Science, Statistics, Politics, Current Events, Photos and Life.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Their S**T Really Does Smell Better

NPR has a story on bio-engineering students who monkeyed around with E. coli to make it smell better.

E. coli is a popular microbe for biologists to experiment with. Unfortunately, it apparently smells like s**t. Perhaps not the most surprising thing, since it sits in our gut and helps us churn out s**t.

But hey, they're bio-engineers! Something doesn't work right, they'll fix it. And fix it they did. They changed the odor to minty fresh. Even better, while the E Coli is growing, it smells like mint. When it it mature, meaning experiments are done, it changes odor to banana.

There was no mention of what happens if the students eat their genetically modified E coli. What I want to know is, will their s**t really smell like mint or banana?

Should they indeed swallow the new E coli, I can just see some negative reinforcement. Their shit does start to smell better. But eventually, they'll learn to hate the smell of either mint or banana. If you associated those odors with s**t every day of your life, wouldn't you not feel like eating mints or bananas again?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Blue Collar Democrats and Obama

The current meme in the race or the current rap on Obama is `Obama can't win the blue collar white democrats'. Also known as the Reagan Democrats.

This is the current meme as pushed by the Clinton campaign. The Main Stream Media (MSM) has picked up this theme.

The meme is wrong.

The correct phrasing is that he can't pick up a majority of these democrats WITH HILLARY IN THE RACE. The social experiment going on with the primary is who can pick up more democratic votes between Clinton and Obama.

Primaries don't telling us how democratic candidates stack up against Republicans, because that is not the question being asked of voters.

Diluting the Republican Reverend Wright Brand

YouTube videos of Reverend Wright excerpts are all over YouTube. If any one wants to study Wright, all they will see are the Republican selected extreme remarks.

Essentially, the Reverend Wright brand has been hijacked by the Republicans who brought us Willy Horton and

Obama needs to dilute the current Reverend Wright brand by flooding YouTube with videos of Wright officiating at joyous occasions like weddings and baptisms, and giving spiritually and morally uplifting sermons.

Even more than Obama, Reverend Wright needs to take back his own brand. He can make it his own by speaking out on his own terms. If he only goes on interviews, all he'll get to do is discuss his Republican selected YouTube videos.

McCainiac on the Run

I can't get the Maniac song out of my head:

McCainiac, he's McCainiac on the run.
And he's running like he's never run before.

I don't think the rest of the lyrics require translation.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

LPOTD License plate of the day


Quarterback'n' Dad?

(Dad is the quarterback?)

QB 'n' Dad?

(Son is the quarterback?)

He's the father of Q-B-N?

I like the first.

It's only 8.6%. No, it's 9.4%. It's 10%. Wait. 9.2%

From the Pennsylvania department of state, the results are
Clinton 1237696 54.3%
Obama 1043174 45.7%
for a difference of 8.6%. If you do the calculation with the original numbers it is 8.52% difference. The PA Dept of Stater web site says "*** 9,203 out of 9,264 Districts (99.34%) Reporting Statewide ***"

The meme in the MSM (main stream media) is that she won by 10%, and therefore it is a double digit victory.

LATimes : "ANALYSIS: She beats Obama by 10 points, "
NYTimes has her ahead by 9.4% with 99% reporting
Clinton 1258278 54.7%
Obama 1042573 45.3%

Which is amusing as they have more data than the PA DOS website!

Now I just clicked reload at the PA election web site and got these numbers:

Clinton 1237696 54.6%
Obama 1029672 45.4%
for a difference of 9.2%. Obama just lost votes. From the web site:
"*** 9,212 out of 9,264 Districts (99.44%) Reporting Statewide ***" It is 9:42 California time.

More districts, fewer votes. Go figure.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Pennsylvania Primary in One Day has Hillary ahead by 7% with approximately 7% undecided. In the absence of a major shift, 7% undecided are not all going to Obama. And where has his "Yes we can" gone? I haven't heard it in weeks. Since bitter-cling-gaffe in fact.

Before any one was paying attention, she was ahead by 20%. As more attention was paid, the gap naturally narrowed to about 12% and in the last 2 weeks, maybe Obama closed to within 5% of Clinton. But if I can tea-leaf-read the wiggles, that has now expanded again. We'll see if the undecideds again break for Clinton in a big way. I'd guess 10% final margin for her, but I don't really put a lot of stock in my prognostication.

Look to Obama's camp pointing out that this was friendly Clinton territory, and that she was ahead by 20% not long ago. All true.

Look to the Clinton camp to point out that he didn't win by 20% and that he outspent her by 2 or 3 to 1. All true.

The truth is it is a big state. Big states are harder to change people's preferences merely because of their size. And like every state in the country, when the campaign started, she had a sizable advantage. When Obama wins a state, he has overcome, at some point in the distant past, virtually zero percent name recognition, and near complete Clinton domination. (I'm ignoring Edwards in all this discussion. ) So figure that when he wins, he needs to pick up the entire margin of victory during the run up to the primary or caucus. Hillary has merely needed to maintain her edge, which is generally easier, and which she has mostly managed in states where she lives, has lived, neighbor states and states that are large where it is difficult to get Obama's message out.

The networks are playing this as a "Will Obama win? Will Clinton Lose?" But Clinton has won, they just want you to tune in for the exciting finale for 4 hours on their news channel.

I'll be glad when this one is over.

Time to move on to Indiana and North Carolina.

I'll be glad when the primary is all over.

License plate of the day


My read: Do Work Son

Minority Report: Dow Wrecks 'N'
Well, it does.

I like the first better.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Clinton Gets it Wrong Again

Clinton's tone-deafness and mis-representations are very irritating.

Obama's words are (taken from the link to Reuters)

"Last night I think we set a new record because it took us 45 minutes before we started talking about a single issue that matters to the American people," he said in Raleigh, North Carolina. "That's just how Washington is. They like stirring up controversy and they like playing gotcha games, getting us to attack each other, and I have to say, Sen. Clinton looked in her element."
Clinton's rephrase:

"I know some of my opponent's supporters and my opponent are complaining about the hard questions," Clinton, a former first lady, told a rally. "Well, having been in the White House for eight years and seeing what happens in terms of the pressures and the stresses on a president, that was nothing," she said."

Enought of the mis-phrasing of your opponent's words.

Her argument is she's been tortured, and it's ok for her to torture Obama. I wonder what McCain would think of that argument.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Comparing Sins: Tuzla versus Wright

Which is worse? Tuzla or Wright? Tuzla is about Clinton's claims of landing in Bosnia under sniper fire.

One is a sin of commission: Clinton was explicitly claiming things that were not true, and she claimed them repeatedly. These were Clinton's words.

Wright is a sin of association. These are not Obama's words.

And for me, it is important that Wright's remarks have been taken out of context, and it is a powerful context indeed.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Ask a Trashy Question

The ABC silly-debate discussion is still reverberating around the blogosphere. I hope the echo deafens Gibson and Stephanopoulos.

The next time a moderator asks a stupid gotcha question, the candidate should turn the question around and accuse the moderator of promoting that repugnant point of view. If you ask gotcha questions, you are promulgating those canards. Moderator asks: You know someone who said something mean. (Implying therefore you're mean). How do you respond senator? (Or more likely, disavow this person Senator!)

Senator: Well Mr. Moderator, you should not be bringing up nasty bits of meanness unless you seriously endorse it. You are directly promoting the position of those people who are bringing this issue up over and over. Is that your intention? The people banging this issue like a drum are not interested in the answer to your question. They are interested in occupying my time with inanities and filling the voters ears with fear mongering hate messages. They are interested in obscuring the profound policy differences between me and my opponents. They and you are not interested in any answer to any foul canard posed as a question. They are solely interested in sliming me so as to steal from the American people an otherwise easily won on the merits of my positions election. (ok, so not that last in so many words).

By raising the issue you are lowering the quality of our national debate. You should be asking us important questions about Iraq and international policy, global warming and the environment, how I will run my White House, what goals I will set for my administration. Why are you asking about the nasty remarks made by that person? Do you ask John McCain about Reverend Hagee? Will you? Would you? If not, and I doubt you will, then you are engaging in partisan politics, under the false guise of non-partisan-pretense.

You should be ashamed of your self Mr. Moderator. Slimy attacks do not make America a better country and your pretense that these attacks go to my electibility are not obscuring your partisanship to the American people.

What We Want in a President

All the gotcha politics going on. Questions about who you know and how much you disavow every mean and nasty statement they ever said that was caught on YouTube.

This leads to presidential candidates who won't talk to anyone who doesn't agree with them slavishly on every issue. Who is the perfect candidate under this system? George Bush! He hasn't talked to or seen a dissenting voice or person in years. No gotchas for George. No wonder Rove and the Republicans have developed this sort of politics.

Of course, if everyone ran on their actual political platform, it isn't clear that Republicans would get elected as much as they now do. Better to distract attention away from economic issues towards social issues. Even better, to distract towards non-issues like: Are you patriotic? Do you wear a lapel pin? Is your second cousin's third Aunt's second sister a communist? Do you disavow all knowledge of her?

You'd better.

License plate of the day


and one more for good measure


Why is this second license plate of interest? California non-vanity car license plates are issued sequentially in a 1AAA111 format: 1 digit, three letters, three digits. The highest digits and letters that you see are perhaps the newest car and license plate on the road. California recently started issuing 6C (6C followed by 2 letters and 3 numbers) license plates, and now I am beginning to see a lot of them on the road. 6D license plates are still rare, I've seen less than 10 so far. And 6DOK is the latest that I've seen.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Debate in PA: Jumble of a Rumble

A sad affair last night. Clinton and Obama peppered with Republican talking points. No actual content for the first hour.

These things are being talked about. They aren't important, but they're being talked about. So that justifies ABC talking about them? Reverend Wright, lapel pins, electability of your opponent. Who said what when and why? And who is madder/sorrier/unhappier?

The problem with these issues quote-unquote is that asking the question is doing Republican dirty work. There is no answer for these questions. They are all gotcha-style questions. Candidates look bad. Anybody going to ask John McCain the Republican equivalent of these questions? Probably not.

This time, the blogosphere is up in arms about the idiocy of the emcees, George Stephanopolis and Charlie Gibson. Maybe the next debate will be better, but only if the next news organization listens to the commentaries.

Picture presidential debates 20 years from now:
Isn't Paris Hilton still great?
Why should the United States Government pay for Britney Spears' mental health care?
Shouldn't you be kicked off the island?
Senator, why do you hate America?
Governor, why is your state so small?
Mrs. Vice President: Why does your cookie recipe make such bad tasting cookies?
Senator, why do you refuse to visit flag factories?

It can still get worse from here.

Monday, April 14, 2008

October Surprise:Iran

Someone important thinks that we're in for a Fall, possibly October surprise. Pat Buchanan thinks we're likely to start bombing Iran.

Another possible October surprise: From the LA Times: Finding Bin Laden.

The Bush administration may go for a twofer. Both will substantially help McCain over the Democratic nominee.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Darwin Fish are Not Demonstrating Identity

Jonah Goldberg (linked in the title, registration required) in the Los Angeles Times today April 1, 2008 says
As Christopher Caldwell once observed in the Weekly Standard, Darwin fish flout the agreed-on etiquette of identity politics. "Namely: It's acceptable to assert identity and abhorrent to attack it.
Goldberg is quoting Caldwell, but presumably is supporting the statement. There is a lot here to rebut and discuss. First, in two-way communication through symbols and symbology: the person displaying the symbol gets to decide what the displayer means by the symbol. And there is the reverse: the viewer gets to decide what the viewer thinks of the symbol.

Now, asking someone what their symbol means does not necessarily get you what they really mean. We've all heard "its just a joke" and "my comments were taken out of context" ad nauseam as excuses for stupid and offense comments, from politicians and from our neighbor's children, not necessarily respectively.

People who display the Christian fish symbol as a statement about their religion, separately from their belief about biology I would not mind if I knew that to be the case. But to me (how about to you?) the Christian fish symbol is used to indicate a disbelief in science and specifically biology. This takes the fish statement away from the realm of religion and into the realm of science.

To scientists - religious or not - and to scientifically literate people of any stripe, denying evolution is a bit like denying that you have freckles or a cleft chin. Evolution is a statement of fact, not of belief. Evolution can be checked. It is not up to you to believe it or not believe it. Scientists 'believe' evolution because it describes the world that we see around us. If evolution and the various detailed descriptions of our world did not describe the world, if evolution did not make predictions which are shown to be true, then scientists wouldn't 'believe' in evolution.

Believe is the wrong word, but I'm having trouble thinking of a better word. Other possibilities: 'Follow', or 'act as if it is true', or 'act as if it is true until something better comes along' are competitors. Definitely the word believe for the religious person and for the scientist are not the same activities.

Consider two parallel hypothetical experiments. Suppose that all knowledge about evolution and biology were wiped away. Would humans reinvent the concept of evolution? The answer is almost certainly yes. Now consider a second hypothetical experiment. Suppose that all knowledge of Christianity were wiped away. Would humans reinvent it? The answer is almost certainly no. We haven't tried the first experiment, but science does attempt to operate that way: there are a lot of brownie points in science for someone who can disprove a widely held belief and replace it with a new set of facts. We have essentially done the second experiment. Christianity spreads by people having babies and by teaching others about it. It doesn't get reinvented from scratch. Humans have invented lots of other sorts of religions when given the chance, but not Christianity.

In science there is no controversy about whether evolution is true or not. Evolution happens. There are a lot of details to evolution: evolution isn't a simple little mathematical result like e equals m times c-squared. These details need to be worked out, and we do not know all the details. There is a lot going on, and scientists are very busy working out details and elaborating how evolution works. There is much work to be done in elucidating how much evolution goes on, how evolution proceeds, whether there is a better word to describe what we observe in nature, can we use evolution to our own ends to make better drugs or chemicals or products, who should get credit for what discoveries, and so on, the business of science is quite extensive.

Displaying the Darwin fish symbol may indeed be a statement about me, but for Darwin fish displayers, the Darwin fish is more importantly a statement about the world. And it is a checkable statement.

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