DO NOT PANIC ABOUT PLASTIC IN THE MICROWAVES!!!!

OK, there is a report just out that suggests that we are playing too fast and loose with food additives and other chemicals, and that we might want to draw back on some of that. Fine. We should maybe.

But I’ve already seen this report misconstrued, with panic ensued. I’ve seen people suggest that we should no longer use microwaves for food. Or that we should not dishwash plastic or put plastic containers in the microwave. And some other stuff.

For both of those behaviors, the concern is the potentially harmful BPA getting out into our food. If you put BPA laced objects in the microwave of dishwasher, that could be a problem.

The thing is, if you’ve been paying attention to BPAs all along, then you probaby don’t have BPA laced water bottles or microwavable containers, so there is NOTHING TO SEE HERE. Typical “Tupperware” (never actually Tupperware) wares typically don’t have BPA. Most water bottles don’t either.

Here’s the thing. This report covers a LOT of things, not just BPAs, not just microwaving things or cleaning water bottles. And, the report is pretty easy to read and very clear. Well, the whole issue of what to do and not do is not necessarily clear, but you can easily figure out what they are getting at.

There are two sources. Read them, and then you’ll know what all the buzz is about. An overview from the American Association of Pediatrics is here. The policy statement itself is here.

There are items of concern here, but if you simply stop using plastic in the microwave and think you are done, chance are that a) you did something useless and b) you are missing something important.

Read the darn thing!

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Trump Tweets Nonsense, Saudis Back Tesla, Fires and Climate Change

Three items all in one handy post.

First, Peter Gleick has an Op Ed in the Washington Post in which he chastises Trump for his boneheaded tweets about water and the fires in California. Peter is the world’s leading expert on water in California (see: California Drought and Syrian Refugee Crisis with Dr. Peter Gleick) and Donald Trump is as dumb as a brick (see: brick).

The OpEd is Trump’s nonsense tweets on water and wildfires are dangerous

Second, did you know that the Saudis have between two and three billion in Tesla, making them the largest single stockholder outside the company? No? Are you surprised? Of course not, it actually makes total sense. Anyway, see: World’s biggest oil exporter is betting $2 billion on electric cars

Third, Climate Signals has updated info on climate change and wild fires, especially in the west and california. The bullet points:

  • Human-caused climate change is increasing wildfire activity across forested land in the western United States.
  • Since 1970, temperatures in the American West have increased by about twice the global average.
  • Scientists have found a direct link between anthropogenic warming and the observed trend of increasing heat extremes over the western US.
  • The effect of temperature — and how dry the vegetation is — can matter more for wildfire risk than how much rain or snow fell the previous winter.
  • A warmer world has drier landscapes, and dry vegetation becomes fuel for fires making them more likely to spread farther and faster.
  • From 1979 to 2015, climate change accounts for 55 percent of observed increases in land surface dryness in western forests.

For more info, and documentation of these items, go HERE.

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How Steve Goddard a.k.a. Tony Heller does bad science

Steve Goddard, or as I like to call him, Dorothy (because Dorothy of the Wizard of Oz is his avatar, and I think he might live in Oz) is one of those science deniers who now and then produces a graphic that shows that global warming isn’t real. He is increasingly being ignored by even the ingenuous, but his latest attempt to deny reality has been slapped down so effectively by scientist and blogger Tamino that thought you should see it.

I’m just going to give you a little bit of the story, and then send you to Tamino’s excellent post.

First, here is Goddard’s graphic attempting to show that global warming is not real.

See how temperatures are going down? How can that be? Note that this is average maximum temperature over time, 1918-present, in the US.

Why 1918 (the data set goes back farther)? Why the US? Also, why is he using absolute temperatures instead of the usually used anomalies? Maybe he knows something we don’t know. Or, maybe he is counting on his audience not knowing some stuff that all the experts know.

Now look at this graph, produced by climate scientist Tamino.

That’s a silly graph, isn’t it. It appears to show the mean latitude of something over time. Of what? Of the stations used to estimate temperatures. How is this relevant to the present discussion?

To learn the answer to that and other important questions, see: USA Temperature: can I sucker you?

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Kids Learn Coding with Scratch Cards

First, in case you don’t know, “Scratch” is a programming language and environment.

Its mascot is a cat, of course, but the name “scratch” supposedly comes from the use of scratching by disk jockeys. Scratch was first developed at MIT back in the early 2000s, and has advanced considerably since then. You now see the basic format of this language either duplicated or mimicked in many different environments.

Scratch can be an online langauge or you can run a stand alone version, but the former is easier and better. To get started, go here and follow instructions.

If you want (your kid or you) to learn scratch fast, you may want to consider getting the cards produced by No Starch Press. You can get ScratchJr Coding Cards for ages 5 and up, or the much more advanced Scratch Coding Cards for kids 8 and above.

The idea is simple. You put the stack of cards on your desk next to the computer, which is tuned to the MIT Scratch site. Then you try out the stuff in the cards. By the time you are done you (or your kid if you step aside and allow access to the computer) will be pretty good at scratch programming.

I used the 3 year and above cards with Huxley, and we are about to start on the 8 and above cards, although he is very advanced and we are likely to skip past the first several.

By the way, Scratch runs on the web so you can access it from any sort of desktop or laptop computer including Chromebooks,a nd there are iOS and Android versions. It runs on the Kindle Fire as well.

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Donald Trump and the Bell Curve

The infamous policy book, The Bell Curve, relied on the false claim that people of African ancestry are of low IQ (and some other things). That was based directly on the work of J. Philippe Rushton and it is false.

The Bell Curve became, in the 1980s, the intellectualized version of pseud-scientifically based racism. The Bradley Foundation, which paid for the book’s publication and printing, made sure there was a copy of it on every politically relevant person’s shelf, from elected officials to potential candidates to staffers to faculty involved even marginally in politics or society.

When those of us who study pseudo-scientific racism and works such as the Bell Curve hear the phrase “Low IQ person” we know exactly what it means. It means a white supremacist is referring to a black person.

Here is Eugene Scott commenting on this phenomenon:

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Elon Musk, Tesla, pasta, and the questionable nature of stocks and the free market.

Apropos the current startling developments with respect to Tesla and Musk (he tweeted he may have Tesla go private at $420 a share, above current prices), I have some thoughts I’ve been meaning to eventually get out there for comment and critique. I wonder, suspect, that what I’m thinking is related to the idea that Tesla going private is a good thing for the company and its customers, and for the cars themselves. The following scenario is what I suspect (but do not know) happened in relation to a well known company that I will anonymize here by using a different name. I’ll call it “Pastas.”

So, there was this food emporium called Pastas. The idea was to specialize in Pasta, since everybody loves Pasta, and to provide a range of options of pasta at a good price. You would go to a counter to order the pasta, but someone would bring the food to your table, along with a napkin-wrapped set of silverware. When you were done eating, they would bus your table for you. This placed Pastas clearly outside the normal range for fast food, yet in the same comfortable (and fast) ball park.

Over time, Pastas stock went up, as more and more stores were open. People buy the stock because it is going up. This investment fuels more franchises, advertising, other development. The value of the company goes up because its numbers look good, and that adds to the value of the stock itself, because people want to buy it.

Eventually, every strip mall and commercial zone in America that can have a Pastas, almost, has one.

When stores were being added, income streams were being added. Earnings went up because of this, plus, because an older franchise can have a higher profit margin than a brand new one. But once the market was saturated with stores, the income stream could not grow that way any longer. This caused the value of the stocks to stop going up as much as they were. Instead of always going up, a lot when the overall market went up, a little when the overall market went down, Pastas stock now went both up and down. And every time it went down, there was the stock market equivalent of a stern look. News report: “Pastas stocks have gone down for the first time since the company did yada yada” and that sort of thing.

Pastas needed to increase its own value somehow to keep stock holders happy, else they put Pastas stock in their “sell when you need the cash to buy into the Next Big Thing” category. But most of the previous increases were from opening new stores, and all the stores that could exist, pretty much already existed. There had to be other ways to increase value.

Note: At this stage, everybody loves Pastas. No stores are closing. There are no layoffs. The restaurant continues to do well, people buy lots of Pastas product (pasta), vendors and employees get paid, etc. Everything is just fine. The only thing that is off is the value of the stock, stabilizing or dropping slightly, not because of a change in inherent value of the company, but because the company had filled its space.

Everything is just fine but one thing: The stock market does not understand that the store has value, and needs to see earnings increase — not just stay the same but go up — or they don’t hold the stock.

So, what does Pastas do?

In order, roughly:

1) Stop bringing silverware and napkins to the table. One might think this would make very little difference, but it saves money because it saves a measurable bit of time. It is also one less thing for employees to get right, so one can spend less time training.

2) Stop clearing tables. This saves even more money for similar reasons.

3) Reduce quality of some of the ingredients if it saves money.

4) Reductions in pay to employees, or slowing down raises, or less training.

As these or similar steps are carried out, the earnings go up because costs go down. Not by a lot, but enough to stop the bleeding.

As this sort of thing happens, Pastas starts to decline in quality. No longer to people say,”Hey, this new place is great, try it out.” People keep going to eat there, sure, but only out of habit and because while quality has gone down, it is tolerable.

Over time, a measurable number of customers become annoyed when their local Pastas gives them a dose of extra bad service, and are less inclined to go there.

The number of customers stops increasing, which offsets the small gains from increased stinginess. The number of customers who walk away and come back less frequently or not at all goes up, which exacerbates the problem.

Earning drop. Stockholders, believing as they do in the perfection, wisdom, and sanctity of the Free Market, don’t understand that the real reason the value of the stock drops is because of their prissy irrational behavior. They blame it on — well, whatever excuse they can think of that does not incriminate themselves. More stocks sell. Value drops. Pastas starts to cut its losses any way they can. Eventually, Pastas, a good idea well done, disappears from the American landscape, cast aside by the invisible, and brainless hand of the Free Market. Pastas is gone, having died of its own success.

But the cause of death isn’t only success. What really killed Pastas is the fact that it was a publicly owned company.

Perhaps something like that is why Musk wants Tesla taken out of public ownership.

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Ray Bradbury and Bill Bryson Books

What do Ray Bradbury and Bill Bryson have in common? Very little. But, at the moment, each of them has a book on sale really cheap in Kindle form.

We’ll Always Have Paris: Stories by Ray Bradbury.

In We’ll Always Have Paris—a new collection of never-before-published stories—the inimitable Bradbury once again does what few writers have ever done as well. He delights us with prose that soars and sings. He surprises and inspires, exposing truths and provoking deep thought. He imagines great things and poignantly observes human foibles and frailties. He enchants us with the magic he mastered decades ago and still performs flawlessly. In these pages, radio voices become indomitable flesh and the dead arise to recapture life. There is joy in an eccentric old man’s dance for the world and wonder over the workings of humankind’s best friend, O Holy Dog. Whether he’s exploring the myriad ways to be reborn, or the circumstances that can make any man a killer, or returning us to Mars, Bradbury opens the world to us and beckons us in.

Seeing Further: The Story of Science and the Royal Society by Bill Bryson.

Bill Bryson takes readers on a guided tour through the great discoveries, feuds, and personalities of modern science. Already a major bestseller in the UK, Seeing Further tells the fascinating story of science and the Royal Society with Bill Bryson’s trademark wit and intelligence, and contributions from a host of well known scientists and science fiction writers, including Richard Dawkins, Neal Stephenson, James Gleick, and Margret Atwood. It is a delightful literary treat from the acclaimed author who previous explored the current state of scientific knowledge in his phenomenally popular book, A Short History of Nearly Everything.

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Climate Change and Wild Fires

An excellent PBS News Hour piece called “Climate change is making wildfires more extreme. Here’s how.”

It starts with California but discusses this as a world wide problem. Has a segment with Michael Mann, author of The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy (recently in upgraded and expanded edition with a chapter on Trump).

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Brain microbiome

Human brains, presumably mammal brains in general, do not have microbiomes. If they did, they would look like Donald Sutherland in that movie.

Also, a microbiome is not the same thing as an infection. A microbiome is a mutualistic (or similar) ecology of multi-celled organisms or part thereof (like, your gut or your eyeballs or something) and microbes, probably including multiple species or varieties. Brains do not have that. If there are microbes in the brain it is an infection.

There is some interesting research out there possibly linking infections and Alzheimers. It is unfortunately being couched in terms of microbiomes. Why? Mainly because science reporters are generally not scientists, so they don’t bump on errors like that? Maybe. But in this case, there seems to be an actual project that claims to be actually mapping out the brain’s microbiome, including “helpful” organisms.

Here is the article from the Harvard Gazette

And here is a Twitter Feed confirming what I say above.

If you have evidence to the contrary please post it below.

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Experts Mock Trump’s Cali Water and Fire Tweets

It is a little unfair. What, with Trump being as dumb as a brick and all. But it is true that experts have been mocking his absurd tweets about California fires, climate change, and water.

The offending tweets:

and

Some of the counter tweets can be found on this thread:

And from California water expert, Peter Gleick:

and

RL Miller of Climate Hawks Vote added these:

Think Progress covers the melee here.

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Tolkein Fans: The Fall of Gondolin

Gondolin was an Elvan city located in the Hither Lands. But you already knew that.

But the story of the fall has been lost, which we know because it is part of the widely known Lost Tales.

But now, The Fall of Gondolin by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien, is available to those with the correct magic ability. By that, of course, I mean, preorder.

In the Tale of The Fall of Gondolin are two of the greatest powers in the world. There is Morgoth of the uttermost evil, unseen in this story but ruling over a vast military power from his fortress of Angband. Deeply opposed to Morgoth is Ulmo, second in might only to Manwë, chief of the Valar: he is called the Lord of Waters, of all seas, lakes, and rivers under the sky. But he works in secret in Middle-earth to support the Noldor, the kindred of the Elves among whom were numbered Húrin and Túrin Turambar.

Central to this enmity of the gods is the city of Gondolin, beautiful but undiscoverable. It was built and peopled by Noldorin Elves who, when they dwelt in Valinor, the land of the gods, rebelled against their rule and fled to Middle-earth. Turgon King of Gondolin is hated and feared above all his enemies by Morgoth, who seeks in vain to discover the marvellously hidden city, while the gods in Valinor in heated debate largely refuse to intervene in support of Ulmo’s desires and designs.

Into this world comes Tuor, cousin of Túrin, the instrument of Ulmo’s designs. Guided unseen by him Tuor sets out from the land of his birth on the fearful journey to Gondolin, and in one of the most arresting moments in the history of Middle-earth the sea-god himself appears to him, rising out of the ocean in the midst of a storm. In Gondolin he becomes great; he is wedded to Idril, Turgon’s daughter, and their son is Eärendel, whose birth and profound importance in days to come is foreseen by Ulmo.

At last comes the terrible ending. Morgoth learns through an act of supreme treachery all that he needs to mount a devastating attack on the city, with Balrogs and dragons and numberless Orcs. After a minutely observed account of the fall of Gondolin, the tale ends with the escape of Túrin and Idril, with the child Eärendel, looking back from a cleft in the mountains as they flee southward, at the blazing wreckage of their city. They were journeying into a new story, the Tale of Eärendel, which Tolkien never wrote, but which is sketched out in this book from other sources.

Following his presentation of Beren and Lúthien Christopher Tolkien has used the same ‘history in sequence’ mode in the writing of this edition of The Fall of Gondolin. In the words of J.R.R. Tolkien, it was ‘the first real story of this imaginary world’ and, together with Beren and Lúthien and The Children of Húrin, he regarded it as one of the three ‘Great Tales’ of the Elder Days.

Also, there is a coupon here.

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Getcher programs here! Can’t tell the players without yer program!

Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide by Cass Sunstein, Harvard University Press.

As Benjamin Franklin famously put it, Americans have a republic, if we can keep it. Preserving the Constitution and the democratic system it supports is the public’s responsibility. One route the Constitution provides for discharging that duty?a route rarely traveled?is impeachment.

Cass R. Sunstein provides a succinct citizen’s guide to an essential tool of self-government. He illuminates the constitutional design behind impeachment and emphasizes the people’s role in holding presidents accountable. Despite intense interest in the subject, impeachment is widely misunderstood. Sunstein identifies and corrects a number of misconceptions. For example, he shows that the Constitution, not the House of Representatives, establishes grounds for impeachment, and that the president can be impeached for abuses of power that do not violate the law. Even neglect of duty counts among the “high crimes and misdemeanors” delineated in the republic’s foundational document. Sunstein describes how impeachment helps make sense of our constitutional order, particularly the framers’ controversial decision to install an empowered executive in a nation deeply fearful of kings.

With an eye toward the past and the future, Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide considers a host of actual and imaginable arguments for a president’s removal, explaining why some cases are easy and others hard, why some arguments for impeachment have been judicious and others not. In direct and approachable terms, it dispels the fog surrounding impeachment so that Americans of all political convictions may use their ultimate civic authority wisely.

Just sayin’

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