Daily Archives: January 15, 2013

What’s up with that?

You may know the blog What’s Up With That. It is Anthony Watt’s anti-science blog, dedicated to climate change denialism.

A current post reports the finding of life forms from another planet, in a meteorite.

This looks to be a huge story, the first evidence of extraterrestrial life, if it holds up….

This is from a recent meteorite find in December 2012. A large fire ball was seen by a large number of people in Sri Lanka on December 29th 2012, during that episode a large meteorite disintegrated and fell to Earth in the village of Araganwila which is few miles away from the city of Polonnaruwa.

Look at what the electron microscope shows of a sample purported to be from the meteorite:

Then he shows a picture of a rock with a bunch of contemporary Earth Based diatoms stuck to it.

It is very fun to read the comments. I provided a comment that will not be printed because Watts never prints my comments, but I’ve screen captured it for you (it is below).

Phil Plait has reviewed the Alien Life in the Meteor story here, and as I said, it is not alien life come to earth in a meteor. It is (I guess) a fragment of a meteorite with fresh water diatoms stuck to it. There are fresh water diatoms stuck to your shoe, your car tires, your dog, everywhere. The silica bodies of these tiny algae are part of the dust, not as numerous perhaps as skin cells or, certain times of the year, pollen, or the loess blowing off the melting glaciers and such, but common. This is why real scientists grind down the meteorite, cross sectioning it, before looking at the sample.

As Phil points out, this report is by a “scientist” who has made many outrageous and incorrect claims about aliens, reported in a journal that is famous for printing bogus and incorrect science, the methods are obviously bogus and anyone who knew anything about, say, climate studies (where fresh water diatoms are used all the time as proxyindicators) would at least be suspicious, and would know how to check for veracity of the claim.

Anthony Watts, the anti-science global warming denailist, was not equipped to recognize this bogus science as bogus. We are not surprised.

“We Live In Little Houses Made of Beans”

We were discussing insects. What about eating insects?

When it comes up that I’ve lived in the Central African Rain Forest, certain questions often come up, and one of them is: “Did you eat bugs?”

Every one has seen those National Geographic specials where some natives somewhere are eating insects, and of course, Westerners who think they generally don’t eat insects are fascinated with the idea. However, Westerners eat a lot more insects than they think. You should really consider any processed food you eat that started out as a plant crop to be part insect. If what you are eating is made of any corn product, rice, wheat, etc. or pretty much anything else, consider how the foodstuff got from field to factory to your face. At no point did someone sit down and do what you do with the veggies you buy at the grocery store: take the time to clean them off and if you run into a bug, get rid of it. And, even when you do that to your own produce, you are not seeing some of the invertebrates that are just too small and too well hidden to see.

We had a more extreme than usual buggy food situation arise in the Ituri Forest one year. Our practice was to grow some food, and occasionally purchase food from a local market when one existed, but to mostly stay away from the food the local people grew, because we didn’t want to be draining away their resources. So, we would go to town every several weeks and purchase a number of long-term staples, including 20 kilo sacks of rice, beans, or other dry foods, a few gallons of palm oil, and to splurge, twenty boxes of pasta and dozens of tiny little cans of tomato paste which we would turn into feeble Italian food. The tomato paste cans always exploded on opening, so one had to learn to aim them into the pot first. But I digress.

Once you brought that food back there was no changing plans. If something bad happened to the sack of rice, there would be no rice for six weeks. We kept the food in a special food storage hut, and our cook, a locally hired woman who worked a few hours a day for us, would take very good care of it. All sorts of things can go wrong from leaks in the roof to vermin to mold or rot.

And one day something went wrong with the beans.

At first we noticed little black spots floating around in the cooked beans. A little later we noticed that among the beans, while cleaning them, there were these little tiny things that would fly away. Then we noticed that some of the beans had little holes bored into them. Eventually, we put two and two together and figured out that we had some sort of infestation. Some small beetle creature had taken up residence in our beans. Their larva would bore a hole into a bean and live there for a while, presumably eating each bean from the inside out. I’m pretty sure both the larvae and adults were doing the boring, but I can’t be sure. The way we handled this was to spread the beans out in the sun, and over time a bunch of the beetles would fly away. Then we’d wash off the beans as per usual and some of the beetles left behind, beetle corpses (of which there was an increasingly large number) and grubs would be washed away. But as each day passed, the number of beetles that would end up in the cooked beans went up and up and up, and the efficacy of getting rid of the beetles was obviated by their ubiquity. So we stopped laying the beans out in the sun. At that point we stopped eating “cooked beans” and started eating “cooked beetles and beans” or, for short “B&B”.

And eventually we discovered that this was not all that uncommon. If you want beans in that habitat, you’re gonna get beetles too. Its just that this particular batch of Beetles and Beans was farther along than usual. Eventually we had to speed up the rate at which we consumed the beans so that there would be some left for us to eat! And, as I recall, the next batch of beans had hardly any beetles in it.

Well, I’m sorry to report that you do something like this every day when you eat stuff made out of pretty much any plant, but probably to a lesser degree. When products are made in factories in the US, some sort of test is applied to the powder or juice or whatever the corn or beans or wheat is turned into, to see how much invertebrate (mainly insect) matter is in there. I assume that batches with “too much” are mixed with batches of “not much” to make batches of corn meal, wheat flour, etc. that have under the regulated maximum amount of insect matter. Right?

In any event, there is nothing wrong with eating most insects, especially those that eat the foods we eat. Chances are they are low in toxins, and they are loaded with amino acids and other protein related molecules! Here as well as the Ituri, people eat insects all the time in this manner.

But of course, that is not what people are really asking me. They want to know if I’ve ever eaten insects as part of the cuisine. On purpose.

Yes, of course I have…

Seven Lessons To Learn In Order To Save The Planet (Updated)

I was a graduate student in Harvard’s Anthropology Department, which meant I had no funding. I was in the final writing stage of my thesis, and the problem I had was that teaching interesting biological anthropology (which I could do full time if I wanted) was too distracting from the mundane yet mentally challenging task of writing a PhD thesis. So, I got a job as a secretary at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. Since I was able to follow instructions and was also not intimidated by Big Scary Professors as most temps were, I quickly rose through the ranks and became Richard Zeckhauser’s administrative assistant, working across the hall from Robert Riech and down the hall from Tom Snelling, and generally surrounded by very notable notables. I may or may not have once delivered a secret package to a future Secretary of State in the lounge of the thinly disguised CIA office at the JFK-school, instructed to wait for a hand written reply that I was not to read. All in all it was a lot of fun and I learned a lot.

I was put in charge (meaning, I got to do all the paperwork for) a program that garnered large sums of money from various corporate entities and then distributed the money to promising young faculty and graduate students for various research projects. Moments after being put in charge, one such young faculty member showed up in my office.

“I understand you are in charge of the JCAP.”

“Yes, I guess I am, what can I do for you?”

“I need $10,000 to do a project. We’re going to look into buying and selling the right to release Carbon dioxide into the environment by big industry. You know, using market forces to help the environment. We’re working with Senator X in Washington, he wants to draft a bill, we’re helping him.”

“Sounds great, the check is in the mail!”

And that, to my knowledge, was the beginning of the whole Carbon Tax and Trade thingie, which as you probably know, has more or less failed in its recent incarnation in Washington. The Senator in question was a Republican … yes, using market forces to save the environment was a conservative, Republican idea at the time, though these days the Republicans seem to hate it. And it is still probably a good idea, dammit. Maybe its century has yet to come.

There is a paper you need to know about. It is written by the esteemed political scientist Theda Skocpol, at Harvard University, and it is called “Naming the problem: What it will take to counter extremism and engage Americans in the Fight against Global Warming.” Click here to download a working draft.

Skocpol’s paper is excellent, but it might be quicker to read a piece in The Guardian by Susanne Goldenberg. Goldenberg notes that Skocpol

…has put the blame squarely for America’s failure to act on climate change on environmental groups. She also argues that there is little prospect Barack Obama will put climate change on the top of his agenda in his second term.

Skocpol in effect accuses the DC-based environmental groups of political malpractice, saying they were blind to extreme Republican opposition to their efforts.

Environmental groups overlooked growing opposition to environmental protections among conservatives voters and, underestimated the rising force of the Tea Party, believing – wrongly, as it turned out – they could still somehow win over Republican members of Congress through “insider grand bargaining”.

That fatal misreading of the political realities – namely, the extreme polarisation of Congress and the Tea Party’s growing influence among elected officials – doomed the effort to get a climate law through Congress. It will also make it more difficult to achieve climate action in the future, she added.

Inside lobbying failed, and grassroots organizing won. So, the side that used the inside lobbying – the environmental groups – needs to rethink their strategy. The Tea Party, which for unknown reasons is against the environment (I mean, really, who would be against The Earth?) has got their strategy down, and doesn’t need to make much of an adjustment.

Many of us have understood for a couple of years now that there is no compromise in the Republican party. That Environmental lobbyists did not realize this is disconcerting. Recently elected Republicans have told their non-Republican constituents that they are not interested in hearing their opinions, and in some cases have openly admitted that they only represent those that voted for them. Moderate Republicans have been replaced by extremists in most of the Congressional districts they once represented. Extreme Republicans representing districts with a mixed constituency have replaced public talks, town meetings, and the like with highly scripted and restricted things that look like public fora but are not, or with highly moderated internet events. With respect to the environment, the majority of Americans think one thing, the Right Wing does another.

And when I said above that the Tea Party is opposed to environmental sense for no apparent reason, you must have noticed that I was being cynical. The average Tea Party member is opposed to environmentally responsible legislation because they are told to be opposed to it by Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. And Rush and Fox are supporting ultra-wealthy corporate interests. These are the same ultra-wealthy corporate interests that picked Mitt Romney to be the Republican Nominee at some point during last year’s primary process, and paid for his makeover from technocrat to social, environmental, and political extremist.

There are lessons. We must learn them.

Lesson one is that well organized grassroots movements work. They work better than unorganized grassroots movements, they work better than inside baseball (on its own), and they work better than their reputation.

Lesson two is that the Tea Party, a successful grassroots movement, works well in part because its grassroots members are willing to think, say, and act in concert with the plan, whatever that plan may be. I don’t suggest that the Progressive Movement or environmentalists develop an army of zombies, but I do suggest that a certain amount of “getting with the program” is a good idea.

Lesson three is that the Tea Party is strong and effective, and the corporate sponsors of that extremist movement are getting what they want, because they have powerful tools like Rush Limbaugh and FOX News running herd. We have Al Gore. I love Al Gore. But he is not Rush Limbaugh. Which is a good thing. But still. I think you can see my point.

Lesson four is a sad emerging reality: Nobody will care about Sandy, the droughts, the fires, or any of it unless FOX News and Rush Limbaugh verify that these things are real and important. Perhaps the coming Bacon Shortage will turn a few heads. This, of course, relates back to Lesson three.

Lesson five, and if you ever had a conversation with a Communist for more than a half hour you heard this from them, and ironically, it is a truth that is being exploited by the Right Wing: inside trading always becomes mere trading and that always becomes the hobgoblin of the state and corporate interests that the inside trading may have initially sought to change. Compromise means the corporate interests win. Compromise means the status quo wins. The reason old school dyed-in-the-wool communists like to point this out is that the obvious solution is a pervasive, complete, and if necessary violent revolution. The problem with that, of course, is that you are more likely than not to end up with Stalin. That is not good for the environment and is probably bad for a number of other reasons.

But since we are talking about collective action and such, we can bring in Lesson Six. Lesson six is that one of the most powerful political forces in this country (and a few other countries as well) is being left out of this conversation, but is perhaps the best ally environmentalists can develop. Unions are losing power, and it is not a coincidence that their struggle is against political entities bought and paid for by ultra-rich corporate interests and individuals. Unions stand the most to gain from a new Green Economy. Unions can be rebuilt on the backs of our current crisis, and our economy can be rebuilt on the backs of the Unions, if everybody would just get a stronger back and start doing the heavy political lifting we need to do. In the meantime, we save the planet.

Lesson seven, then, is that Unions have been too long in bed with social conservatives and other right wing causes. The Union shows up to endorse the Democrat, but the union member all too often exercises his or her right to vote against the interests of that same Union. Richard Nixon’s Silent Majority were the hard hats and other Union rank and file, and that hasn’t changed much. What we need now is more of a recognition of Silent Spring by that Silent Majority. The Unions have to get on board with the environmental movement, and visa versa. The next round of Progressive candidates to run for the US House have to be endorsed by Bill McKibbens’s 350.org and by the AFL-CIO. Strongly, honestly, and in the voting booth and not just the pocket book.

Can we get organized, people?

UPDATE: One could see this all as a matter of blaming the environmental group. But that would be wrong. In fact, it is the corporate interests, wealthy, their stooge, the science denialists who deserve 100% of the blame. Also, the American People for their irresponsible voting habits deserve some of the blame. And, poor strategy on the part of environmental groups. And maybe the grassroots too, for not being active enough. There is plenty of blame to go around, and yes, it does add up to about 200% or more! An important perspective on this is this post by Joe Romm: What Theda Skocpol Gets Wrong About The Climate Bill Fight

Related: Beyond baby steps: Analyzing the cap-and-trade flop by Bill McKibben.

On that catfish that eats pigeons

Usually, it’s “Bird eating fish” but here we have a case of a “Bird-eating fish.”

The Wels Catfish, Silurus glanis, is the second largest fish in its range, which covers much of Europe and parts of West Asia. In parts of Western Europe, it is considered to be “exotic” because it has been introduced, possibly by anglers, in lakes and rivers in France and the Iberian Peninsula. It has also found its way to Japan where it is considered to be an invasive species. It is sometimes known as the European Catfish.

… Read the rest here at 10,000 Birds!