Monday, February 11, 2019

The Real Threat

I understand that The Wall is just a racist scare tactic to make white people fear brown people. But if any of the chanters really cared about safety, they'd face facts.

People killed by gun last year:

Japan: 10
Sweden: 41
Switzerland: 47
UK: 50
Israel: 105
Australia: 207
Total Population: 246,959,950
Total Guns: 8,804,000
Total Gun Deaths: 460

United States...

Population: 329,093,106
Guns: 393,347,000
Gun Deaths: 39,773

Sunday, February 10, 2019

OMFG

I thought we had seen enough nature documentaries such that I wouldn't be totally shocked anymore.

I was wrong.

Blue Planet II is simply mind-blowing. We're watching on Netflix.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

To Max Boot and "Fiscal Conservatives"

I just finished Max Boot's The Corrosion of Conservativism. I really enjoyed it except for the predictable chiding of "the left" for wanting the U.S. government to provide things that every other developed country already has (e.g., universal health care). Like that [explative] idiot Howard Schultz, whenever there is a proposal to actually help people, "reasonable" individuals feel the need to rant about how it is impossibly expensive.

Why is this criteria never applied to the right's priorities?

Ever since Reagan, there has never been a tax cut for the already rich or corporations already with record profits that the right hasn't pushed. But they never ever suggest these trillions of dollars in cuts have to be paid for. All that ever matters is giving the already rich even more money.

But in terms of priorities, consider that in just the next ~16 months, the U.S. government will spend a trillion dollars on the military. How is this making any of us any safer? How is it making the world a better place?

Spending way less on F-35s (or just about any other pork-barrel program) and more on actual foreign aid, foreign development, environmental protection / clean energy, and diplomacy would do immeasurably more for our security, freedom, and humanity's future.

Here's what I would ask of anyone who wants to label themselves a "sensible centrist." First, tell us what your priorities are and why. Then figure out how to pay for them. My priorities include freeing Americans from the horrors of the private health insurance market. We already pay more in public funds per person than most developed nations who already have universal health care. And we get far worse outcomes. I believe providing the basic right of health care to our citizens should be vastly more important than spending more than basically the rest of the world on "military might."

Boot claims to revere Eisenhower and claims to be an Eisenhower Republican. Ike warned all those decades ago:
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. 
"This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter with a half-million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. . . . This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron."
It would be great if Boot, and others, recognized this is far, far truer today.

Regardless, Max, please note that it has only ever been Democrats like Clinton and Obama who have cut the deficit, and Reagan, W, Ryan, and Trump have only exploded it.




Monday, January 28, 2019

Why isn't this breakthrough huge news? From New Scientist

Fixing a flaw in photosynthesis could massively boost food production

By Michael Le Page

Intelligent design has triumphed where evolution has mostly failed. Biologists have boosted the biomass of tobacco by around 40 per cent by compensating for a fundamental flaw in photosynthesis.
The team is now working trying to introduce the same changes into food crops, starting with cowpeas and soybeans. “The funding agencies are really keen on getting this technology into the hands of the world’s poorest,” says team member Amanda Cavanagh at the University of Illinois in Urbana.
The key ingredients of life are molecules made of chains of carbon atoms. Plants assemble these chains from carbon atoms taken from the carbon dioxide molecules in the air.

Evolution’s greatest mistakes

But the enzyme that grabs hold of CO2 and adds it to a carbon chain often grabs hold of an oxygen molecule by mistake. This generates toxic molecules that plants have to expend energy to mop up. This fundamental flaw has been described as one of evolution’s greatest mistakes.
To be fair, it wasn’t a huge issue when photosynthesis first evolved, because there was little oxygen around. But as oxygen levels rose and CO2 levels declined over the aeons, it became a huge problem for plants. The grabbing of oxygen by mistake – called photorespiration – now happens so often it can reduce the efficiency of photosynthesis by as much as 50 per cent.
A few plants have evolved a solution: they concentrate CO2 inside them to reduce the odds of oxygen being grabbed by mistake. But most of the plants we eat, including almost all vegetables and fruits, and key crops such as wheat, rice and soybeans, can’t do this. Biologists have been trying to find a fix for decades.

Rerouting the process

Based on this work, Cavanagh and colleagues designed three alternative pathways for dealing with the toxic byproducts of photorespiration. “What we tried to do was to reroute the entire process,” she says.
They genetically engineered these pathways into tobacco, chosen because it’s an easy plant to modify and has a short life cycle. In field tests over two seasons, the biomass of the best performing plants was boosted by more than 40 per cent.
In 2016, another team boosted tobacco biomass by around 15 per cent by improving plants’ ability to cope with changing light levels. “The hope is that we can stack up these traits and get additive gains,” says Cavanagh.
But making fundamental improvements in photosynthesis might have some risks. In theory, upgraded crop plants that turn feral or interbreed with wild relatives could have a competitive advantage over most other plants.
But even if this trait does spread beyond farms it’s unlikely to cause serious problems, says plant geneticist Maureen Hanson of Cornell University.
“Enhanced growth of a weedy species is not likely to disturb ecology as much as we already disturb it through the environmental effects of traditional agriculture,” she says.
And in the wild plant growth is mainly limited by the availability of water, nitrogen and phosphorus, not by photosynthetic capacity, says Andreas Weber of the Institute for Plant Biochemistry in Duesseldorf, Germany. “I don’t think that the trait would provide a selective advantage to natural vegetation.”

Big boosts

The risks also have to be weighed against the benefits. Most efforts to improve crops produce only tiny yield increases. Big boosts are desperately needed to feed the world’s growing population while reducing greenhouse emissions via bioenergy and still leaving space for the wildlife we depend on.
Even if the most glaring flaws in photosynthesis were fixed, plants would still be far less efficient at capturing the sun’s energy than solar panels. That’s why many researchers are trying to develop artificial forms of photosynthesis.

Journal reference: ScienceDOI: 10.1126/science.aat9077

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Equality

It seems like there has always been an attitude of "Kids these days!" Looking through history, crotchety adults have complained about the spoiled, lazy, disrespectful kids with their music and crazy clothes and obscene dances and "fancy new technology" (radios, telephones, etc.).

So it is easy to dismiss the book The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt as yet another in the long series of adults whining about kids these days. Yet I found a lot of interesting and useful insights in the book.

Perhaps the most relevant for me is their discussion of "safetyism," the idea that kids need to be protected from everything. This resonated with me. When EK was four years old, my mom asked what values they had learned - EK answered "kindness and safety." I still have flashbacks of three times something really bad almost happened to EK.

Lukianoff and Haidt make the point that humans are antifragile - that we need to experience stress and be tested to get stronger. Not that everything that doesn't kill us makes us stronger, but that facing (reasonable) challenges is the only way we can grow and develop. "Luckily" for EK, they've had plenty of challenges (despite my best efforts). (We were just talking about how something that happened in 2007 had a very specific influence from then on.)

Where Lukianoff and Haidt lose me is their argument against looking at outcomes when working for social justice. Their example is that under Title IX, the University of Virginia made women's rowing a varsity sport to help offset the huge (men's) football program. Their argument is that if more males are interested in sport than females, why shouldn't there be more (school-sponsored) athletic opportunities for the boys?

But how can we know that there is an inherent difference in interest? Who makes those determinations? For as long as adults have complained about kids, white males have said that girls don't like math and are more concerned with "nurturing" than having a career. (And blacks don't care about school or are "natural athletes," etc. And not just from ignorant rednecks - Nobel laureates, too, like James Watson.)

I'm not a "blank-slater" - I don't think that every human is conceived and born with equal potential in all areas. It is theoretically possible that Larry Summers is factually correct that boys have a greater standard deviation in math ability (see this for more discussion; see this for a counterpoint). But my question is: how can we know? People treat a baby - a baby - differently if that baby is dressed in pink vs blue. The same baby!

Can we really think that being treated a certain way from day one doesn't have an impact on a child's interests and subsequent "strengths"? Can we really claim that anyone who is not a straight white male is not influenced by society's stereotypes of them? It just boggles my mind that anyone would think they can measure the "natural and inherent" inclinations and skills of anyone.

This, of course, brings up Sam Harris' egomania. He paints himself and his center-right straight male friends as the only ones willing to "speak the truth." One of his "only I'm brave enough to say" claims (in addition to his bewildering ongoing insistence to talk about race and IQ) is that James Damore was "right" in his Google memo that women just don't like working with computers, so tech firms should stop trying to hire women.

I think the evidence actually does not support Damore and Harris - listen to this for an explanation (video version), and see this for proof that it doesn't have to be this way.

But regardless, can he really say that no girl could ever have an interest in coding? Here's my question to Sam: would you really want your daughters to have to work with someone with Damore's attitude?

What continues to amaze me is that straight white males spend their time defending Charles Murray or complaining that male rowers at the University of Virginia aren't varsity athletes. Do they really think these are the main injustices that need to be addressed?

More importantly, can they not see that promoting the idea of "natural" and "inherent" differences between men and women or between races supports active discrimination (you don't have to watch many videos of Nazis and white supremacists before you hear one of them pointing to Charles Murray's book The Bell Curve as "scientific proof" of racist views). Questioning underlying societal assumptions, recognizing the power of nurture and stereotypes, and working for more equality in outcomes is better than supporting the straight-white-men in control status quo.


Sunday, January 6, 2019

Dreams

Just as we don't celebrate specific days, I generally don't make resolutions. But on Pod Save America, Jon Lovett said he resolved to be more grateful and to get to a point where he doesn't have to tell himself to be grateful.

There is a phrase "the (wo)man of my dreams." But here is something I just realized today: Anne is not the woman of my dreams. Before I met Anne, my expectation of any relationship was that it would be constant "hard work," with the hope being that it would be 51% good. A dream would be maybe 70% good.

That is not the case.

Even after 26 years and many many stressors, I am still amazed that basically every day with Anne is easy and amazing and awesome. So much so that it actually seems unreasonable or even fantastical when viewed objectively.

But I'll take it.  👍

In Colorado, 2010. I just replaced that ~20-year-old sweatshirt yesterday.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

That's ... very specific

Sam Bee: "Everyone knows how I feel about guns. I hate them and want to melt them down into jewelry for transgender vegans."

Thursday, December 27, 2018

For the New Year: Why keep hoping and working


E found this song - how can you top the lyrics?

Song:

Lryics

The reason that I'm not a nihilist
Is some day I wanna live like in Star Trek
And I know that we'll never build starships
Until we tackle poverty, war, and hardship
So we fight overnight and over lifetimes
Organize for that warp drive
And of course I realize
That we're a long way from it
But what better reason to start runnin'? [literally]


No friction; no flame
No struggle; no progress
No sweat
How many times do we have to win
'Til you realize that we are not lost yet?


There is no Superman in that phone booth
There is no rewarding our faith
There is no one who can save us
So it's a good thing we don't need to be saved

There are no starships in low earth orbit [yet]
No aliens to save us from ourselves
There is no voice willing to speak for us
So it's a good thing we know how to yell

There is no chosen one, no destiny, no fate
There is no such thing as magic
There is no light at the end of this tunnel



So it's a good thing we brought matches

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Very Fine People on Both Sides!

In Sam Harris' podcast "Conquering Hate," his guest Deeyah Khan talked about how the Nazis and white supremacists she's interviewed claim they aren't racist:

"Jared's [Taylor] whole thing is around racist science, where's he's trying to promote a hierarchy of intelligence and IQ and that's it's natural for us to discriminate against people of color because they have lower IQ."


Sam's reaction -- and this is also a quote: "The special problem with people like [Richard] Spencer and I think it might even be more true of Jared Taylor is that there is truth mingled in with his racism."

Un-fucking-believable.

And in case this seems like cherry picking quotes, Sam then goes on (and again, direct quote): "You raised this issue of IQ and the biology of intelligence. There are actually politically inconvenient data that have impeccable scientific bona fides at this point. And more data's coming all the time."

I'm at a loss.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Chocolate Crinkles! (Redux)


These are easily the best cookies I make, but they take two days. Here is a much simpler version.

What is tough about these is that my Mom's original version is so very egg-intensive. That is why I have found using silken tofu to be necessary to supply the amount of bulk to them. Using that much banana changes the flavor, and things like ground flaxseed don't fill out the cookies enough. I do add ground flaxseeds to the cookies, though, just for the added nutrition. These cookies are thus a health food!   ;-)

Given that they are so intensive (relative to the amount of time I have for cooking), I double the below recipe. I bake half one day, and the rest a week later (the dough keeps in the fridge just fine). Also, I have tried to bake the cookies the same day as I put the dough together, and they just don't come out as good. I don't know why refrigerating them overnight is important, but there you are.

  • 1/2 C vegetable oil (I use canola)
  • 4 squares (4 oz) unsweetened baking chocolate
  • 2 C sugar
  • 4 eggs worth of substitute (I use ~1/4 C soft silken tofu for each egg)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 C flour (not whole wheat)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 C powdered sugar

Soften (but don't completely melt) chocolate as you prefer (I put in a glass 2 C measuring cup and microwave on low until soft). Mix oil, vanilla, and your chosen egg substitute (e.g., silken tofu). Add in sugar and blend very well. Mix flour, baking powder, and salt together. Mix that into the oil mixture. Chill dough overnight.

Heat oven to 350 degrees, and lightly oil cookie sheets (unless you have nonstick sheets). Take about a spoonful of dough, shape into a ball, and roll in the powdered sugar. Place about 2" apart on cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes; they should spread out like in the picture above. Feed to non-vegans, and when they say how great they are, admit that the secret ingredient is tofu!



Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Quiz

Who is 6' 2", 160 lbs;
Married the love of his life in October 1992 in Illinois;
First kid born in July;
A self-described nerd?



(Oh, that also describes me as well  :-)


Monday, December 10, 2018

Is Sam Harris the Most Self-Centered Person in the World?


In the latest "Ask Me Anything," Sam was asked about the person who wanted to change his age from 69 to 49. In his answer, Sam compared it to the white con-woman who posed as black, and then to trans people. He concluded that we don't allow people to change their age merely because not enough people are "clamoring to do so."

Once again, Sam's lack of empathy and insight is astounding. This person wants to change his age to benefit himself. No one comes out as trans to benefit themselves. 2018 has had the most murders of trans people in the United States ever, and a similar rise in the rate of violence. This is not to mention what many trans people go through with family and in the workplace.

Hey Sam -- how many people are beaten to death for turning a certain age?

That Sam could even consider for a second that there is some equivalence between "feeling younger" and being trans -- let alone go on the record saying so -- is, to my mind, extraordinarily damning.

In the same AMA, Sam was asked about white privilege. His answer was mostly a long rant about "what about the privilege of a natural athlete??" He went on and on about how great it must be to be a natural athlete.

WTF?

Sam also revisited his interview with Rebecca Traister. Again, as he did in the intro to the podcast itself, he bemoaned the fact that he hadn't been able to interrupt Rebecca during the interview. Bizzare.

And again, in the AMA Sam claimed it was important that we see how unfairly celebrities have been treated by #MeToo, because "they are the canary in the coal mine." But what was his example of the great injustice? That people were mean to Matt Damon on Twitter.

It would appear that Sam's algorithm is simple: How will issue X affect well-off straight white men? More and more, it seems to me that is Sam's only concern in the world. He's become a new Jordan Peterson, just telling straight white men what they want to hear. How else can you possibly explain his contention that cross-burning darling of the KKK Charles Murray is "the most unfairly maligned person in my lifetime. That doesn’t really run the risk of being much of an exaggeration there."

PS: Another white guy pines for a time when only white guys had power.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Consciousness and Moral Concern

I've almost never come across anyone who addresses the question of consciousness rigorously. Thus, I was exceedingly impressed with Luke Muehlhauser's work for the Open Philanthropy Project. I don't agree with his estimates, but it is the only thorough and truly open-minded effort to explore the question of which creatures should have moral consideration that I've come across.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Being a Part

After our Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot, EK was a part of two successful campaigns by Ron Barber, who had been Gabby's chief of staff. In 2014, with EK in California at college, Rep. Barber lost by fewer votes than EK would have made calls. That handful of votes were the difference between a congressional vote in Trump's pocket for all his hateful and destructive policies, and a vote and voice opposing hate and bigotry.

Election night two years ago (after making calls myself), I stayed up alone, trying (and failing) to get drunk enough to pass out. Then I waited for EK (then in DC) to wake up and see the news.

I never want to experience that again.

So while some people say your vote doesn't count, working to bend the arc of history toward justice is definitely better than just trying to drink yourself into oblivion.

That is why it was worth it to canvas all afternoon, rather than watching the Steelers and doing more email.

Team Introvert