Saturday, February 19, 2005

I guess this qualifies as weekend readin’...

Kaymo has sent one of his regular bulletins on how just messed up Planet Earth is. Herein, if I read it right, is a succinct if still complicated account of how humanity has been involved in amateur planet-forming since prehistory without a fucking clue as to what the longterm effects might be. (Don’t I recall a theory that primitive hunter gatherers -- who used grass fires to drive their prey where they wanted them -- managed to set fire to half of prehistoric Australia? Anyone help me out here?) The riff also brings to mind the whole concept of the Earth as a complex living entity for which humanity is nothing more than slow-breeding, but highly pernicious viral infection. And how the only cure is for the planet to make itself uninhabitable to man.

This month Scientific American has an article by William Ruddiman that gives a good account of the bigger picture regarding global warming. Using ice core data and computer modelling Ruddiman lays out the current majority view of the situation. In a nutshell, Yes we're warming the earth and we may well bring on changes we will regret, but we have also staved off the return to an Ice Age, which would have got going several thousand years ago if our ancestors hadn't started farming and clearing the forests.

Perspective: Earth's poles are currently much cooler than they usually are-- thinking long term here. For example during the 500 Million year existence of Gondwanaland in the southern hemisphere, there was very little glaciation on Earth. However, the movement of Antarctica onto the southern pole in the Cretaceous era has been followed by the break between Antarctica and South America in the past 30 million years. Ten million years ago the break was wide enough to allow the Westerly Drift current to simply flow around Antarctica, permanently keeping out warmer water from the tropics. That brought on a cooling trend for the whole planet. More recently (about 3 million ya) North and South America joined together at Panama, thus changing the global circulation of warm water again and intensifying the cooling trend. The current round of Ice Ages began soon afterwards.

Milankovitch cycle: the temperature of the Earth is influenced by three cycles involving variations in the Earth's orbit around the Sun, plus shifts and wobbles in the tilt of the Earth's axis caused by gravitational interactions between Sun-Moon and Earth. These cycles are 100,000, 41,000 and 22,000 years long respectively, and the way they operate, combined with the lay out of the continents on the surface of the Earth determines global temperatures and glaciation outbreaks.

Beginning 9,000 years ago or so our ancestors started farming. Populations grew and with them came clearing of forests, burning of wood and the production of C02 and Methane. Increased levels of these greenhouse gases stopped the Earth slipping back into the next round of glaciation around 5,000 years ago. Instead, at that time farmers in south China and SE Asia began flooding lowlands near rivers to grow rice. Without human farming and forest burning we would now have small ice caps in Labrador and northern Quebec as well as in the northern Canadian rockies. Another incipient ice cap would be forming in Norway.

With the burning of fossil fuels the human component in climate change increased, and continues to do so. On the long term graph Ruddiman extrapolates a brief, sharp spike in temperatures, taking them back to a level not seen since the Paleocene, when forests grew up to the poles. Then, once we have exhausted the earth's fossil fuels the input of CO2 and Methane will fall dramatically and the Earth will slip back to the Ice Age rhythm. Within a few hundred years of that warm spike, the ice sheets will be moving south from Labrador and Norway again.
Unless, of course, human civilization gets off its duff and learns how to keep the planet reasonably warm, possibly by positioning orbital mirrors above the poles to warm them a degree or two. In the meantime, though, the fossil fuel warming spike means that coastal real estate is not a good long term buy, the Dutch are going to have to build much higher dikes, or else emigrate, and the vast, impoverished populations of places like Bangladesh are going to have to move.

The secret word is Slush

The email is

The Killer Kitten is back.

Yesterday I posted a link from MrMR that I thought was to a highly amusing techno-gag about teddy bears, but in fact, the URL takes you too a big fun menu of gags, cartoons, and mini-games. I would recommend checking bear, antcity, shootanddrink, and spearbritney. But for the truly sick and infantile, you gotta go to penguin and poke-penguin. The link is right there. Under Friday. (Damn it. Here it is again... )

CRYPTIQUEI also started playing Shanghai. I never used to do stuff like this, but I learned video solitaire on a crowded plane-ride back from Tokyo. This tile game seemed like the Fu Manchu version so I went for it. Played the kiddie version until I figured I’d figured it, and then went to the grown-up complexity and haven’t so far come close to resolving one. Maybe I’m missing a crucial piece of the rules.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Dumb, but brilliant...
(Courtesy MrMR)
HCB pulled this from Der Spiegel online. It’s always disturbing when the Feds start messing with psychedelics, but at least this purports to be therapeutic, unlike the old, 1960s, MKULTRA days when soldiers were dosed with acid to assess the weapon-potential of LSD-25, and the CIA had San Francisco hookers spike their Johns while agents under the command of the barking crazy Charlie White filmed the results from behind one way mirrors.

The United States government has found a new way of recruiting soldiers for the Iraq war: It's offering them ecstasy. The trick is, the soldiers only get the free drugs after they have seen enough fighting to be experiencing flashbacks, recurring nightmares and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. The usually tough-to-please US Food and Drug Administration has given the experimental treatments an initial go ahead and scientists in South Carolina have quickly gotten to work. The idea is to take advantage of the touchy-feely effect ecstasy (the "happiness drug") has on people to get soldiers to open up about the trauma they have faced. In other news, the US government spends $20 billion a year on the drug war. Chemically, ecstasy is known as MDMA and in the trials soldiers are given either the drug or a placebo and then undergo eight-hour therapy sessions during which music is played and they are encouraged to talk about their horrifying experiences. Although still in its early phase, scientists insist the results are quite positive. The team's leader is Dr. Michael Mithoefer, a South Carolina psychiatrist and longtime campaigner for the use of ecstasy in science. Mithoefer has already given ecstasy to patients who were the victims of violent crimes, including rape, and insists on the drug's positive effects in helping them to talk about and come to terms with what happened to them. There is, he says, even some evidence that ecstasy can reduce tremors in Parkinson's patients. Possibly a whole new take on the 1972 David Peel song "The Pope Smokes Dope."

The secret word is Bummer

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Over the last week or so, Doc40 has been paying some attention to what’s been going on in North Korea. These jumbled thoughts and observations have now been sorted into a more coherent riff in this week’s LA CityBeat.

And while your there, check the letters page. The fundamentalists are on the attack.

The secret word is Pyre

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

I don’t know how many of you have noticed, but I’m acutely aware that, for the past couple of weeks, Doc40 has been doing very little but post and link stuff grabbed out of cyberspace that intrigued and irritated, and I’ve been putting down precious few original words. The reason is not that I have nothing to say. Far from it. Right now I am heads down, desperate to finish my novel Conflagration (the sequel to Kindling) plus I seem to have re-upped with LA CityBeat. (Heads up Thursday for a nuclear rant on North Korea.) This and other exercises in keeping the ever present pack of wolves from the door, plus all the private shocks that flessssh (precious) is heir to have all cut into blogging time. But what the hell? If you got a problem with the way things are, there’s always the massively implausible comments board.

And anyway, the stuff from cyberspace is so much fun, as in this from MSNBC...
A German zoo has scrapped plans to break up homosexual penguin couples following protests from gay rights groups. The Bremerhaven Zoo had flown in four female Humboldt penguins in an attempt to encourage three couples discovered to be all male to reproduce... but following protests from gay rights groups, director Heike Kueck has said that the zoo is abandoning the plan.
Aren’t you glad that we have Red State moral guardians to stop this kind of thing happening here?

The secret word is Ice

Monday, February 14, 2005

The Mick’s Media column in LA CityBeat is only at number two and already the Christian SS are on the attack. You’ll have to wait until Thursday for the LACB letters page, but I am very proud to be classed among what the CSS call the Cultural Huns. Here’s what offended them...

I forget where I found this...
Abstinence-only sex education programs have had "little impact" on Texas teenagers' behavior, according to an ongoing study funded by the Texas Department of Health and presented to state officials last week, the Dallas Morning News reports. Buzz Pruitt, professor of health and kinesiology at Texas A&M University, and colleagues examined five abstinence-only sex education programs at more than 24 schools across Texas. For the study, junior high and high school students filled out an anonymous 10-page questionnaire on their sexual behavior. The study found that 23% of ninth-grade girls reported having had sexual intercourse before they received abstinence education, a percentage below the national average. However, the study found that 28% of the same girls reported having had sexual intercourse after receiving abstinence education, a percentage that is "closer to that of their peers across the state," according to the Morning News. In addition, the study found that the percentage of ninthgrade boys reporting having had sexual intercourse remained unchanged before and after abstinence education; however, the percentage of 10th grade boys reporting sexual activity "jumped" from 24% to 39% after participating in abstinence education, according to the Morning News. "We didn't find strong evidence of program effect," Pruitt said, adding, "We didn't find what many would like for us to find."So here we have a federal program that is clearly ineffective (and we don't need a study to know that teens will have sex whether we like it or not). So according to Bush's criteria, it should be slated for elimination. You can see the punchline coming a mile away: If the budget is approved, abstinence education would get $206 million, an increase of $39 million.

While worry, if not panic sets in regarding the super-fast, drug resistant, 3DCR HIV, a fascinating story in Wired suggests that adapted HIV could be the hunter-killer cure for cancer.,1286,66579,00.html

CRYPTIQUECrouch we here a while and lurk.

The secret word is Luv

Sunday, February 13, 2005


I ripped this out of the NY Times before it went away because it would seem to explain so damned much...

By Nicholas D. Kristof
An "analysis" of Democrats and Republicans from the Ladies' Home Journal in 1962 concluded: "Republicans sleep in twin beds - some even in separate rooms. That is why there are more Democrats." That biological analysis turns out - surprise! - to have been superficial. Instead, modern science is turning up a possible reason why the religious right is flourishing and secular liberals aren't: instinct. It turns out that our DNA may predispose humans toward religious faith. Granted, that's not very encouraging news for the secular left. Imagine if many of us are hard-wired to be religious. Imagine if, as a cosmic joke, humans have gradually evolved to leave many of us doubting evolution. The notion of a genetic inclination toward religion is not new. Edward Wilson, the founder of the field of sociobiology, argued in the 1970's that a predisposition to religion may have had evolutionary advantages. In recent years evidence has mounted that there may be something to this, and the evidence is explored in "The God Gene," a fascinating book published recently by Dean Hamer, a prominent American geneticist. Dr. Hamer even identifies a particular gene, VMAT2, that he says may be involved. People with one variant of that gene tend to be more spiritual, he found, and those with another variant to be less so. There's still plenty of reason to be skeptical because Dr. Hamer's work hasn't been replicated, and much of his analysis is speculative. Moreover, any genetic predisposition isn't for becoming an evangelical, but for an openness to spirituality at a much broader level. In Alabama, it may express itself in Pentecostalism; in California, in astrology or pyramids. Still, it's striking how faith is almost irrepressible. While I was living in China in the early 1990's, after religion had been suppressed for decades, drivers suddenly began dangling pictures of Chairman Mao from their rear-view mirrors. The word had spread that Mao's spirit could protect them from car crashes or even bring them sons and wealth. It was a miracle: ordinary Chinese had transformed the great atheist into a god. One bit of evidence supporting a genetic basis for spirituality is that twins separated at birth tend to have similar levels of spirituality, despite their different upbringings. And identical twins, who have the same DNA, are about twice as likely to share similar levels of spirituality as fraternal twins. It's not surprising that nature would favor genes that promote an inclination to faith. Many recent studies suggest that religious people may live longer than the less religious. A study of nearly 4,000 people in North Carolina, for example, found that frequent churchgoers had a 46 percent lower risk of dying in a six-year period than those who attended less often. Another study involving nearly 126,000 participants suggested that a 20-year-old churchgoer might live seven years longer than a similar person who does not attend religious services. Partly that's because the religious seem to adopt healthier lifestyles - they are less likely to smoke, for example. And faith may give people strength to overcome illness - after all, if faith in placebo sugar pills works, why not faith in God? Another possibility involves brain chemistry. Genes that promote spirituality may do so in part by stimulating chemical messengers in the brain like dopamine, which can make people optimistic and sociable - and perhaps more likely to have children. (Dopamine is very complex, but it appears linked to both spirituality and promiscuity, possibly explaining some church scandals.) Evolutionary biologists have also suggested that an inclination to spirituality may have made ancient humans more willing to follow witch doctors or other leaders who claimed divine support. The result would have been more cohesive bands of cave men, better able to survive - and to kill off rival cave men. Of course, none of that answers the question of whether God exists. The faithful can believe that God wired us to appreciate divinity. And atheists can argue that God may simply be a figment of our VMAT2 gene.
But what the research does suggest is that postindustrial society will not easily leave religion behind. Faith may be quiescent in many circles these days, or directed toward meditation or yoga, but it is not something that humans can easily cast off. A propensity to faith in some form appears to be embedded within us as a profound part of human existence, as inextricable and perhaps inexplicable as the way we love and laugh.

The secret word is Elvis
The secret word might also be Jedi