Monthly Archives: January 2013

Congratulations to Michael Mann

Michael Mann is one of the key climate scientists of the day. History will crown Mann as one of the great heroes who defended the freedom to do science rationally despite constant attacks from mean spirited and ignorant, self interested, politically motivated, oil-money-soaked climate science denialists. You know of Michael Mann as the coiner of the term “hockey stick” to refer to the alarming uptick in temperature and related measures connected to the human caused release of copious quantities of fossil Carbon into the Earth’s atmosphere, causing one of the greatest disasters this planet has seen in tens of thousands of years.

If you want to know more about Mann’s work and the complex and difficult world of being a sincere climate science in an age when such science if often found inconvenient by the powers that be, have a look at his book: The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines.

Michael Mann, together with his colleague, Long-Qing Chen, was awarded the status of Distinguished Professor in Penn State’s college of Earth and Mineral Sciences:

Chen and Mann were recommended to EMS Dean William Easterling by a selection committee consisting of highly regarded faculty from across the college that screened faculty candidates nominated by faculty, staff and students of the college.

Chen, professor of materials science and engineering, has earned world-wide recognition and acclaim for his leadership in computational materials science. He is attributed with pioneering the development of phase-field models to explain grain growth, domain evolution, interactions between defect and phase microstructures, and strain-dominated microstructure evolution in cutting-edge elastically inhomogeneous systems.
Mann, professor of meteorology and director of the Earth Systems Science Center, is an acknowledged leader in the climate change community. He has achieved research breakthroughs in the area of climate change science, especially the reconstruction of global temperatures over the past 1,000 years. His work has garnered national and international recognition, including his most recent election, by his peers, as a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society; as well as the 2012 Hans Oeschger Medal and Fellow of the American Geophysical Union.

“These are both outstanding and highly accomplished members of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences faculty,” said Bill Easterling, dean. “I am delighted that we are able to honor them both with the distinguished professor designation.”

According to Penn State Policy HR10, the number of distinguished professors in each college may not exceed 10 percent of the number of faculty members who hold standing academic appointments at the rank of full professor. With the recent retirement of Digby Macdonald, distinguished professor of materials science and engineering, and the awarding of an Evan Pugh Professorship to James Kasting, professor of geosciences, the college had two prospective appointments available this year.

Again, congratulations Michael.

“Excuse me, there’s some food in my bugs!”

We were talking about insects, and eating insects, and this reminded me of something funny. I was traveling in the most remote part of Central Africa, several days walk from any place you could possibly drive a car, visiting uncharted villages mainly occupied by people who had moved into the deep forest because they were in trouble with the “law” in some way (usually for perfectly good reasons in this lawless country). I was traveling with a Lese Villager and his sister, who was hired as our cook, and three Efe Pygmy men. We visited a village that was not exactly uncharted, but which officially did not exist. Years earlier everyone who lived in this part of the forest was forced by the government to move to the “road” (now a slippery foot path you could sort of drive a very good 4-wheel drive truck on if you were prepared to dig yourself out now and then). This village was “abandoned” at that time as people moved to the road, but in fact it had been unoccupied for only short intervals of time over the last few decades.

The people who lived in this village were very familiar with the idea of an anthropologist, and were aware that we had a research facility a few days walk to the east. Others, while they had heard of us, either had never met any of the outsiders or didn’t care much either way about us.

When we initially embarked on our long trek to the village, we carried enough food to get there, but not much more. I was assured by my fellow travelers that the streets of the village would be paved with food, as it were, and that we would not have to carry much with us, and if we brought just a little cash and some tobacco and salt, we could easily trade for plenty of spare rice to get ourselves back to the road fatter than we had left. Since it was technically the tail end of one of the two seasons of widespread reduced food availability, I didn’t much like that idea but I didn’t have a choice. It was simply impossible to carry enough food to make the trip there and back. So we gambled with the odds against us.

And, of course, we lost. We arrived at the village with a kilo of rice and little else, and we found that there was not much food there. Even though the rice harvest was just starting, so people weren’t exactly starving, there was nothing close to an abundance. We knew that we could eat while we stayed in the village … there was enough for that … but clearly we’d have to make the trip home without provisions. We’d have to live off the land for the three day walk home … which would probaby be a four day walk since we’d be starving and you go slower when you are starving. (Another story for another time. It was not a good week to be a monkey along our route!)

The village was traditional and I was a guest, so I was treated accordingly, and had to act accordingly. This meant we travelers needed to divide up into appropriate traditional roles and mete ourselves out among the villagers per spec, and thereafter more or less spend our time that way. The Efe men went to hang around with the Efe that were living in the village and they were also able to sit with the village women when they were outside processing food; Our cook went to work and hung with the village women in the mafika … an open air kitchen building with a roof and food stores, cooking gear, etc. … during the heat of the day. And, as the adult male, I was expected to hang around with the other adult males in the baraza … the open air ramada-like roofed-over sitting area in the middle of the village. As men, we would have important things to do in this baraza. Planning things and stuff.

So, I sat there and did my Ethnoarchaeology, hanging out with the other men, observing things and writing it all down, while the women prepared our first meal together, which would include all of the rice we had brought and whatever the village had to offer.

And what did the village have to offer? There were three things besides our rice. Someone had killed an antelope that morning so there was a bit of meat. The meat was cooked in palm oil traded about noon that day with some Budu merchants who had come by to exchange forest products for oil. (The oil was traded for a forest fruit known as “eme” which is not really food but rather medicine.) Then there was sombe. Sombe is wonderful. It is the very young leaves of the casava (manioc, manihot) plant pounded and cooked with palm oil. The process is much more complex than I’ve indicated. It is the main thing to eat that I miss from the region, and until recently was impossible to get outside the forest unless you have connections and live in Belgium.

And the third thing was bugs. To be specific, palm larvae. These are grubs of some critter, and you get them from inside a palm tree, which were eaten frequently this time of year. They are fried up in a bit of palm oil which gives both flavor and color, and some salt is added. They are not very flavorful but they are quite nutritious.

When the food was all prepared, the women came over one or two at a time and gave a plate of food to each man. A woman or women associated with a particular man or men as mother, wife, sister, or daughter had prepared each plate and had brought it to the baraza, so of course, our traveling cook, Maria, brought me my plate.

When she handed me the plate, our cook also gave me a knowing look, because she knew that I was not enamored with the traditional roles of her culture and was somewhat uncomfortable getting served along with the other men in the baraza. I returned the look as I glanced down at the plate, and on the plate was some rice, some antelope, some sombe, and about a dozen palm grubs. But there was a small problem. While all the food types were neatly separated into their own zones on my plate, some of the sombe had moved across the plate and joined the palm grubs. A splotch of green leafy food rested among the larvae of the palms.

Maria was five steps away when I called out.


She stopped and turned. I pointed at my plate.

“Maria, there is some food in my bugs!”

She was close enough to see exactly what I referred to.

It turns out that some jokes translate and some do not. It is all a matter of available symbolic reference and context. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pointed at a plantain or banana peel laying on the ground (these are a main crop for the region) and said to someone “Hey, don’t slip on that!” Every time I did that I amused myself but the person whom I had warned had no clue that this was funny to me, no image of Woody Allen and a giant banana peel came to their mind. The joke was always a dud.

But this time it clicked. Maria laughed heartily and, pointing at me and barely able to talk, explained the joke to the men in the Baraza. They all laughed as well. Maria told the joke to the women back at the mafika, and I could hear their laughter mixed with phrases like “Those white people… they are so funny sometimes” and that sort of thing. The joke spread across the Ituri Forest and it was also retold among anthropologists. In fact, one famous anthropologist giving the keynote address at a major event celebrating Mary Leakey’s birthday told the joke as part of his remarks. Mary Leakey LOL’ed.

Maria, there’s some food in my bugs!!!! Still cracks me up.

Doing a poll on a blog post

I may want to do a poll here in the medium future, and I thought I’d try out some different methods to see what works. This first one is from this site.

If there was a poll on this blog, would you participate? free polls 

From the same site, a different objective and layout:

What kind of bird is depicted in each of these photos? free polls 

The Teachers are Revolting!

In a good way!

This is a very interesting story; I’m going to pass along the press release without modification:


***Standardized test takes away from student learning***

WASHINGTON—National Education Association (NEA) members at Garfield High School in Seattle, Wash., voted to not administer the district-mandated Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) standardized test that is not aligned with state standards or the district curriculum. NEA has long urged for the careful consideration of the fact that these tests are being used to make decisions about students’ and teachers’ futures, and have corrupted the pursuit of improving real learning and effective teaching.

A rally event organized by the Seattle Education Association in support of Garfield High School educators will be held in Seattle on Wednesday, January 23, 2013, at 4 p.m. PST at the John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence.

The following is a statement by NEA President Dennis Van Roekel:

“Today is a defining moment within the education profession as educators at Seattle’s Garfield High School take a heroic stand against using the MAP test as a basis for measuring academic performance and teacher effectiveness. I, along with 3 million educators across the country, proudly support their efforts in saying ‘no’ to giving their students a flawed test that takes away from learning and is not aligned with the curriculum. Garfield High School educators are receiving support from the parents of Garfield students. They have joined an ever-growing chorus committed to one of our nation’s most critical responsibilities—educating students in a manner that best serves the realization of their fullest potential.

“Educators across the country know what’s best for their students, and it’s no different for our members in Seattle. We know that having well-designed assessment tools can help students evaluate their own strengths and needs, and help teachers improve. This type of assessment isn’t done in one day or three times a year. It’s done daily, and educators need the flexibility to collaborate with their colleagues and the time to evaluate on-going data to make informed decisions about what’s best for students.

“If we want a system that is designed to help all students, we must allow educators, parents, students and communities to be a part of the process and have a stronger voice in this conversation as they demand high-quality assessments that support student learning. Off-the-shelf assessments that are not aligned with the curriculum or goals of the school are not the answer.”

2012 Was The Hottest Year on Record (NOAA)

NOAA says 2012 was the hottest year on record.

According to the National Climatic Data Center of NOAA, 2012 was the hottest year on record in the US lower 48:

According to NOAA scientists, the average temperature for the contiguous U.S. for 2012 was 55.3°F, which was 3.2°F above the 20th century average and 1.0°F above the previous record from 1998. The year consisted of the fourth warmest winter, a record warm spring, the second warmest summer, and a warmer-than-average autumn. Although the last four months of 2012 did not bring the same unusual warmth as the first 8 months of the year, the September through December temperatures were warm enough for 2012 to remain the record warmest year, by a wide margin.

Map showing Hottest Year on Record for the US
Global Warming made 2012 the Hottest Year: This map shows where the 2012 temperatures were different from the 1981–2010 average. Shades of red indicate temperatures up to 8° Fahrenheit warmer than average, and shades of blue indicate temperatures up to 8° Fahrenheit cooler than average—the darker the color.

Climate Change Science: A Modern Synthesis: Volume 1 – The Physical Climate

Climate Change Science: A Modern Synthesis: Volume 1 – The Physical Climate is a new book you may be interested in, authored in part by my friend John Cook of Skeptical Science. Importantly, the project deals not only with climate change, but also, with important aspects of the politics of climate change and with climate change denialism:

The textbook is written for the introductory science student at the undergraduate college level. We describe the discipline of climate change science, and individual climate scientists whose expertise spans Earth history, geology, geography, biology, oceanography, astronomy, mathematics, physics, chemistry, engineering and more. We’ve attempted to cover a variety of the empirical evidence for and the effects of Earth’s changing climate.

Significantly (and unique in climate textbooks to my knowledge), there is a detailed analysis of the phenomenon of climate change denial. Students learning climate science will need to put into proper context the myths and attacks on science conducted by those who deny the scientific consensus

Check it out!

All kinds of stuff about guns and gun control

For starters, I’ve put a bunch of videos including a must see by Jon Steward and another must see by Melissa Harris-Perry HERE. Following is a veritable carnival of topical and timely posts, stories, and sites:

Warning shot: Gun violence lands US lowest life expectancy among rich nations

Widespread gun ownership and lax firearms controls were deemed major reasons for the US topping a list of violent deaths in wealthy nations. The study comes amid a fiery gun control debate, triggered by the fatal school shooting at Sandy Elementary.

The 378-page survey by a panel of experts from the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council, listed unintentional injuries, quite often caused by guns, among reasons why people in America die young more often than in other countries.

The Hitler gun control lie: Gun rights activists who cite the dictator as a reason against gun control have their history dangerously wrong

This week, people were shocked when the Drudge Report posted a giant picture of Hitler over a headline speculating that the White House will proceed with executive orders to limit access to firearms. The proposed orders are exceedingly tame, but Drudge’s reaction is actually a common conservative response to any invocation of gun control.

The NRA, Fox News, Fox News (again), Alex Jones, email chains, Joe “the Plumber” Wurzelbacher, Gun Owners of America, etc., all agree that gun control was critical to Hitler’s rise to power. Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership (“America’s most aggressive defender of firearms ownership”) is built almost exclusively around this notion, popularizing posters of Hitler giving the Nazi salute next to the text: “All in favor of ‘gun control’ raise your right hand.”

In his 1994 book, NRA head Wayne LaPierre dwelled on the Hitler meme at length, writing: “In Germany, Jewish extermination began with the Nazi Weapon Law of 1938, signed by Adolf Hitler.”

Nine Media Myths About Proposals To Strengthen Gun Laws

Is any attempt to regulate firearms a violation of the Second Amendment?

Is it true that weaker gun laws lead to lower crime rates?

Does the public support gun violence prevention measures?

Does the NRA have the ability to remove from office politicians who support stronger gun laws?

Have any proposals been put forward which would result in federal gun confiscation?

Are guns that are commonly called assault weapons more dangerous than other firearms?

Are sellers at gun shows required to perform a background check on buyers?

Would closing the private sales loophole prevent private citizens from selling firearms?

Has the Obama administration proposed using an executive order to outlaw certain firearms?

EXCLUSIVE: Unmasking the NRA’s Inner Circle

The resurgent debate over gun control has put a spotlight on the hardline leaders of the National Rifle Association. In the wake of the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, executive vice president Wayne LaPierre delivered a full-throated rejection of gun control and called for more firearms in schools, while David Keene, the group’s president, predicted the failure of any new assault weapons ban introduced in Congress. The two NRA figureheads purported to speak for more than 4 million American gun owners, though the group’s membership may in fact be smaller.

Local Gun Control Advocate Talks About Meeting At White House

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The National Rifle Association and Wal-Mart, the largest gun retailer in the country, are set to meet with Vice President Biden today at the White House; all part of his gun violence task force. This comes a day after the Vice President met with gun control advocates.

Shira Goodman, Executive Director of CeasefirePA, along with the others from around the country brought some common ideas and hopes at the White House.

“There was a focus not just on the general idea of background checks on all guns, but making sure all states share their mental health records with the federal database.”

Where Congress Stands on Guns

In the aftermath of the Newtown tragedy, President Obama on Wednesday announced new national gun control measures. He has already urged members of Congress to do the same. Here is our comprehensive look at where lawmakers stand on guns, as well as political spending and voting history. Explore and share what you think Congress should do about guns in this country.

A message to the Republicans about gun background checks

The message to Republicans and some Democrats who are still walking the walk and talking the talk of the gun rights extremists came from an unlikely source today. Frank Luntz, Republican pollster, wrote in the Washington Post today about how wrong the Republicans have been about their messaging and their extreme language. Here is what Luntz had to say about the language regarding guns and gun policy:

“Beyond fiscal policy, Republicans need to revamp their messaging on other issues. For example, the tragic school shooting in Newtown, Conn., offered Republicans a chance to discuss public safety — a more personal issue than “crime” — on a human level. That hasn’t happened, but it still can. Most people agree that there is a middle ground between gun-control hard-liners, who see every crime as an excuse to enact new laws, and the National Rifle Association, which sees every crime as an excuse to sell more guns. The Second Amendment deserves defending, but do Republicans truly believe that anyone should be able to buy any gun, anywhere, at any time? If yes, they’re on the side of less than 10 percent of America. If not, they need to say so.”

Luntz’s question is an important one and one raised on my blog often….

Letter to Eric Cantor. Gun-Related Deaths in US Children: Government Complicity

Dear Representative Cantor:

I direct this correspondence to you due to your leadership position in the House, your record on ‘gun rights’ legislation that has earned you an A rating by the National Rifle Association (NRA), and because your party this past election cycle received 89% of the political contributions issued by the NRA – this nation’s leading ‘gun rights’ lobbying organization. You are listed as the 4th leading recipient of such contributions in the House.

I write you not only as a concerned citizen and parent regarding the issue of gun violence in America, but as an individual whose career involved responsibility for assessing and reporting product safety in a federally regulated industry (pharmaceuticals). I have held senior executive positions, consulted for corporations, and have been before government regulators on numerous occasions. Unlike most (if not all) consumer products, guns remain unregulated for health and safety. In the industry where I worked, federal law required us to not only assure the safety of our products, but that we take steps to reduce risk, finding an optimal balance between benefit and risk….

Newtown-Based Gun Industry Trade Association Begins Celebration of Guns This Week in Vegas

While America continues to grieve over the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School and begins looking for answers, for Newtown-based National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the gun industry’s multi-million dollar trade association, it’s back to business as usual.

Faced, in its own hometown, with the real-world horror that can be inflicted with the military-style weapons it helps market and has tried to euphemistically “rebrand” as “modern sporting rifles,” NSSF took a page out of the National Rifle Association’s post-tragedy playbook. It issued a short notice of sympathy and then refused to talk to the press, hoping, as has happened all too many times before, that public anguish and anger would fade as time passed.

In Wake of Newtown, It’s Time for America to Meet the NRA

This week, America has been taken aback by the National Rifle Association’s ad politicizing President Obama’s daughters. With this latest episode, it’s become patently obvious that unhinged attacks are the NRA leadership’s calling card. As pundits cover the obstructionism and handwringing of high-profile NRA executives like David Keene, it’s important to take a look at lesser-known NRA leaders and understand just how far to the fringe the organization has moved in recent decades.

New investigative reporting by Frank Smyth in Mother Jones — that complements my organization’s Meet the NRA website — reveals the NRA’s eerie connection to the Newtown tragedy. Smyth discovered that the NRA nominating committee that plays a key role in deciding who is on the NRA’s board is run by Newtown resident Patricia Clark, and also includes George K. Kollitides II, the chief executive of the company that made the AR-15 used in the shooting.

Gun Appreciation Day Isn’t Shared By The Victims Of Around 370 Thousand Gun Crimes A Year

Sunday, our President, Barack Obama, gave the oath of office of President of the United States in the Oval Office, officially beginning his second term in that role, by the will of the American people.

Today, Monday the 21st of January, he gives his inaugural speech, on the same day as Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

But back on Saturday, when the rest of America was gearing up for this momentous occasion, the gun lobbies had a different agenda. They, instead, chose to make up a new day, which they called “Gun Appreciation Day.” A day made up by a White Supremacist Group. From the article: