Saturday, June 26, 2010

Thoughts on Conservative strategy for the 2010 Midterm Elections and beyond

To date the news from the primaries has been mostly good. Conservatives are winning big. That's good, but if we are going to turn this country around we need to be thinking about our message for November. Obviously we want to halt the slide toward socialism, but independents, who may be crucial in this election, will want to know where we are planning to go. For example, we have said we want to repeal and replace Obama Care. Independents legitimately ask, "Replace it with what?" To avoid sounding negative, Conservatives should simply say they want to replace Obama Care with an approach to health care that gives the patient choice and control and won't break his bank account. Some good examples of health care initiatives can be found at the Center for Health Transformation (

Illegal immigration is another hot button issue that needs to be handled carefully. The first issue that needs to be addressed is border enforcement. Illegals who commit crimes (in addition to violating our borders) need to be criminally prosecuted. But what of the 12 million or so illegal immigrants who work, pay taxes and don't cause trouble? Why not offer those who can document that they have been in the US for say 10 years a path to citizenship? And once the borders are secured a guest worker program should be started to enable those who want to work in agriculture, construction or any other field where they are needed to come to the US for a definite period of time. Since they would be required to register with ICE the opportunity for unscrupulous employers to cheat them on salary and benefits would be limited, and terrorists trying to cross th border could be caught.

One thing Conservatives should unequivocally oppose is further deficit spending. No more "stimulus" bills. Conservatives should also advocate making the Bush tax cuts permanent.

Thinking beyond the November election, Conservatives need to develop a strategy to avoid mischief by the lame duck Congress between the election recess and January. Filibusters can be mounted in the Senate. In the House no provision for a filibuster exists. However, Congressmen can begin introducing bills that will be part of their legislative agenda for 2011. Each bill will occupy some House time and thereby delay the Democrat majority bills. Discharge petitions can be used to unlock bills tied up in committee.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Keynesian Economics has not been practiced

Frequently you hear that the government is practicing Keynesian economics because it is running a deficit budget.

Named for John Maynard Keynes, a British economist of the mid 20th century, Keynesian economics was popular in the Depression era, when it indeed led to budget deficits.

But that was not the whole of Keynesian economics. Keynes was preoccupied with stabilizing the economy -- keeping the value of money from going up or down excessively. His approach to doing this was to make government spending counter cyclical. When the economy was good the government should run a surplus, and when it was bad the government should run a deficit. In this way, at least in theory, the government would build up a "rainy day" fund during good times to tide it over during bad times.

Unfortunately, our leaders in Washington have almost never practiced Keynesian economics. They have run deficit budgets year in and year out, leading to today's 13 Trillion accumulated debt (and if the off-budget debt due to Social Security, Medicare and other entitlements is included it's much larger)

Should the government practice true Keynesian economics? Well, it would be better than the current situation, but the potential for abuse is great. Economic projections are notoriously inaccurate, giving politicians excuses to pour out benefits in the hope that it will lead to more votes for their reelection. Better to have expenditures in line with the budget Congress adopts.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Are the oceans cooling?

A recent discussion among myself and two friends brought up the contention made by a couple of Climatological web sites that the oceans have been cooling recently. The web sites in question are:
here and here.
Another source of ocean temperature data is here.

Plotting the data from the third source (the NOAA data for 180W - 100W, which covers most of the tropical Pacific Ocean) doesn't give much insight into cooling. A linear regression gives a very slight cooling, but that's probably just an artifact of where the regression starts and ends:

One fact that jumps right out is that the ocean temperature fluctuates quite a bit, and this can translate into greater atmospheric temperature fluctuations near the surface because of the higher specific heat of water.

The decline in ocean temperature my friend and the two web sites were referring to is the decline from late 2009 to the present (latest data May 2010):

This represents nearly a 3 degree (C) decline, but it's not all that much compared to earlier fluctuations (see the first figure). A Google Scholar search turned up a number of papers on ocean temperature, mostly showing warming, but all with considerable up and down fluctuations.

Still, it's of interest to assess the causes of ocean temperature fluctuations. It doesn't seem the oceans should be affected as much by the greenhouse effect as the atmosphere, since greenhouse gases trap rising heat. It would seem the ocean temperature would be more directly affected by the Total Solar Irradiance (TSI) and by cloud cover, which in turn is driven (among other things) by cosmic rays. Sunspots affect the TSI, and sunspots are currently in decline, as shown in the following figure:
When sunspots are low, less energy is released by the sun, contributing to less warming due to TSI. Furthermore, the magnetic field of the sun is at its lowest, letting more cosmic rays impinge on the atmosphere. This in turn causes more air to be ionized, which provides nuclei for clouds to condense around, increasing cloud cover and increasing the reflectance of solar radiation back into space. This of course cools the atmosphere. Also, some recent research by Qing-Bin Lu of the University of Waterloo, links the decline of CFC gases (chlorofluorocarbons once used as refrigerants and according to Professor Lu, "well known greenhouse gases") under the influence of cosmic rays to the recent cooling of the atmosphere.

My conclusions:

  1. The study of earths temperature cannot be complete with the main emphasis on CO2
  2. Although the oceans temperature fluctuates considerably, the higher heat capacity of water argues strongly for including the influence of the oceans on earth's temperature
  3. Factors like sunspots and cosmic rays must be taken into account.

  1. Cosmic-ray-driven electron-induced reactions
    of halogenated molecules adsorbed on ice surfaces:
    Implications for atmospheric ozone depletion
    and global climate change
    Physics Reports, Volume 487, Issue 5,
    February 2010, Pages 141-167,
    ISSN 0370-1573, DOI: 10.1016/j.physrep.2009.12.002.
  2. Galactic Cosmic Rays - Clouds Effect and Bifurcation
    Model of the Earth Global Climate. Part 1. Theory
    Authors: Vitaliy D. Rusov, Alexandr V. Glushkov,
    Vladimir N. Vaschenko, Oksana T. Mykhalus,
    Yuriy A. Bondartchuk, Vladimir P. Smolyar,
    Elena P. Linnik,
    Strachimir Cht. Mavrodiev, Boyko I. Vachev
    The Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial
    Physics Vol. 72 (2010) p. 398-408
    arXiv:0803.2765v3 []
  3. Galactic Cosmic Rays - Clouds Effect and Bifurcation
    Model of the Earth Global Climate. Part 2.
    Comparison of Theory with Experiment
    Authors: Vitaliy D. Rusov, Vladimir N. Vaschenko,
    Elena P. Linnika, Oksana T. Myhalus,
    Yuriy A. Bondartchuk,
    Vladimir P. Smolyar, Sergey I. Kosenko,
    Strachimir Cht. Mavrodiev,
    Boyko I. Vachev
    Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial
    Physics Vol. 72 (2010) p. 380-497
    arXiv:0803.2766v3 []
  4. Testing the proposed link between cosmic rays
    and cloud cover
    Authors: T. Sloan, A.W. Wolfendale
    arXiv:0803.2298v1 []

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Update -- Myeloma

See my post from Friday May 28.
Linda and I drove to Houston June 2 to see Dr. Orlowski, our oncologist at M. D. Anderson. The results of two cycles of chemo look excellent. Not all results were in yet, but the immunoglobulin IgG went from 6200 March 15 to 2330 June 2 -- a 62% reduction. Dr. Orlowski estimates I will need 4 to 6 cycles before the stem cell transplant.

Meanwhile I started the third cycle of chemo yesterday. Today I feel good, which is a contrast from previous cycles. I have been a little anemic, from prior to being diagnosed, and the nurse practitioner suggested I eat liver, dark, leafy greens, etc. She thought that would be better than the constipation that might result from taking iron pills. Since I've had enough constipation to last me the rest of my life, we stopped at Luby's on the way home and I had liver. Maybe that was a factor.

To anyone out there who is praying for me: Thanks. I know many people are praying for me.

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Tale of Two Registry Cleanup Utilities

My wife has a PC, I use a Macintosh. Several years ago I got a registry cleanup program from Iolo that did a good job of straightening out registry issues. But then Iolo decided to go into the firewall, antivirus, antieverything business and bundled their registry cleanup utility with everything else. However, I was using another firewall/antivirus program and had no desire to switch, After all, I had a license valid for a year, the program worked fine, and I had three total installations, including one under Parallels on the Macintosh and one under VMWare on the PC (the license allows this). Iolo included the ability to detect third party antivirus/firewall programs, but their program failed to detect the antivirus/firewall program I was using. So I got bogus warnings, "No firewall detected. Antivirus not detected."

Meantime my wife's computer ran more and more slowly. Finally I got an email from Smith Micro announcing a registry cleaner called Checkit. I ordered it and installed it last night. I ran it and my wife is happy. The computer runs much faster now. It's a shame Iolo had to take a simple program and tie it together with other layers of code to do much more than I wanted done, but from initial experience, Checkit will do the job.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Some fun questons

Following is a list of short questions I've wondered about for years.

  1. Why is Tucson (Arizona) pronounced Tooson? Shouldn't it be Tuckson? Don't tell me it was originally Spanish, because in Spanish it would be Tuckson (or maybe Tookson). Maybe it comes from an Indian word?
  2. Why is Boston cream pie pie instead of cake? Pie has a crust, cake doesn't.
  3. Similarly, why is cheesecake cake and not pie, since it has a crust?
  4. Why do they call movie previews trailers?
Any takers?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Where I’ve been

From sometime in February until this week I didn’t update Bricolagia. Where have I been?

On December 28 I got a call from my doctor, who urged me to see a hematologist ASAP because a blood protein test indicated I might have multiple myeloma, a cancer of the white blood cells.
In January, my appointment with the hematologist had to be canceled because I got pneumonia. Multiple myeloma interferes with the making of the various components of the immune system.

Finally in February I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, stage 1. The treatment is chemotherapy until 90 – 95 % remission is achieved, followed by a stem cell transplant. I will get an autologous stem cell transplant, in which my own stem cells will be harvested and reintroduced after intensive chemotherapy to remove all (or most) of the remaining cancer.
Texas Oncology, the cancer treatment center providing the chemotherapy, doesn’t do stem cell transplants, so we opted to go to M. D. Anderson Center Treatment Center in Houston for the transplant. The doctors at Texas Oncology and M. D. Anderson were willing to work together, with M. D. Anderson in charge, so that meant I could get most of my early treatment in Austin.

I began chemo treatment on April 26 – 2 weeks on chemo and one week off, for 2—4 cycles, whatever it takes to get the disease under enough control that I can go on to the next stage. After the first cycle the proteins indicative of multiple myeloma have gone down dramatically and Dr. Kasper, the oncologist at Texas Oncology is pleased.

I am just finishing up with the chemo stage of the second cycle and the results aren’t in yet.

One of the drugs I’m getting is Revlmid, which is derived from Thalidomide, the drug that was given to pregnant women in the 60’s that caused birth defects. The FDA is paranoid about Revlimid and makes you sign your life away to get it. You have to promise you won’t have sex with a woman of childbearing age, or even let her touch the pills. And it’s very expensive, a problem for me since I don’t currently have any drug coverage.

You’ve heard about the various side effects of chemotherapy – they’re different for everyone, but they include constipation, diarrhea, mouth sores, general aches and pains, fatigue, etc. I’ve had fairly constant constipation and occasional aches in my rib cage. I lack energy, but all in all it hasn’t been too bad.

You’ve heard how people who are in bad situations and the church is praying for them say they can tell people are praying for them. Well, I can attest to that. I have a huge prayer team – it overwhelms me how many are praying faithfully for me, and I can tell that they are.

I will keep you updated as things progress.

A More Satisfying view of the Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) Controversy

H. Leighton Steward is a geologist who has been interested in climate and what drives it for some time. His book, Fire, Ice and Paradise (Bloomington, IN, Authorhouse, 2009) describes the various climate drivers through earth’s history in layman’s terms. The title roughly outlines earth’s geological history: from the time the earth was formed (fire), through the “snowball earth” period 850 million years ago to 650 million years ago, to the present period, which he designates “Paradise”.

Steward’s most important points are that CO2 is not the only climate driver and that many interacting factors control our climate. Factors Steward deals with include
  • Variations in the sun’s activity, especially the magnetic activity which controls the incidence of cosmic rays in the lower atmosphere, which in turn form ionization trails for clouds to condense on. The clouds increase the earth’s albedo (tendency to reflect light) and have a cooling effect.
  • The tendency of CO2 to become less effective as a greenhouse gas as it becomes more concentrated.
  • Variations in the earth’s orbit, together with variations in the sun’s position caused by gravitational interactions with Jupiter and Saturn.
  • Various geologic processes such as weathering of rocks and plate techtonics which release calcium to combine with and sequester CO2.
  • Changes in earth’s albedo due to desertification, vegetation growth, and the exposure of more or less beach as sea levels advance and retreat.

In Chapter 7 Steward discusses two scenarios that show how the various factors can interact. The first is pretty typical of the conventional wisdom of the AGW advocates, although it includes some drivers such as water vapor, methane, changes in albedo due to increased vegetation and melting snow. In this scenario the earth warms.

In the second scenario Steward notes that
  • The earth’s orbital alignment is moving in a cooling direction
  • The greenhouse effect of CO2 saturates as the CO2 concentration increases
  • Warming of the atmosphere allows it to absorb more water vapor, which in turn leads to more low-level clouds, increasing albedo and leading to a negative feedback, mitigating the heating. But water vapor is itself an important greenhouse gas, and whether increased albedo due to clouds or the water vapor greenhouse effect wins out is a matter of research.
Steward gives extensive charts showing temperatures and CO2 concentration throughout geological history. Important points to glean from these charts include
  • In the past, the Paleocene period for example, CO2 concentration was as high as 1200 PPM but temperatures were around 27 degrees C (80 deg F). Since then CO2 and temperature have both declined to the present levels (with some ups and downs) of 380 PPM and 59 deg F (15 deg C)
  • The great civilizations of the past have been associated with warm periods, not cool periods.

Steward does not advocate expensive efforts to reduce CO2 emissions, neither does he propose doing nothing. He advocates continuing research, and some reduction in CO2 emissions (including sequestering CO2 and storing it for later release if needed)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Evolution for Christians

Conservative Christians frequently reject evolution out of hand for a variety of reasons. Some of these reasons are sound, others are not.
I’m going to try to explain what evolution is and demonstrate that it is a very broad science, containing many elements that ought to be perfectly acceptable to Christians.

Definition of evolution
An academic definition of evolution is Change in the distribution of alleles in a population from one generation to the next.

Alleles are defined as alternative DNA sequences at the same physical gene locus, which may or may not result in different phenotypic traits.

A phenotype is defined as any observable characteristic or trait of an organism

Common descent is the notion that all organisms today are descended from a smaller number of organisms that lived in the past. For example, amphibians evolved from fish, etc.

Common descent begins with speciation – the separation of an interbreeding population into two populations that cannot interbreed.

Why the definition is important

  1. It’s difficult to get anywhere in a discussion without being agreed on definitions – or at least understanding how the other side defines its terms.
  2. Some hint of where I’m going should have already shown up in the definition. Note that it says nothing about fish evolving into salamanders, etc. Note that most evolutionary biologists believe that new species can evolve from earlier species. But in academia far less controversial changes go under the rubric of evolution. (e.g. bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics) The form of evolution conservative Christians object to (often called macroevolution, but more properly called common descent) begins with speciation—the separation of an interbreeding population into two populations that can’t interbreed.


Conservative Christians have developed a number of objections to evolution. Here I deal with the most common ones.

  1. The genetic code doesn’t permit evolution. This is entirely too restrictive. First, the genetic code does permit evolution defined as above. One example has already been mentioned: the development of resistance to antibiotics among bacteria. A second example is the peppered moth in England. In the early part of the 20th century there were more white peppered moths than black. Later it was noted that the proportion of black peppered moths had increased. Finally, in the latter part of the 20th century the proportion of white peppered moths increased. Eventually it was noted that the reduction in the proportion of white peppered moths coincided with the increasing use of coal in British industry, which caused the tree barks to darken in color. When clean air legislation began to take effect there was less soot in the air and the tree barks lightened. The proportion of light colored moths increased. In each case the moths that contrasted with the tree bark were more visible to predators and were removed from the population, causing future generations to increasingly match the tree bark. This is just natural selection in action. Note that evolution provides populations of living creatures with a very effective, elegant defense against environmental factors that could result in their demise. If for example the peppered moths referred to above did not carry the genes for white spots on a dark background as well as those for dark spots on a white background, the population of peppered moths might have been wiped out. What about macroevolution? Here the genetic code does provide some barriers. Evolutionary researchers don’t believe they’re insurmountable, many conservative Christians believe they are. First, for one population to separate into two that can’t interbreed (in other words, for one species to become two) all that is necessary is for a mutation to occur that prevents the mutated members of the population from interbreeding with the non-mutated members. The mutated members don’t necessarily differ from the non-mutated members in physical appearance – they just can’t interbreed with them. However, for a new species to be formed (an interbreeding population) the same mutation must occur in at least two individuals of the opposite sex. If this occurs, then you have two populations that can evolve independently.
  2. Evolution depends on death – those individuals that are less fit for the environment they live in die off. Thus death preceded Adam’s sin, which they claim is contrary to Scripture. However, the Scriptures say nothing about animal death resulting from sin. Gen 2:17 says
    but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.
    Since Adam did not die physically for many more years, you could make the case that God is talking about spiritual death here – separation from God. Since animals are not spiritual beings, the warning does not apply to animals.
  3. Another problematic aspect of evolution for many Christians is the contention that random mutations provide the richness of variation that natural selection works on. Here we need to be very careful. What appears random to a human researcher does not necessarily appear random to God, who is omniscient. Indeed a Christian view would eliminate “necessarily” in the previous sentence. Furthermore, nonlinear processes can exhibit behavior that appears random but is not. Without knowing the differential equations or the recursion relations and the initial conditions to infinite precision, trying to predict the evolution in time of a complex process is a hopeless task. One would achieve as good a prediction using random numbers.

What does all this mean to Christians?

Rejection of evolution by the Christian community leads some Christian young people to avoid careers in the biological sciences, and it leads secular biologists to reject Christianity. In Matthew 28 Jesus tells the disciples
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

Jesus did not say to avoid making disciples of scientists.

Worse, rejection of evolution by the church will lead some Christian students to abandon their faith when they are faced with the evidence for evolution. A good friend of mine, who has had a very successful career as a petroleum geologist, nearly abandoned Christianity for exactly this reason.
If Christians accept evolution but not necessarily common descent, they are accepting a very large part of the science of evolution, without compromising any Christian principles. This opens the field of evolutionary biology to Christian students. This is important for several reasons:

  • Scientists are more likely to hear Christian testimony if some of their colleagues are Christians
  • They are less likely to reject Christianity if they have colleagues whom they respect, who are Christians
  • Much progress has been made in immunology and biology by evolutionists. Let’s encourage Christians to potentially make advances in these fields

One caution: don’t go around saying “I accept microevolution but not macroevolution.” Academics don’t make a distinction between microevolution and macroevolution. If you must, say, “I don’t accept speciation.”

Friday, January 22, 2010

Quotation from John Adams

With the victory of Scott Brown in Massachusetts, Republicans and conservatives are rightly celebrating. But there is a great deal of work ahead of us until November, if we expect to increase our representation in Congress. And I'm sure we can expect some dirty tricks from the Democrats between now and November. Today I viewed a PJTV Trifecta discussion that's perhaps a few days old. In it Bill Whittle finished with this quotation from John Adams:

Instead of sitting down satisfied with the efforts we have already made, which is the wish of our enemies, the necessity of the times more than ever calls for our utmost circumspection, deliberation, fortitude and perseverance. Let us remember that if we suffer tamely a lawless attack on our liberty, we encourage it and we involve others in our doom.

He finished by admonishing viewers to celebrate over the weekend and be ready to work Monday.

Good advice. Let's follow it.

The PJTV show I'm referring to can be viewed here

Sunday, January 10, 2010

An example of stochastic resonance

This post is a response to some discussion that has been going on on the American Scientific Affiliation list, which is archived here
The specific discussion this refers to is here Also see my previous post on this blog. The ASA list does not currently support uploading graphics, so I will post this part of the discussion here.

Last month I posted an example of a resonant system in which an input excitation that varied only by 0.1 % caused the system output to grow without limit, to refute the argument that solar input could not cause the warming experienced in the 20th century because TSI only varies by 0.1 %. Rich Blinne responded with

Even though resonance is theoretically possible before you go there you need to answer the question of why wasn’t there resonance for thousands of years and suddenly in the mid-20th Century things just changed?

The example I posted was a simple, second order linear system. The resonant behavior shown was constant -- it just caused the response to grow and grow forever. If the earth/sun system were a second order linear system, Rich's comment would be right on. Nonlinear systems, including the sun/earth system, are far more complicated. To illustrate I programmed the example given by Tobias and Weiss in [1].

By fiddling with the system parameters I was able to produce the plot shown below, which demonstrates one of the characteristics of nonlinear systems: the ability to show little activity for long periods of time followed by a burst of activity. (The plot is of the variable Tobias and Weiss label T.)

Not to say that this is an accurate model of interactions between the sun and climate, although Tobias and Weiss use it to illustrate sun/climate interactions — only that in nonlinear systems like the sun/climate system you can have long periods of little activity followed by a burst of activity. The sun/earth system is highly nonlinear and probably chaotic. This sort of behavior is common in chaotic systems. So the answer to Rich's comment is that the resonance was always there -- it just wasn't as active before the 20th century.

In case anyone is interested, I will be glad to make the mathematica notebook I used to generate the plot available.

[1] Tobias, S. M., Weiss, N. O. “Resonant interactions between solar activity and climate”, Journal of Climate, V 13, 1 Nov 2000, pp3745-3759