Friday, April 18, 2014

Neochrome, gene transfer from hornworts to ferns

Many people think that genes are not transferred from one species to another. However,  HIV was transferred from chimpanzees to humans. Influenza was transferred among a number of animal species. Soil bacteria transfer DNAs as plasmids all the time. Retroviral DNA has transformed the human genome. In a transfer that connects two evolutionarily distant species, tobacco ringspot virus has jumped from tobacco to honey bees. Now a gene transfer across distantly related species has been found. The gene that allows ferns to sense and use low light levels, neochrome, was transferred from hornworts.

'Like' ing a company on FB protects the company

On Facebook, it is easy to 'like' lots of things even companies. If you 'like' a company however, you give up your legal right to sue them if there are, later, things you don't like.

Music of the pears

If you connect electrodes to your plants and then use the plants' electrical signal to run a Moog synthesizer, you can get 'music' that changes throughout the day and may even change when you touch the plant.

Getting serious about strong passwords

Worried about Heartbleed and other attempts to get into your system. Want a better password. Here is how to make one.  Remember that this approach does not protect you if someone can just copy your cool new password a la Heartbleed.

What distinctive molecules attach sperm to egg?

Much as we would like to view it differently, biology is a dance of molecules binding to each other and unbinding from each other. So when a sperm binds to an egg, some particular protein on the sperm has to bind to some particular protein on the egg. The protein on the egg, in its normal functioning, may not have much to do with fertilization, but there has to be a distinctive egg protein for binding to occur and for the sperm to 'know' that it is binding to an egg.
For example, in viruses that attack bacteria, one method of viral attack and injection of the viral genome into the bacterium is for the virus to bind to a projection from the bacterial cell, hold on to this projection, and inject viral DNA or RNA into the bacterium.  The projection, in this case, is a distinctive tube that the bacterium uses to mate with other bacteria. There is a protein on the virus that binds to this particular bacterial tube.
A few years ago a protein on sperm that is critical to binding of sperm to egg was found, but no one knew what egg protein was involved. Now they do. An egg surface protein that is normally used to bind a chemical, folate, has been found to be the site of attachment of the sperm to the egg by means of the sperm's attachment protein. Once the sperm has bound to the folate receptor, the egg loses its other surface folate receptors and so no more sperm will bind to the egg.

No autism in Neandertals. They lacked methylations of DNA.

In this report from scientists in Jerusalem, it may be that we can be autistic but Neandertals couldn't. The Neandertals seem to be missing som methylation of the of the genes that we consider critical for autism or schizophrenia. Autism may be a byproduct of our acquisition of language.

Viruses of smart phones.

Here is a podcast on Android and other operating systems, your smartphone and malware attacks.  The author claims that smartphones that use only apps from app stores have a good level of safety because the app store itself weeds out apps with dangerous code. He also claims that closed operating systems such as iOS are less susceptible to app malware because the hackers cannot read the entire operating system code and find ways into it. On some phones, malware apps are harder to do because the app is operating in a sandbox and cannot directly access the operating system and, therefore, can't get the operating system to do malevolent things. One way that would allow malapps onto a particular phone would be if the phone's owner made a patch that allows the apps to access the operating system, a jailbreak, thus destroying one level of security. Bugs like Heartbleed, however, bypass all these levels of security since Heartbleed accessed memory directly and was not cauth to two years even though the code was open source and the mistake in coding was an obvious one. Government funding  (link at the bottom of the post) of key parts of Open Source operating systems might have avoided the Heartbleed bug.
If you are using HTML5 based apps with Javascript on your smart phone, there may be operating system independent ways for malware to infect you.
For our work, I am assuming that viruses of smartphones are possible and will increase in frequency as smartphones are used more and more.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Another Earth? Kepler186f

An earth sized planet, Kepler 186f, has been spotted at the right distance from its star, a dwarf star, to have liquid water on the planet. This planet was first spotted from the Kepler telescope and has been confirmed by ground telescopes. Such planets are hard to spot because they are not big enough to create shadows that are easy to see as they transit their star nor do they cause much in the way of wobble of the star's position. This planet is the first potentially habitable earth sized planet to be seen.

Sporadic killers (Lanza, Fort Hood, and beyond), guns, mental illness and policy


This post started in December 2012, soon after the tragedy in Newtown, CT. The initial driving force was the worry that Adam Lanza not his gun may have been the lethal weapon.
The post has been updated and dramatically expanded about 50 times since its original posting.
New material
New links are put at the end of the post and moved to their logical position as I have time. The newest piece is about a long time white supremacist who decided it was time to shoot Jews.
Purpose
The initial purposes of this post were to understand sporadic killers like Adam Lanza, the policies that would stop sporadic killings, and the brain functioning, cell by cell, that underlies these rare multiple murders. The post now includes understanding other and newer sporadic killers. The post is not designed to be a definitive reference article but to stimulate useful thoughts and ways of framing sporadic killings.
Conclusions so far
The conclusions have changed dramatically since the initial posting and have moved away from the gun control arguments since having stricter gun control does not seem to solve the problem of sporadic killers.
The internal and external dynamics of people like Adam Lanza, the Newtown, CT killer, have become much clearer to me through the links herein as have the neuronal dynamics of such killers. Even the policies that would decrease the frequency and severity of these killing sprees have become clearer.
There seen to be a few large remaining difficulties. One can be thought of in terms of a body's fighting off a virus. A second can be framed as efficient use of resources. A third is about politics.
If we view sporadic killers in the frame of viral attacks, we might say that viral attacks are rare and must be fought off as they occur but are not avoidable and are not the major focus of a body's daily tasks.  Under this view, we would say that sporadic killers are scary and emotionally charged but should be dealt with in a much less inflammatory manner by the press.
In the efficient use of resources framing, we need to ask, in spite of the large emotional response to sporadic multiple homicides, where state or national resources need to go for the overall health of the state or nation. One way to make decisions on where resources should go would be to have budgets that included return on investment of those resources. This approach is politically complex since there is a constant conflict between using resources for the benefit of the state's residents versus using the same resources to get contracts to friends and supporters and to win an election.
The third remaining difficulty appears to be that the policies that are most likely to be effective against sporadic massacres are not simple to implement, sound bite type, changes such as “Let's ban 'assault weapons' and that will solve the problem.” Effective changes require much more nuanced (and expensive) actions, changes that are politically very difficult.
One effective change would involve caring more for each other and changing much of a country's mental health system, in civilian and military settings, so that future Adam Lanzas are defused and made productive members of society instead of continuing as unstable potential mass killers who will use weapons of opportunity or weapons that they have accumulated over years.
After watching the political and technical difficulties in implementing the Affordable Care Act in some affordable way, nuanced policy changes that would significantly decrease sporadic violence seem to be very difficult and would require voters to strongly reject the status quo of making a few press releases and pretending that the press releases will inhibit the killers. The following post attempts to address these issues and provide readers with extensive references (lots of links) for further study.
Where I have things wrong, please tell me. I do not pretend to have the answers completely thought out nor do the authors of the links.
Organization of the post
This post comes in a few sections. First are thoughts from people who are in an 'Adam Lanza' family, the families of a person with Lanza's mental difficulties.

Next are some broader insights into why killers kill followed by some interesting but random articles and then studies on mental illness overall and from the point of view of the ill person. The books from the point of view of the mentally afflicted were revelatory to me.
 Then there are references to the effectiveness (or not) in attempts to use gun control laws to curb sporadic violence. This section is long because there are lots of references and articles in it. It is second to last because gun control legislation does not seem to be the way to solve the problem of sporadic violence. The last section contains new references.
Sporadic killers and their relatives
Here is a great post laying out the mental illness dangers that have led to Adam's and others' violent behavior. Here, here, and here are three posts from a person who could have been Adam Lanza. Apparently Adam Lanza had been planning the murders at Newtown for years. This would make the attempt to control such violence much harder.
Here is another take on the mothers of people who become mass killers. Maybe it is time for all of us to deal directly with the violent mentally ill. We are rapidly gaining the tools to do it decently.

Why killers kill and how they do it
Another article, this one from Scientific American on why the killers kill. Three insights are that these killers learn from and try to outdo previous such killers (so strong media reporting not only sells papers and magazines, it also trains the next generation of killers), that they tell others about what they are going to do, and that they just want more respect and less bullying in their school. Here is an article from the New York Times on what drives suicidal killers.
 Are there detectable physiological causes of crime? Maybe.
 Much to my surprise, you may be able to spot murderers through fMRI scans and genetics.
Mental Illness
There are posts on this blog about mental illness. One is Kahneman's take on impulsive versus deliberative behaviors, "Thinking, Fast and Slow." Three others are on forgiveness, an opinion piece, a book, "Amish Grace", and a novel, "Four ways to forgiveness." A third is "The Dyslexic Advantage." A fourth is about self deception. Another is about teen age brain development.
Mental illness -- from the inside
There are also books about mental health as viewed by the person having the problem, such as "Night Falls Fast" (about suicide), "The Center Cannot Hold" (about schizophrenia), William Styron's amazing "Darkness Visible" on depression, and "Look Me in the Eye" about Asperger's (including the insight that people with Asperger's don't look you in the eye when they are talking because they can't look at you and maintain their train of thought) and wonderful work on autism by Temple Grandin. Especially disturbing is a book about people whose personalities are always on the border of dissolving and who, in self defense, strike out at others,"Stop walking on eggshells."
Here are recent discussions about what happens if you put the mentally ill behind bars and pretend that you have solved the problem.
Social skills in groups
There is also "Predictably Irrational" about ways that all of us act incorrectly with respect to economics and "Genderspeak", about implicit bullying in which we talk to each other in ways that are very hurtful to others though we do not see the hurt. Then there is "The Art of Mingling", which is a great primer on key social skills and Pease' book on reading others' body language and one on how to detect lies. More information on social aspects of mass killings can be found in the books and studies of Ravven and from Zimbardo's "The Lucifer Effect".
The reason that all these posts have appeared is that we are developing an accurate model of learning and memory and need to know about all these things.
Compassion and forgiveness
On the other side of the story is Armstrong's "Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life."

Here is a discussion about whether gun control or mental health changes is the best path forward and an interesting discussion on beliefs that correlate strongly with each other, one on ideologically motivated beliefs, and another post on the predictability of sporadic violence, including terrorist attacks, of a certain size.
Related fiction

Here, in an eery coincidence, is a post that I made about Richard North Patterson's book "Balance of Power", a novel about the reactions of various U.S. politicians to the gunning down of the President's wife's family by a crazed brother in law using a large clip semi-automatic weapon. Here is another Patterson book, "In the name of honor" about the relevant topic of post traumatic stress disorder.

Violence and mental illness

A deeper problem in controlling sporadic violence has been raised in a New York Times article. The authors state that warning signs of mental instability leading to sporadic violence are not very predictive. These warning signs would, if applied in the way that some states are trying to do now, indict all the residents of a state and say that everyone is likely to kill everyone else. This prediction is, of course, not true. Also, if states implemented strong background checks on everyone and strong reporting requirements for all psychologists and psychiatrists with respect to people who 'might' do something violent, then the people who would do something violent will just stop going to psychologists just as people with very serious psychological problems such as borderline personality disorder already avoid psychologists. On a related tack, this article lays out the idea that what may connect mass murderers is not guns nor crazy behavior but the rare adverse reactions to drugs designed to curb crazy behavior. In order to reach a good conclusion on how to proceed on sporadic violence, we may have to listen to experts who are honest brokers and not ideological advocates. This article gives some insight into how to be an honest broker and not be perceived as an advocate who is distorting the facts.

What should be done differently if the murderer is a woman? Here is the letter from Evan Todd, a Columbine survivor.

Here here, and here are reasoned responses from various churches to Newtown and related issues.

The gun control bill may include a section on mental health care.

Gun control
A number of people, including our president, have come out saying that they will pass laws that prevent gun violence. Others have said that there should be a cop in every school, or maybe not. I understand the political and emotional forces ("Never let a good crisis go to waste" -- Rahm Emanuel. Especially if it distracts from the fiscal cliff or other political problems.) but I don't get it as a solution to gun related violence.
Here are the current statistics on murders by guns. What is not listed is that more than 90% of these killings are with pistols not AR-15 or semi-automatic rifles. There are multiple studies that show that laws against gun violence don't prevent gun violence and that concealed carry laws don't increase gun violence. I don't think that Adam Lanza would have, all of a sudden, become sane and non violent if there were more laws against guns. He would just have used a different weapon as the recent killing of 6 children in China by a young man wielding a knife and other knife related killings suggests.
The classic example, from Illinois, of gun control laws not having the intended effect was a law that made it a capital crime to kill someone with a gun in Illinois. In Indiana, right next door to Illinois, it was not a capital crime. Even with this strong incentive to move mob hits to Indiana, no mob hits were moved from Illinois to Indiana to avoid Illinois' death penalty. As of January 2013, stringent gun laws in Chicago have resulted in more gun related homicides not fewer. The bad guys just drive an hour to somewhere else, buy a gun, and then come back to Chicago and kill somebody. There is also the publishing of a list of the location of gun permit holders near New York City, which has been hailed as a great resource for the burglars. An article has just come out saying that while the data on who applied for gun permits was public, publishing it was not really journalism so much as link bait. Maybe one of these points is what the argument is really about.
Here is the latest set of thoughts from Vice President Biden. And here is some information saying that the banning of 'assault weapons' as in 1994 is only symbolic. It stirs up the voting base and gets more Democrats elected but does not actually accomplish anything.
Multi death rampages have been decreasing over the last ten years not increasing. So the rare ones that there are are more likely to make the headlines. How does this statistic fit into the evolving picture of what we as a society should do next?
In psychotic behavior by school administrators, we have zero tolerance for 'gun' shaped pop tarts and intimidation of little boys for being little boys.
Here is a good article from Keith Kloor about how cultural cognition affects gun violence. Here, from the NYT, is a nice article not on mental illness but on existing and proposed gun laws and another on the arguments, which I did not understand before I read the article, on gun laws around the world and their driving forces. There may be some good examples of effective gun control in this article about gun control laws in Australia. I do not know whether Australia's example applies to the US because I don't know much about social dynamics or mental illness in Australia.
Another piece is about the assault weapon banning law in CT which went into effect on January 1, 2014 and created somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000 instant felons, the approximate number of residents who own guns that fit the law and chose not to register them. Connecticut now has a problem since they can't do selective enforcement, they can't alienate 100,000 voters, and they can't put this many people in jail.
President Obama lost big on the gun control legislation. Then he appeared to want to be the scold to others instead of figuring out why he lost.
In an interesting development, the UN has just passed sweeping gun control bills. Some have hailed this passage as a great step forward. I am skeptical since I do not know of any evidence that the UN peacekeepers have ever kept the peace. I am also dubious since some members of the UN commission on human rights are the world's worst murderers.
Ok, I have no idea why, in the face of gun control laws, the department of Homeland Security needs more than one billion bullets, enough for them to fight an Iraq style war in the U.S. for 30 years, all of which they have purchased in the last year. Or why the White House thinks that it is reasonable for them to kill American citizens without any oversight or review.
In the newest round of the gun laws battle, a Federal judge has ruled that a state can ban assault weapons in its role of protecting citizens. I probably need to read the ruling but it would seem that 'assault weapons' is ill defined (see above) and that banning them does not diminish gun violence. Since gun stores in New York can still legally sell 10 bullet clips, it is not clear whether this ruling means that the state should hire many new police persons to make sure that no hunter or citizen ever puts more than seven bullets in the ten bullet clip. My first take is that this ruling is not constitutional because it violates the second amendment and is not effective because it is not well written and does not move toward solving the problem of gun violence. We will see how this turns out. For me, I am starting to understand how laws get passed that fit the political will but do not solve anything.
The Senate is trying to ban purchasing guns for people to give to criminals (straw purchases) but does not have enough votes to ban 'assault' weapons. (Assault is in single quotes because these weapons are not really fully automatic weapons that armies use but low end rifles that look a bit like assault weapons because of pieces of plastic decoration added to them.)
Now people in DC are trying, once again, to use a terrible event to push gun control laws following the most recent Fort Hood shootings, even though, as referenced above, such laws, while politically popular, do not fix the problem.
Here is an interesting piece saying that gun control is not about gun control at all but about culture and the ability to buy and own an object that makes the owner feel satisfied and powerful. For some these objects are guns, for others they are guitars, bottles of wine, or shoes. So gun control is part of an ongoing culture war and not about the facts on either side.
The proposed Senate gun control bill will have no effect on more Sandy Hook massacres says one aide. It is about extending government control of Americans.
In this fascinating study, the authors found that many Americans were in favor of a number of new regulations, for instance on gun control, but did not trust the members of the opposing political party to implement the new regulation without trying to distort it for ideological reasons. For instance, Republicans were certain that Obama would immediately try to convert reasonable limits on the number of bullets a magazine could hold into taking away all guns. On the other hand, maybe the complaint that voting for the gun control bill was political suicide was nonsense.
A small Florida town gets $1,000,000 in a one time grant to try to find the sporadically violent before they are violent.
From Dan Kahan at Cultural Cognition comes a key question, 'Why are shootings of small children viewed as dispositive for banning 'assault' weapons when other dangers to small children, such as drownings in swimming pools, have no response at all?' There are far more drownings than shootings.
Gun homicides and violent crime are actually way down not up in the last ten years.
This bit is amusingly sad. The Department of State has asked a person in Texas to remove from the Internet a file that would allow a person owning an $8,000 3D printer to print a revolver that might or might not work. It is amusing because the first and second amendments to the constitution seem to directly forbid the State Department from controlling the Internet this way. It is sad because the design file was already downloaded 100,000 times and is still available outside the U.S. at a number of sites. With respect to the rest of this post, I would be more impressed if the State Department had done something that had even a small hope of reducing sporadic violence.
Today, 3 April 2014, another piece of this story has shown up. The shooter in the latest Fort Hood massacre was taking SSRIs, which lead the taker to violent outbursts with whatever weapons are available (see above about drugs and violence). Here is a video with Bill O'Reilly and a couple of generals about guns, mental health (including 22 service suicides a day), and arming soldiers on a base (a stupid idea because then every crazy will be armed.).
 The first official report was released today. It omits many of the needed details.

If you made it this far, you deserve an unlisted article. Here it is. New York state banned 'assault rifles' but the legislation was written so sloppily that minor tweaks to the design, such as removing the pistol grip, made the 'assault rifles' legal again. The rifle itself did not change at all.
 One approach to preventing the mentally ill from shooting the rest of us would be to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. On top of the difficulty of defining 'mentally ill' in an effective manner, there is the problem that it would be very difficult to write laws that would work.
 There was a shooting at the Washington Naval Yard, killing 12 people. The news reporters uniformly reported the weapon as an assault weapon, an AR-15. It wasn't. The reporting appeared to be political, not factual.  The first half of this television program is about the killings at the Washington Naval Yard. It contains a number of expert opinions on mass killers.
As the number of shootings rises, politicians are willing to do less to stop them.

The D.C. optics around this issue are sadly amusing. When a gun control bill failed in the Senate, the losing side tried to blame the winning side for having no guts. Imagine a basketball game, say Heat versus Knicks, in which the losers yelled at the winners for not deliberately playing badly and throwing the game. The object of politics is to win for yourself and your constituents not to throw the game so that your constituents and you lose.
This post, in the middle, says that people's response to many disagreements is fact driven on many issues but not on gun control. On gun control, the person's decision is driven by their political ideology, and they distort the facts to fit this ideology.
 Here is an article summarizing big pieces of the current law covered by the second amendment.
 Here is the latest salvo in the gun control discussion. The article is interesting; but I wish there were some supporting details and not so many absolutist statements. The comments at the bottom of the article contain a lot of balance and claim that Gutting's approach has no hope of working because it is not practical.

My questions on gun control
I would like someone to explain to me what should be done next if new gun control laws are passed and crime increases. If gun control laws are not a solution to the problem of sporadic violence, should they be repealed and something else done? Don't we have enough evidence so far to know whether a particular new gun law would actually decrease the problem of sporadic violence? If we do, I would like old laws to be enforced and new laws to use this evidence in their wording.

New materials

Here is a piece on the connection between methods of suicide and the frequency of suicides.
The problem is not just guns but the interaction of guns with other stressors such as alcohol. There is also the problem of hypocrisy by some factions.
The White House's pledged insignificant amounts of money for fighting mental illness, mostly for political purposes.
Another piece, while not on using guns to kill others, may add to the discussion and may bring in posts about suicide elsewhere on this blog. This piece talks about suicide and especially about the dramatic effects that decreasing the opportunity for easy ways of killing oneself has on lowering the suicide rate. Shooters of others, by contrast, do not seem to be impulsive.
You do not need guns to be a killer. Here is another incident of using a knife to injure many people.
In Maryland, you could buy a gun even though you were a risk because Maryland was not able to show that you were a risk before you took possession of the gun.
Here we have a 73 year old long time white supremacist who decided that it was time to shoot people outside a Jewish center near Kansas City. This incident fits into the growing story in an odd way. The laws that might stop Adam Lanza and might slow down a mob hit would appear to have no effect on a person who has been nurturing his grudge and hiding his weapons for decades.
Here is a woman who has three grown children and yet  killed seven of her babies and left their bodies in a house she used to live in.
I would much appreciate people's thoughts on how to respond to Newtown and other tragedies caused by the sporadically violent. I would really like to know where my tentative analysis is missing something important.

Open SSL not so secure, Heartbleed bug

Many sites on the Web have been protected by SSL, the secure socket layer. It turns out that the layer is not so secure and has been attacked successfully a number of times to garner passwords, financial data, and other things.The vulnerability has been dubbed Heartbleed.
Fortunately, the Open SSL folks have fixed this vulnerability in their latest release, which should be downloaded and installed immediately if you need it.
For the rest of us, change all your passwords now, especially your banking ones. On the other hand, you may want to wait. I called my bank. They said that they would look into the problem and get back to me in 4 to 7 business days. Hardly a reassuring response.
Here is a description of what the bug is about.
Here is some information on when and whether to change your passwords.
Here are some ways to protect yourself from the Heartbleed bug.
How to protect against further bugs.This is a very interesting article on the role of government funding in key open source software.
First published on 8 April 2014




Sharks are not living fossils

Biology textbooks have said that sharks, and other organisms, are living fossils--unchanged for hundreds of millions of years. Turns out that is not true. Sharks have evolved dramatically, as substantiated through an ancient shark fossil.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Crows use stones to displace water and do humor

As in the fable, crows understand that adding stones to a container of water will raise the level of the water so that the crows can drink it.
Seagulls around the world have found that clams and mussels crack open nicely if you drop them from a height onto roads or sidewalks. In New Jersey, the seagulls especially like to drop the shellfish onto drawings that warn humans that seagulls could be dropping clams or mussels onto you.
Crows also do humor.
First published on 26 March 2014

Should the US government play moneyball? Nope.

The Oakland Athletics, as reported by Michael Lewis in "Moneyball," chose to compete with other teams by spending their small amount of money more wisely than the other teams did. A new article, by Bridgeland and Orszag, argues that the Federal government should start spending its money more wisely in order to decrease its costs. In a counterpoint, Marc Tracy at 'The New Republic", argues that the federal government is less like the Oakland Athletics and more like the New York Yankees or Walmart or SONY. It can drive down its costs by squeezing its suppliers and driving down prices. For many of the Federal government's suppliers, the government is by far their biggest customer and, therefore, has pricing power. The Federal government just needs to use this pricing power effectively.

Cliven Bundy, cattle, Harry Reid, and Chinese solar plants.

There have been a lot of media reports about Cliven Bundy, a Mormon rancher with a 140 year family history in Nevada, having his cattle be forced from public land by 200 armed troopers and possibility that the cattle had been euthanized.
There seems to be more to this story. Harry Reid, the leader of the US Senate, has a son. The son wants to get the public land from the US government so that the Chinese can build a $2.5 billion solar plant on the land that Bundy's cattle are now using. The younger Reid also seems to want to take the Bundy's land as part of his offer to the Chinese. He is the former Clark County, NV county commissioner and helped the Chinese company, ENN, buy land at far below market value. Ah, politics. To add complication to the story, the newly appointed head of the Bureau of Land Management is a long time aide to Senator Harry Reid.
Here are more details, including the fact that desert tortoises, the nominal animal to be protected, are being euthanized by the US government because there are too many of them. Another point in this video is that the land under dispute is not even Federal land but is owned by the state of Nevada, which begs the question as to what the Feds are doing trying to 'protect' it.
The confrontation seems to be settling down as the BLM withdraws. It may be settling down because the story, above, about how Senator Reid's son would profit from the 200 militiamen versus the Bundys, went viral on the Internet.
And here is apparently the same story with a senior Democratic Senator trying to  use his influence to win, this time an election, by harassing some non-governmental entity, this time Caterpillar, for political gain.
The Feds have left Bundy's ranch, at least for the moment. In their wake, the left water lines and water tanks that they destroyed, apparently in great overreach to the orders that they were given.
I should be cynical by now about the motives of politicians. Guess I have to work harder on being cynical.
Here is a story that seems to apply.
A politician walked out into traffic, not paying attention, and was hit by a car. A person came out of the crowd and helped the politician to safety. The politician was very thankful and said to the person, "That was amazing. I am a politician. Most people would never have helped me. What can I do for you?"
The good samaritan replied, "Forget my name."
First published on 11 April 2014.

Election year hearings etc., buying votes?

In this article, Caterpillar avoided paying $2.4 billion in US taxes over a few years by keeping its profits overseas in Switzerland for a business that supplies Caterpillar parts to Caterpillar equipment worldwide. According to Caterpillar and its accounting firm, PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers), this practice follows all relevant laws. US companies do not bring profits or intellectual property back to the US because US corporate taxes are higher than almost everywhere else on the planet.
Even so, Democratic US Senator Carl Levin wants to hold hearings and possibly to penalize Caterpillar for what PwC calls routine tax strategies for multinational companies.
Senator Levin represents a 'middle class' manufacturing state, Michigan (one that could make parts for Caterpillar), and is retiring from the Senate this year. His Senate seat is viewed as a toss up, so it is one that the Democrats need to win. As a guess, the questioning of Caterpillar will not come to a conclusion until after election day in November. Obama has gone to Michigan and called Paul Ryan's proposed budget a 'stinkburger.' This speech seems to be another clumsy attempt to keep the Michigan Senate seat.
Here is another attempt, giving $100,000,000 in Federal dollars to Detroit for housing in a way that would shore up pensions of heavily Democratic voters.
originally published 31 March 2014.

Climate change yielding dictatorial world government

People talk about how to slow down climate change. The IPCC issues reports. Media, especially this time around, write articles including ones on climate pragmatismHere is a detailed article and a second article based on a talk by Ottmar Edenhofer. The listed points are compelling. While the stated logic is good, the article leaves out all the known difficulties.  It does not include the inadequacies in the global climate modeling software, such as leaving out the effect of clouds. It does not include who should be in charge of the massive changes in energy production that the report asks for. The implicit commander for the change in the global energy supply is the UN, but no one trusts the UN to be in charge of anything or would give the UN the authority to be in charge. The second problem is cost. As a guess, the cost of the proposed changes in global energy production will be trillions of dollars Some one would have to choose to pay this cost. In the attached article, there is no talk of who would pay the cost and why they would choose to pay it. Apparently, the speaker expects rich countries to donate $1,000,000,000,000 to some UN committee but not require any control or oversight over this donated money. The next problem is people, cultures, and dictators. The report proposes, implicitly, a world government controlled by unknown people and having total police power over existing governments and cultures. Existing governments and cultures will never give up their sovereignty and world view to some dictatorial UN committee, so the proposal is dead in the water before it ever starts.
I really wish that the people arguing for some action to prevent large climate change would propose actions that are actually possible and do not involve creating a world government controlled by unknown people who would dictate to the rest of the 7,000,000,000 how they should live their lives and how much they should donate to this world government.
Here is the latest article about the IPCC report. This article focuses on the need for cost efficient Carbon Capture and Storage.No such thing exists. The article mentions that a great test bed for testing CCS could be Germany but that the Germans hate CCS, think that it poses large risks, and would rather have nuclear waste in their country.
Beyond the world government aspects implied by fighting climate change, we have the following article which claims that the current drought in California and the very wet winter in the East can only be predicted by the latest climate models if man is forcing climate change through emission of greenhouse gases. The droughts and wet winters occur normally. The authors claim that green house gasses strengthen them. If this is true, then the need for world agreement and action on climate change may be even more pressing. The impossible politics still exist and seem to be getting worse. GHG emissions in the US and Europe are falling and have been falling since 2005, but GHG emissions across the planet are still rising. To get planet wide emissions to fall would seem to require that developing countries, many with dictatorships or not very solid governments, would have to eschew their own forms of government and their own hopes for prosperity in deference to planet wide goals. This seems unlikely.
Here the folks at Clmate Progress point out that the IPCC's report five, AR5, seems to be trying to rig the climate change solution space by pointing out risks from using nuclear energy to decrease the emission of green house gasses while not pointing out the similar risks for using either wind power or solar power.
The impact of needing land to grow more biofuels and therefore needing to cut down forests was deleted from the IPCC AR5 report.
The interest to me of this topic includes watching the disconnect between what science says about the climate, what media prints about what scientists say, what politicians choose to say, and what actually happens. All these events seem to present different pictures and have different reward structures.
First published 14 April 2014.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Benghazi redux--secrecy in the government

I try to stay away from developing politics, but this article appears to clarify a number of difficulties with the developing Benghazi story and to connect current D.C. maneuverings with those described in books reviewed here such as "Capitol Punishment" and others about secrecy in the government. It also connects to the dynamic balance between government's desire for secrecy and the public's need to know when the government claims secrecy in order to protect the country or when parts of the government claim secrecy to hide their own major mistakes.
Here Mike Morell, a former director of the CIA and deputy director at the time of Benghazi, is interviewed by Charlie Rose and lays out the timeline of the talking points and who did what in the analysis. Very interesting.
First published 21 May 2013.

Dealing with toxic people

Here are some good points for dealing with toxic people. The biggest is not to expect them to be reasonable, then to handle the interactions decently including letting them finish what they feel they need to say.

Gravity waves detected - prove Inflation, kill theories

Gravitational waves in space time give more evidence for the Big Bang. In this case, the scientists detected small scale changes in polarizations in the cosmic microwave background. The changes look like swirls in which the polarization changes direction in a small region of the background but not uniformly. The only known mechanism to generate the swirls is gravitational waves in the early universe, waves that fit Guth's 30 year old prediction of faster than light inflation of the universe's size.
Here is another view. Here and here are some background on gravity waves. Here is an easier version, showing ripples in space time by using a towel, an apple, and a pingpong ball.
Gravity waves also rule out a number of potential models of the Universe's development including a number of cyclic and axion based models.
On the other hand, the discovery may not do any of those things, one reason for this is that the detections in the cosmic microwave background may be an artifact of the explosion of a star.
Inflation and other big ideas about the universe are showing that we humans can understand and predict things far beyond our daily experiences. Inflation theory, while seeming to be unlikely, has made a long string of correct predictions about the universe.
Original post -- 17 March 2014


Emotional competence and effective leadership

To be a good leader of a company, your employees must be people first and employees second. This fits with the finding that CEOs, on average, do not have high IQs but have high EQs, emotional understandings. Here is another article on emotional intelligence, business, and love. Alexithymia would seem to be fatal to leading a team.
Also it is good to remember that no matter how emotionally competent you are, if you work in a technical field, you also have to be technically competent.
First published on 6 April 2014.