Archive for November 2007
I went to get a pork roast for sandwiches because I picked up some discontinued mustards at Safeway: walnut mustard, tarragon mustard, and Roquefort mustard. The butcher didn’t have any pork roasts on display, so I described what I wanted: about this size, no bones, roast to refrigerate for sandwiches. This is at the Grove Market in PG—the Quonset hut—where they have good butchers and particularly good pork.
He nodded, walked into the cooler, and came out with a plastic-wrapped side of pork about the size of my grandson. The older one. “Is that the smallest you have?” I asked in a quavering voice. He laughed, cut away the plastic, started up the bandsaw, and soon had me a wonderful little pork roast.
In the meantime, the short, stocky standing-rib roast (one rib) was eyeing me (though The Wife says I’m mistaken—it was the rib-eye that was eying me. Chortle. (Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) invented that word: a portmanteau word of “snort” and “chuckle”.)) So I got that as well, and cooked it this evening according to the Cook’s Illustrated method — no horseradish sauce, but I did use Maldon salt.
And, for the first time, I got a box of wine, a Shiraz. It’s quite good, and I really like the packaging. It’s the ideal way for me to get white wines, since I can keep them cold and use them a little at a time. Great innovation.
I was recently reading a very interesting article in Science News, and came across this part of it. (The payoff sentence is at the end, but bear with me.)
When physicists smash heavy atomic nuclei together with sufficient energy, the atoms’ protons and neutrons break up. For less than a sextillion of a second they melt into a blob called a quark-gluon plasma. It’s similar to the state of all matter in the first microseconds after the big bang.
Beginning in 2000, Dam Son, now at the University of Washington in Seattle, and his collaborators wanted to calculate a quark-gluon plasma’s viscosity—roughly speaking, a measure of how quickly the plasma will dampen turbulence within it. In principle, one should be able to do such calculations using the known equations of particle physics. When quarks are not bound together, though, those equations become extremely hard to solve.
But in a quark-gluon plasma, quarks will experience extremely intense forces, whose strength does not vary appreciably as the particles move. That makes the plasma’s behavior a good approximation of the conformal field theory that rules Maldacena’s sphere at infinity. Starting from that assumption, Son showed that Maldacena’s duality translates the physics of plasma turbulence into that of black hole earthquakes.
A gravitational disturbance, Son says, will alter a black hole’s shape, which is otherwise that of a perfect sphere. In response, the black hole will “oscillate, radiate energy, and settle down to be spherical again.” Son and his collaborators calculated how quickly the seismic waves on the black hole’s surface will dampen down. Translated back, the calculation suggested that the viscosity of a quark-gluon plasma could be much smaller than physicists thought possible.
Initially, some nuclear physicists were nonplussed, to say the least, about the idea of doing nuclear physics using black holes. “The first time I heard about it, I literally thought it was crazy,” says William Zajc of Columbia University in New York City.
In 2005, however, physicists at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y., announced the results of an experiment that collided nuclei of gold atoms, melting them into a quark-gluon plasma (SN: 4/23/05, p. 259). The stuff’s viscosity seemed close to Son’s prediction, says Larry McLerran, a RHIC (pronounced “rick”) experimentalist.
Many physicists working at RHIC—Zajc being one of them—changed their minds about Son’s calculation. “It’s far more useful than we ever imagined,” he says. “The fact that it was done in some higher-dimensional space and it involved black holes—well, that just added to the intrigue.”
Since then, some of the RHIC physicists have revisited certain theoretical assumptions used to interpret the experiment’s data. As a result, some say it’s no longer so clear that the viscosity is as low as Son claimed it could be. Not everyone buys the black hole model of a quark-gluon plasma. “It’s certainly interesting, but you have to be very skeptical about it,” he says.
Get that? Although the statement is interesting and seems at first blush to work, one must be skeptical about it. In other words, more evidence is demanded. It must be justified by actual observations and experiments. It is not simply accepted.
Very refreshing. And no wonder this country is frightened of science—the last thing the ruling establishment wants is skeptical citizens.
Two weeks ago, we challenged our readers to see if they could discern the difference between MP3 recordings at different sampling rates. Nearly 700 completed our study. So does a very high sampling rate result in a noticeable difference? Here our are basic results:
Respondents rated two recordings, one by rock guitarist Carlos Santana, and another by orchestral composer Aaron Copland. Each recording was encoded into an MP3 file at three different sampling rates: 64, 128, and 256 kbps. For both recordings, there was a significant difference between ratings of the 64 kbps sampling rate and the 128 kbps sampling rate, but no difference between ratings of the 128 and 256 kbps sampling rate. It’s looking like the 256 kbps MP3s offer no advantage over the much smaller 128 kbps MP3s.
For decades, the tobacco industry has poured advertising dollars into boosting smoking among women, running ads linking smoking to themes that appeal to women, like fashion, equal rights, ethnic pride, and success in friendships and the workplace. Their efforts have been a wild success, as evidenced by the skyrocketing rate of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) now being diagnosed among women. COPD, which results from smoking and takes decades to develop, has quadrupled among women since 1980. Now more women than men are hospitalized and die from it. With more women than ever dying from cigarettes, tobacco companies like R.J. Reynolds forge ahead, targeting special brands towards women, like Camel No. 9, marketed in packs colored with hot-pink fuschia and minty-green teal, and marketed with the slogan, “Light and luscious.” Mmmm, good — if you like lung disease.
A commenter who has decided to quit the blog once was quite scathing (in the comments to this post) to my point about the incredible secrecy practiced by the Bush Administration, so different from the Clinton Administration, which was quite open and frequently allowed advisers and other Administration officials to be questioned by Congress. He basically didn’t buy it.
But Bill Keller, in a lecture in London, had some remarks on this point:
My assignment tonight is to talk about the state of newspapers in America. No doubt you have read that newspapers, at least in my country, are beleaguered. That is undeniable. Let me count the ways.
To begin with, we have endured nearly seven years of the most press-phobic government in a couple of generations. I don’t intend to blame the plight of the newspaper business on George Bush. He did not invent our great disrupter, the internet. (That, you recall, was Al Gore.) The Bush administration has merely fed a current of public antipathy that has been running against us for a long time, a consequence of our own failings and, perhaps, a tendency to blame the messenger when news is bad. But Mr Bush has contributed to that unwelcoming environment in at least two significant ways.
First, he has rejected out of hand the quaint idea of our founders that the press has a constructive role to play in American society, and that this role consists in supplying citizens with the information to judge whether they are being well served by their government. The Bush administration believes that information is power, and that like most other forms of power it is not to be shared with those the regime does not trust. It most decidedly does not trust us.
Whatever you think of its policies, the current administration has been more secretive, more mistrustful of an inquisitive press, than any since the Nixon administration. It has treated freedom of information requests with contempt, asserted sweeping claims of executive privilege, even reclassified material that had been declassified. The administration has subsidised propaganda at home and abroad, refined the art of spin, discouraged dissent, and sought to limit traditional congressional oversight and court review. The war in Iraq alone is a case study of the administration’s determination to dominate the flow of information – from the original cherry-picking of intelligence, to the deliberate refusal to hear senior military officers when they warned of the potential for chaos, to the continually inflated claims about the progress in building up an indigenous Iraqi army.
Much more at the link.
The sardines seem to be back, and Whole Foods regularly now has fresh Monterey Bay sardines. I got four of the little guys for lunch—good size, each weighing about 2 oz. I just poached them in water, put lemon juice over them, a little salt, and then used the fork to fillet them as I ate. Very yummy, very high in omega-3.
Other exciting news: I saw a Smart Car driving around Pacific Grove, and the new Trader Joe’s near downtown Monterey opened today. I like TJ’s—for example, I consume a lot of ground cinnamon. Little spice jars of ground cinnamon at Safeway: $4.49. At TJ’s: $1.69. Same stuff, so far as I can tell, and certainly the same size jars.
“Compassionate conservatism” seems to be over, if it ever existed. Joe Klein (yes, that one) writes, though this time from his own direct observations:
I attended Frank Luntz’s dial group of 30 undecided–or sort of undecided–Republicans in St. Petersburg, Florida, last night…and it was a fairly astonishing evening.
Now, for the uninitiated: dials are little hand-held machines that enable a focus group member to register instantaneous approval or disapproval as the watch a candidate on TV. There are limitations to the technology: all a candidate has to do is mention, say, Abraham Lincoln and the dials go off into the stratosphere. Film of soaring eagles will have the same effect. But the technology does have its uses.
Last night, for example, it was apparent from the get-go that Rudy Giuliani was having a very bad night. Mitt Romney clearly got the better of him in the opening debate about illegal immigration. Romney’s dial numbers hovered in the 60s (on a scale of 100) while Giuliani (40s) seemed defensive, members of the focus group later said…and they thought Romney seemed strong, even when defending his Sanctuary Mansion. (I mean, if you care about illegal immigrants–which I don’t understand in the first place, because I don”t–shouldn’t you check the people working your lawn and, if you have doubts, hire another company?)
In the next segment–the debate between Romney and Mike Huckabee over Huckabee’s college scholarships for the deserving children of illegal immigrants–I noticed something really distressing: When Huckabee said, “After all, these are children of God,” the dials plummeted. And that happened time and again through the evening: Any time any candidate proposed doing anything nice for anyone poor, the dials plummeted (30s). These Republicans were hard.
But there was worse to come: When John McCain started talking about torture–specifically, about waterboarding–the dials plummeted again. Lower even than for the illegal Children of God. Down to the low 20s, which, given the natural averaging of a focus group, is about as low as you can go. Afterwards, Luntz asked the group why they seemed to be in favor of torture. “I don’t have any problem pouring water on the face of a man who killed 3000 Americans on 9/11,” said John Shevlin, a retired federal law enforcement officer. The group applauded, appallingly. …
More at the link.
Another sexual reproduction theory bites the dust.
According to behavioral ecologist Dr. Jakob Bro-Jørgensen, female topi (an African antelope) can become extreme aggressors when it comes to mating, a shift in status-quo reproductive theory in which males are relatively persistent and females are relatively resistent members of the mating duo.
Every 1.5 months, a female topi is fertile and therefore becomes extremely sexually promiscuous, successfully mating with an average of four males with each male mounting her anywhere between 2-36 times (called intromissions). Females seek out and attempt to mate with males that have acquired the most territory in a breeding area – the mark of a studly topi – but will mate relatively indiscriminately if given the opportunity. And if there isn’t an opportunity, a female will make one – above is an image from the author’s nice PNAS piece in which a female is revving up to head-butt a male who is attempting to mate with another female. Go get ‘em!
After all, for these females, a small window of fertility means that conception and pregnancy is serious business – if it doesnt’ happen then, it won’t again for a long while. Talk about upping the ante.
So, given that a female topi’s strategy is to mate with as many males as possible while fertile, how could male topis not be the happiest little antelopes to grace the savannah??
As it turns out, the female mating strategy of “persistence wins out” doesn’t benefit the male topi in the least. In fact, our most studly male topi, who mates inceccently during females’ most fertile periods, may be at the greatest disadvantage. Males have limited stores of sperm, which are quickly depleted with multiple matings. And, to ensure the greatest likelihood of his offsprings’ survival, male topi would prefer to practice more selective mating, in which sperm could be distributed in a more discriminative manner to the cutest female topi.
In other words, males would prefer more choice in the matter.
But, while males of other species can resist sexual advances more easily, the female topi is relentless. How? Simple: they push the males around!
Pre-mating aggression is 10x more likely in dominant females than subordinate females. It comes as no surprise, then, that dominant females mate more often than subordinate females. By being pushy, a female can prevent a male from resisting by making her presence very, very conspicuous (a nice head-butt to the side will do that for you). But, if a male counter-attacks, say “so long” – while males only do so 7% of the time, he typically refuses the female as a mating partner, a harsh consequence.
Wonder what a topi date would be like…
Once again, dear friends, the US seems ready to overthrow another nation’s government, something we pretend to deplore:
The New York Times had a news article about Venezuela in Thursday’s edition, but it was about Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez saying he would cut diplomatic ties with neighboring Colombia. There wasn’t a word about a memo from a CIA operative in Caracas to CIA Director General Michael Hayden, uncovered yesterday, outlining a plan for interfering with a Venezuelan referendum set for Dec. 2, and laying out the steps for instigating and backing a coup.
The plot, called “Operation Pliers,” and laid out in the letter to Hayden by an undercover operative named Michael Steele, who reportedly works in the US Embassy as a “regional affairs officer,” was intercepted by Venezuelan intelligence and released publicly on state TV yesterday.
In the Nov. 20-dated letter, Steele refers to an $8 million US-funded in-country propaganda campaign against Chavez and the referendum, already being implemented, which is designed to institutionalize many of Chavez’s socialist reforms and to permit him to continue to run for president beyond his current two-term limit. He proposes trying to stall the referendum, which pro-Chavez forces are expected to win handily, and failing that, to then promote a campaign to refuse to accept the results. Steele further confirms that the agency is working with international news agencies in an effort to distort reports about the referendum and the reforms. (CNN had to apologize for a “mistake” which led to the words “Who killed him?” superimposed over a photo of Chavez broadcast on CNN’s Spanish-language international broadcast in Venezuela. Was this a deliberate CIA-inspired black-op?)
Among the tactics Steele recommends in his letter are:
- Promoting street demonstrations and violent protests
- Creating a climate of ungovernability
- Provoking a general uprising
- Working through the US military attache at the embassy to coordinate with
- ex-military officers and former coup plotters against Chavez.
Even more darkly, the letter calls for initiating “military actions” to support opposition mobilizations and strategic building occupations, involving US military bases in neighboring Curacao and Colombia to provide support, and even taking control of parts of Venezuela in the days after the referendum, while encouraging a “military rebellion” inside the Venezuelan National Guard.
The CIA communication has been reported in articles filed by the Associated Press, but the Times and other major US news organizations have not mentioned it . Instead, the Times today ran a column by Roger Cohen, which compares Chavez to the fascists of 1930s Europe, and which calls for defeat of the referendum. (Are Cohen and the Times part of the CIA’s propaganda campaign?)
The Cohen column is so rabid that it would be almost comical, were it not for the fact that there is a real threat of a bloody CIA-inspired coup in the democratic nation of Venezuela.
In fact, I thought it would be fun and instructive to alter Cohen’s hit piece a bit, substituting the US for Venezuela, and Bush and Cheney for Chavez, to show its hypocrisy. Here then, a sample of the only lightly tweaked column:
Krugman from his blog:
I have a T-Mobile cell phone, which uses GSM technology; it works all over the world — and in parts of New Jersey. One of the parts of New Jersey where it doesn’t work happens to be my own home.
As a result, I’ve been acutely aware of the price America paid for not doing what Europe did, and settling on a single mobile standard.
But defenders of the American non-system argued that it would pay off in the long run, by spurring competition that would lead to faster technological progress.
Never mind. From John Gapper:
I am afraid that history has not been kind to this argument. Europe has stayed ahead of the US in mobile telephony, and in 3G services. Having one technology standard has spurred competition among network operators and handset manufacturers while competition in the US has been stymied by a proliferation of technologies.
Europe is also pulling ahead on broadband, again because of judicious regulation. There’s a lesson in here somewhere.
One of the (many) tired tropes of the Right (and Lou Dobbs in particular) is that immigrants refuse to learn English. That’s behind all the nonsense about making English the “official” language of the US, and so on. But, like so very many of the Right’s assertions, it’s totally false. Check this out:
Manuel Pereda, 57, spent years studying English during the day and working as a dishwasher at night. His wife, Rosa, 54, practiced common phrases and constantly looked up words in an Spanish-English dictionary.
The more English the couple learned, they assumed, the better jobs they could get and the more money they could send home to their families in Mexico. Still, despite more than three decades in the United States, they feel more comfortable in their native language, often speaking Spanish at home, at work and while doing errands in their Huntington Park neighborhood.
Their U.S.-born daughter, Damaris, 20, however, speaks primarily English with her friends, at college in Azusa and at her seasonal job at Disneyland. She values her bilingualism but said growing up in the U.S. has made her more articulate in English than in Spanish.
A study released Thursday by the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center, reports that in families like the Peredas, for whom Spanish is the dominant language among immigrant parents, English fluency increases across generations. By the third generation, Spanish has essentially faded into the background.
Latinos recognize that learning English is key to economic success, according to the study, which was based on survey data collected between 2002 and 2007.
“The ability to speak English is a crucial skill for getting a good job and integrating into the wider society,” said D’Vera Cohn, a senior writer at the research center, a nonpartisan research organization that does not advocate immigration policy. “Language is a vehicle for assimilation.”
Though the findings echo the history of immigration waves in the U.S., experts said, they counter the widespread perception that Latino immigrants do not assimilate and that their large numbers are a threat to the English language.
One great Christmas present for young people, I think, is a Kiva credit that they can use to make a microloan: you buy the credit, they get to choose the recipient of the microloan (up to the amount of the credit) and they get the regular reports on how the person is doing. For example, just this morning I learned that the microloan to this person has now been fully repaid. So now I can withdraw the funds, or reloan them to some other recipient(s), or donate them to Kiva. It’s extremely satisfying, and I highly recommend making Kiva microloans a part of your holiday giving. http://www.kiva.org
I won’t continue to obsess about the book, I promise. But a couple of factoids that interested at least me. First, its current sales rank on Lulu: 86,060. So we have a ways to go.
Second, the Guide to Gourmet Shaving was Lulu project number 769,757. So they have lots of projects. But look: the Cooking Compendium project number is 1,538,066. That’s in just a few months. I’d say Lulu.com is meeting a need and finding a market.
Someone asked about the price: I wanted to keep it under a good cup of coffee so that people would not be reluctant to take a chance on it.
Truefitt & Hill West Indian Limes shaving cream (with the estimable medium Edwin Jagger Silvertip brush), and then the Edwin Jagger Lined Chatworth with a Treet Blue Special blade, and finally Geo. F. Trumper West Indian Extract of Limes aftershave.
The shaves these days are all exceptional, so I think you can take as given that it will be a shave some degree better than 9.6. Once the technique is solid, and you’ve found the blades that work best for you, and you have the prep solid with good products… well, Bob’s your uncle. You’ll get day after day of shaves that are not only good but highly pleasurable. And then you will find yourself trying to convince others of this fact, and will all too often meet with objections: “If what you say is true, I would have already have heard about it and know it” for example. Or, “I shave, and I want to tell you it’s no pleasure at all.”
I made this dish, with a few changes.
After cooking the garlic and anchovies in the olive oil, I added about 1 1/2 tablespoons of chile-garlic paste. I cooked that until everything seemed okay, and then put in a can of diced tomatoes (with garlic and olive oil), about 1/2 cup of chicken stock, 1/2 cup of radiatore, and a good amount of freshly ground pepper. I covered the pan, simmered all that for 9 minutes, removed the cover and raised the heat to boil it for a couple of minutes (to evaporate water and thicken the sauce).
When NY’s Superintendent of Insurance announced a 14 percent across-the-board rate hike for medical liability insurance on July 1, 2007, doctors raised a hue and cry that the increase threatened a crisis in access to care because doctors could no longer afford to practice in New York and would be leaving the state or otherwise restricting their medical practices. As in the past, doctors again blamed the premium increases on skyrocketing claims and lottery awards and demanded tort reforms that would cripple meritorious malpractice claims by the victims of medical negligence.
Today Public Citizen released a report that exposes these claims of the doctors as full blown, deliberate and obvious exaggeration: A Self-Inflicted “Crisis:” New York’s Medical Malpractice Troubles Caused by Flawed State Rate Setting and Raid on Rainy Day Fund. These same claims have been made by doctors during each of the three cycles of rising premiums that have occurred over the past thirty-plus years. Our report shows that rising malpractice premiums are not the result of any escalation in the frequency or severity in malpractice payments. The increase has nothing to do with patients, lawyers, judges, or our courts. It reflects an insurance problem.
Public Citizen’s analysis of the best available New York data demonstrates that the number of malpractice payments made on behalf of doctors in 2006 was at its lowest point since 1991. The total amount of malpractice payments for doctors, adjusted for inflation, was near or below fifteen year average in three of the past five years.
The amount of malpractice litigation in New York has not changed appreciably over the past eleven years. Thus, it is clear that the 14 percent increase in premiums did not reflect a sudden or dramatic change in either malpractice payments or litigation behavior.
In fact, the records of the Superintendent of Insurance show that the recent rate hikes come after a period of abnormally low rate increases. During the eight year period from July 1, 1995 through June 30, 2003, medical malpractice premiums actually declined by an average of 1.4 percent per year. The average rate hike since 1991 has been only 3 percent, less than half the rate of medical services inflation.
The GOP faces up to global warming—not:
“You can only hear that the sky is falling so many times,” said Kentucky Representative Jim Gooch, explaining why he only invited global warming skeptics with no scientific background to address state legislators on climate issues. Gooch, the Kentucky Democrats’ chief environmental strategist, is “a longtime ally of the coal industry.” His invitees were James Taylor, a fellow with the Heartland Institute, a think tank partially funded by ExxonMobil; and Lord Christopher Monckton, an adviser to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who once suggested that HIV / AIDS patients “be locked up for life.” During the Kentucky hearing, “Monckton quoted the Bible and quickly recited math formulas as he accused [Nobel laureates Al] Gore and IPCC scientists of lying to make warming seem worse than it is.” Taylor claimed that “most scientists don’t believe in global warming,” and that hotter weather would allow “our children” to “enjoy an Earth with far more plant and animal life.” After protests by legislators, Gooch allowed “two environmentalists in the audience talk about global warming … for about five minutes each.”
So: they’re using natural gas as the hydrogen source:
Business Week provides some new – and exciting – information about Home Energy Station that Honda is going to market alongside its new 2008 Honda FCX Clarity, a market-ready car powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. BW reports the that Home Energy Station, designed to be installed outside the Clarity owner’s home and which reforms natural gas to produce hydrogen will actually produce enough hydrogen “to power both the car and the home’s energy needs at around 50% of the normal cost and with a 30% emissions reduction.”
As we wrote about recently, Honda’s Clarity is not some exotic-looking techmobile, but rather a stylish sedan that just happens to not run on a single drip of fossil fuel. I believe the Honda FCX Clarity may be a game-changer in the automotive industry.
The Honda Home Energy Station uses solar-powered though, presumably, you also connect it to the grid for cloudy days.
Initially only a limited number of these groundbreaking vehicles will be leased to Southern Californians starting during the summer of 2008, but Business Week says Honda is clearly aiming to take the Clarity to other markets too.
The Home Energy Station is part of that effort. With it, Honda is hoping to “break the catch-22 dilemma stopping motor companies from producing cars because there’s no hydrogen distribution, and stopping fuel companies from distributing hydrogen because there’s no cars that use it. To nurse consumers through the infancy of the hydrogen economy, Honda’s also attempting to decentralize the production of hydrogen.”
This is a brilliant move on Honda’s part. And it’s got a payoff beyond making it possible to operate a hydrogen fuel cell-powered Clarity. The Home Energy Station “has evolved into an energy-saving power station for the whole home,” says Business Week.
Running on a home’s existing natural gas supply, the Home Energy Station IV produces and stores hydrogen, while providing heat, hot water and electricity to an average-size home.
The Home Energy Station IV can reduce both cost and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions for the consumer. Compared to the average U.S. consumer’s home with grid-supplied electricity and a gasoline-powered car, a home using Home Energy Station IV to help produce heat and electricity and also to refuel an FCX Clarity can reduce CO2 emissions by an estimated 30 percent and energy costs by an estimated 50 percent.
“Honda is striving to address the need for a refueling infrastructure for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles,” said Ben Knight, vice president of Honda R&D Americas. “The Home Energy Station represents one promising solution to this issue, while offering the added benefit of heating and powering the home more efficiently.”
The natural gas is reformed to produce hydrogen, which is then run directly through to a fuel cell stack to generate electricity for the home and enough heat to run the hot water supply. When immediate consumption is not needed, the hydrogen is refined, compressed and stored in a large tank for later use, or to fill a hydrogen car like the FCX Clarity.
BW also reveals some Clarity performance specs:
- Fuel economy that is to the approximate equivalent of 68 mpg, about 2-3 times the fuel economy of a gasoline-powered car, and about 1.5 times that of a gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle of comparable size and performance.
- Vehicle range of 270 miles.
- Powertrain nearly equivalent, in terms of volume, to a modern gas-electric hybrid powertrain.