All posts by Animal

Rule Five Friday

2014_02_28_Rule Five Friday (1)I love Japan.

While all you True Believers enjoy today’s dose of summery totty from the Land of the Rising Sun, consider also the fact that HOLY SHIT IT’S COLD.  Excerpt:

The number of days with subzero temperatures has reached record or near-record levels for many Midwest cities this winter. We have the rankings for several of these cities, starting with two locations that will log day 70 of subzero temperatures on Friday.

Note: A subzero day is one where the temperature fell below zero at any one point during a particular calendar day.

2014_02_28_Rule Five Friday (2)If you grew up in the upper Midwest, like yr. obdt., you’re used to cold winters.  But this year, with the jet stream still stuck somewhere around the Gulf Coast, sucking a bunch of Arctic air down across the country’s midsection, the cold is just hanging on.

And hanging on.

And on.

Now tomorrow is the first of March, and we’re still stuck in January temperatures.  Honestly, Mr. Gore, where is all this global warming?  We could use a little bit of that right now.

One thing, by the way, that’s hard to understand about the whole climate-change controversy.  The fact that the climate changes over time isn’t in doubt.  The question of how much human activity affects 2014_02_28_Rule Five Friday (3)climate is subject to debate.  But consider this; what also isn’t in doubt is that over most of the Earth’s 4.55 billion year history, it’s been warmer than it is now.  As recently as 2,000 years ago, the Romans were growing wine grapes in Britain – an act of agronomy that requires warmer climes than those isles see today.

So who are we to say that the average climate we see today is the “correct” climate?  Who are we to say what the proper temperature is?  Just because this is where it’s been since, say, the Middle Ages?

The fact is, the planet doesn’t have any “correct” temperature.   Many factors affect climate – the Sun, volcanoes, plant life, the positions of the continents as they slide around the Earth at the rate of a fingernail growing, ocean currents and, yes, people.  And all of those factors add up to one thing – an unimaginably complex system that we can’t hope to understand completely, much less model.

2014_02_28_Rule Five Friday (4)And if the Earth were to warm up a few degrees?  Some bad things would happen – coastal areas in particular would have some problems.  But Siberia would blossom into an Asian breadbox.  Alaska’s Matanuska Valley would likewise bloom.

Those who would have us clamp down on all manner of economic activity, like the Keystone pipeline, in the name of “climate change” are peddling a line of buncombe.  Examine carefully their motives- it 2014_02_28_Rule Five Friday (5)generally isn’t about science.

The other side of the unfortunate coin is this:  The unsettled question of climate change has led many – mostly on the right – to include other areas of scientific endeavor in their skepticism, whether their doubt is warranted or not.  And that’s not a good thing.

In the meantime, the deep freeze continues.

Brrr.

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Animal’s Daily News

Bear-with-CubShould the GOP leadership be so stuck on Ted Cruz? Excerpt:

All this whining about Ted Cruz is getting on my nerves.  They’re upset that he’s criticizing Republican leaders like Mitch McConnell, instead of rallying to the Republican establishment banner in all the primaries, the better, they seem to think, to take over the Senate after the November elections.  “Fight Obama, not the Republican leadership.”

So their argument is that hard-fought primaries might produce more conservative candidates in November, and this would be a bad thing.  It’s going to be hard to convince Cruz, since he’s only in the Senate because he challenged the establishment candidate in the Republican primary in Texas a couple of years ago.  And won the primary.  And then won the general election bigtime.

Mind you, I’m not in favor of supporting deranged candidates.  I shudder at the thought of repeats of some of the latest conservative nominees.  But I’m not at all convinced that tough primaries are bad for the Republican Party, or indeed for the country.  Quite the contrary.  I’m all for it.  The country’s in a terrible jam and we need outstanding leaders, men of strong will and conviction, who won’t catch Potomac fever, who won’t go along to win the next election.  I don’t think the Republican Party is well led.  Who does?  I think McConnell and Boehner have run away from too many important fights.

Boy howdy, ain’t that the truth.  Witness as an example the GOP’s recent cave on the debt ceiling, where they went tits-up and didn’t receive one single concession in return.

Both political parties are going through a time of transition, but while the Democrats are moving to the left, led by the likes of Nancy Pelosi and, yes, Barack Obama, the GOP’s transition is much less clear.  The libertarian wing of the party, a group that includes yr. obdt, is gaining ground, while the older, uber-religious wing of the party seems to be losing a little influence.

Relaxing BearBear in mind that both major parties are coalitions, and the various wings have to agree on a candidate, at least for the most part, or the party won’t win elections.

Cruz is a gadfly.  Gadflies are good for the political process.  They stir things up.  The GOP could use some stirring up – they’ve been far too spineless lately.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!
Happy Hump Day!

Once more into the Hump Day breach!

One wonders about all the implications of this science-y tidbit:  Dad May Join Two Moms for Disease-Free Designer Babies.  Excerpt:

A new technology aimed at eliminating genetic disease in newborns would combine the DNA of three people, instead of just two, to create a child, potentially redrawing ethical lines for designer babies.

The process works by replacing potentially variant DNA in the unfertilized eggs of a hopeful mother with disease-free genes from a donor. U.S. regulators today will begin weighing whether the procedure, used only in monkeys so far, is safe enough to be tested in humans.

Because the process would change only a small, specific part of genetic code, scientists say a baby would largely retain the physical characteristics of the parents. Still, DNA from all three — mother, father and donor — would remain with the child throughout a lifetime, opening questions about long-term effects for this generation, and potentially the next. Ethicists worry that allowing pre-birth gene manipulation may one day lead to build-to-order designer babies.

It takes some doing to wrap the brain around this one.

We’re only really beginning to unravel the mysteries of genetics.  At the moment we can’t guess at what all may be possible – although a lot of ink and pixels have been burned up in speculation, both in fiction and non-fiction.  Robert Heinlein’s entertaining work Friday is one such, the story of a genetically engineered superwoman trained as a combat courier.   A common saying among the artificial humans in that work is this:  “My mother was a test tube – my father was a knife.”

Thoughtful-BearAt the present, here in the real world, there’s no evidence that genetic manipulation could be used to produce designer babies, much less supermen.  But fifty years from now?

Who knows?

Animal’s Daily News

Smiling BearThanks to The Other McCain  for the Rule Five links!

Bye bye, Piers Morgan.  It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy, although I suspect his regular viewers will be disappointed – both of them.

Were I to add a personal message to Mr. Morgan’s departure from the American media scene, it would simply be “good riddance.”

Related stories:

12 Reasons Why Everyone Hates Piers Morgan.

Good-Bye, and Good Riddance: @PiersMorgan Canned at CNN.

New York Times Blames Accent for Piers Morgan’s Failure to Connect With Americans.

While CNN did blaze the trail for every cables news channel to follow, they long ago fell well down the ranks of American cable news networks – Fox News has held the top spot for quite a while laughing_bearnow.   Programming decisions like placing the smarmy, self-righteous leftie Morgan in a slot to replace Larry King – who leans left but was a legitimate American broadcasting icon – that may be one of the reasons CNN has dropped like a rock in the ratings.

Still, their lot could always be worse.

They could be MSNBC.

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday
Goodbye, Blue Monday

Another Monday after another plane ride; another week ahead in the Arctic environs of the upper Midwest.  We could really use a little of that global warming right now.

This appeared yesterday from the inestimable Dave Barry:  Dave Barry’s Manliness Manifesto.  Excerpt:

But the point is, these pioneering men did not do “crunches.” These men crunched the damn continent—blazing trails, fording rivers, crossing mountain ranges, building log cabins, forging things with forges, etc. We modern men can’t do any of those things. We don’t have the vaguest idea how to ford a river. We’d check our phones to see if we had a fording app and, if not, we’d give up, go back home and work on our cores.

We American men have lost our national manhood, and I say it’s time we got it back. We need to learn to do the kinds of manly things our forefathers knew how to do. To get us started, I’ve created a list of some basic skills that every man should have, along with instructions. You may rest assured that these instructions are correct. I got them from the Internet.

This is a matter that has perplexed yr. obdt. for some time, in spite of personally having maintained a tight connection with the Manly Arts, and not just on the one week a year when loyal sidekick Rat and I head to the mountains to do battle with antlered ungulates.  A man should know how to do certain things:  Catch fish, operate heavy equipment, use a rifle, shotgun and handgun, start a fire without matches or lighter.  A man should be able to change a tire.  He should be able to jump start a car.  He should be able to drive a manual transmission vehicle.  He should now how to find his way in the woods without a GPS device.

Mr. Barry is right to decry the loss of manly skills, but there are still a lot of us out there who maintain them; Brad Paisley said it best:

Rule Five Friday

2014_02_21_Rule Five Friday (1)Meet Svante Pääbo.  Who is he and why is he interesting?  He’s the Neandertal Hunter, and he’s uncovering some fascinating new information on what makes up modern humans – at least those of us of European, Asian and Middle Eastern descent.

That information?  Neandertal DNA.  Excerpt:

Fired by his early success, Pääbo announced, in 2006, his group would sequence a full Neanderthal genome made of nuclear DNA within two years. In the end, the project was beset by tribulations – contamination, dastardly tricks by rival geneticists, dwindling supplies of Neanderthal bone – and Pääbo was more than a year late in completing the project.

2014_02_21_Rule Five Friday (2)His results provided a shock for both researchers and the public. When he compared his newly created Neanderthal genome with those of modern humans, he found a small but significant overlap in many of them. About 2% of Neanderthal genes could be found in people of European, Asian and far eastern origin. People from Africa had no Neanderthal genes, however. “This was not a technical error of some sort,” Pääbo insists. “Neanderthals had contributed DNA to people living today. It was amazingly cool. Neanderthals were not totally extinct.”

Most scientists, including Pääbo, now account for this result by arguing that modern humans – when they first emerged from Africa – encountered and mated with Neanderthals in the Middle East. Their offspring carried some Neanderthal genes and as modern humans swept through Asia and Europe they carried these genes with them.

2014_02_21_Rule Five Friday (3)There’s a down side, apart from the effect of the Neandertal genes on a couple of my cousins; as Pääbo’s work has uncovered, those genes may also be the cause of some chronic diseases:

Just what that input of Neanderthal DNA has done for Homo sapiens’s evolution is less clear. Pääbo speculates that changes in sperm mobility and alterations in skin cell structure could be involved. In addition, US researchers have recently proposed that Neanderthals passed on gene variants that may have had a beneficial effects in the past but which have now left people prone to type 2 diabetes and Crohn’s disease. “This is work that is going to go on for years,” he adds.

So what’s the upshot of these findings, when we seek to get a little insight into human behavior?  That’s simple:

2014_02_21_Rule Five Friday (4)Sex.  (Thus making this a great topic for a Rule Five Friday post.)

Humans like sex.  And sometimes – maybe much of the time – they aren’t too picky about who they have sex with.

The Neandertal were a controversy for many years.  Initially the preponderance of opinion was that smarter, more adaptable H. sapiens crowded the Neandertal out of Europe and the Levant.  A few enigmatic skeletons seemed to combine modern human and Neandertal features, but none of them were conclusive.

But now we have genetic evidence.   If your ancestry is European, Asian or Middle Eastern, you likely have some Neandertal DNA.  Interesting stuff.

2014_02_21_Rule Five Friday (5)Oh, and Pääbo’s work also uncovered an entire new species of early human – the enigmatic Denisovans.  (To be fair the discovery was made by Russian archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology of Novosibirsk, but Pääbo did the genetic analysis that established them as a distinct form.)

It’s a fascinating time to be working in paleoanthropology – or even have it as a particular interest.

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Bye Bye, First Amendment.

Facepalm-bearThis is absolutely chilling:  The FCC Wades Into the Newsroom.  Excerpt:

But everyone should agree on this: The government has no place pressuring media organizations into covering certain stories.

Unfortunately, the Federal Communications Commission, where I am a commissioner, does not agree. Last May the FCC proposed an initiative to thrust the federal government into newsrooms across the country. With its “Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs,” or CIN, the agency plans to send researchers to grill reporters, editors and station owners about how they decide which stories to run. A field test in Columbia, S.C., is scheduled to begin this spring.

The purpose of the CIN, according to the FCC, is to ferret out information from television and radio broadcasters about “the process by which stories are selected” and how often stations cover “critical information needs,” along with “perceived station bias” and “perceived responsiveness to underserved populations.”

What.  The.  Bloody.  Hell.

This has absolutely horrifying implications.  To put it plainly – the Imperial Federal government proposes to monitor the gathering, analysis and reporting of news by the nation’s hitherto independent media.  What’s next?

This kind of thing should be squashed, hard and fast.  Unfortunately, there seems to be a spine shortage in Congress.

I normally really try to resist indulging in Godwin’s Law, but the temptation here is too strong.

Nein You Didnt