Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Academic Planning

One of the perks of being an old NM resident is that I can take University classes rather cheaply. I took Playwritng and Human Genomics this semester, and they were pretty fun. Looking around for next semester. The math department has a graduate course in Measure theory, which I really should know more about, just for vanity purposes - Measure is my name after all. On the other hand, it does sound a bit boring, and I'm not sure if I really care that much about Lebesgue Integration. Astronomy offers a graduate course in Galaxies, which might be fun, but the problems might be hard.


Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Thanks for Playing, Ted

...We will keep your resume on file in case hell freezes over.

It's been game over for Bernie for a while, but he seems to be beating the polls and if he miraculously pulls out a victory, it could increase his clout at the convention.

UPDATE: Cruz sees the arithmetic and folds. Bernie wins. Clinton continues to limp toward the nomination. It's going to be a pretty depressing election, with Baby Hitler representing the Repubs and a very uninspiring Hillary Clinton for the Dems. If Bernie wins Cali and a few more, Hill is really going to look sickly.

UPDATE II: And then there was one - bye, bye Kasich.

Monday, May 02, 2016


For somebody who knows relatively little mathematics, I have a hell of a lot of math books.

That is all.

OK, maybe not quite all.

My son, who is both wise and occasionally acerbic, once said: "I think you have so many books because you want to convince people that you are smart."

I thought about it for a while, and replied: "No, I think I'm trying convince myself that I'm smart." Or maybe just feed the fantasy that I will someday understand all that stuff.

Mass Extinctions and Carbon Dioxide

The evidence that the Earth's "Big Five" extinction events were triggered by the enormous volcanic events that created the so-called Large Igneous Provinces (LIPs) continues to accumulate. The most catastrophic of these, the end Permian extinction, killed most of the species that existed at the time. It was long suspected that it was tied to the epic Siberian Traps volcanism (think many millions of Mount Saint Helens eruptions) and new geochronological evidence makes the evidence of simultaneity far more precise.

So why were these eruptions, which large as they were, were confined to relatively small portions of the globe, so catastrophic for the whole planet? The big culprit seems to have been carbon dioxide, with an assist from sulfur dioxide. The sulfur dioxide caused as sharp global cooling, lasting only a few years, and extreme acid rain. The CO2 triggered multi-millenium long global warming and ocean acidification, producing anoxic oceans that killed most sea life. The weather likely sucked too, perhaps including the enormous hypercanes (super powerful hurricanes).

The other big extinction events are also tied to the formation of large igneous provinces, though the timing is less precisely tied down. Even the end Cretaceous extinction event, usually associated with the impact that created the Chicxulub crater, is closely associated with the formation of the Deccan Traps LIP. The impact may have either accelerated the LIP or just provided another major aggravating factor. All of the other mass extinctions show the same big CO2 pulse.

Other evidence shows that warm periods in the Earth's history are associated with less spectacular instances of unusually widespread volcanism, again with CO2 as the executive agent.

At the risk of being tedious, one more sign that we are on a disastrous course with our own experiment in massive CO2 release.

Best Show on TV

OK, I don't get premium cable, so I might have a slightly narrow point of view, but I'm going with Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Rachel Bloom collected a couple of best actress awards for her portrayal of the title character, an intellectually brilliant lawyer (Harvard and Yale) who has just made partner at her high-powered Manhattan law firm, but realizes that she is utterly miserable when she runs into her (ten years ago) summer camp boyfriend Josh, who is about to move back to his boyhood home in West Covina, CA. She impulsively quits and moves to West Covina. The show is an occasionally dark musical comedy about the stalking that ensues, enlivened by characters sometimes breaking into song.

The best thing about the show is its funny and frequently penetrating wit, intelligent but not pretentious. The humor is a bit on the raunchy side, but when I compare it to say, the equally raunchy but relentlessly dumb "Two Broke Girls" comparisons fail. Bloom and her co-producer run the show and deserve all the credit for its many virtues. It's probably worth mentioning that Bloom started with a background in music and sketch comedy, and the show deploys her skills to impressive effect. She first came to the attention of television through her YouTube videos, notably her paean to the "greatest sf writer" irreverently and salaciously called "Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury."

The second best thing about the show is its characters, almost all of whom are quirky but curiously endearing, even the "villain" of the show, Josh's slender but gorgeous girlfriend, a controlling but not terribly bright yoga instructor who nonetheless has twenty-twenty vision for the threat posed by the crazy-ex.

Mayim Bialik (Amy of Big Bang Theory) interview Rachel here.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

The End of the Republic?

If history is a guide, Republics usually fail when an oligarchy seizes control. Oligarchies are not stable though, for a few reasons. One is that the oligarchs start competing with each other. Linked to that is that they disregard the health of state in their competition. The populace also becomes tired of paying the bills for oligarchs. Popular dissatisfaction, combined with oligarchical competition often leads to civil war and ruin.

The American oligarchy is now led by Charles Koch, who controls nearly all of the Republican party apparatus - nearly all of the congressional Republicans suck at the Koch teat and swear fealty to his program. A competitive oligarch, Donald Trump is challenging his rule and seems certain to get the Republican nomination. Of course his actual policy program, to the faint extent that he has one, is little different from the Kochs, but he is a challenge to their power.

The games begin.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Oh Donna Oh

Donna, the sixteen-year old virgin of Hair, became eligible for Medicare and full Social Security benefits this year.


Albedo (fraction of incident light reflected) is one of the largest feedbacks in the climate system. Snow and ice have high albedo, land and water low. Snow in Alaska and western Canada is predicted to be decimated over the next week. That should tend to warm the Beaufort and Chuckchi sea ice, which is already looking a bit fragile. A good chunk of Siberia is also seeing the snow go. So far, Arctic ice looks really vulnerable. Ice extent is already at record lows for the date, and volume is as low as it was in the record melt year of 2012 - but weather still is going to be the arbiter. TBD

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Father of the Man

The revealing last sentences of Dark Money:

As a child, he [Charles Koch] used to tell an unfunny joke. When called upon to split a treat with others, he would say with a wise-guy grin, “I just want my fair share— which is all of it.”

Mayer, Jane (2016-01-19). Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right (Kindle Locations 7202-7203). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Killing Baby Hitler Revisited

Among John "Jeb" Bush's many stupid boasts was his claim that he would have the necessary lack of scruple to kill Hitler as a cute baby. As it turned out, he couldn't even scratch, much less kill, the not at all cute 69 year-old baby Hitler winning the Republican nomination.

Winter is Coming ...

... (Still) to western Europe and parts of the northern US. Meanwhile, it's toasty back in Winter's home, in the Arctic. This is not a entirely a coincidence. A ridge of high pressure that normally forms over the US and western Europe finds it more convenient to park elsewhere this April.

Dark Money: Book Review

Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer is a superbly written and extensively documented book that tells a sickening story. It tells how a tiny group of the super wealthy, not from the 1% but from the top 1/100th of a percent, adopted the tactics of Lenin and Hitler to seize control of much of the American government and poison the minds of Americans against their own country. They combine immense wealth with low tactics like the big lie, character assassination, and intimidation with a long range strategic plan based on control of strategic opinion makers, a vast network of propaganda organizations loosely disguised as think tanks, and aggressive buying of influence in everything to from local legislative races to the oval office. Many of them have skirted the law or flouted it, their vast wealth enabling them to escape with fines and other wrist slaps.

Their aims are radical: dismantling every aspect of the modern progressive state except for protection of their own wealth. Environmental laws, worker safety and protection, public education, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, anti-trust laws, income and inheritance taxes, and child labor laws are targets. Their success has been immense. Their representative were invited into the new Republican Speaker of the House's office before he was even sworn in, and they wrote his budget. The result has been a huge transfer of wealth from the ordinary citizens of the United States to them and their fellow members of the super rich. They have literally spent billions to hire a vast army of lawyers, talk show hosts, professors, PR men, politicians, and phony experts, but the rewards they have reaped are probably in the trillion dollar category.

There are perhaps a few dozen individuals who contribute most of the money for this radical action plan, but the Koch brothers, Charles and David, with a joint fortune of nearly 100 billion dollars, are very near the center of all the action. Charles Koch is the intellectual leader and chief architect of their strategy, and a principal funder of most of their actions.

It sickened me to read this book. I could only read a little bit at a time without falling into a depression of rage and despair. If one looks at the history of the republican form of government one sees a discouraging pattern of democratic rule transitioning to oligarchy and dictatorship. The wealthy use their wealth to control the government, and their control of the government to extract more and more of the society's wealth. The US is well on the way.

I have written several other comments on portions of the book and related matters here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Building a Negative Greenhouse: Antarctica

Fernando wanted me to look at this paper: How increasing CO2 leads to an increased negative greenhouse effect in Antarctica from Geophysical Research Letters. I glanced through it, and the argument seemed not crazy, so I decided to see if I could work out a model from first principles to see whether it could plausibly work. Think of it as a three reservoir problem in thermodynamics. Space is a nice cold reservoir, the central Antarctic plateau is also pretty cold (temperature Ta), and sometimes colder than the stratosphere (Ts). There is a greenhouse gas atmosphere lying between the stratosphere and the ground. Suppose the GHG concentration increases. In that case, radiative heat flow from the stratosphere to the surface will decrease. If the opacity increase is the same for downwelling stratospheric radiation and upwelling surface radiation, then the ordinary greenhouse effect will obtain. Suppose, though, that the GHG layer is more transparent to upwelling radiation than downwelling radiation. In that case we can have a reverse greenhouse.

But all the radiation involved is long wave, so how could that work? If the stratosphere emitted in somewhat narrow bands (little pressure broadening) and the GHG layer only absorbed in the CO2 bands (since hardly any H2O at super cold temps), then it might work, since the ice/snow are pretty infrared black and will emit broadband.

Note that this could only work for very special conditions.

It might be nice if somebody would check my work here. Rabett? Stoat?

Genomics FOTD

The average human has a genome that differs from the human reference genome at about 3-4 million sites (out of 3.2 billion).

Asian, European, and (Native) American population groups (out of 26 population groups total; 10 Asian, 5 Eur, 6 NA, 5 African) went through extreme population bottlenecks 15-20,000 years ago where the effective population sizes of each were reduced to less than 1,500 individuals. The simultaneous African bottlenecks was a good deal less severe with effective population sizes > 4,500. Most rebounded with extreme population growth shortly thereafter.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Hillary vs. Donald

It looks like we have achieved the curse of interesting times. I was kind of hoping for a convention swindle resulting in a three way race between Cruz, Trump and Clinton, but it doesn't look like that could happen.