Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Bacon Shortage

Bacon. Photograph by Flickr User Kentbrew
It appears that there is going to be a bacon shortage. It is estimated that the total amount (in poundage, I assume) of swine that will be produced next year will be several percent, about 10% most likely, less than expected. It is said that there will be an approximate doubling of the cost of pork production, not necessarily doubling the cost of bacon and other products at the consumer end, but certainly squeezing the farmers and raising costs in the grocery store significantly. Presumably this will mean a shortage of all pork products, and quite a few things are made from swine. Why the focus on bacon? Obviously, because without bacon, we will not be able to make BLT’s, and other fine foods, or put crushed bacon on our otherwise perfectly healthy salads.

Why will there be a bacon shortage?

Continue reading The Bacon Shortage

Welcome Comet ISON

Late Winter, 1997, just before moving from Boston to Minnesota, was very snowy out east. And, that year I had stupidly agreed to shovel the snow for our apartment building in exchange for a pittance of some kind. One night I was shoveling the latest 7 inch storm off the walk, and the father of our upstairs neighbor came out to look at the weather, the snow, and the sky. Our neighbors were Russian, and had been in the US for only a year, and their dad may or may not have been a refugee of some sort. He was wearing his big Russian hat and his big Russian coat and he knew almost no English. Noticing him looking around, I stood up and said hello. He grunted something. Then, I pointed up the street, and up in the sky. There, hovering over the Somverville Massachusetts cityscape was Comet Hale-Bopp, bright, curving, strange looking, hovering in the night sky. He turned his gaze and looked at the comet for a moment, then looked back at me, shaking his head in awe.

“America…,” was his only comment.

He then returned to the warmth of his apartment. I continued to shovel snow for the next couple of hours.

Well, we have a new comet, and it is named ISON (full name, C/2012 S1). Continue reading Welcome Comet ISON

Pakistan will seek UN anti-blasphemy laws

The Prime Minister of Pakasatan, Raja Pervez Ashraf, has

…reiterated his demand from United Nations and other international organisations to come up with an effective legislation against all kinds of anti-Islam acts which harm the co-existence and harmony among the followers of different religions.

“We would go to the UN and OIC and get a law passed to stop anti-Islam activities, including blasphemy, for-ever,” he added. The prime minister said the Muslims have respect and reverence for all prophets and messengers of God and also other religions in the world. The Muslims expect that followers of other religions would reciprocate in the same way, he added. It was time to wage a diplomatic war with full sincerity and commitment until the international community is convinced to take concrete action including due legislation against all kinds of anti-Islam activities that provoke the sentiments of the Muslim world, Raja said.

First, I want to see an anti-science denialism law. Then, we can talk teapots.

Bill Nye and Evolution Discussed on Fox 9

I did this thing:

Minneapolis News and Weather KMSP FOX 9

A few notes:

Ross Olsen is a retired physician who is a principle player in our local Young Earth creationist group, which produces the local creation science fair (this search will get you most of my posts on that).

When I said second amendment I meant first amendment. But maybe I was really thinking about … oh, never mind.

My intent was not to debate Evolution, although Ross clearly had a different idea in mind. Ross was asked to this discussion by the producers after they (the producers) contacted me to talk about Bill Nye’s comments. Then, they (the producers) needed to find a creationist so I suggested that they contact the Twin Cities Creation Science Association, they did, and this is how they came to invite Ross. I mention this because the more typical scenario is that the evolutionary biologist is set up for a debate they weren’t expecting. That is not what happened here.

Originally we were supposed to focus on Bill Nye’s statement that people who think that the world is less than 10,000 years old need to re-examine their religious beliefs. Here are my thoughts on that particular question, apropos the longer term and larger scale critique of the critique of the critique of the critique of Bill Nye’s video:

Bill is wrong for two reasons:

  • First, people need to reconsider their understanding of their own religion, not rethink their beliefs. If you want to believe that the world is less than 10,000 years old, fine, but if you are Catholic, for example, you need to know that you are a member of a religion that does not think that. Most people in America are members of a religion that don’t subscribe to the Young Earth form of creationism, and in fact, many generally accept the scientific understanding of evolution with a little god sprinkled in here and there. So, you don’t need to reconsider your beliefs, but rather, you need to quit the religion you are currently a member of and join a different one.
  • Second, as a scientist I don’t want to tell people about their religions (as an Anthropologist I’m happy to do that now and then, of course). People who think the earth is less than 10,000 years old need to reconsider not their religious beliefs, but rather, their scientific literacy and more broadly, their own credulity. We have tee ring sequences that extend back to before 10,000 years, forchristakes.

And when I say “wrong” I mean I agree with him. Of course.


  • It is worth noting that there really are very few people in the US who are true Young Earthers. The poll indicated (see below) is misleading. If you take people to a nice natural history museum and show them interesting stuff about geology and fossils and so on, and ask them if they think the earth was created in six days in the year 4004BC, they will generally say no. If you had asked the same exact people if they take the Bible as literally true, without going into details, a large number of them will say yes. It all depends on how you ask the question, and on what people are specifically afraid of (looking stupid vs. enraging a vengeful god).
  • The combined number of people who believe in Bigfoot, Aliens being among us and the Loch Ness Monster is probably greater than the number who, when pressed, actually believe in the 6 days at 4004 BC version of creationism. And, it is more likely that Bigfoot exists. Marginally.
  • I was also hoping to say this: Evolutionists do not insist that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old. We don’t care how old the Earth is. We’ll work with whatever facts are established. It’s the Physicists who are telling us how old the earth is, and they are using the same subset of Physics that are used to make nuclear power plants work pretty well most of the time, to operate the nuclear navy that keeps us safe from our foes, and that allows the use of nuclear medicine which is so important in diagnosis and cure of disease and disorder. If the physicists are wrong about the age of the earth then we need to have an urgent conversation with the engineers at the nuclear power plant, the Joint Chiefs, and the local hospital administrators.

Now, on to the Gallup Poll. Here are a few summary facts. The original is here.

First, a baseline. For the poll in June 2007,

Evolution, that is, the idea that human beings developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life: True – 53%, False – 44%

Creationism, that is, the idea that God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years: True – 66% False – 31%

So, a majority of people think based on that poll that Evolution is true. And, a majority of people think that Creationism is true.

Gallop provides a graph that summarizes a slightly different way of asking the question:

Bottom line: Most people “believe in” evolution in the US, though many take a theistic view of some kind or another.

“she and her grandmother had an uneasy feeling about putting her brother in the trunk”

Our local news station reports:

An Edina woman is facing child endangerment charges after she was accused of having her nephew ride in the trunk of her Lexus to protect her leather seats because he was wet.

…Susan Marie McCarty picked up her nephew at [an amusement park] on a hot August afternoon. Witnesses …

McCarty told police her nephew had gone on a water ride and she didn’t want him to drip water on the car’s leather seats, …

The boy’s sister told police that the boy had been warned … She added that her brother had seemed excited about it…

The boy, who lives in Wayzata, told police he didn’t want to question his aunt — and he willingly stayed in the trunk until he was dropped off. When he got hot, his family members aimed the air conditioning vents at the compartment venting into the trunk.

Well, that was nice of them.

Every time a child has a birthday, a Higgs Boson dies

Helium is rare. It is not produced in factories, and the places where it is found in the wild are unusual. When it gets lose, it tends to drift out into space. Simply put, it is a hard to find commodity with a limited availability. Helium is important in science. Big Science Projects like the Large Hadron Collider use Helium to cool magnets down to near absolute zero. Helium is also used in MRI machines, which have become an important part of medial research and diagnosis. Without a supply of Helium, a lot of important science projects would be in trouble.

From the BBC:

Prof Welton told BBC … “We’re not going to run out of helium tomorrow – but on the 30 to 50 year timescale we will have serious problems of having to shut things down if we don’t do something in the mean time.”

… “The reason that we can do MRI is we have very large, very cold magnets – and the reason we can have those is we have helium cooling them down.

“You’re not going into an MRI scanner because you’ve got a sore toe – this is important stuff.

“When you see that we’re literally just letting it float into the air, and then out into space inside those helium balloons, it’s just hugely frustrating. It is absolutely the wrong use of helium.”

For this reason, Welton and others as asking the question, should we be using Helium for uses such as making children’s balloons float?

The balloon industry counters, noting that “Balloon Gas,” which is what they call their product, is made of Helium recycled from medical uses and mixed with air, and that very little research grade Helium, if any, is lost to the process of engineering children’s birthday parties. I suppose, though, that they could use hydrogen for the parties. It would make Chuckie Cheese a more…interesting…place.

Who says science doesn’t have enough controversy!

Romney-Ryan Space Plan: Do What Obama Has Been Doing

But at the same time say that Obama is doing it wrong:

The campaign’s plan cited four priorities – giving NASA focus, working with the international community, increasing the nation’s capacity to defend its assets in space and easing trade limits on foreign sales of American “space goods.” Romney did not suggest increased space spending — his budget plan would force cuts in domestic programs, including space — but on increased reliance on commercial firms to get Americans and their goods into space. That mirrors the Obama administration’s plan.