29 July, 2008

McCain and Self-Parody

I've been searching for an outlet where I can express the self-parody that the conservative movement, the McCain campaign, and the mainsteam media have become. Finally, an answer in the form of this interview with John McCain. Here are some choice quotes, liberally taken out of context:
McCain on getting out of Iraq:

MCCAIN: We're not coming home in victory. We're coming home in victory.

McCain on timetables:
STEPHANOPOULOS: You shouldn't have used the word timetable.
MCCAIN: I didn't use the word timetable. That I did -- if I did...
STEPHANOPOULOS: [Quoting McCain:] "Well, it's a pretty good timetable."
MCCAIN: Oh, well, look. Anything is a good timetable that is dictated by conditions on the ground. Anything is good.
(Italics mine.)
McCain on nostalgia:
MCCAIN: I like six months, three months, two months. I like yesterday. I like yesterday, OK? That seems really good to me.

McCain on invading Iraq:
MCCAIN: I don't believe so. We were greeted as liberators.

McCain on cleanliness:
MCCAIN: I would declare that we will scrub every agency of government...

McCain on economists:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Not a single economist in the country said it'd work.

MCCAIN: Yes. And there's no economist in the country that knows very well the low-income American who drives the furthest, in the oldest automobile, that sometimes can't even afford to go to work.

McCain on oil companies absorbing the benefits of a gas tax:
STEPHANOPOULOS: How would you prevent that?

MCCAIN: We would make them shamed into it. We, of course, know how to -- American public opinion. And we would penalize them, if necessary. But they wouldn't. They would pass it on.

McCain on the current president of Russia:
MCCAIN: We need to improve their behavior. We need to make them realize that the G-8 was founded -- basically, countries that are democratic, have our values and our goals and shared principles. And President Putin and...

STEPHANOPOULOS: The former President Putin.

McCain on quotas for affirmative action:
MCCAIN: Yes, I do. I do not believe in quotas. But I have not seen the details of some of these proposals. But I've always opposed quotas.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But the one here in Arizona you support.

MCCAIN: I support it, yes.

Plenty more where those came from.

25 July, 2008

Flying Sucks

But higher gas prices may make it better, although far more expensive. Read more about it here.

24 July, 2008

Update on Walk Score

Our favorite judgey site is in the news! The most and least walkable cities in the US, here.

23 July, 2008

Pure Gold

18 July, 2008

Summer's almost gone...

For those that are interested, this is the grand result of my research this summer – a plot of the T1 relaxation time vs. Temperature for 4,4’-Dimethoxyoctaflurodiphenyl (“DMOFDP”).

It’s absolutely beautiful and mysterious.

Supposedly, plots like this are useful to biochemists for understanding how and why DNA and other nuclear ‘characters’ interact the way they do. For instance, it aides in figuring out why the molecules involved in DNA replication are shaped the way they are, and how their defects might cause diseases.

DMOFDP is an organic molecule with two aromatic rings surrounded by fluorine atoms and with two “rotors” pegged onto opposite ends. The rotors are just three hydrogen atoms bonded to a central carbon atom, which is attached to an oxygen. The three hydrogens “rotate” freely around the carbon when zapped with radio frequency light.

The important thing here is that the hydrogens (that are rotating) and the fluorines (which are attached to the rings in the middle) can exchange energy (since they are similar spin systems). By looking at the plot above, we can learn how much energy it takes to rotate the hydrogen rotors, and how much they interact with the fluorines.

We got the light blue points by pulsing the fluorine atoms, and the purple points by pulsing the hydrogen atoms. Where there are two purple dots (a light colored one above, and a darker colored one below) the hydrogens are interacting efficiently with the fluorines.

What do I mean by ‘interacting efficiently’? Imagine two empty tanks, side by side, connected by a valve that is either open or closed. One tank has a hole in the bottom. At the beginning of the experiment, you will fill one of the tanks, and record how quickly the water level drops. Now when you fill the tank with the hole in the bottom, how fast the water level drops depends on the size and shape of the tank, and the size of the hole. But if you open the valve to the other tank, the water will equilibrate between the two tanks immediately (at a fast rate) and then drop at a slower rate together. The tanks are the hydrogen and fluorine systems, and whether or not the valve is open affects whether or not they interact, or exchange energy.

This is all very exciting, since the current theory doesn’t explain such interactions at the temperatures shown in the plot. I’ll spend the next 7-8 months developing the theory and writing about it.

The factions unite

Here, indisputable evidence that the rift in the Democratic party is a thing of the past.

17 July, 2008

14 July, 2008

Eating Local: Any Reason is Every Reason

Many of us have recently expressed interest in eating more local, organic, sustainably raised, or home-grown foods. After spending last summer working on an organic farm (and spending this summer missing it), I have become much more confident about how doable this can be.

Obviously we will never again be a society that eats only local foods while they are in season, nor should we be. We also won't return to a time in which the majority of people raised (any of) their own food. Still, I don't think the current division of labor justifies the cultural disconnect we experience between ourselves as consumers and the producers and localities of our food. Further, it is relatively easy to find out where food products come from, unlike most manufactured products, which combine raw materials and labor from many locations.

It is also fairly easy to see how both we as consumers and the farmers are cheated by systems that deliver apples from New Zealand to grocery stores in the midwest during apple season. For the consumer, the immediate cost is the freshness of the food (both in taste and in nutrients, if the products have been frozen or harvested early). For the farmer, the cost hits directly in the wallet: a farmer gets on average only 21 cents of every dollar you spend in the conventional grocery system (USDA, 1997).

Therefore it behooves us as intelligent, healthy, and environmentally-conscious eaters to reach out to re-form a connection with local agriculture. Step One: shopping at places where they post where food comes from (co-ops), places where you know it's local (farmer's markets), or directly from farmers (CSAs).

I thought I would share a few resources I have been using lately, supplemented with some I have found now while surfing the eco-nets. Check out some resources on eating in season (NRDC), my favorite national peak-season map, a national CSA-finder (there's something special here for fans of the Bodega, wink wink), and the EatWell Guide which searches co-ops and farmer's markets nation-wide, plus a potential treat for our MA friends.

11 July, 2008

I Learned Two Things Today

First, that richer people are happier. For a long time, economists believed in the "Easterlin Paradox", which was the following: It appeared in the data that, while within any country the rich were happier than the poor, people in richer countries were typically no happier than people in poorer countries, and moreover, people in a particular country did not get happier as the country got richer. This paradox has been effectively demolished by the linked paper by Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson. Using the latest happiness surveys, Wolfers and Stevenson show conclusively that reported happiness increases with income within countries at any point in time and between countries and somewhat less conclusively show that reported happiness also increases as a country gets richer. (I say *reported* happiness because there is some controversy over whether the number that is reported on these surveys actually gets at life-satisfaction or well-being.)

Second, that the "hump" in life-cycle expenditure (people consume more in middle-age than when young or old) is mostly explained by work-related expenses: eating out, dressing well, driving a lot.


08 July, 2008

Quiz Yourself

Today I found this religion quiz on Darwinian Remiix. The quiz takes about 10 minutes. I don't even need to go into the figuratively thousands of problems with distilling religious beliefs down to these quiz questions but...still it was pretty fun. You'll probably get the most out of thinking about how hard or easy it is to answer the questions or how recently you've changed your mind, moreso than the results themselves.

I found it in particularly interesting how my results could put me fairly in line with such a diverse set of religions. I mean, I don't particularly feel really close to these faiths, but maybe it says something to how similar they are, if you can pare them down to a few questions and they start to look the same.

Liberals and Withdrawal from Iraq

In today's news, Iraqi national security adviser al-Rubaie says Iraq won't make any security deals that do not include a withdrawal date.

I put this story up here to invite predictions about how this might affect the presidential campaigns. Will this development boost the liberal platform, since the Iraqi government is now calling for what it has been advocating all along? Or, could it take the wind out of the sails of the anti-war campaigns, were this story to be blown over or even resolved before November?

This last question brings up an interesting armchair game: if the current administration began some conciliatory withdrawal gestures, and they went badly, could that negatively affect the Democratic campaign? My guess is that sufficient focus on domestic issues has to some extent safeguarded against this, but it is interesting to contemplate.

03 July, 2008

Self-inflicted truth

A most interesting story in Vanity Fair, as the pugilist Christopher Hitchens agrees to undergo waterboarding to decide for himself if it is torture. My initial reaction was against the implicit arrogance of the maneuver: now that I, Christopher Hitchens, have willingly undergone this procedure, we can safely call it torture. Thanks, Hitch. Now willingly have your fingernails pulled off and report back to us on that one.

But for all that, the pain and terror he undergoes is real, and he produces a thoughtful reflection on the experience. Its not too long, check it out. The most important point he makes is not that waterboarding is indeed torture (which is a relatively low bar), but rather that we should reject the "tiering" of torture, in which waterboarding is acceptable given the much worse torture practiced by our enemies. That false distinction not only puts Americans in harms way by destroying the reciprocality of the Geneva Conventions, but it also produces verifiably unreliable intelligence -- a lose-lose situation.

Change We Can Believe In


Mr. Obama will be in Atlanta on Monday night for a fund-raising event at the home of Michael J. Coles, another top Clinton fund-raiser. At least 400 people are expected at the event, where the general admission tickets will be $2,300. Higher-spending donors can also attend a V.I.P. reception for $10,000 a person, and those who donate $28,500 can stay for dinner with the senator.

The candidate is then scheduled to participate in two events in Washington within the span of two hours on Tuesday. At 6 p.m., Mr. Obama is to attend a dinner at the home of Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, Democrat of West Virginia, where guests must spend $28,500. At 7 p.m., he is expected at a V.I.P. photo reception at a nearby hotel, where the ticket price is $23,000.

Mr. Obama will be juggling events again the next day in New York, heading first to the Hyatt Hotel where members of the “host committee” who contribute or raise at least $50,000 get to have a picture taken with him, followed by a reception for those who contribute smaller amounts.

At 7 p.m., Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel and Carl Spielvogel, who raised more than $100,000 for Mrs. Clinton, will be hosts of a private dinner at their Park Avenue home with Mr. Obama. The minimum contribution is $33,100 a person.

01 July, 2008

Tall Buildings

Tall buildings have been in the headlines lately - with the news-making release of plans for a new innovation in Dubai (already home to the world's tallest structure):

I thought I would take this opportunity to point out some tall buildings that interest me - let's call it porn for farmers.

Check out this and other vertical farms at 5 Urban Design and U of Ill.