Archive for June 21st, 2012
I just learned a Bible story about bears. It’s in Kings 2: 22-23. Here’s how Skeptics Annotated Bible summarizes it:
God sends two bears to rip up 42 little children for making fun of Elisha’s bald head.
Here’s the passage:
2:23 And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.
2:24 And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.
[BTW, "tare" means "to pull apart or in pieces by force, especially so as to leave ragged or irregular edges."]
I don’t remember hearing any sermons based on this passage.
The SCOTUS is supposed to be ruling on the health care insurance mandate next week. I’m still scratching my head over that (I think the real “solution” is to abolish for-profit insurance, but that’s a different argument…) Don’t we already mandate car insurance? And try getting a home mortgage without insurance. Oh yeah, those are only for people who may drive or have mortgages. Maybe health insurance can be required only for those who may need health care?
On a more critical note, today’s Morning Edition on NPR had a piece about Why It’s Illegal To Braid Hair Without A License. Apparently, in Utah, braiding is such a danger to the public that it needs licensure and regulation. Clearly, we want our buildings and roads designed and constructed safely, and most people want health care from an certified provider (homeopathy excepted…), but braiding?
It seems the professions want the regulations – fewer licensees means less competition and freedom to charge more.
So…. I’m hearing government regulation is bad.
Unless it’s not.
WTF . . . the head of the DEA can’t say whether meth, crack cocaine or heroin are “worse than marijuana.” And she looks not quite right (probably for reasons other than marijuana) as she struggles with this really basic line of questions. Oh, I get it. She’s not actually saying what she thinks. She’s being political, meaning dishonest. She is not going to help American exorcise its long-running and horribly destructive drug war demon.
Check out the low-wattage amoral head of the DEA. I would have enjoyed seeing Steve Cohen grill her for another hour. And then we should fire her. And then the DEA should publicly apologize for all of the pain they are causing users of medical marijuana.
I was reading The Cosmic Story of Carbon-14 and had a thought involving the Abundance of the Elements and isotopes. We now know how the elements formed, and have measured their relative abundances for a while and across the universe. The theory of how they form matches every measurement. Basically, Hydrogen and traces of Helium have been around for over a dozen billion years. Heavier elements form when the mass attraction of enough hydrogen squishes a star’s core to fuse together helium and some lithium, a star is born.
All the rest form from the extreme compression and sudden release of supernovas. All that hydrogen and helium (basically protons and neutrons as there are no attached electrons at those pressures) are squeezed to dissolve into a quark soup then expanded and quick-frozen before they can push themselves apart. What is expected from this is an asymptotic curve of element abundances with hydrogen at the high end, and slight peaks forming at iron, xenon, and lead (particularly stable elements).
This is what is measured in our solar system:
Don’t let the zig-zag pattern confuse you. Odd numbered elements are harder to hold together than even ones; each pair of protons needs a pair of neutrons to let them stick together. But odd numbered ones have that odd pair of singles; they are just less likely to form.
But how does Carbon-14 fit in? What really freezes out from the splash of quark soup is not so much elements as isotopes. Every possible isotope forms in its proportional place along the curve. Then the unstable ones follow a decay chain until either they reach a stable element, or we measure them somewhere along the way. Uranium, for example, has 3 isotopes that last long enough to have hung around the 5 billion years or so for us to measure them. Technetium, on the other hand, is only found today as a decay byproduct from other elements.
So back to carbon. The three most common isotopes of carbon weigh 12, 13, and 14 atomic units (aka fermion masses: neutrons or protons). C-12 is most of it, C-13 is 1.1%, and C-14 is about 1/1,000,000,000,000 part of it. Carbon 13 is an odd-numbered isotope, and therefore intrinsically rare. Carbon-14 has a half life of 5,730 years. So if it were created in the expected normal proportion to carbon-12 billions of years ago, we would expect to not see any left. Where it all comes from is recent nuclear collisions between protons (cosmic rays) and nitrogen in the upper atmosphere. (More details here).
We see the amount of carbon-14 that we’d expect for a regular continuous influx of cosmic rays that we do measure. But if all the elements had been made 10,000 years ago, we’d expect about C-14 to be about 1/4 of the total carbon, not the mere 1/1012 of it that we know is produced by cosmic ray collisions.
It turns out that comparing the abundance of isotopes of any element indicates the age of the planet to be between 4,000,000,000 and 5,000,000,000 years.
But what (I can predict this argument) if God created the elements with the isotope distributions intentionally skewed to just look like everything is that old? The old God-is-a-liar and created the young world old to eventually test faith of careful observers argument. I counter this with:
Given God and the Devil, which one has the power to put consistent evidence in every crevice of this and other planets and throughout the universe for every method of observation in every discipline for all interested observers of any faith,
and which one might inspire a few men men to write and edit a book and spread its message eagerly that can be interpreted to contradict that massive universe of evidence?
I often commute by bicycle, so this article caught my eye. In three separate incidents, three cyclists in San Francisco have killed pedestrians by running into them. This most recent example suggests flagrant and reckless conduct on behalf of the cyclist.
I sometimes tell people that I prefer riding a bike to driving a car, because although I might get myself killed, it’s not like I’m going to kill someone else on my bike. Well, I need to rethink that.
The Onion “reports” on this grandfather’s terrible advice.
This resonated with me. How often do you hear someone claiming that, “Of course I know what I’m doing. I’ve been doing it for 45 years.” Really? You should be deemed proficient because you’ve been hacking away at it for a long time? It’s certainly true that a lot of people who are excellent at an activity have been doing it for a long time. This is not the same thing as claiming that one is excellent because they’ve been doing it for a long time.
This sort of claim violates basic rules of logic. Just because this is true: “If it rains on me, I’ll get wet”, it does not follow that “If I’m getting wet, it is raining on me.” You could be in the shower or at a swimming pool.
CoExist offers the statistics. If you add up all the human obesity, it is the equivalent of one-half billion additional humans, and this is taxing the food supply.
At Truthdig, Bill Boyarsky reminds of of the words of Dwight Eisenhower, a man who both experienced war and understood the urge to go to war. Boyarsky offers this Eisenhower quote:
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberty or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
We’ve been warned, but we have not heeded the warning, according to Boyarsky:
Even in the face of this warning, we have become complacent. A small, insular group of security advisers and State and Defense Department officials, working out of public view and supervised by President Obama, are waging cyberwar in Iran and drone war in other countries. Behind them is a huge commercial apparatus of arms manufacturers, private security and logistics contractors and others who have an economic interest in war. Oversight is impossible; stiff penalties await leakers or whistle-blowers.