well that won't stop criminals."

It makes you look stupid and hypocritical when you try to ban drugs without applying your argumentation of, "Well that won't stop criminals."

In fact, you make yourselves look stupid and hypocritical when you try to ban anything that doesn't fit with your sense of morality when you don't apply your argumentation of, "Well that won't stop criminals."

Do you see the problem with your line of argumentation? It doesn't work, because people will break laws that they don't want to follow. Why? It's because the purpose of the law is not there for the benefit of the criminal, but to benefit society. And you know that. I'm sure you know that.

ADDENDUM: On December 16th, Annabel Park wrote a piece called "Replying to my pro-gun friends", and it's interesting to note that many of her points can be extended to the pro-gun crazies that are saying that this veto is the worst thing in the world, because it will lead to bad shit happening. (Never mind that you can't logically prove that the lack of something led directly to the outcome of a shitty thing at a later date.)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Whence come trees?

As you walk around Saginaw Forest - or actually any area with trees - you might not have wondered where the trees actually came from. I mean, it was probably never a question that you asked. But do you really know where all that "stuff" that makes the tree actually came from?

Before you check out this video from Veritasium, stop for a moment and make a prediction.

Got it?

Okay, now click, "PLAY":

For all of you who don't have a background in biology, was your prediction correct?

So now that you know where all the mass of a tree comes from, you might have an additional appreciation for why forests (and also deforestation) is important when thinking about the future.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Myths about the Maya Calendar (which doesn't have anything to do with the end of the world)

Many people (apparently as much as 22% of Americans, even) apparently believe that the world is going to end, and that the Maya calendar has something to do with it all. Uhhh... No. It doesn't. Here are two good videos and a decent radio spot (with a conversation with a real, living, breathing Mayan).

Recently from SciShow:

Almost a year ago from CPG Grey:

Recently, on The Story Christina Croc sat down with Phoebe Judge to talk about growing up with the Mayan calendar and what it definitely does not say is going to happen on December 21, 2012.

If none of these - or other pieces of evidence - persuade you, then all I can say is to please just wait until December 22nd before you do anything rash. After all, if the end of the world is coming, you can't do anything to change it, but if it's a hoax, then you would have done something silly despite all the real evidence.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Raking trails in Saginaw Forest

Much of the trails in Saginaw Forest have been raked - by yours truly.



Why did I do all of this? After all, next year, it will all get covered again, right?

Well, each of the last few years, I've had to negotiate walking along the pathways in the springtime, with them in a treacherous semi-frozen, semi-slushed, semi-muddy mess. Over the year, the walking of the trails crushes the leaves, breaking them down. And then, when the snows come, the ground (and leaves and mashed leaves) gets saturated. When this starts to thaw, the leaves produce discontinuous layers of ice, frozen leaves, water, slosh, wet leaves, etc. In other words: a mess.

The idea is that - since most of the soil of the property is sand, and the majority of the paths are gravel laid atop this sand - if I rake the leaves, there will be greater amounts of infiltration in the spring. Furthermore, even in places where the leaf litter buildup and decomposition have accumulated a significant enough layer of soil, raking away the leaves will allow for this soil to be more easily washed away, revealing the gravel path below (thus improving the quality of the pathways - as pathways).

I even raked a trail out to Westview Way, so that it will be easy to stay off the untrodden ground (we don't like unnecessary soil compaction) while walking into the facility:

Thursday, December 13, 2012

An a capella song from St. Andrews students: Christmas Gets Worse Every Year

The Other Guys are an a capella group from my alma mater, St. Andrews. Above, you can see them in the Scottish hills, two of them sporting college scarves (the Bute medical college and the university). Represent!

Here's their wonderfully upbeat cynical song of Christmas that so wonderfully captured the feeling that I saw surrounding me each of the four years that I was a student in St. Andrews. Lord, but I miss this cynical, negative, and depressing nature that so many Brits seem to look forward to (and dread) every year.

Enjoy the upbeatedness of British Christmas cynicism:

h/t to my friends from St. Andrews who posted this on Facebook. :)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

12/12/12 1212: A good opportunity to look at date/time notation

This is the last day for another 88 years and 20 days until we will get to the next DD/MM/YY combination that will be all the same (i.e., 01/01/[21]01). (And I've scheduled this to post at 12:12, which really takes the biscuit for "clocking in" to the current - and dominant - mode of time-keeping on the planet.)

Kinda sad, I s'pose. Still, I was able to live during a period of time that I was able to see so many "calendrical" and astronomical events. ... and remember them, too. Heh.

One nice thing about days like this is that I don't have to worry about what date notation convention to present the numbers in. Should I use the US date convention (month/day/year), the most-of-Europe date convention (day/month/year), or the Japanese date convention (year/month/day)?

I much prefer the year/month/day convention, especially when I have multiple drafts or versions of a document or project; it allows for automatic sorting of the title to display both the evolution of the file as well as present, in explicit notation, the date when the file was last saved. This is in contrast to some people who prefer to use notation like "v2," "v3" etc., which can become cumbersome (after all, how much change is necessary to indicate a new version?) or even the massively cumbersome notation of "new" and "newer", which usually devolves into some sort of hybrid of relative notations (e.g., "new2" or "new2_newer").

Some people might say that the European date and time notation (day/month/year) makes the most sense, since the time increments are increasing from left to right. This is usually used as an extension of the argument that the United States' conventions for measurement are quite arbitrary, antiquated, and confusing:

However, the expectation of left-to-right being equivalent to small-to-big is a normative assumption that has no more logical basis than saying that left-to-right is equivalent to big-to-small. (Similarly, it may be more simple to think in terms of base-ten - as one does with metric - but that choice is also arbitrary, and we could just think in terms of 360; which is also an arbitrary choice. But along that line of questioning madness lies!) Furthermore, the European version of annotation creates large problems of file sorting by name, since the same 28 days (or 30 days if you don't consider February to be important) will be recycled 12 times within a year, meaning that a file that is being worked on for more than one month will encounter sorting confusion:

01012002 = 1 Jan 2002
01022001 = 1 Feb 2001
01032001 = 1 Mar 2001
02022001 = 2 Feb 2001

Here, 2 February 2001 should come before 1 March 2001, since dates in January do come before dates in February. Furthermore, 1 January 2002 should be at the bottom of this list, since 2002 comes after all dates in 2001. These problems go away when you use the Japanese date reporting format:

20010101 = 2001 Feb 1
20010102 = 2001 Feb 2
20010201 = 2001 Mar 1
20020101 =2002 Jan 1

See? No problems.

Earlier today, a friend of mine wrote:
I don't get this 12-12-12 hype. Unless I've somehow time-traveled, we're neither in the year 12 and Jesus is alive, nor are we in 1212 and the crusades are in full swing. 20th of December this year is a lot more interesting to me, if we're talking symmetrical dates.
I couldn't help but respond with this comment:
Heh. Presumably, you'd also be especially interested at 8:12 PM. However, that only works if you're using European date convention of 20-12-2012 20:12. If you're using the Japanese date convention, December 20 would be: 2012-12-20, which is kinda palindromic, but not really.

Once you recognize that date notation is culturally biased and somewhat arbitrary (especially once you consider the various standardization changes that happened to date notation and calendar format that occurred even prior to the standardization that was the Julian calendar in addition to the later restandardization that left us with the Gregorian calendar), then the allowance of letting people get rid of the "20" in front of the "12" makes today kind of fun.

In the end, I recognize that this loosening of the rules for date notation may not be as much fun as having access to a time machine might be, but I'm not one to really wish to travel back to the years 12 (don't know enough Latin) or 1212 (don't want to be burned as a heretic or infidel), and if we did have a time machine the calculations that we'd have to make to ensure that we actually get to that era's notation of a repetitive date value would also take a bit of the romanticism out of the whole thing. 

Anyway... enough proselyzation about date numbering formats; today is one of the twelve that come about every century that make such discussions meaningless - at least for those singular days.

Looking to the future, here's to hoping that in 100 years from today, 12/12/2112, we won't have completely gone and screwed ourselves over, thanks to our evolutionarily stone-age brains being unable to adequately comprehend the intricacies of an increasingly complex, interconnected, non-linear system that is what we call "existence." Hopefully, too, Doraemon will actually be created in September of that year!

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Saturday Omphaolskepsis: They aren't the oldest trees in the world, but...

In reading through my news items for today, I came across an article describing the fragility old trees in a changing climate:
A report by three of the world's leading ecologists in today's issue of the journal Science warns of an alarming increase in deathrates among trees 100-300 years old in many of the world's forests, woodlands, savannahs, farming areas and even in cities.
The reason behind this increased rate of die-off among old trees? Well, it's not only because the trees are reaching the end of their lives (some trees can live for several centuries, after all), but because the environments in which these trees live are changing. And why is this happening? Well:
"According to one popular theory, trees get a double-whammy when the thermometer rises. "During the day, their photosynthesis shuts down when it gets too warm, and at night they use more energy because their metabolic rate increases, much as a reptile's would do when it gets warmer." With less energy being produced in warmer years and more being consumed just to survive, there is less energy available for growth. "This hypothesis, if correct, means tropical forests could shrink over time," Professor Laurance said. "The largest, oldest trees would progressively die off and tend not to be replaced. Alarmingly, this might trigger a positive feedback that could destabilize the climate: as older trees die, forests would release some of their stored carbon into the atmosphere, prompting a vicious circle of further warming, forest shrinkage and carbon emissions."
In Saginaw Forest, we don't think of the trees as being particularly "old" - at least I doubt that many people think of Saginaw Forest as some sort of primeval wood, but it's important to remember that some of the trees on the property have joined the century club, having been planted waaay back in 1904. And these trees are dying off, although whether it's due to being planted too close or due to physiological exacerbations caused by climate stress (since many of these old Saginaw Forest trees are actually native to more northerly regions of the state), I can't say.

Still, it's something to think about when you're walking through the forest, recalling (in some deep recess of your mind) that you are walking through a forested landscape that - while not a "natural" forest - is in the range of 60-100+ years old. It's still a relatively "new" forest in that way, having not "matured" to be dominated by the climax community that we would have experienced way back in the early 1800s: a hardwood forest of oak, maple, and beech. It may also be sobering to recall that - thanks to climate change and the changed driving forces that our new and future climate have on the local ecology - Saginaw Forest will not be changing to resemble that 1800s forest of Southeast Michigan so much as a forest that would have been more typical of central Ohio.

In sum - and to bring it back to the topic of the paper - the century-plus old trees on the northern side of the property will likely die faster now than they would have if the climate hadn't changed, that those trees will also be more quickly releasing their stored carbon into the atmosphere, and that those reaches of the property are on a destined path toward a climax forest that would have been more recognizable around the Columbus, OH of 1800 than the Ann Arbor, MI of that same time.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

SSM update: 15.86% of the US lives in states where SSM is legal

Thanks to the 2012 election, three states voted to allow Same-Sex Marriage (SSM): Maine (reversing a 2009 referendum), Maryland, and Washington. This brings the total to 9 states and the District of Columbia (DC) that allow SSM. The total population of people living in this area (using numbers from the 2010 census) is 48,955,409, which amounts to 15.86% of the national population now living in states where equality stretches to same-sex couples in terms of legal rights and protections of marriage. (Yeah... I'm not talking about what religions choose to do with prosecuting their beliefs upon the adherents to their faiths.)

What's interesting is that Minnesota voted down an amendment to deny SSM. There is also increasing discussion about allowing SSM there, as well as in California, Illinois, and New Jersey. If these four states were to all end up allowing SSM, then the number of people living in such states would more than double, rising to 113,135,816, or 36.64% of the population.

More interesting still is that the states of Nevada, Oregon, and Wisconsin are eying the allowance for "civil unions" for same-sex couples. If we count these states' populations into the total of places where - for purely governmental purposes of guaranteeing and protecting rights and benefits - same-sex couples would have the rights as heterosexual couples, this would represent 125,354,427 people or 40.60% of the population.

These projections of potential allowances for SSM and civil unions are not my own conjectures - they're from the Economist:

This could mean that - by the next presidential election in 2016 - just slightly more than 40% of the US population could be living in a state where state-sanctioned and state-participatory discrimination against same-sex individuals' right to have a state-recognized, state-protected, and state-guaranteed marriage (or civil union). But a recent poll in Michigan is something that is raising the possibility that it could well be more than 40.60%:
A recent survey found that 56 percent of the state's residents support gay marriage while 39 percent oppose it. Two years ago, 48 percent supported gay marriage and 51 percent were opposed.
The walls seem to be tumbling down ... at least away from the Deep South. And if Michigan's shift on this position - along with the shifts seen in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Oregon, California, and Maine - is anything to go by, it's likely that the shifting position on gay marriage rights is shifting in the same direction in other states that share some of Michigan's demographic and political leanings: Ohio and Pennsylvania.

If (and that's a big "if") both Ohio and Pennsylvania were to vote to allow SSM or civil unions by 2016, then that could bring the total population living in such states to 159,476,950, or 51.65% of the nation's population (and - of course - if other states vote the same way, then that number can only climb).

Still, let's not assume that all our eggs will hatch, or that all the chicks even grow into chickens. Let's sit down and actually be really friggin' happy that we now have 15.86% of the population living in a state where SSM-rights have been granted. Let's be even more happy that the public tide has turned to much that public referenda are now granting these rights.

As people come to recognize that same-sex couples aren't the monsters that paranoid traditionalists want to make them out to be, there will be more positive shifts in opinion. As people come to recognize that same-sex individuals are among their friends, their colleagues, and their families, there will be more positive shifts in opinion. As people come to recognize that same-sex marriage does not destroy heterosexual marriages, there will be more positive shifts in opinion.As people come to recognize that same-sex partnerships are often about love, commitment, and raising families in a safe and caring environment, there will be more positive shifts in opinion. And, as people come to recognize that the growing number of states that allow same-sex marriages and unions are not turning into burning pits of Hell, that pedophilia is not going rampant, or that divorce rates of heterosexual couples is not increasing, there will be more positive shifts in opinion.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

More on identity politics and the politics of identity

Yesterday, I posted a video about why Asian Americans didn't vote for Romney. Today, here's a post by Razib Khan about an additional reason (made a little hotly): religion. I don't always agree with the positions that Khan makes, but this is an interesting piece, even if I think that he makes the connections between religion and voting options a little stronger than I'd think:
I was at ASHG this week, so I’ve followed reactions to the election passively. But one thing I’ve seen is repeated commentary on the fact that Asian Americans have swung toward the Democrats over the past generation. The thing that pisses me off is that there is a very obvious low-hanging fruit sort of explanation out there, and I’m frankly sick and tired of reading people ramble on without any awareness of this reality. We spent the past few months talking about the power of polls, and quant data vs. qual (bullshit) analysis, with some of my readers going into full on let’s-see-if-Razib-is-moron-enough-to-swallow-this-crap mode.

In short, it’s religion. Barry Kosmin has documented that between 1990 and 2010 Asian Americans have become far less Christian, on average. Meanwhile, the Republican party has become far more Christian in terms of its identity. Do you really require more than two sentences to infer from this what the outcome will be in terms of how Asian Americans will vote?

Over half of Asian Americans are non-Christian. The track record of non-Christians voting for Republicans in today’s America is not good. In contrast, Asian American lean toward Republicans is fine, assuming that they are Christian (the Evangelical group above excludes historically black churches). Asian American Catholics are somewhat more Democrat than white non-Hispanic Catholics, but far less than Hispanic Catholics. But the issue is that Christians, aggregating the Evangelical, Mainline, and Catholic categories together, only make up ~40 percent of the Asian American population. In 1990 60 percent of Asian Americans were Christian. Today 30 percent follow non-Christian religions. In 1990 15 percent did.

Read the rest (and check out the data) over at Gene Expression.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Presidential firsts (yes, there are more!)

In 2008, Barack Obama was the first not-White man to win the Presidency. This was obvious, and it was a point made by many people.

Another thing was that Obama/Biden was the first Democratic ticket to win an election without having any Southerner (and - by "Southerner" I am not including someone from Delaware or Maryland, which may be historically "Southern", but I'm referring to the "Solid South") on the ticket since FDR/Wallace in 1940!

Of course, his ticket (Obama/Biden) was the first Democratic ticket to win the presidency WITHOUT having to win any Southern state. True, Obama/Biden won North Carolina, Virginia, and Florida, but he didn't need those electoral college votes in order to win:

In 2008, Obama won 365 E.V. If he didn't have NC (15 E.V.), VA (13 E.V.), or FL (27 E.V.), he would have had 310 E.V., 38 electoral votes MORE than necessary to win.

These were Presidential "firsts" from 2008. In 2012, there are three additional firsts (although they are all "firsts" due to re-election):

The obvious thing is - like the beginning - that Obama is the first not-White man to win re-election as President. This is also an obvious point made by many people.

With regard to not having Southerners on the re-elected ticket, Obama/Biden is THE FIRST Democratic ticket to win re-election without having a Southerner on the ticket since Wilson/Marshall's re-election in 1916.

In 2012, (as of this writing) Obama won 303 E.V., while also carrying VA. (FL's 29 E.V. haven't been allocated yet.) This means that Obama would have won (with 290 electoral votes) EVEN IF Virginia didn't vote for him.

Is this the end - for now - of the importance of the South in presidential politics? After all, Obama is a not-White man, Obama/Biden aren't from the South, and Obama/Biden and could have won the presidency BOTH times without even winning any of the Solid South states.

... does this spell the end for the Southern Strategy? I already described why looking at "White Southern men" is not an electorally important distinction, since Obama wouldn't need them to win (and he didn't; he lost the overall male vote, and probably REALLY lost the White Southern male vote). Part of this is due to the demographics of the nation (let alone in the South). If the GOP doesn't change their party politics, they're not going to be a viable party in 12 years' time; the demographics - a fundamental of a country that uses democratic measures to make political choices - are just not with their current preferences.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Happy November: Got one chapter done. Working on another

In order to complete my dissertation, I must complete three research chapters and tie them all together into a nice product by adding introduction and conclusion chapters. Smart person as I am, I decided to research three somewhat-interconnected (but not really overlapping at all in terms of methodology, scope, or data set) things. This has meant overall slow progress (and a tendency to procrastinate through blog writing).

However: as of last Thursday, I submitted my first research chapter to my adviser for review, and I'm aiming to have another chapter written by the end of the month. We'll see if that works.

Fingers crossed!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Saturday Omphaloskepsis: I like small houses, but this is a bit extreme

I am enamored with small houses, and I like the idea of living in a small house: you have to pare down the things that you have, since (unless you buy a storage facility) you just don't have enough space to put things in a small house. In addition, much like in a boat, the need to conserve space means that you have to multi-purpose many pieces of furniture, doing things like making a staircase act as the framing for a storage area or having multifunctional furniture. I find these projects interesting, because I find the solutions need to be innovative and, therefore, the construction and design challenges interest me.

Of course, there are cases where small might be a little TOO small. Thus is (potentially, at least for me) the case with the Keret House in Warsaw, billed as the "world's narrowest house" (probably not, but who's really counting).

Via Inhabitat:
Could you live in house no wider than a door frame? Etgar Keret can. The Israeli writer is now the proud owner of the world’s narrowest building, a home so tiny that you might not even notice it if you’re not looking hard. The house, which is less than five feet across at its widest part (three feet at its narrowest) was designed by Polish architect Jakub Szczesny and is located in Warsaw, the country’s capital.

Kinda narrow and a little too vertical for my tastes. After all, I am a kind of broad-in-the-shoulders guy, and so a house that narrows to about 3 feet will be a little... close. Furthermore, in a previous story on Keret House, Inhabitat reported the following about the amenities:
Electricity will be provided by a neighboring host building, and a water and sewage system in the small space will be free-standing, much like systems used on boats. The first floor of the living space is a work space and a lounge. The second level, reachable by ladder, fits a sleeping loft with a skylight. The top space can be used for storage.
I wonder how much sunlight this house actually gets, and how would one go about cleaning that skylight?

It's all kind of cool and fun and interesting, but - for me at least - it takes things just a little bit further than my interest.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Gonna disconnect for a bit

It's pretty clear that writing itself is not really a problem for me. Nor, too, is the quality of the framing and the composition of my writing. In 2012, I've already written more blog posts (by far) than in any other year. I do, however, have this small thing called a "dissertation" to which I actually need to focus my time and attention.

To that end, I'll be disconnecting myself from all the social media that have been picking away at my time and attention. No more blogging, no more Facebook, and no more Google news feed. I'll also try to limit e-mail to the first and last things at work.

By diminishing sources of inconsistent and unpredictable rewards (e.g., e-mail, Facebook), I will hopefully be able to focus my time and attention more efficiently, rather than spending time procrastinating and being distracted (and stressed over things that I can't really control).

There will be some posts that will go up -- things that are scheduled for posting -- but after that, nothing for a little bit.

Adios for now!

Friday Photos: Autumn Pictures from Saginaw Forest

Some photos of the changing season:

The poison ivy are about to lose their leaves. (Still bad to touch them, though.)

The maples near the gate are slowly moving toward their color shifts.

I decided to quit my raking of the path after I realized how much work was going to be falling from branches in the coming weeks. Still: they need to be raked so that they don't turn into muddy lanes come the spring.

Almost stepped on this guy as I was going back into the cabin. He wasn't any wider than my finger!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Wednesday Wonderings: What if you fixed the false statements that Romney keeps making?

It seems like Mr. Romney has a habit of saying false things (there are two pages of Romney falsehoods on PolitiFact). I’m not saying that he came up with these lies, but he is definitely choosing to use them for his own gain. However, I’d like to take this time to correct some of the things he said.

“Regulations have quadrupled stayed the same. The rate of regulations quadrupled effectively remained the same under this president.”

"In one yearOver the course of several years of investments in local projects, (President Obama) provided $90 billion in breaks to the green energy world … into solar and wind, roads and rail, cars and trains, tax credits and interest subsidies, and direct loans and loan guarantees, to Solyndra and Fisker and Tesla and Ener1, local government projects, state government transit infrastructure, energy retrofits for private homes and small businesses, environmental restoration projects, clean coal technology development, wind turbine manufacturing, and solar panel manufacturing, among many other things that brought about a great deal of local and regional stimulus."

"The president said he’d cut the deficit in half. Unfortunately, he doubled it He has diminished the deficit from $1.41 trillion in 2009 to $1.09 trillion in 2012, which is not halving it, but it is far better than what he inherited."

"Where did all the Obama stimulus money go? ... Electric cars from Finland. Electric car development by the company Fiskers got money at the end of the George W. Bush administration, and it only happened to get disbursed during the Obama administration."

" ‘Obamacare’ stops private insurance companies putting panels of actuaries that ration care that you've paid for while simultaneously actively lobbing to put the federal government between you and your doctor."

"[When I was governor of Massachusetts,] we didn’t just slow increased the rate of growth of our government, we actually cut grew it by 5% per year."

"We have to open up markets for our goods. We haven't done that under this president. ... This president has opened up none three new markets, despite the best effort of the GOP to stop him: South Korea, Colombia and Panama. If the GOP worked with him, doubtless there would be more trade agreements."

"Today (February 11, 2012) there are more men and women out of work or working in part-time jobs in the United States of America than there are people working in Canada, which has a total population 1/9th the size of the US. And in the month of January, Canada created more new jobs than we did. But these numbers only work if we really fudge the crap out of them."

"Never before in American history has its president gone before so many foreign audiences to apologize for so many American misdeeds, and President Obama is no exception. My party's intolerance of anything that approaches the idea of being realistic about the not-always-stain-free history of the United States makes us truly believe that Obama made apologies for the United States' past actions, both real and imagined. We also don't want to remember that George W. Bush apologized to the Iraqis and the Afghans for the seriously poor judgement of many of our soldiers, as well as apologizing to the Chinese for spying on them. We also don't want to remember that George H. W. Bush apologized to Japanese Americans for their treatment in World War 2."

"I don't have a whole boatload of lobbyists running my campaign."

There are many more falsehoods listed on the Politifact page, and only a few are closely related statements. I wonder when Politifact will start rating his false statements from the three debates. Perhaps it will asplode their website, though...

Monday, October 22, 2012

Monday Musings: Why do people park in front of the No Parking sign?

Yesterday, I encountered a few vehicles that were parked at the gate, despite the plain signage that says that it is not legal to park there. For example, there was this SUV that was parked right in front of the "No parking" sign (just in case you had a difficult time to recognize the sign, what with all the colorful foliage, I've highlighted the sign):

No parking

What's more, I decided to look up how many of the previous caretakers kvetched about no parking.

In 2007, in 1991, in 1989 (twice), and in 1987 In other words, it's been a consistent problem.

And I'm sure that the previous caretakers didn't note every single instance of having to report a vehicle (and not every caretaker wrote in the log book, either). I think that the number of people parking at the gate has diminished, but it is still higher than what would be the case if people followed the law.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Friday Photo: Photos from SNRE's campfire

Last Friday, October 12, 2012, was SNRE's annual Homecoming Campfire, and welcoming back of the class of 1962. It was a good turnout this year, with Beet Box providing the food, and the speed at which the food disappeared is a testament to how awesome it was! (It disappeared so fast that - between all the activities I was doing - I wasn't able to take a photo of the spread!)

Anyway, before the Campfire, there was some additional log-splitting that needed doing:
Chopped log
... and I really like that new Fiskars splitting axe that I purchased at the start of the month. It made short work of those ash logs. It's sharp, keeps an great edge, has a perfect wedge for splitting, is well balanced, and is not stupidly heavy.

Prep work also included moving the row boats to a different location:
Moving the row boats

One can't have people taking pleasure rides in the middle of the night, right? And, also, with all the boats there, it makes it difficult to safely run the wader races:
Wader races

Happily, we were able to run the wader race early enough in the evening that we didn't have to do the log-sawing competition in the dark:
Log sawing
... looking back through my photos, I think that this was the first time in a number of years that the log sawing was done during daylight hours. Usually, it has been illuminated by the headlamps and flashlights of all the cheering SNREds.

It was a great honor of mine to also take the alumni of the class of 1962 on a tour of the forest; a place that they had come many times 50 years previous, when they were forestry students. They asked many interesting questions, were heartened to know that the property was still being used for research and teaching, were a little discouraged about the consequences of the lack of serious investment in the property, and generally curious about what changes I knew of that had happened between the time of their graduation and last Friday. What was meant to be a 40 minute tour of the lake trail turned into a discussion that was more than an hour long about many different aspects of the history and ecology of the forest. Hopefully, SNRE's alumni relations will help in trying to get these former students to recount some of their memories of the forest.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tuesday Video: ...- .- -.. .-. ..- -- / -- --- .-. ... . / -.-. --- -.. .

...- .- -.. .-. ..- -- / - . .- -.-. .... . ... / -- --- .-. ... . / -.-. --- -.. . .-.-.- / .--- ..- ... - / --- -. . / -- --- .-. . / - .... .. -. --. / - .... .- - / .- / -.. .-. ..- -- / -.- .. - / -.-. .- -. / .... . .-.. .--. / -.-- --- ..- / .-- .. - .... .-.-.-

Want a translation? Click here for an English-Morse code translator.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sunday Thoughts: Well, that took a bit out of me

Saturday was a day of rest and a general mental haze. Running the Campfire really took it out of me this year, I guess. Still, it was a great time, and there were not many things to pick up afterwards. Now, as the material of the Campfire are being taken away, I am turning toward work.

It's also really a warm and rainy day, with an expected high temperature of 70F. From a low temperature last night of 26F, I am kinda digging this weather.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Friday Photo: SNRE Campfire!

This will be the fourth campfire for which I will be the on-the-ground organizer (you know, because I'm the caretaker). The campfire is part of the University of Michigan's School of Natural Resources and Environment's Homecoming celebrations. We're expecting to have a handful of 1962 alumni at the event, in addition to the local alums who are interested in showing up and showing how things are done. Events like this always seem to gel at the last minute (much like a good souffle), but since tonight is the night, I haven't any photos from this year's campfire.

However, this is a photo from my first year as caretaker (2009). That year, the Campfire was on October 1, 2009, and - as you can see - the trees on the far side of the lake hadn't quite turned yet.

Learning the history of Saginaw Forest

Hopefully, it will be a great Campfire event.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Thursday Thoughts: The length of Chile in the context of the US and the UK

Note: I had this posted yesterday by mistake. Obviously yesterday wasn't Thursday, so I don't know what I was thinking. :D

Chile is an interesting county in that it's very long and narrow and is situated almost entirely along a north-south axis. In these two ways, it is quite different from almost any other country in the world. The closest contender for narrowness and north-south-ness is Argentina, but it is not as long nor as narrow as Chile.

I recently had a British friend and an American friend ask me how long Chile is, and I realized that an answer of "roughly 4300 km (2700 mi)" would be about as unsatisfactory as providing them with today's date in terms of the number of seconds past since January 1, 2000, 12:00:00 AM, US Pacific Time. The distance of 4300 km (2700 mi) is too large to relate to everyday sorts of distances nor of distances that most people would normally and regularly travel. However, people do have a rough idea of how far city X is from city Y from having studied maps, so what would be equivalent distances of travel between cities to get an approximation of the length of Chile?

Well, for my USA-ian friends, a distance of 4300 km (2700 mi) is roughly equivalent to the straight-line distance from southwest border with Mexico at San Diego, CA to the northeast border with Canada at Houlton, ME (a distance of 2750 mi). It's also roughly the straight-line distance from Miami, FL to Seattle, WA (a distance of 2730 mi).

For my UK-ian friends, a distance of 4300 km (2700 mi) is roughly equivalent to four and a half times the straight-line distance from Land's End to John O' Groats (602 mi * 4.5 = 2709 mi). Taking the cycling length of Land's End to John O' Groats (874 mi), if you start at Land's End, you'd cycle all the way to John O' Groats, cycle back to Land's End, and then cycle back to John O' Groats, and then you'd be covering roughly the same distance as the length of Chile.

As a bonus, the average width of Chile is 175 km (109 mi), and this is a distance that most people can relate to. For my friends living in Michigan, this is the driving distance of Ann Arbor to Grand Rapids (i.e., from the bastion of Democrats to the bastion of Republicans). For my friends living in Scotland, this is roughly the distance from Inverness to Fort William and back again. Of course, driving the width of Chile is a little more difficult than driving the width of Michigan or the width of (much of) the UK: in Chile, you start at sea-level on the west and then climb to 10,000 ft or more, often on several switch-back roads (of - unfortunately - diminishing quality). Therefore, the trip the coastal city of Valparaiso, Chile to the border with Argentina at the Uspallata Pass (one of only a few overland border crossings between Chile and Argentina, despite their extensive border) is a distance of over 200 km, starting at 0 ft above sea level and rising to 12,500 ft (3810 m), and takes several hours to make.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Wednesday Wonderings: Why does mist rise from the lakes in the morning?

During the fall, there many morning when Third Sister Lake produces gouts of mist and steam:

Steaming lake

What's going on here? Obviously, the lake is not boiling, and - obviously - there isn't a general fog blanketing the entire forest, so why does the lake look like a pot on the stove? Well, it's due to many of the same principles of what happens when water boils in a pot on the stove, namely evaporation and condensation, but you have to think of these things in terms of heat energy and NOT in terms of water temperature alone.

In the case of boiling water on a stove, water is heated, causing evaporation; the gaseous water requires a certain amount of heat energy to maintain its gaseous state, and if the heat energy of the gaseous water falls below the condensation point, it turns back into liquid water, forming a fine mist. The mist increases in density as the amount of condensing water increases. This is why you see more and more steam rising from a pot of water as it reaches boiling point.

However, it's not only the temperature of the water that you have to consider when thinking about steam formation. In addition to the process of condensation described above, there is also the humidity to consider. In other words, the air itself can only "hold" a certain amount of gaseous water, and this capacity is determined by the temperature of the air; the higher the air temperature, the more water can be held as a gas. This is why there's a lot more steam seen above a pot boiling in very humid conditions than in very dry conditions (even when the air temperatures are identical).

In the case of misty lakes in the morning, all these processes are happening, just like in the example of the boiling pot, except the temperatures are far lower. Throughout the summer, the lake has absorbed and retained a large amount of heat energy in the top layer of the lake. At night -- especially on cloudless nights -- the heat energy in the air rises away from the surface and escapes this local system, thus bringing down the temperature. There is evaporation taking place in the lake, both day and night, thanks to the higher temperatures of the surface of the lake. However, unlike during the heat of the day, at night, since there is a lower temperature, there is less capacity for the air to hold on to gaseous water, and we can measure this as an increase in humidity. As the humidity rises to 100%, the air has a diminishing capacity to hold on to all the water that is evaporating -- due to the heat of the water in the lake -- and so the water almost immediately condenses into mist as it rises from the lake. In fact, if you heat a pot to the same temperature of the lake water, you would see steam flowing up from your pot, even though the water temperature is nowhere near boiling.

Once the sun's rays strike the surface of the water, the humidity is "burned away", in that the local temperature increases enough so that the humidity drops below 100%, thus allowing the air to once again absorb the evaporating water.

Of course, the reason why the lake effectively billows with steam during early fall mornings is due to the relatively large amount of heat stored in the lake combined with one or two significantly cold mornings. The photo above was taken on September 24, 2012, and if we look at the weather conditions measured at the Ann Arbor airport (about five miles away), we see that the overnight temperature dropped to freezing, and the humidity was near saturation. (Of course, this was in an open field, not above a lake, where the saturation would have been 100%.)

20120924 Overnight temps

Yeah, okay, so this was a bit of a rambling post, but I hope that it helped you understand (if you didn't already) why so much mist rises off the lake on cool autumnal mornings. Of course, there is little reason to necessarily understand the why in order to appreciate the effect. In the end, fall is a veritable feast of sights, just like spring was one of smells, and summer one of sounds.

Monday, October 08, 2012

A strange omission at Dictionary.com

Since today is "Columbus Day" in the US, Dictionary.com posted a front-page story entitled, "Why is it called America, not Columbusia?"

Their explanation:
American place names can sound pretty confusing even to native English speakers. From Philadelphia (Greek for “loving brother”) to Chicago (Algonquian Fox for “place of the wild onion”), the map of America is an etymological hodge-podge. For a clear example, take three adjacent states in New England. Vermont is an inverted, rough translation of the French for “green mountain,” mont vert. Massachusetts is derived from the name of the Native American people who lived in the area, the Algonquian Massachusett. The word meant “at the large hill.” New Hampshire comes from a county in southern England. Why do we call a turkey turkey? Learn about the history of nation’s favorite bird, the turkey, here.

But what about America itself? Why aren’t the continents of North and South America called “Columbusia” after Christopher Columbus? The word America comes from a lesser-known navigator and explorer, Amerigo Vespucci. Who made the decision? A cartographer.

Like Columbus, Vespucci traveled to the New World (first in 1499 and again in 1502). Unlike Columbus, Vespucci wrote about it. Vespucci’s accounts of his travels were published in 1502 and 1504 and were very widely read in Europe. Columbus was also hindered because he thought he had discovered another route to Asia; he didn’t realize America was a whole new continent. Vespucci, however, realized that America was not contiguous with Asia. He was also the first to call it the New World, or Novus Mundus in Latin, in his books.

With the discovery of this “New World”, maps were being redrawn all the time. No one really knew what land was where or how big it was. Because of this confusion, maps from the 1500s are incredibly inaccurate and contradictory. (They also often feature drawings of mythical sea creatures.) In 1507, a German cartographer named Martin Waldseemüller was drawing a map of the world–a very serious map. He called it the Universalis Cosmographia, or Universal Cosmography. Comprised of 12 wooden panels, it was eight feet wide and four-and-a-half feet tall. He based his drawings of the New World on Vespucci’s published travelogues. All countries were seen as feminine (like her lady Liberty today), so Waldseemüller used a feminine Latinized of Amerigo to name the new continents, “America.” Cartographers tended to copy one another’s choices, so Columbus was left off the map. The rest is history.

Today, an original of Waldseemüller’s map is permanently on display at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

What do you think of America’s unlikely origin?
Happily, the first comment pointed to the strange omission on the part of Dictionary.com:
Wouldn’t “Columbia” be a more likely name than “Columbusia”, considering that Columbus personally changed his name from Colombo to make it more Latinized?
We, of course, have a country called "Colombia" and we have many mentions of (the slightly Anglicized) "Columbia" throughout much of the United States (including the name of the federal capital of the U.S.: "Washington, District of Columbia"

Monday Musings: Language as a Window

Some people might have noticed that - since a few years ago - I've been writing more about language topics. It's something that I've come to think of more and more these past years, especially since I started learning Spanish and also helping international students with their writing.

I saw this video, and thought that this encapsulates so many of the points of why I might have become more interested in yet another topic of study that isn't technically mine or in my field of study.

Steven Pinker - Psychologist, Cognitive Scientist, and Linguist at Harvard University

How did humans acquire language? In this lecture, best-selling author Steven Pinker introduces you to linguistics, the evolution of spoken language, and the debate over the existence of an innate universal grammar. He also explores why language is such a fundamental part of social relationships, human biology, and human evolution. Finally, Pinker touches on the wide variety of applications for linguistics, from improving how we teach reading and writing to how we interpret law, politics, and literature.

The Floating University
Originally released September, 2011.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Sunday Thoughts: Pedalling a bus? Potentially, yes!

This is just kinda cool, from Brazil, an idea for having a pedal-power assisted bus. Via Inhabitat, we learn that there is a design from "Rever Design Studio for a cycling double decker bus. On the second level, there are 24-27 active passenger cycles to assist in generating the power reserve of the electric bus. The lower level of the bus is for passive passengers and a bus driver. The double decker bus also comes with a back room for more than 30 folding or non-folding bicycles."

I think that this could be an interesting way to travel around Rio. (The question is, though, whether people would prefer to pedal on a bus or pedal alongside and between them...)

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Night sky treats for October 2012

via Andromeda's Wake

The October skies are full of treats. This video is primarily intended for stargazers in the Northern Hemisphere. Twitter! http://www.twitter.com/tomkerss

Meteor observations should be submitted to http://www.imo.net

BBC Sky at Night at the Brecon Beacons Starparty (an event organised by yours truly :P) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00z9r75

Saturday Omphaloskepsis: Romney's flag pin

If you watched the presidential candidates' debate on Wednesday, you might have noticed a few things about the flag pins that were adorning each candidate's lapels.

1st, Romney had a larger flag pin. Not that this is so important, but it is to that mindless nationalism that exists out there.

2nd, Romney had a kind of blob on his flag pin. Based on a story about right wing outrage about how Obama was breaking the flag code, I wondered at the time if Romney would receive the same treatment for what appeared to be disrespect for the flag code - specifically the part that says:
The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.
However, as photos from the Huffington Post show, the flag pin is sporting the emblem of the Secret Service:

The flag code doesn't - itself - say whether this is technically "allowed" or whether it is technically "disrespectful". The closest that I can find is:
No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations. The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. Therefore, the lapel flag pin being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.
Still, although there is no mention of putting an agency's emblem on the flag, poking around the Google searches, I haven't found any branch of the military nor any of a half-dozen civilian agencies that actually have their emblems super-imposed on the flag. However, the lapel pin with the US Secret Service (USSS) emblem does keep showing up.

Beyond the question of whether it's a flag code violation, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have been spotted sporting these pins before, and I have to agree with Pied Type when they say:
Can Romney and Ryan not remember to bring their own pins? Do they maintain pin collections and choose a “pin du jour” appropriate for that day’s audience? As I’ve asked before, since when is a simple, unadorned USA flag pin not good enough?

And yes, I object to the Secret Service pin, too. Wear the flag. Wear a Secret Service emblem. One or the other. Both or neither. But please don’t stick the SS emblem on the flag.

And don’t wear a Secret Service pin if you’re not in the Secret Service.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Friday Photo: A Chinese map showing the path to Eden

The Strange Maps blog over at Big Think entitled its latest entry, "East is Eden: Adam and Eve's Chinese Garden". It's an interesting description about the man who made the map that showed where he believed Eden actually was, which was in China. As Frank Jacobs explains:
They are the work of Tse Tsan-tai (1872-1938), a Chinese revolutionary, newspaperman and Christian propagandist. Born in Sydney and baptised James Yee, Tse moved to Hong Kong whence he started agitating for the Qing dynasty on the mainland to be replaced by a democratic republic. The plot failed to come to fruition, and Tse had more success co-founding the South China Morning Post in 1903.

The second map gives an indication of the geopositional shoehorning Tse applied to the geographical indications in Genesis, identifying India with Havilah. The result is the location of Eden in what appears to be a most unlikely place: an area between the Tarim River and the Kuen Lun Mountains better known today as the Taklamakan Desert. The area, now the world’s second-largest sand desert after the Empty Quarter in Arabia, is one of the most inhospitable places on earth.

Yeah: right in the middle of the map is Eden. That location appears to be roughly where the green arrow is:

View Untitled in a larger map

Apparently, all you need to do is head west from Bayingol along G314, and then turn south at Luntai, taking S165. Forty miles after you cross the (most likely) dry river, drive west into the desert.

This is a rather fanciful notion, since it (also) contradicts the biological evidence, but when it comes to the issue of religion, it seems that science takes a back seat. Still, it reminded me of that really-quite-bad-but-fun-to-watch Taiwanese film, The Treasure Hunter.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Thursday Thoughts: Just how DOES wireless charging work?

I've been thinking about getting a wireless charging station. Partly just because I want to have one; partly because I don't like to remove my AA rechargeable batteries every time I have to recharge them; partly because a part of me thinks that they're likely "green" or something. Of course, I know that I don't need a wireless charger, since most of my battery-operated items share their charging cables (either miniUSB or microUSB) and the rest of them are AA or AAA rechargeable batteries. I also suspect that the current rechargeable batteries that I own can't become recharged without removing them from their appliances, anyway, thus making moot the main points that I had for purchasing them. (A sneaking part of me has always felt that these aren't any more "green" than what I own, either.)

However, here comes a post from PhysOrg that - through the touting of Nokia's new smart phones - explains how wireless charging works. It's basically the process of electrostatic induction:
A transmitter coil is positioned at the bottom (L1) and the receiver coil (L2) is situated at the top and these coils are embedded into different electrical devices. L1 would be the ... Charging Plate and L2 would be the [device]...

An alternating current in the transmitter coil generates a magnetic field, which induces a voltage in the receiver coil. This voltage is then used to charge up the device.

According to Wikipedia, electrostatic induction was first described by the Swedish professor Johan Carl Wilcke in 1762. The first documentation of using this process for wireless charging was published in 1999. I suppose that sometime technological processes take a couple of centuries to begin to mature, which means that we have no idea about the future impacts of what we think of today as a mere "curiosity" of science. (We likely have little knowledge now of how this process of wireless charging will affect how we use energy storage, either.)

On the point of language, in the story on PhysOrg, there mentioned a wireless charging standard out there called "Qi":
Nokia has adopted the Qi (pronounced chi) standard in their wireless charging devices. Qi was created by the Wireless Power Consortium and is used by over 100 different companies around the world, and is the only globally adopted interface. Plus, because it's used globally, you'll be able to charge up wirelessly in different places around the world.
 What's interesting about this (to me at least) is three things:
  1. The choice of the Pinyin spelling, "Qi", over the more legible Wade-Giles, "Ch'i",  or the simplified Wade-Giles, "Chi". I guess that it is likely due to its priority use in Qina China.
  2. The choice of the Far Eastern , a metaphysical analogue of the West's aether/ether to describe energy movement filling the air is kind of interesting; it shows that there is an interest in the West for inclusion of Eastern concepts, but it also hints at the growing dominance of the Far East in areas of technological development. (I wonder if the spelling will be in Latin script in Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and China, or if they will resolve the concept into their respective scripts.)
  3. The prior use of the term "ether" in high tech was to assign it to the faster-than-telephone (but wired) connection to the Internet: ethernet. This effectively puts the term "ether" out of play until the concept of the ethernet falls into obscurity. In a similar way, if Qi becomes massively widespread, then it will leave an indelible stamp on technological jargon. This will then mean that it will unlikely find use in another, newer, process, thus allowing for another culture's analogous concept to qi/aether to arise and be used. This leapfrogging of different cultures to the front of the technological jargon "queue" is kind of an interesting thing to watch, and if things work out for India, then we could well be talking about "prana" or "akasha" systems.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Wednesday Wonderings: Confirmation bias and inability to prove a negative

Scott Lemieux has an article in the American Prospect about "Dems and Reproductive Rights: BFFs", and he makes a very useful point - one that many pundits fail to make, since the narrative is far more interesting than the facts, figures, and statistics:
The conventional wisdom would suggest that supporting reproductive rights is, on net, a national net negative for the Democrats. I see little basis for this belief. The consistent two-for-one public support for Roe v. Wade certainly puts the burden of proof on those who argue that abortion is a net loser for the Democrats in presidential politics. Moreover, contrary to the assumption of many pundits, affluent, educated voters (who are relatively more socially liberal) generally place a higher priority on social issues than working-class voters do. To give another example, claims that same-sex marriage swung the 2004 election for George W. Bush turned out to be empirically wrong. Again, too many pundits focused on the opponents of same-sex marriage that referenda might have mobilized, while ignoring the affluent suburban voters who were alienated by Republican demagoguery on the issue.
To me this is another example - of many - that seem to show that people get all caught up with narrative, and the (conveniently?) forget that there are actual measurables out there that would break their confirmation bias to smithereens. However, so long as they don't look at them, or so long as the narrative continues, there is no need to actually face the chance that their biases are wrong.

What makes this comment different from the right-wingers and GOP-watchers who are currently saying that the polls are all biased against their candidate, Mitt Romney? Well, I'd like to think that their position is consistent with the hypothesis of confirmation bias - they believe that their candidate is better than the other candidate and any attempt to show an alternate reality is actually a overt campaign of attacking their reasonable and wonderful candidate. Therefore, when polls were showing a widening gap against Mr. Romney, it couldn't be that their wonderful candidate was falling behind in the race to a socialist/communist/muslim/atheist/Kenyan not-president who has to read everything off a teleprompter and had everything handed to him due to his race. No: it has to be due to their candidate getting short shrift from "the lame stream, super liberal media". I mean, it had to be true, since all the media outlets kept talking about it, and all the major media outlets had long been labelled as "liberal". The process has gone so far that many on the right have taken to the notion that all the polls have a consistent liberal bias; every single one of them (except for Rasmussen), and there's even been a website created that has "unSkewed" the polls (by skewing the results in favor of Romney by mis-understanding and mis-using the methodology of the Rasmussen polls. (Unfortunately, even "Unskewed Polls" is now showing Obama leading Romney by 4%... so does this mean that this wonderful site is actually ... skewed?)

In comparison, I'd like to think that I can change my opinion when presented with facts of how things are actually happening or how they actually turned out. To that end, I think that this "political wisdom" that Democrats shouldn't endorse so many topics of the bygone culture wars - gay marriage, abortion rights, religious tolerance, teaching science in public schools, gun control, etc. - is just wrong, and built on a false narrative of a sweeping campaign that swept Reagan into two presidential terms. It may have been something that people stood for 30 years ago (which I doubt; people can vote for a President for reasons other than wanting to ban gay marriage and abortion), but times, they are a-changin'.

Oh: and make sure to watch the debates tonight!

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Tuesday Video(s): John Corvino on the topic of Same-Sex Marriage

JT Eberhard's blog recently tipped me off to the videos of John Corvino on arguments for same sex marriage (by dismantling arguments against SSM). His voice is soooo soothing, too.

Here's the 1st: The Definition of Marriage

The 2nd: If Gay Marriage, Why Not Polygamy?

The 5th - Is Gay Marriage a Threat to Traditional Marriage? - is also quite good.

There are nine videos in total; they're all (IMO) quite good.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Monday Musings: ZOMG! Obama is disrespecting the flag!!! (Or maybe not so much.)

From Breitbart.com (Did Obama Violate US Flag Code?):
By now, we’re pretty much used to this creepy, narcissistic cult of personality merchandise from Team Obama. But does this print violate the United States Flag Code, which clearly states in part…”The flag must not be marked with any insignia, letter, word, signature, picture or drawing.” …

If this were Mitt Romney putting his “R” logo in place of our stripes, the media would be in Armageddon mode right now over how egotistical the move is and how incompetent any campaign must be to sell something that so clearly violates the flag code of the United States…

On a personal note, to see a sitting president replace the stars of our stars and stripes with his own campaign logo is simply depressing. At the very least, couldn’t our president be the kind of man who would shudder at the sight of such a thing?
Here's the amazingly horrible no good flag from the Obama campaign:

I'm sorry, but if that is marking a flag "with any insignia, letter, word, signature, picture, or drawing", then there ought to be a similar outcry about how Reagan and Bush desecrated the flag in 1984:

ZOMG!!! Why did Reagan and Bush violate the Flag Code?!?! ... and why does Palin hate the flag, too?

And Lincoln was soooo dishonoring the flag when he ran for president:

Of course, this is all in addition to all the times that Christians disrespect the flag code (like here, here, and here). And let's not forget these other disrespectful activities, too.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sunday Thoughts: White Working Class Voters and Regional Skewness

Sullivan pointed to a few articles the make the point that the White working class preference for Romney is highly skewed the South, which is the only reason why the national number looks bad for Obama.

That's a pretty strong difference. Playing the game, "one of these things is not like the other" should be pretty easy for someone to do: the South is heavily skewed against Obama.

Of course, the South is heavily skewed against the national Democratic party, something that has been increasingly the case ever since the Southern Democrats swapped allegiances and became Republicans In other words, from 1968 onward; arguably the only reasons why Democrats won in the South during 1976 and 1994 was because the candidates were former Southern governors (indeed, in 2008, Obama only won three Southern states: Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida, and Florida is, arguably, not really a Southern state).

However, let's back up a little bit here. Just how large is the South as a population area? Well, according to the 2010 US Census, here are the breakdowns of regions for non-Hispanic Whites (including working and non-working class):

Region      2010 Population
West           38.0 million
Midwest        52.1 million
Northeast      38.0 million
South          68.7 million

This does put the greatest number of whites in the South, and it's likely that the ratios for white collar and blue collar whites is similar throughout the regions (or at least I'll assume that they are).

These numbers mean little for the 2012 election, though, since the South was unlikely to vote for Obama anyway - considering that all but three states in the South voted for Obama in 2008. So, does it matter to Obama's re-election chances that over 60% of Southern White Working class men prefer Romney? It doesn't matter in terms of electoral politics, and that's the hard truth.

Since Obama electoral need for Southern whites is non-existent, based on historical social trends, it would be methodolocially incorrect to include them in your voting trend considerations. Indeed, if we don't include the South, then Obama and Romney suddenly are dead-split for the White vote: 40.75% to Romney and 41.33% to Obama, based on my own rough calculations (using the percentages from here, the regional White populations from here, and assuming that the proportion of working class whites is the same across regions).

In the end, since the Obama re-election team can count on most of the Southern votes going to Romney (save for maybe Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida again), I think that the effect of the massive skew from the South should be removed from the national figures, since it's also skewing the electoral narrative. If we remove the portion of the country that won't vote for another Democratic presidential nominee (at least for the next little while), then we should be comfortable in saying that the narrative that Obama's got electoral worries among White Working Class Americans is - in the context of electoral considerations - a skewed narrative.

Or, to put it in the words of David Weigel (whose analysis is more nicely worded - and nuanced - than mine):
This might be obvious, but I think it gets lost in our daily culture war dialogues. To win the election in a squeaker, Barack Obama needs to win around 39 percent of the white vote. But outside the South, if he's winning, he'll be basically tying Romney with whites or losing them by 2-5 points. He's the first Democrat to win national elections in the post-Dixiecrat era. For generations, the Democratic attitudes of the South made it easier for the party to hold Congress, even as ticket-splitters were voting Republican for president -- Nixon, Reagan, the Bushes. Now it's reversed. A Democrat can lose the deep South in a landslide, but win the presidency, as southern conservatives send a massive crop of Republicans back to the Capitol.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Saturday Omphaloskepsis: The US economic recovery in context

Via The Dish:

All told, the recent U.S. financial crisis looks very similar to the historical crises as detailed by Reinhart and Rogoff – your “garden variety, severe financial crisis.” However the US labor market has performed better than 4 of the previous Big 5 crises and Japan’s economic and employment experience over the past twenty years is unique in its own right.
In other words, it's not happy times, but it's far better other world financial crises of the same scale. (And considering the financial shitstorm that's happening in the EU - which is having knock-on effects on the US and is something that the US can't directly control - it's actually awesome.)

Oh, and Japan is almost through its second "lost decade".

Friday, September 28, 2012

Friday photo(s): Male nudity, the WW2 army, and advertising

Last week, Buzzfeed's copyranter posted a few rather "steamy" and - from today's viewpoint - "homoerotic" towel advertisements from the 1940s. The interesting thing about these towel ads (see more at Copyranter's page), is that the image was based on stories from soldiers themselves - which served as the inspiration for the rather uninspired copy (by today's standards). In the below ad, the story accompanying the drawing of sixteen men in various states of undress is:


Did you ever have to put a net across your bathtub - and share it with a crocodile? Sometimes, according to this med corps captain, you have to do that for a path - in the South Pacific Islands. Since "crocks" have finicky palates, with a partiality for legs, the kids put two nets across a stream an weight them down. Thereafter the "crocks" are on the outside, looking in!

You might not enjoy the bathing facilities of our boys in the service, but you'd heartily approve of their towels. For in many of their service packs are those same husky, durable Cannons you're so proud to use in your own home.... You know how welcome a bath and a good towel are after a trying day. You can imagine how welcome to our men after long stints of marching or combat!

They need them more than we do. That's why there are fewer towels for us. That's why, too, it's important that we take good care of those we have.

When did we get SOOO prudish?