For The Birds

The truth is sometimes nowhere near The Middle

I've often heard the saying "the truth is in the middle" when discussing heated political issues. The saying can be true when factions on either side make equally hyperbolic remarks, trying to sway the undecided into their camp. However, just because an issue has been politicized it doesn't mean that one side isn't more right than the other. In fact, people's tendency to assume "the truth is in the middle" can be exploited, skewing public perception away from the truth. If I were an oil/cigarette/coal/agriculture company executive who cared only about profits, this is definitely something I'd try to take advantage of.

From the NYTimes:
A document filed in a federal lawsuit demonstrates that even as the [polluting industry backed coalition] worked to sway opinion, its own scientific and technical experts were advising that the science backing the role of greenhouse gases in global warming could not be refuted.


Environmentalists have long maintained that industry knew early on that the scientific evidence supported a human influence on rising temperatures, but that the evidence was ignored for the sake of companies’ fight against curbs on greenhouse gas emissions. Some environmentalists have compared the tactic to that once used by tobacco companies, which for decades insisted that the science linking cigarette smoking to lung cancer was uncertain. By questioning the science on global warming, these environmentalists say, groups like the Global Climate Coalition were able to sow enough doubt to blunt public concern about a consequential issue and delay government action.

George Monbiot, a British environmental activist and writer, said that by promoting doubt, industry had taken advantage of news media norms requiring neutral coverage of issues, just as the tobacco industry once had.

“They didn’t have to win the argument to succeed,” Mr. Monbiot said, “only to cause as much confusion as possible.”
To people who have studied the science, man-made global warming has been practically undeniable for many years, but there has been so much manufactured confusion generated by the very entrenched and very rich polluting industries that people remain skeptical to this day.
For The Birds

Sensitive female chord progression? ... Really?

ceida pointed me to this interesting article in the Globe. My initial reaction was that it is a ridiculous name for what is just a sequence of sounds, but since there are so many songs that reuse a comparatively small set of chord progressions, I thought it would be an interesting, if only academic, exercise (which I have not done) to construct an index of songs searchable by chord progression utilized during the verse/chorus/bridge. I'm not sure how useful it would be to anyone other than a cappella groups constructing medleys, but such a piece of software would at least be helpful in identifying interesting trends and outliers. Might be an interesting signal processing exercise too.
For The Birds

Science versus Politics

[The president issued] a memorandum that sets forth broad parameters for how his administration would choose expert advisers and use scientific data.

The document orders Mr. Obama’s top science adviser to help draft guidelines that will apply to every federal agency. Agencies will be expected to pick science advisers based on expertise, not political ideology, the memorandum said, and will offer whistle-blower protections to employees who expose the misuse or suppression of scientific information.

The idea, the president said in remarks before an audience of lawmakers, scientists, patients advocates and patients in the East Room, is to ensure that “we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology”: a line that drew more applause than any other.
The Republican response (from the same article):
But Mr. Bush’s defenders see Mr. Obama as just imposing an ideology of his own. They say Mr. Bush did not ignore scientific facts; rather, he took the counsel of scientists and used it to make a policy determination that reflected his values, just as Mr. Obama is doing in lifting Mr. Bush’s restrictions on stem cell research.

“Those who suggest that the Bush administration did not rigorously apply science are themselves ignoring the facts,” said Karl Rove, the former president’s political strategist.
Rove suggests that Obama is no different than Bush in merging science with values to make policy. But with science having a liberal bias and all, this meant that Bush largely replaced scientific recommendation with values (especially with respect to environmental recommendations), while Obama is hopefully looking to largely follow scientific recommendations. I, for one, welcome the change.
For The Birds


From the Freakonomics Blog:
Who owns Trader Joe’s?

1. Some great California family full of surfers and gardeners.

2. A small band of communal farmers in Oregon.

3. A huge German discount-grocery chain best known in the U.S. for no-glamor stores often located in marginal neighborhoods.
SpoilerCollapse )
For The Birds

Higher pay = worse performance?

Interesting article from the NYTimes:
"We replicated these results in a study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where undergraduate students were offered the chance to earn a high bonus ($600) or a lower one ($60) by performing one task that called for some cognitive skill (adding numbers) and another one that required only a mechanical skill (tapping a key as fast as possible). We found that as long as the task involved only mechanical skill, bonuses worked as would be expected: the higher the pay, the better the performance. But when we included a task that required even rudimentary cognitive skill, the outcome was the same as in the India study: the offer of a higher bonus led to poorer performance.

"If our tests mimic the real world, then higher bonuses may not only cost employers more but also discourage executives from working to the best of their ability."
Maybe discourage is not the right word. Distract might be a better fit.
For The Birds

Addressing the financial and climate crises simultaneously

Hey Barack, congratulations! Your election has been a monumental and inspiring one. But we have some serious problems to solve, and I hope you have the courage to listen to 20 years of research and a Nobel Peace Prize:
"The world authority on the climate crisis, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, after 20 years of detailed study and four unanimous reports, now says that the evidence is “unequivocal.” To those who are still tempted to dismiss the increasingly urgent alarms from scientists around the world, ignore the melting of the north polar ice cap and all of the other apocalyptic warnings from the planet itself, and who roll their eyes at the very mention of this existential threat to the future of the human species, please wake up. Our children and grandchildren need you to hear and recognize the truth of our situation, before it is too late.

"Here is the good news: the bold steps that are needed to solve the climate crisis are exactly the same steps that ought to be taken in order to solve the economic crisis and the energy security crisis.

"Economists across the spectrum — including Martin Feldstein and Lawrence Summers — agree that large and rapid investments in a jobs-intensive infrastructure initiative is the best way to revive our economy in a quick and sustainable way. Many also agree that our economy will fall behind if we continue spending hundreds of billions of dollars on foreign oil every year. Moreover, national security experts in both parties agree that we face a dangerous strategic vulnerability if the world suddenly loses access to Middle Eastern oil."
It's going to take a monster fight against the politically powerful US coal, railroad, and (of course) oil industries. So stop pandering and realize that domestic fossil fuels are not and never will be the answer to our oil dependence problem, not when the reality of a carbon-constrained world is just around the corner. If America is to remain a leader in the global economy, we must become a center of renewable energy technology. It's as simple as that.
For The Birds

What year is this?

From this TIME article:
"As a new freshman [at the University of Mississippi] last September, Jeremiah Taylor accompanied his white roommate to a fraternity party where he was the only African-American in attendance. He says a partygoer, noticing him, commented, "Oh my God, I can't believe there's a nigger here." When Taylor turned to go, one student threw a beer can at him and some others pushed him down the stairs. In the ensuing weeks, he says many students suggested that by going to "their party" — meaning one for whites only — he had been looking for trouble."
I wonder why there isn't more community outrage that this was even possible at a state university. All I can say is I'm truly happy not be living in Mississippi.
For The Birds

Free sign ups for a Chevy Volt!

Anyone interested in a Chevy Volt can put their name down on the unofficial, no-deposit waiting list here. The price is expected to be about $40,000 not including a possible $7,500 tax credit. That's still pretty steep, especially for a compact four-seater, so I'm not expecting GM to move nearly as many copies as Toyota has of its $22,000 mid-size, five-seat Prius.

Computing savings from using electricity instead of gasoline is nontrivial given the somewhat complex rate structure of electricity. Martin Eberhard, a founder of Tesla Motors, posted his thoughts on the matter here. Using his figure of 3.6 cents/mile, you'd save roughly $700 per year (assuming 15k electric miles/year) in fuel costs compared to a Toyota Prius (8.2 cents/mile assuming $3.75 gas and 46 MPG), yielding a payback time of 15 years. However, the likely reason most buyers will choose the Volt is not the financial savings from fuel costs, but rather the accompanying reduction of oil consumption, CO2 emissions, and their associated negative externalities.

I've previously mentioned concerns with the duty cycle of a PHEV's battery (deep discharge) and its impact on longevity. As I understand it, the Volt will only allow discharge to 30% capacity, then maintain that state of charge using the generator until you plug it in again. Reducing the range of discharge during normal operation should reduce wear on the battery, though by how much is unclear. Since concern about the battery is one of the top reasons customers are hesitant to purchase a hybrid, GM is planning on warrantying the battery for 10 years/150,000 miles. Bob Lutz has indicated the replacement cost of each battery is actually already factored into the MSRP of the vehicle: "We're being conservative on battery life. For our cost calculations we're assuming each car will need a replacement during the warranty period."