science nerge

San Francisco Deep Ocean Disposal Site

You’d think now that we’ve all been through the nothingness that was Y2K, people would have learned their lesson about apocalyptic predictions. To whit: they are quite obviously bullshit.

The Y2K frenzy started getting whipped up early on in the 1980s, and many of us gleefully danced to Prince’s “1999” as a song commemorating the end times. 1999 seemed like a million years away, so if the world were to end then, so be it — we’d go out partying.

Man, that does look like a long time ago, doesn’t it?

Then it was actually the 1999, and everyone started to believe the world really was going to end, or some massive apocalyptic crap was about to erupt. The fact that much computer code was created with allowing for four-digit years added to the panic. I was a coder at the time (back then I was called a “computer programmer”), and I had a hard time convincing the company I was working for that converting the company computer systems to allow for the year 2000 was not a big deal. I don’t think they believed me until the computer network didn’t explode January 2, 2000.

But, humans evidently prefer to be in a state of fear and panic, because less than a decade later, they are getting all freaked out 2012. Ya know, the year the Mayan calendar ends. There are those who believe that they ended the calendar to coincide with the end of earth.

During our morning commute, K and I noticed a lenticular cloud hovering over Mount Tamalpais, which we couldn’t recall having seen previously. This immediately brought to mind K’s Mom who, when she sees these clouds over Mount Shasta (where she lives), believe that this is really “lenticular cloaking” to hide the UFOs hovering over the mountaintop. And this led to our discussion of UFOs and 2012.

K said, “If the Mayan were smart enough to predict the end of the world, how come they didn’t predict the end of their civilization? This is just like the predictions of Nostril damn us.”

As you may have noticed, whenever there’s a large disaster in the U.S. — like 9/11 — folks immediately start claiming that Nostradamus predicted it. Evidentally, he only cares about disaster that affect Americans or Europeans, ’cause no one starts quoting Nostradamus during things like The Killing Fields or genocide in Rwanda.

When I was done laughing at K’s purposeful and clever mispronunciation, I commented on the “lenticular cloaking”, to which K responded, “You George Clinton, the P-Funk master, is about to come off that mothership.”

In any case, if you feel your life is empty of panic, fear, suffering and especially gore, you can toddle over to your local megaplex and enjoy(?) the Hollywood interpretation of 2012. According to K’s brother, also K, it’s the “biggest collection of junk science I’ve ever seen.”

I think the biggest disaster in that film is how John Cusack, once the funniest person around, has fallen so far. Sad, sad, sad.

Water discovery fuels hope to colonize the moon

cute-prairie-dog.jpgDefenders of Wildlife sent an email today about their lawsuit against the EPA for approving two chemical to KILL prairie dogs, brand names Rozol and Kaput-D, chemical names chlorophacinone and diphacinone. As it says in their press release,

Rozol and Kaput-D contain blood-thinning drugs that cause poisoned prairie dogs to slowly bleed to death through “various orifices, including eventually the skin membranes”

pedestal.jpgIn case you think they’re exaggerating, just try to read this Efficacy Review for chlorophacinone on EPA’s website without barfing. I had to stop reading it because it was so horrible. I can’t imagine anyone reading this document, never mind conducting these experiments, and thinking, “Great! Slow, horrible death! We’re good to go.”

On top of this, prairie dogs actually need more protection not widespread destruction as called for by cattle ranchers.

Well, I guess it was time for EPA to get knocked off the nice pedestal I had put it on.

your and Koko’s mamaIt’s come to light that the common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees did not drag its knuckles. That behavior evolved later on, meaning that chimps been evolving for as long as and with as much complexity as humans.

It interesting to me that science continues to prove what is easily observable. In this case, in “proves” that animals are just as or MORE evolved than humans. I mean, just look at frickin’ birds. For the last couple of hundred of years they have been considered far inferior to humans, hence the term “bird brain.” But anyone who is being truly objective (which scientists are *supposed* to be) can see that they are way more evolved and complex than we are. More recent studies show that their ability to use tools rivals primates, and other advanced skills. And that’s just birds.

In general, civilization by its very nature seems to destroy any respect or appreciation of animals.

A while back I read this very disturbing book, Passing by Nella Larsen. One of the most talented writers of the Harlem Renaissance, and I’ll be damned if I wasn’t familiar with her name. They makes me feel like a terrible ignoramus. Much like Zora Neale Hurston, she was railroaded out of the literary world and, in Larsons case, this very talented writer ended working as a nurse for most of her life.

Larsen had a white mother, but as you know that is of no consequence in this country because of the one-drop rule. The story takes place when everything was segregated according to race BY LAW, and the people who were mixed race — but looked white and were considered black — had hard choices in their lives.

Today there’s another form of passing — that is, racists trying to pass themselves as non-racists. They fool no one, and their cynicism is sickening.

When we watched Obama’s health care speech, it was clear to K and I that the disrespect towards Obama is completely racially motivated. It’s so obvious that these White Men can’t deal with the Black Man being their boss, that they don’t think he deserves to be his boss (because he is Black), so they can treat him any way they wish. Which is to say, rudely and condescendingly.

Today, Jimmy Carter said the same thing — the disrespect is clearly racism. And how did the racists respond? With loud protests to the contrary.

“There is not a racist bone in my dad’s body,” he said.

Yeah, is that so? Well, fuck you, racist son of a racist.

Indeed, according to this incredibly well-researched study, most Americans are racist against African-Americans whether they admit it or not:

Discrimination against blacks linked to dehumanization, study finds

The study, “Not Yet Human: Implicit Knowledge, Historical Dehumanization and Contemporary Consequences,” shows how American subconsicously view African-Americans as subhuman, which leads to their being treated as such.

Now, how can a former segregationist and lover of the Confederate Flag, who yells, “You lie!” at the President, say there’s no racism in that? Man, I don’t know how these assholes sleep at night. I guess they have no soul left to bother them.

epajpg.pngEver since Lisa Jackson has become the Administrator of the U.S. EPA, it has been kicking serious environmental protection ass. It is very easy to adore Action Jackson, a person with calm and charming presence who consistently and incessantly DOES THE RIGHT THING.

Today, par example, EPA came up with not one but two major announcments. One, it’s going to monitor more closely agricultural pesticides whose runoff negatively effects salmon populations (good news for K, who loves him some salmon),


scrutinizing new applications for mountain-top removal coal mining, a disgusting and insidious practice.

Yep, EPA fucking rules.

For all you folks out there wondering what’s the next nerdy book you should have on your book list, I recommend You Are Here. In a mere 274 pages (in my hardbound edition, at least), you will come to know everything from the far reaches of space to the smallest charmed particle in quantum physics.youarehere.jpg

Unlike other books I’ve ready about physics and the universe, this book is NOT written by a scientist. That’s right, Potter is an ordinary citizen like you and me except that he is a British fellow and who lives half time in London and half time in New York City — which doesn’t sound much like my friends or me. But he is a layperson, albeit a particularly nerdy one given the science covered in his book, and we do like very nerdy nerds.

Some books on similar topics by scientists really are commonly either too difficult or too dry. If you’ve attempted to read Einstein’s explanation of the Special Theory of Relativity or Stephen Hawkin’s The Universe in a Nutshell you know of what I speak. One exception to this would be Alexander Vilenkin’s Many Worlds in One: The Search for Other Universes., which I believe is significantly helped along by Vilenkin’s propensity to illustrate sophisticated concepts with his cute cartoons. He’s a funny guy. Hawkin’s book has hecka illustrations, all beautiful full-color graphics, but they never seemed to help me as much as one of Vilenkin’s silly cartoons (for an example, see pg. 11, “A chunk of gravitationally repulsive material).

Although there are no illustrations in You Are Here, cute or otherwise, Potter clearly leads us through not only the history of the universe but the history of histories of the universe. I found out many tasty nerges so I must say one to you right now. Did you know there was a Pre-Socratic Greek philosopher names Democritus , who thought up the idea of atoms? I’ve never heard of the guy, and the idea of atoms were lost for centuries after his demise. Yeah, you here all about Socrates and Plato and Aristotle, but here’s a guy who actually came up with something relevant to actual science, and you never learn about him in school.

So, back to the universe, specifically the Big Bang. There are a couple of brilliant methods Potter employs to explain things. One is to break things down by scale or time (which overlap occasionally). He first does this by explaining the relative size of things, starting with things that are 1 meter (100) to 10 billion light years (10 26). This give one a (false) sense of perspective on the size of the universe, which we cannot actually perceive with our pea-size brains, but with this explanation, one FEELS, momentarily, that understanding the immensity is in one’s grasp.

With the Big Bang, Potter uses this same technique with time to explain how the universe evolved from 10 -43 seconds to 3 minutes to 380,000 years. Besides breaking it down in time, he explains when things crossed over from energy to matter via a particle called the Higgs boson. (Really, one particle is responsible for the creation of matter? That’s some particle!)

He also clearly explains quantum physics in a way that gives you just enough information to understand the concepts but no more. Which is good, because any more information usually makes it all sound like a bunch of made up crap. (Really? You call it a particle zoo? He also explains (simply, again) why the quantum world has different laws than the “classical” worlds, and how it’s hard to find the bridge between the two. Going back into scientific history, there’s a strong propensity for physicists to try to find a unifying theory of everything. E=mc2 is one of those great moments when this sort of happened. The Theory of Relativity unified a hell of a lot but not everything. Scientists are still trying to figure out what’s behind EVERYTHING. Which is a question not too very different from WHAT THIS ALL ABOUT, ANYWAY?

While I was reading this book, K was reading a book on mindfulness called Coming to Our Senses. He read a quote to me which I fail to recall but had to but we saw a definite intersection between our books. A long time ago, philosophy and science were intertwined. Granted, the science wasn’t very … scientific, but there you have it. It’s very difficult to write about something as awe-inspiring as the entire universe and not have philosophical thoughts about it and the meaning of life. Conversely, it’s difficult to think about the meaning of life (by which, we usually mean “my life”) without wondering about the universe. These schools have been artificially separated so that science can progress unencumbered, but we see how well that has gone for the world. Although, their separation is probably for the best, as “philosphy” often becomes “religion”, and then people start throwing god into the picture and it all become mired in emotion (see the film Contact for an excellent exploration of this problem).

Oddly enough, the part of the book you’d think was the most interesting — the development of life, and consequently of thought — was the least interesting to me. I wonder if this is because we have a basic understanding of biology — you see it all around you every day — but where is quantum physics or quasars? We can only be exposed to them in books or computer animation. The interesting part, though, is that he demonstrates the line between alive and inert is a blurry one. We all came from the big bang, you, me, and the rocks outside. There’s a strong relationship between volcanoes and other earth activity of the planet and the creatures on the planet. We are all made of the same stuff, and we are all intertwined together. Many peoples over the history of time knew this; unfortunately, the dominant culture of the world does not. The majority of humanity is destructive and cancerous to the planet. In fact, we may not really be around much longer in the scheme of things. But the earth should exist for 5 billion years, so it’s very likely that if we don’t make it, lots of other creatures will. Dragonflies have existed for 300 million years, so it’s likely if we don’t make it, they will still be flitting about. What will happen to the development of thought, with or without humans, is about as opaque as a black hole.

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