28 September 2013

Global warming

Another IPCC summary for policy makers titled "Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis" is now out. The basic message seems to be that change is significant, far-reaching, and caused by human beings.

25 September 2013

Is the world's policeman retiring?

If the Syrian accord goes through and Iranian-U.S. relations thaw, Obama will be able to declare some major foreign policy successes, taking some of the wind out of the sails of Republicans hawks and naysayers during the next election cycle. That said, the U.S. military, if it's going to continue its skimming of all the cream from atop the U.S. economic pie, will have to justify its existence somehow. Since the U.S. public doesn't have much appetite for African adventures, this would leave the Middle East. Unfortunately (for the masters of war), the American public has seen the movie countless times. I'm not so sure they'll sit quietly through yet another rerun.

17 September 2013

14 September 2013

The Seager equation

The shift in the quest to detect extraterrestrial life is rightly shifting toward the detection of any type of life--to include the unintelligent kind that swims in mud puddles. Centauri Dreams has a post on Sara Seager's new reformulation of the Drake Equation:

In Seager’s view, there is at least “a remote shot” that we’ll detect a biosignature within the next ten years. Inferring some kind of life on a distant world isn’t like being handed the password to the Encyclopedia Galactica, but it would tell us that life is not confined to our own world.
How striking to think that the first discovery of life elsewhere may come from the light of a distant exoplanet rather than from an object in our own Solar System! But ponder: Seager is talking about a possible biosignature detection within a mere ten years. Are we likely to have unambiguous evidence of life on Mars, Europa or any other nearby object as soon as that?
This is exciting stuff. To think that we could be just a decade away from seeing our first sign of distant life in the universe!

8 September 2013

"I feel as if I should be doing something now..."

Dilbert, which usually isn't a very political comic strip, has been repeatedly poking fun at the government in the wake of revelations of government spying on the U.S. public.

The last strip is truly a masterpiece of sardonic humor!

4 September 2013

Joy as experience vs. joy as memory

Daniel Kahneman, an expert in behavioral economics, has an excellent talk on the difference between happiness as a moment-to-moment experience (the actual experience of happiness while immersed in life) and happiness as a reflection (being happy with one's life). The talk is important when we consider polls, which usually only take into account the latter type of happiness (which, as Kahneman suggests, should actually be considered less important). During the short question period, Kahneman also mentions recent findings that show that increases in wealth beyond $60,000 a year makes no difference at all to experienced happiness but does influence people's evaluation of their happiness with their life. The finding has significant policy implications since it essentially means that the easiest way to increase a society's overall happiness would be to focus on the lower and middle class. (In other words, turning U.S. policy around from its previous three-decade trend).

China surpasses U.S. on yet another metric

A recent study has shown that China now has a greater diabetes rate than the U.S. On the one had, this surprises me since Chinese are still much thinner and seem to be more active than their American counterparts. (The report did mention that Chinese are getting diabetes at lower BMIs.) On the other hand, the last time I was in China, I was taken back by how much junkfood everyone ate. The junkfood was Chinese junkfood, but junkfood all the same.

3 September 2013

Framing the progressive worldview

I just finished watching Deflating the Elephant and was very impressed. The film is essentially a long lecture by George Lakoff on how conservatives have cleverly framed discourse during the past couple decades. Lakoff provides some very sound advice on how progressives need to go on the offensives to ensure that their fundamental ideas are understood within the overarching structure of ideas that inspire their worldview. Unfortunately, the Rockridge Institute, which was developed to promote Lakoff`s political work, has shut down. It`s work has, to some extent, been taken over by Cognitive Policy Works.

1 September 2013

Happy Labor Day!

Love for labor lost: Paul Krugman on the forgotten significance of labor day...