Archive for the 'Science' Category


Phony ‘-ologies’

Rick Santorum, the William Jennings Bryan Memorial Presidential Candidate, says of his opposition to Obama,

It’s about…some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible… .

I say that Santorum has some phony biology, geology, climatology, ecology, and (probably) darn near any other ‘-ology’ that exists – because he bases (or imagines he bases) EVERYTHING on the Bible. Well, the Catholic Bible maybe. There are other Bibles, which I expect that he regards as ‘impure’ at best.

But then, what I have to say about Santorum is irrelevant, isn’t it? He wasn’t talking about THOSE ‘ologies’, as he made perfectly clear:

The Catholic church has a Theology that says this is wrong…the President of the United States is exercising his values and trumping the values of the church.

There, now it’s settled. Move along now. There’s nothing to see here. There *is* something to see below the typographical flourish.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Santorum’s prompt revisionist explanation for his recent judgemental comments is that “I was talking about the radical environmentalists.” His objection is to

…things that frankly are just not scientifically proven, for example, the politicization of the whole global warming debate… .

Ohhhhh ! So Santorum IS talking about my ‘-ologies’. Pardon me, his superior level of intellectual disposition has left me a wee bit confused.

Well, of course he is referring to the scientific ‘-ologies’ as well as to theology. William Jennings Bryan was not the first, and Rick Santorum will not be the last, to couple scientific viewpoints to morality, theology, etc. It is that coupling which promotes “politicization” of specific scientific topics, narrowly discussed only in superficial and emotional terms that the lay public willingly assimilates. The bulk of science proceeds irrespective of this phony coupling, producing a continual stream of advances in human knowledge to the betterment of all – even of those who would eviscerate science.

It has been done before. It can happen in America. The Soviet Communist fascist state decreed which scientific principles were acceptable to its ideology – or theology: “Whatever you want to call it, it’s a [sic] different moral values.” The resulting stagnation of science left the USSR with viable scientific work only in those fields which were relevant to such words as ‘bomb’, ‘gun’, and ‘rocket’.

It is beyond dispute that the Santorums of the world feel morally threatened by science. It is disputed only among the fearful and the ignorant that science is the one area of human endeavor where we may, if we permit ourselves, reach truths with minimal blemish from our preconceptions.

This is why the best leaders heed the guidance of those who are especially knowledgeable in biology, geology, climatology, ecology, physics, chemistry, and many more fields of science. Hindu, Moslem, Jewish, Buddhist, Christian, and atheist scientists will have different theologies. Their scientific work is objectively unrelated to, and unbiased by, personal ‘-ologies’.

We must have the best leaders, else it may happen as in the Scopes ‘Monkey’ trial. That judge expunged William Jennings Bryan’s Santorum-like testimony. The harsh Judge of History could expunge all of President Santorum’s theology, and the shreds of America’s great scientific culture, from prominence in the world.


Kinetic and Potential Life

One of the early lessons in Physics is the Conservation of Energy. Energy comes in two broad categories (forms), kinetic and potential. Energy can be in either form, and the form can even be changed. Electric utility companies like to produce energy when there is little demand, store it, and release it when demand is high and generators can’t handle the load. One way of doing this, pumped-storage hydroelectricity is to pump water to an elevated reservoir. The water at height stores gravitational potential (weight) energy. That potential is very stable, only subject to little practical things (like leakage) that change the potential energy back to kinetic energy. The big practical thing is releasing water to flow through electric generator turbines.

It is kinetic energy that gets ‘er done. Potential energy deserves a comparable respect.

The precise language of Physics sometimes uses the same words which are used rather loosely in other contexts. One such context applies the phrase ‘potential life‘ to human reproduction. We have heard this phrase repeatedly, so we know what is meant by it – or, at least, we know what we are meant to think it means. We are meant to think that it means (and here, I will attempt a precise statement of that meaning) ‘mated human gametes are capable of becoming a developmentally-complete human organism and should be regarded as equivalent to that human’.

That’s fine and dandy. Mated human gametes, with a bunch of help from the host mom, can often do that. You know the rationale attached to this: the mated gametes are to be considered morally and legally identical to an adult human. That is a logical high-jump, about which I shall defer comment to another time. What I do not see is any comparable logical gymnastics to any other ‘potential life’ or other ‘potential outcome’.

And boy, lemme tell you that there is a LOT of ‘potential life’. The armadillo inserts a multiplier into the situation. One set of mated armadillo gametes is (for some species) potentially four (4, quatre, vier, arba’a) individual, genetically-identical ‘dillo babies – not just one!

That doesn’t count the potential descendants of the armadillo.

The potential for life, for descendant individual organisms, doesn’t even depend upon sex. Yeah, maybe you thought that everything depended upon sex – but not this time. Lots of organisms reproduce asexually. ‘Budding’ can propagate yeast such as saccharomyces cerevisiae. It begins with a bump, which progresses to a distinct appendage, which separates and goes its merry way. So the bump is ‘potential life’, right? Well, I dunno.

When is it a bump, anyway? When the cell wall deviates from round by a statistically-significant amount? How “statistically significant” is significant enough? How different from other cell-wall bumps must it be?

Cavendish bananas are my favorite example of asexual reproduction. Every Cavendish banana in the world is genetically identical. They are vegetatively propagated by cuttings. That makes me wonder – if a cutting can yield an entire planet-load of organisms, does destruction of a cutting mean that the potential for millions of organisms has been destroyed?

The potential of mated gametes may be different than a potential for developing into an individual. The potential may be to spontaneously abort. Yes – this is a natural, even normal, process that happens to a statistically significant number of mated human gametes. There is also a statistically significant potential for mated gametes to kill the host mom. How “statistically significant” is significant enough? We have dead moms as the answer.

If the continued protection and nourishment of mated gametes leads to the potential to kill the host mom, do we consider only their potential for developing into an individual – an individual who will also die with the mom?

If a pumped-storage hydroelectricity reservoir has a crack, and it might collapse and destroy lives and property, do we consider only its potential for generating electricity?

We are not meant to think that ‘potential life’ means something like: ‘a bud from asexual reproduction is equivalent to a developmentally-complete organism’ or ‘a reproductively-viable organism is equivalent to generations of distinct individual organisms of the same specie’ or ‘sustenance of some mated gametes is equivalent to killing the host mom’.

We are meant to accept the aforementioned logical high-jump without questioning that its premise is actually based on the misogynistic misapplication – beginning in recent history – of a particular religion’s scriptures. No other consideration, whether religious or extra-religious, is meant to apply.


This Is Your Brain On Rationality

The excellent blog ‘Still Skeptical After All These Years‘ (SSAATY) has produced a lively discussion about human intelligence. ‘This Is Your Brain On Spirituality‘ links to ‘The Premise‘, from the book ‘The “God” Part of the Brain‘ (Matthew Alper). Jim One awakened me from my blogging slumber, and my comments are too long to impose upon his commenting space. This post is the result.

adj., Devoid of all delusions save those of observation, experience and reflection.
– ‘The Devil’s Dictionary‘, Ambrose Bierce

‘The Premise’ is an interesting expression of the evolution of intelligence. It carries the burden of stimulating those misguided folks who take the ‘god’ part of the brain to be something that must have been created by god, or God. That article, and comments on SSAATY – especially by Anson and HLG – have a touch of specificity about the subject. Since I am required by the terms of my Birth Contract to engage in conversations on science topics, here’s my succinct explanation:

That “survival trait” of intelligence has a major component in correlation. Other components, such as memory, are also involved. Other species have intelligence. They use tools and manipulate their environment. They employ memory. The human advantage over other species is most pronounced in the inherent capacity to correlate.

Correlation is not reflex – a sensor-neuron-to-motor-neuron linkage. It is a constant activity of the brain. Watch someone wave a wand over a deck of cards, then pull a flower out of the deck: your brain will, absolutely automatically and irrevocably, establish the thought that a wand-wave makes flowers appear in unexpected places. Even a tendency to form preposterous correlations could have significant evolutionary advantages. The cost of missing a good correlation (red plant = poisonous) is disproportionate to the cost of a false correlation (animal sacrifice = good crops).

Almost all human history has involved this automatic intelligence – an ‘unthinking’ intelligence that becomes blatant as superstition. The modern (perhaps thousands of years – a short time in biology) rise of rationalism is the result of achieving a critical level of intelligence. The human (and, to a lesser extent, other species’) brain is self-aware. The progress of correlative ability has extended to something like ‘correlations of the correlations’. We now recognize that thinking in primitive ways can involve such errancies as ‘post hoc ergo propter hoc‘ – we are aware of our own fallacies.

Rationalism’s biggest success has been science – modern science, that is. The Scientific Method is to reasoning what the U.S. Constitution is to organization and governance. The Constitution is designed to work with our inherent nature, minimizing its worst propensities and maximizing its usefulness. It has checks and balances. Science is a method for limiting the brain’s tendency to form correlations willy-nilly. It also has checks and balances for the same sort of issues that the Constitution controls. It is a meta-intelligence that makes our inherent capability vastly more useful than it has previously been in human history.

Rationalism, by confining our biological intelligence, expands its social and cultural value. This is why science, medicine, and technology seem to have accelerated geometrically – it is not our intelligence which has increased dramatically, but our command of intelligence which is improved. There is a stark difference between the science of 1880 and the science of 1920 – a difference more in how intelligence was utilized than in the mere progress of results.

There is a stark similarity in the non-scientific thought of 2011 and that of 1911, or of 1011! Non-scientists can learn to do more than to merely respect the Scientific Method. Rationalism, and its companion Skepticism are vital elements of critical thinking which everyone can learn.


The Republican-Lysenko Party

The modern GOP is irresponsible and dangerous.

The operative phrase {link above} is that legislators seek “… to reverse the agency’s scientific finding …” regarding the EPA & AGW. Imagine seeing reports from Washington that legislators seek : “… to reverse the FDA’s scientific finding that aspirin is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug” ; or “… to reverse the TSA’s scientific finding that driving slower saves gas.” Legislators’ jobs are to determine policy & implementation, not decree the facts of nature.

Only totalitarian regimes seek to dictate the content of science. Remember Lysenko? Stalin (who knew about as much science as a kindergardner) dictated that Lysenko’s bogus ideas were to be Soviet policy, and that scientific theories were illegal. “Scientific dissent from Lysenko’s theories of environmentally acquired inheritance was formally outlawed in 1948 …”

Science is, despite some weaknesses and occasional error, the most impartial and egalitarian of human endeavors. Don’t proceed in reading without noting my qualifier : “most”. Nothing is utterly impartial of conscious and unconscious influence. Nothing can compare to science for its relative integrity.

Folks who advocate removal of government regulatory controls will often argue that, without those pesky regulations, businessmen would be free to simply make the best decision. These folks assert that, with important matters to consider, these decision makers will consider making reasonable profits, accomodating some degree of environmental protection, and assuring safety of their employees. They would not be inclined to seek excessive profits, which could be counter-productive – if not simply unfair. NO ONE would want to destroy the planet, so we can trust them to do the right thing. And they have families, just like you and me, so they care enough about people to not remove workplace safeguards.

Yeah, as if.

Such attitudes evidence a blindness to reality. Regulations have been developed because the Pollyanna attitudes (of those who kowtow to power) are utterly fallacious – voided by repetitive examples from history.

It is not a scientific approach to determine the status of regulations by a politician’s subservience to affected businesses. Their emotional dependence on powerful figures is the basic construction material for dictatorships.

Science provides an excellent alternative to political influence. Politics’ inherent lack of morality has yielded a mixed record of policy-making. Politicians and businessmen staring at financial reports are utterly malleable when it comes to duplicity. In contrast, science and the U.S. Constitution are comparable for their checks & balances. There are mechanisms in science for error avoidance and for self-correction. The examples of scientific error (or even fraud) are almost always exposed by science itself. Scientists, beyond even their considerable interests in sometimes making a buck or (for those with the biggest egos) having a cool press release, are incredibly loathe to publish anything which might be tainted. Bias, error, and fraud in science can, if sufficiently severe, result in destruction of a career. It has happened.

Politicians do not have such a near-certainty. Their mis-deeds often qualify as safe bets. Scientists’ only safe bets are on the integrity of their research results.

Science should, based upon the best available scientific information, inform and guide legislators. Legislators have a responsibility to incorporate scientific findings in accordance with principles of good stewardship of the public trust.

Meanwhile, other countries listen to their scientists. They are not as inclined toward self-immolation as we are. Their laughter will not be as painful as our becoming a second-rate country.


The Myth of Special Data

Pick your favorite topic of anti-scientific gobbledy-gook. There is, invariably, a component that is little discussed. The anti-science crowd (even if a small minority, it’s still a pile of addled folks) often argues that the scientific data for a certain theory* (evolution, anthropogenic global warming – AGW, etc.) is flawed or mis-interpreted. That seems to laymen to be a reasonable approach to criticism of scientific findings – they think that each theory has its own special data which supports that theory.

That is false.

*Theorynoun ; a firmly-established scientific principle, having acknowledgement of validity by the consensus ultra-majority of scientists in that field of speciality ; the term used formerly, prior to Relativity Theory and Quantum Theory, was ‘Law‘ ; Example: the Law of Newtonian Gravity was superceded (improved and supplanted) by the General Theory of Relativity.

Scientific theories are like reverse-engineered recipes. And how do scientists reverse-engineer the recipes of nature? Laymen (Sorry to pick on you folks again! But, technically, my B.S. in Physics makes me closer to your status than to scientific standing) might think that scientists grab chunks of nature’s lemon meringue pies and start taste-testing. They (scientists, not laymen) would keep tasting (measuring) and trying things with their samples of lemon meringue pie until its secrets were revealed.

That practice, known as analysis, is a useful and important part of science. It is utterly insufficient to advance scientific knowledge as we do or to explain the progress we have so far achieved. Scientists have a broader perspective. They know that a sharp focus upon the particular is inherently limited. Their research is generalized – the study of ALL desserts could, and definitely does, facilitate scientific progress in researching a specific dessert (lemon meringue pie?). Furthermore, the study of baked goods, which includes a significant portion of the dessert category, ultimately has applicability to a specific dessert (lemon meringue pie?). The study of foamed recipes, which includes a significant portion of the dessert category, ultimately has applicability to a specific dessert (lemon meringue pie!).

The result of scientific research that is generalized is that our knowledge is highly interdependent. The principles (including the acme of principles – the Theory) discovered are not specific to only a narrow range of examples. There are no scientists who have discovered only the recipe for lemon meringue pie. A strong general scientific foundation provides explanatory power for a wide range of subjects – such as for all baked, egg-based foods.

There are scientists who research foods, but the food analogy was utilized as an introduction to specific issues from anti-science.

Anti-science folks discuss their issues (and boy, do they have issues!) with the implicit** assumption that there are special data regarding a particular disliked scientific theory. That is, they assume that there is specific data that is relevant mostly only to evolutionary theory, or to AGW, or to vaccine safety, etc. They attack what they suppose to be the ‘special data’ with the belief that its refutation will dispose of a disliked theory while not affecting other science significantly.

**Implicit for some (I think most), but there are those  who make it explicit. They are utterly fixated upon their single unassailable Authority, and they don’t even want friendly visitors ruffling their superstitious feathers. They are so perverse that, to quote Johnny Kaje, “… attacking all of science, for most of these folks, is a feature, not a bug.” Yeah, ALL.

They (the folks who don’t quite dis-respect 100% of science) utterly fail to comprehend the web of knowledge that ties every scientific theory to vast numbers of strands of knowledge. Those ice cores, reviled for the data they offer regarding AGW, also support our scientific understanding of geology, biological evolution, and astrophysics. If anti-science folks were correct in their criticisms of ice core data, giant swaths of science would crumble – not just the one theory of AGW.

That interdependence of scientific research could, if anti-science folks were correct, have extremely personal consequences for most of us. Do you have an inkling of an idea about how many of the important medicines are developed? It escapes most laymen that the ‘special data’ which supports biological evolution also guides medical researchers in developing medicines. Yes, they sometimes find medicines by ‘screening’ – simply trying stuff. Much, even more, medical research is derived from such ‘special data’ that also supports biological evolution.

If an omnipotent being were to decree (Ken Ham’s dream) the anti-science position about evolution’s ‘special data’ to be correct, then an immense array of modern medicines would stop working.

Since most of the anti-science folks have strong influences from their religious beliefs, I recommend to them that they avail themselves of the possibility that I just described. If their Supreme Being is all-powerful, there is no need of haggling with school textbook committees. They should beseech their Supreme Being to make – what they ‘know’ to be true about certain disliked scientific theories – true for all of nature.

They had just best not expect their Viagra to work the next day.


I Am Thankful This Christmas

I am thankful this Christmas that science and humanitarians have allied to improve the lives of countless people.

I hadn’t recently read of the Carter Center‘s progress in combatting guinea worm, and this article was a welcome reminder of the important accomplishments of President Jimmy Carter. There is precedent for the eradication of a human pathogen – smallpox was eradicated under the direction of the United NationsWorld Health Organization.

Smallpox was a perennial scourge throughout the world. Every American of my age carries the vaccination scar received in childhood to control the disease in the U.S.. Millions elsewhere died from this terrible disease – a disease so vicious that it had also been implemented by militaries as a germ warfare agent. Today, no Kindergartener or First Grader is subjected to a treatment which remains in my memory, 54 years hence.

Eradication of the guinea worm may be the next thriumph of mankind over nature. It is the more remarkable for being largely the responsibility of a non-governmental organization (NGO).

The list of diseases which have been alleviated, controlled, or cured by science (often with the active support of governments) is too long for a mere blog to list. Most readers of this blog know someone who has been aided, during the course of a serious illness, by modern medicine.

We must be vigilant against the forces of ignorance and fear which obstruct progress against disease. In Africa, AIDS denial has even led to government officials’ active obstruction of anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs. Even in America, superstitious and ignorant people have employed propaganda to obstruct vaccinations important to public health.

I have faith that, next Christmas, we will have witnessed additional progress against suffering. That progress depends upon our sincere support and active opposition to dangerous voices in our midst.

Peace be upon you and your families.


Science Gave Us Josef Mengele

And science also gave us Josef Mengele‘s experiments and vivisections on pregnant women during WWII. Science cannot even tell us what energy is. They don’t know what it is.
God created the universe.

This was the last comment that I responded to in a discussion which was supposed to be about an interesting and important bit of scientific research. Some folks cannot bear to see science discussed openly and critically. My response is that certain polemic tactics are unsuitable for discussion. I will not participate in a discussion with this pathetic person again. This person is not a singular blemish on rationality and decency: there is filth such as “Cuomo’s Anti-Christian Worship Of Science Once Led To Medical Atrocities Committed By The Nazis“.

I offer, here, in contrast to the blatantly false assertion above, some of the things that Religion – Christianity in particular – and Science have actually given us. These things are not a comprehensive, or even a balanced, list. This is a blog serving only to rid the world of at least a fragment of the vicious lie quoted above.

Christianity has given us justifications & rationalizations for many cultural and social errancies. This list begins with slavery and the suppression & subjugation of women. Those alone are almost enough.

Old and New Testament scriptures have been misinterpreted by Christians, causing the Christian religion to become an imperialistic war-mongering religion, whose adherents have believed that they were instructed by God to invade the homelands of non-Christian peoples, take possession of their lands and resources, annihilate many of the indigenous inhabitants as well as subjugate and exploit the remaining innocent indigenous peoples. – Thomas Ivan Dahlheimer

As for atrocities comparable to Mengele’s, Christianity has given us a portion of those: assaults upon peoples with other religions ; assaults upon other Christians, such as The Troubles in Northern Ireland ; associations of Televangelists such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson with thugs Charles Taylor and Efraín Ríos Montt ; and a substantial list, “What About Atrocities That Have Been Done in the Name of Religion?“. The “What About …” list is a Christian source which classifies religions such as Islam as “Atheist”.

Yes, Nazis have contributed. We know of The Holocaust which killed millions:

German Christian Movement Badge

By defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord– Adolf Hitler, ‘ Mein Kampf ‘

Many historical figures, who are familiar to my readers, have offered their candid observations about Christianity:

I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good… Our goal is a Christian Nation. We have a Biblical duty; we are called by God, to conquer this country. We don’t want equal time. We don’t want pluralism. – Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue

‘O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; . . . help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land. . . . We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love.’ – Mark Twain, published posthumously in 1923

During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.” James Madison, April 1, 1774

Religious controversies are always productive of more acrimony and irreconcilable hatreds than those which spring from any other cause. – George Washington, letter to Sir Edward Newenham, June 22, 1792

Hitler Youth Day Badge 1933

Mengele’s semi-divine Fuhrer’s contributions may be perused at “Hitler’s Christianity“.

What of Science? There isn’t a single religion that can offer reliable predictions about anything in Nature. Even if “Science cannot even tell us what energy is”, it does a great job of faking it. Science has created mankind’s supreme mastery of energy. In forms from the dense to the diffuse, common folks use energy in ways for which no religion has offered the slightest whiff of a contribution.

Science has created cures for an immense array of diseases and maladies. Science (and, interestingly, Big Government and World Government) has succeeded in a historic public-health project – the eradication of smallpox, which was a major source of misery and death.

Do not be mislead. I continue my Christian life for its substantial value. The example of Christ is essential to my life. Science is also a central element of my life. May we all appreciate our religions, or lack of religion, and our understanding of the natural world objectively and without propagandistic accusations.


Better (or Stranger) Refreshments With Zone Refining

Friends, I always manage to do this by accident. You, having psychological and gustatory urges which I can only imagine, may find that you will want to do this same thing intentionally. -This- is zone refining.

You may already know that, if water is chilled very slowly and uniformly, it may freeze uniformly, suddenly and thoroughly. The freezing point is very precise. It is also different for other substances. Mixtures of substances which freeze differently – such as water & sugar, or water & food coloring, or water & carbon dioxide – will not freeze uniformly. Such mixtures can *un-mix*.

The first time I saw this un-mixing was a delightful surprise. It was delightful because it was unexpected and because I recognized it immediately. The venerable Scientific American magazine had taught me about the phenomenon of zone refining.

I had been eager to chill a bottle of Manischewitz wine, one day during college. I put in in the hall freezer in the Alley 5 kitchenette of Ruddock House. Then I forgot about it.

No, I didn’t really forget about it. I merely remembered it later than I had intended to remember it. It was a stunning sight – a 3/4 full squarish bottle which now had a fairly clear chunk of ice perched over a much smaller amount of concentrated wine. My exclamations brought a few Trolls to the kitchenette doorway. They were happy for me. There was some discussion of the potential of the liquid to offer an enhanced drinking experience.

That discussion, as dorm discussions with random Trolls often do, diverged toward other subjects. ‘Stud‘ offered his opinion that “Three quarters of a lethal dose of anything is a great high.” My retort – that three quarters of a lethal dose of concrete would be really hard to keep lit for smoking – was met with Stud’s expert correction: “You don’t smoke concrete, dummy – you shoot it up.”

Most recently, I did it again with half a bottle of Pepsi. Vitamin P keeps me going, as it did during performances of Stone’s Throw Dinner TheaterOklahoma!‘. It needed some fast chilling one night, and a preoccupation with my role resulted in a chunk of ice and Pepsi syrup. Yum!

Freezing doesn’t strictly require a colder temperature than for liquid. Either (depending upon pressure) can exist at a phase-transition temperature. When a liquid mixture is cooled slowly, it will cool even more slowly at this phase transition. The movement of heat that is cooling serves to make liquid become solid, leaving no extra movement of heat to lower the temperature. Take a look at this phase diagram for water. The ‘mp‘ dot is the melting point (freezing point) that we usually think of – normal pressure, 1 atmosphere. ‘mp’ belongs to both liquid and solid.

Various substances have very different phase diagrams. Here’s Uranium Hexafluoride, the form of uranium that is convenient to use in processing nuclear reactor and weapons fuel. (I would offer a phase diagram for Pepsi syrup, but it doesn’t seem to be available.)

A liquid mixture will have its minute constituents freezing at their individual ‘mp’s. For Pepsi, water freezes at a higher temperature than (prior to) the syrup, which has sugar, flavoring, and coloring. The very transition of water from liquid to solid prevents (temporarily) the temperature from getting low enough to freeze the syrup.

This stuff has seemed understandable to me for over 40 years. I do wonder about one thing – can I circumvent laws regulating the distillation of alcohol by using zone refining (of Manischewitz wine, no less!) instead of differential vaporization (a ‘still’)? Do I need to alert regulators to this potential loophole?


UFOs and Self-Delusions

This is not the first time that I have been irritated at the transparent gullibility and superstitious inclinations rampant in our culture. It’s high time that you read a small selection of my comments.

Yesterday, Huffington Post had an article about a new book, “UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go On the Record” (Harmony Books / The Crown Publishing Group) by journalist Leslie Kean. The book’s website states “…she presents irrefutable evidence that unknown flying objects – metallic, luminous, and seemingly able to maneuver in ways that defy the laws of physics – actually exist.” The HuffPost article was the typical promotional article, and I was limited to 35 (35!!! ackk!) words of comment.

Ms. Kean was also interviewed yesterday on MSNBC‘s ‘The Dylan Ratigan Show‘. She stressed that her book was, effectively, written by many “people from very high levels”. The “people from very high levels” are politicians, soldiers, policemen, and others who are all equally un-skilled in analysis. The forward was written by President Clinton’s Chief-of-Staff John Podesta – a nice guy, but not an expert. Ratigan was as well-prepared as we can expect – that is, minimally. He did have graphics presenting skeptical criticisms: pilots aren’t reliable witnesses; UFOs are not merely only solved or unsolvable; the unexplained is not necessarily due to aliens. Ratigan was not prepared to do more than provide a forum for Kean to respond to these points. Kean claims to be a skeptic herself, distinguished from ignorant people whom she calls ‘debunkers’.

Scientists understand that “Exceptional claims demand exceptional evidence.” — Christopher Hitchens (God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything). The claims of Kean and other credulous folks are exceptional. They are not default – a priori – claims. ‘Oh, there isn’t a good explanation, so the most bizarre explanation must be true’ is an exceptional claim for which no exeptional evidence is offered.

A number of ‘UFO’ photos were published by HuffPost. I reproduce the first two here, under copyright Fair Use for scholarly analysis. My analysis will require more than 35 words. It will demonstrate that Kean cannot be a skeptic, because she is incapable of allowing for the possibility of explanations that are in plain sight. Photos 1 & 2 “photographed in 1971 by a mapping aircraft” contain obvious evidence of the exact nature of the ‘disc’.

Photo 1 is an enlargement of Photo 2.

The Huffpost caption for Photo 2 is: “Backing up from the close-up of the disc in the previous image to see it in context, the larger photograph shows the object over a lake (the darker area) with the terrain to the left. The sun is reflecting off its upper surface. This UFO was photographed in 1971 by a mapping aircraft of the Costa Rican government flying above it. The camera ran automatically under the fuselage, shooting the terrain every 17 seconds; the disc appeared only in one frame. Extensive scientific analysis has been performed on this image of an opaque disc with no visible means of propulsion. © Collection of Bernard Thouanel

It is an incandescent reflector lamp in a fixture, within the aircraft.

Note these features:
1. The reflector surface’s circular edge is visible as a dark line at the bottom and left edges of the disc. Mirrored surfaces will appear dark when reflecting light away from a viewer.
2. The glass bulb protrudes almost spherically so that the dark line (1) is visible through the glass.
3. A hemispherical filament shield, typical of projector lamps, is the dark round spot at the apex of the shadow ‘V’.
4. The support for the filament shield curves upward from the shield to the base (neck) of the bulb. It is not illuminated.
5. The shadow ‘V’ is precisely the shadow seen in a conical reflector.
6. A light lazy ‘Z’ just outside the left edge of the bulb is a common sheet-metal shape for the supporting fixture; the lazy ‘Z’ is the end of this ring of sheet metal, perhaps exposing the cut bare metal that is otherwise painted a dark color.
7. The focus varies within the image; it is better at the bottom and fairly poor at the top. Focus of a distant object, outside the aircraft, would not vary.

The seeming coincident of capturing an external object during a once-in-17-seconds exposure from a speeding aircraft is resolved by noting that the lamp would be inside the aircraft, where focus could be highly variable. The camera would be shooting through a window. The lamp would have been turned off, since the support for the filament shield is not illuminated. Another light source, turned on inadvertently for a few seconds, illuminated what may have been the only shiny object in the camera bay. It appeared as a result of a reflection in the window for (perhaps) only one frame.

I understand that, in a situation which may produce bewilderment and consternation, it is easy to mis-identify something. I have witnessed exactly that in my only encounter with a UFO.

I arrived home after sunset and stepped out of my car onto the driveway. There was a moderately loud throbbing sound. I tried to locate it, but there was no apparent direction. The sound seemed to come from all around. In a minute, I noticed the source of the sound: a large, cigar-shaped glowing object in the sky. It was moving appreciably. I recognized it immediately as a UFO.

I went to the front door and called for the Kids’ Mom and My Favorite Daughter to come outside. They noticed the throbbing as readily as I had. I intentionally allowed them to be puzzled by it briefly. Then I directed their attention to the sky.

They were astounded. It was absolutely inexplicable to them. It was not inexplicable to me. I allowed them to only become slightly concerned, and I identified the Unidentified Flying Object.

It was especially easy for me to do so, because I had encountered this UFO earlier in the day. It had followed the highway as I passed by, driving from Springfield to Joplin. It was the Goodyear Blimp. Our house was near the Joplin Airport, and it was orbiting near our house in preparation for landing.

The throbbing sound of the blimp’s engines was reflected by houses and trees, to seem omni-directional. The glowing cigar shape was due to illumination of the bottom of the blimp’s envelope by city lights. The top of the shiny envelope was not visible, because (with low specularity) it reflected city lights upward.

I do not accept, in a situation which is clinical and unemotional, that a ‘skeptical’ person would be oblivious to obvious evidence. When Kean looks at a photo, in an unthreatening and unemotional setting, and cannot see a light bulb, it demonstrates that she is bringing bewilderment and consternation with her.


Fire & Ice

You are getting something different today. That’s right – no flaming liberal progressive rants! I want you to know a too-secret first aid technique. Pay heed, friends, and either you or someone you care for may someday be spared pain and injury.

I am a fair-skinned fellow. I have never tanned appreciably, but I have had a number of excruciating sunburns. One particularly nasty sunburn was the result of a camping trip in mountains near Pasadena, California during college. When the chill morning air relented, I lay on my back to enjoy the warm, bright sky. I did not consider that altitude increases sunlight’s ultraviolet (sunburn-causing) strength. Later that day, after returning to school, my chest erupted in angry hues.

This sunburn was not the usual stinging nuisance. It was a second-degree burn, and it HURT. I resorted to the ‘remedies’ that most of us have tried: ointments, topical anaesthetics, etc. I rubbed and sprayed several things onto my insulted skin. The next day, that insulted skin started to fall off. I had added injury to the insult. It was a painful lesson that made me wary of sun exposure for many years.

Eventually, I repeated the mistake of severely burning my chest. I did not repeat the treatment from years before. I tried ice & water, mainly to relieve the pain. Incredibly, after a lengthy chilling, the pain stopped. The sunburn never blistered. As new skin grew, the old, sunburned skin flaked off – it looked like dandruff!

Other episodes have confirmed the efficacy of cold for treating burns. Even burns from direct heat can be treated. I have singed myself several times with soldering irons (a standard tool for Electronics Engineers) and flecks of molten solder. Such burns would normally blister (‘edematous swelling’) and become itchy or painful. Ice & water treatment has always alleviated the problem. It sometimes, with prompt application, effectively ‘heals’ the burn. That is, blistering and irritation (redness) are prevented, and the damaged skin remains attached until few skin has grown under it.

Here is the procedure:
1. Partially fill a sealable plastic bag with ice cubes and a little water.
2. Squeeze air from the bag and seal it.
3. Apply ice & water promptly after being burned.
4. Refresh the ice as it melts.
5. Keep ice & water on the burn until it starts to hurt MORE due to the discomfort of cold.
6. Keep ice & water on the burn a while longer, at least until the area is fully numbed.
7. If burn pain re-occurs, treat again.

Water is included with ice primarily to insure that the temperature is no lower than 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Colder (freezer) temperatures can be painful and possibly harmful. Water also spreads the cold between and beyond the ice cubes. Ice & water will not freeze tissue. The body delivers a lot of heat (especially via blood flow) that keeps tissue above freezing. The skin will get pretty darn cold, though. It will melt a lot of ice during treatment.

Air is removed from the bag of ice & water to allow it to lay against the treated area. Towels may be used to support the bag in position, as long as they do not get between the bag and the treated area.

Prompt application is very important. Much damage from low-grade burns is caused not by the burn, but by the body’s response to injury. This inflammatory response moves body fluids to the injury, causing blistering that separates the skin from its supporting tissues. Many other elements of the inflamatory response that are valid for infection are harmful for burns. Cold and several medications reduce the inflammatory response. NSAIDs – Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory – over-the-counter Drugs are examples.


1. Rub affected skin – even to apply lotion.
2. Apply anything (some lotions and anaesthetics) containing alcohol.
3. Insulate ice & water bag with anything thicker than a T-shirt.
4. Depend on any treatment for severe burns without seeking medical help.


1. Chill the burn immediately.
2. Chill using sealed bags of ice & water.
3. Apply ice & water at least until skin is fully numbed.
4. Take anti-inflammatory over-the-counter medications that are safe for you.
These may include aspirin and other NSAIDs.
5. Take analgesics such as acetaminophen if needed until treatment relieves pain.
6. Wear soft, loose clothing (if needed) over the burned area.
7. Continue ice & water treatment while seeking medical help for severe burns.

A similar treatment for soft tissue injury is known as RICE. This acronym stands for ‘Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation’. It is somewhat different from burn treatment. Soft tissue injury requires less chilling – the injured tissue needs good circulation, which chilling reduces. Please consult RICE guidelines and seek medical help for soft tissue injuries such as bruises.


Fuzzy Wuzzy or Killing Machine? The Case for Responsible Pet Ownership – Part 1

My favorite Guest Blogger, the Little Red-Haired Girl,
has returned to share her concerns about a topic that is important to very many of us.

    Human beings have been fascinated and beguiled by their fellow non-humans for hundreds of millennia.  We have studied, bred and successfully domesticated cattle, horses, cats, dogs, sheep, chickens, goats, camels, llamas, emus, geese, ducks, parakeets and many more animals than I could possibly name here.  Our motives for doing so relate to our need to be able to understand and control our environment and to have a ready supply of food, labor, transportation and other materials at our disposal.  Finally, a very important motivation, and one that I would like to focus upon in this article is our need for companionship
     Our pets, or as some term them, our companion animals, are an important part of the human experience.  Our ‘critters’ melt our hearts with their innocence and their affectionate ways.  For some of us, they complete what would have been an empty nest, filling a void left by an absent child or spouse.  They make us laugh, wonder, and even give us a reason to get up in the morning.  (I’m thinking of my eleven-year-old tabby Beamer, and the way she insists that I wake up every day at 5:30 a.m. whether I want to or not!) To sum it up, they become a part of our family. 
     Like any family member, though, they have their ups and downs; their good and bad traits.  As with other family members, often we become so emotionally involved with our pets is hard to act with the necessary objectivity when problems arise. Two issues have been in my mind lately and were precipitated by separate and seemingly disparate incidents.  The first issue relates to some recent attacks by pit bull terriers in our area: one involving a toddler who was bitten by a relative’s dog, the other involving a woman out walking her Yorkie, and who was attacked by two pit bulls roaming at large in the neighborhood.  The second issue relates to the irresponsible ownership of exotic or wild animals, as exemplified in the horrific attack of a pet chimpanzee upon a Connecticut woman and the subsequent tragic events following the attack (the chimp’s owner just died a few days ago, possibly because of the stress she underwent after this all went down.)
   At the risk of raising some hackles (and I know I will) I would like to first discuss (calmly, please!) the issue of dog breed legislation.   Let me preface this by saying I have never been personally attacked by a breed of dog considered ‘dangerous’, although one of my children has been.  I will elaborate on this attack a bit later because it is a very telling incident, and says a lot about the emotional blindness that some people have about the breed of dog they choose to own. Yet all dogs have a set of behavioral characteristics that are universal in varying degrees.  Let’s look at some of those behavioral characteristics.
     First, and probably most important, dogs show ‘pack’ behavior.  That is, they understand a hierarchical society with an alpha leader (can be male or female, by the way) who determines when, where and how the other animals eat, sleep, breed and rank in the pack.  Pack behavior is a combination of aggression, submission and cooperative behavior.   Responsible dog owners educate themselves about dog behaviors and breed-specific traits and take on the role of alpha animal in the relationship with their pet. 
     Other dog behaviors of note relate to the way dogs feed, mate, play and mark territory.   Here are some of the behaviors that when not controlled can give owners headaches at least, and at worst result in personal injury and legal trouble. Dogs dig, bury, herd, mark territory, track and trail.  They show aggression when they feel threatened or when a stranger intrudes upon their territory.  Do dogs know the difference between right and wrong?  As far as we know and can determine, no, at least not in the way human beings understand the difference between right and wrong. Dogs act on instinct and it is up to we humans, who supposedly possess higher intelligence and morals, to act the part of the alpha animal and give their pet a place in the hierarchy that makes them feel comfortable and secure.
     If we start from the premise that dog behaviors are instinctual and that the dog’s owner is responsible for controlling the dog’s behavior, we can assume that laws governing owner responsibility are reasonable and necessary for public health and safety.  Most people agree that these laws are a good thing.  But now let’s talk breeds. 
     This is where the humans start to get a little emotional.   So I’m going to pose the following question knowing full well that the hackles are now beginning to rise and that pulse rates are already starting to go up.  Why do pet owners choose dog breeds that have (rightly or wrongly) been deemed ‘dangerous’?  This is a question that has been studied by psychologists over a period of several decades, and especially over the past thirty or so years that the incidence of dog attacks have been more widely reported in the media. 
Let’s start with a list of the ten most ‘dangerous’ breeds of dog.  According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the American Veterinary Medical Association, and the Centers for Disease Control, the ten most dangerous breeds of dog are as follows, roughly in this order, with descriptors of the most typical bred-in behavioral characteristics.
10.  Dalmation : sensitive, intelligent, can be human aggressive.
9.    Boxer : energetic, playful, headstrong.
8.   Presa Canario : not generally human aggressive, can be dog-aggressive, powerful, fearless.
7.   Chow Chow : independent, aloof, needs lots of behavioral reinforcement.
6.   Doberman Pinscher :  alert, intelligent, loyal.  Only attacks if feels threatened.
5.   Malamute :  Energetic, needs lots of exercise, may become destructive if bored.
4.   Husky : Energetic, intelligent.  Not a good guard dog due to gentle temperament.
3.   German Shepherd :  intelligent, alert, confident, fearless. 
2.  Rottweiler : great guard dogs, keen territorial instincts, aggressive temperament.
1.  Pit Bull Terrier : people-friendly, not good guard dog for that reason, can be dog-aggressive.
     It strikes me as obvious why people choose to own dogs from this list.  Many of the behavioral traits listed here are positive ones.  And yes, different breeds possess the aforementioned characteristics in varying degrees; moreover, each dog is unique and has a special appeal for each owner.  I myself am partial to Boxers and would like to own one someday.  But I am going to wait until my cats have gone to kitty heaven, and maybe even until after I retire to take on this demanding breed, who will doubtless require close attention and training.
     In the name of journalistic balance and fairness, I feel it necessary to show another list, this one consisting of the ten most family-friendly breeds and I wouldn’t be surprised to find some of the same behavioral traits on the list.  Let’s see if my theory holds true…my sources were the Animal Planet website, and  These are in no particular order:
1.  Newfoundland :  gentle giant, tends to drool.
2.  Pug : very sociable, not aggressive, good family dog, not good guard dog
3.  Staffordshire Bull Terrier (related to pit bull terrier) : Not prone to human aggression, but can be dog-aggressive.  Good alert barker, but friendly.
4.  Labrador Retriever : energetic, needs lots of exercise, not aggressive.
5.  Keeshond : intelligent, good alert barker, but not human aggressive
6.  Golden Retriever : intelligent, not human aggressive, good service dog.
7. Collie : gentle, active, but can be aggressive if poorly bred.
8.  Standard Poodle : intelligent, active, not human aggressive.
9. Irish Setter : Energetic, good alert barker, not human aggressive.
10. Pit Bull Terrier : people-friendly, bred for dog-aggressiveness, so best to have as a single pet.
     Yes, it’s beginning to look as though there are some common traits here.  I’m seeing lots of : “active, intelligent, not human aggressive, can be aggressive if poorly bred, can be dog-aggressive, gentle giant, good family dog, not good guard dog,” etc.  
     Finally, I’m going to cite a list from Dog Obedience Advice.  Here is a list of some breeds to treat with caution, in that they have been known to show aggression toward humans.  In no particular order:
1. Chow Chow
2. Old English Sheepdog
3. Llasa Apso
4. Rottweiler
5. Chihuahua
6. Toy Poodle
7. Dachshund
8. Jack Russell
9. Giant Schnauzer
10. Cocker Spaniel (Cockers are especially worrisome as a fair number of them are prone to a genetic disease called ‘rage syndrome’ where they will suddenly snap into spontaneous violence, not against strangers, but against family members.  Sadly, when this defect is found, it is best to put the dog down.)
     If you take a quick gander again at the first list I made, probably the most striking commonality you will find is that these are all big muscular dogs.  List #2 and #3 contain medium and small breed dogs.  The dogs on all three lists are also quite popular breeds.  It stands to reason if you have a decent-sized population of a given dog breed in a particular area, and if you are compiling a list of severe attacks, you will probably come up with a higher percentage of the so-called ‘dangerous’ dogs.  A Rottweiler or a Pit Bull will certainly do more damage than a Chihuahua, although a Chihuahua may be more aggressive.   Pit bulls have a particularly lethal bite style, a bite-and-shake Terrier bite style and they are bred for ‘gameness’ (fight to the death) and have an extremely high tolerance for pain.  Pit Bull bites can cause deep tissue damage, ripping muscle from bone, and these dogs have almost preternaturally strong jaws.  
     Am I saying that Pit Bulls are ‘bad’ dogs?  No, no, and again . . . a big NO !!! But it would be disingenuous for me, or for any Pit Bull owner, to say that the potential for fatal injury is not there.  The fact is that nearly 70% of fatal dog attacks in the United States and Canada over a 27-year period from 1982 until 2009, were by a combination of Rottweilers, Presa Canarios, and Pit Bulls and their mixes, with Pit Bulls leading the pack. My sources are a study by Merritt Clifton, the editor of Animal People, a periodical for animal advocacy, and a three-year study of fatal dog attacks at, another animal and victim advocacy website.  Perhaps it is a bit simplistic for me to say this, but the more I learn about dog breed legislation (which the HSUS is against, by the way) the more I have come to believe that irresponsible dog ownership is the greatest factor which results in dog attacks.

In memory of Dusty, brother of Beamer and nemesis of Zule, whose troubled life ended too soon.

♥ Help for Haiti ♥


Basic Understanding

A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.
- Edward R. Murrow

Intellectual Property Notice

All original material Copyright James R. Stone 2010, except where specifically noted. Some images licensed under Creative Commons, or GNU Free Documentation License, or unlicensed and public domain.

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