Archive for March, 2009

John Tierney (of NYT) on Freeman Dyson

March 29, 2009

I find I often like TierneyLab, which is John Tierney’s blog on science issues via the NY Times web site.  Today (from Instapundit, Glenn Reynolds’s blog) I linked to a Tierney article on Freeman Dyson, a noted  nuclear physicist– worked at Los Alamos, then Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Studies.  Dyson’s biography Disturbing the Universe was very interesting.  And so is the Tierney article, entitled “Tragedy is not Freeman Dyson’s Business”:

“Nicholas Dawidoff’s article about Freeman Dyson in the Times Magazine nicely captures Mr. Dyson’s independent spirit as well as a couple of other appealing traits: humanism and optimism. While so many other scientists and intellectuals fret about humans ruining the planet — and some even revel in fantasies about a world free of our pernicious presence — Mr. Dyson has long had faith in humans’ ability to deal with problems like nuclear weapons and global warming.”

It was first of all surprising that the NYT Magazine published a long, favorable article on Dyson, who has strongly criticized climate change alarmism.  The full TierneyLab piece can be found here. Maybe the Times is ready to change course on some science policy issues?  I certainly hope so.


Lights out?

March 28, 2009

Tonight, for one hour, the World Wildlife Fund asks everybody around the world to turn out their lights & thus demonstrate how we can save the planet by using less energy.

I liked this little item– via Fox News (which I know is often portrayed rather negatively):

It’s called Earth Hour — and among the places where the lights will go out are the Eiffel Tower, the Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing, the Pyramids of Giza and Niagara Falls.

And, for the first time in the event’s three-year existence, the New York headquarters of the United Nations will also go dark, a move officials say will save $102, a figure that fluctuated wildly from its whopping initial estimate of $81,000 when requested from U.N. officials. After the story appeared on, a spokeswoman called back to say their estimate was incorrect and the savings was $24,000, but then called back a third time to say it was really $102.

Earth Hour — 8:30 to 9:30 p.m in every time zone on the planet — promises to be “the largest demonstration of public concern about climate change ever attempted,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said earlier this month.

Well, it will save Ban Ki Moon and the UN some money.  Why  quibble about the  exact amount?

Leave Them Alone

March 28, 2009

My previous post (“Audacity”) obviously does not belong under “Irish Matters” (even though it criticizes O’Bama)– if I knew how to change categories on that one I would.  I’m still trying to learn the ropes on this blogging business.

So here’s a real Irish item, from a poem by Patrick Kavanagh, “Leave Them Alone”– on not ranting and raving too much about what we read in the news (or on the internet!):

The whole hysterical passing show
The hour apotheosized
Into a cul-de-sac will go
And not even be despised.


March 27, 2009

I watched a good bit of President Obama’s news conference last Tuesday.  There were several answers on which I would take issue with him– but I’ll stick to just one, for now.  One thing at a time!

Question:  Are you reconsidering your plan to cut the interest rate deduction for mortgages and for charities? And do you regret having proposed that in the first place?

OBAMA:  No, I think it’s — I think it’s the right thing to do, where we’ve got to make some difficult choices…

Cutting the mortgage deduction might make sense, but would be very unpopular– so it isn’t likely to happen.  But what’s this about the charitable deduction?  I’d never heard of such a proposal.  The reporter followed up:

Q: It’s not the well-to-do people. It’s the charities. Given what you’ve just said, are you confident the charities are wrong when they contend that this would discourage giving?

OBAMA: Yes, I am. I mean, if you look at the evidence, there’s very little evidence that this has a significant impact on charitable giving.

Can he possibly believe this?  The math is very simple.  Suppose I’m a very charitable person in the 28% marginal tax bracket who is prepared to give $10,000 to a charity.  If  I actually give $13,900, 28% of this is $3,892 — so I’m only shelling out $10,008.  But for a richer giver in the 35%  bracket:  he can give $15,390 — 35% of which is $5,386,  so it only costs him $10,004!

The gov’t makes our giving tax-deductable because we’ve decided (as a country) that foregoing extra tax revenue is more than offset by the good done by what we give freely.  And will only allowing those 35%-ers to deduct 28% punish them– those awful people who gross more than $250,000?  Well, no– they will adjust their giving accordingly, downwards.

I was glad that in Wednesday’s Washington Post Martin Feldstein made the same point in more detail: A Donation From Charity But we shouldn’t need an economics professor to explain all this to us; anybody who has itemized tax deductions  should already knows it.

So  doesn’t the President know it?  And if he were so challenged by simple math, couldn’t the very smart people around him have explained it to him?  Or perhaps they are look forward to the additional $7 billion in revenue which this tax change (by Feldstein’s estimate) would provide?  All  at the expense of the charities.

Speaking of charity:  Mr. Feldstein says, in a very charitable way:   “I suspect that the administration officials who drafted this proposal did not understand that it would have this perverse effect”.

If he’s right on that, we are in trouble.  If he is wrong, our government is in the hands of some very cynical people.  Either way…

For John Kenny

March 24, 2009

My brother was called Sean as a child in Ireland; he was 10 (the oldest of 4) when we emigrated to the US.  Then he became “John”, which was his baptismal name anyway.

John Patrick Kenny would have been 71 this March 24th, but died of a brain tumor in August 2004.

A poem for my brother, from the time of the funeral:

For John Kenny

Now we’re all here, John, gathered for a while.
Today we mourn, remember, pray for you.
And if you watch, I’d like to think you smile
and say, “Well, let them do what people do –

“I’ve passed beyond that now.  But it’s all right.”
John, we loved you, and your love you gave!
We tried to cheer you in that losing fight,
now ended.  But your memory we’ll save,

keeping you close until that final day
when – we may hope – all tears are wiped away.

John,  “Ave atque vale”.  Rest in peace.

Matt Damon will save the planet

March 19, 2009

Last night our PBS station presented “Journey to Planet Earth”, narrated by actor Matt Damon.  Lots of scenes showing Matt superimposed on the scene as he narrated (like with Julia Roberts, she was saving the orangutans I believe).  The 1st part was gripping, concerning the collapse of cod fisheries worldwide; showing how this has devastated a village in Portugal, and their relatives, the Portu.-American community in New Bedford, Mass.

I had hoped they’d then go into what can be done to remedy this disaster (if anything):  treaties to limit the catch, chances for the cod to recover, etc.  Instead the focus shifts to… global warming, of course.  Well, that’s a very important matter (maybe more important).  They illustrate it with scenes of glaciers in southeast Greenland melting away, slipping into the sea.  Scenes of the meltwater lakes which grow in the summer, water cascading in mini-Niagaras thru holes in the ice– where it then lubricates the underside of the glaciers, making them slide off into the sea at a faster rate.

Alarms have been raised about this for some time.  However I remembered reading that some studies show that the alarm is overdone!  So I rushed off to Google the matter and found this, an article in the British magazine New Scientist from 3 July 2008 entitled (see link) “Greenland ice sheet slams the brakes on”.  Some excerpts from that:

Much noise has been made about how water lubricates the base of Greenland’s ice sheet, accelerating its slide into the oceans. In a rare “good news” announcement, climatologists now say the ice may not be in such a hurry to throw itself into the water after all…..

…They found that meltwater pouring down holes in the ice – called “moulins” – did indeed cause ice velocities to skyrocket, from their typical 100m per year to up to 400m per year, within days or weeks.

But the acceleration was short-lived, and ice velocities usually returned to normal within a week after the waters began draining. Over the course of the 17 years, the flow of the ice sheet actually decreased slightly, in some parts by as much as 10%.

The article does close with a caution from Jay Zwally of NASA-Goddard –yes, that bunch of alarmists (just kidding):  Zwally told New Scientist that unpublished data from the eastern edge of the ice sheet suggests between 3% and 5% more ice is being lost because of lubrication than would otherwise happen. That is less than the 25% that was previously calculated, but still significant, he says.

So, maybe sea levels won’t rise by 20+ feet after all?  But who has time, in a documentary devoting to saving our precious planet, to present both sides of a scientific controversy?

Oh, I know:  one noted expert has told us:  “the science is settled”.    (Al’s specialty was applied political science, of course)

Scalia boycotted at Amherst

March 18, 2009

Today I learned that a group of professors had organized a boycott of a speech by Justice Antonin Scalia at Amherst College– but it’s hardly surprising in an acadamic world where Voltaire’s dictum “I disagree with everything you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it” is no longer the rule.

It happens that Scalia’s daughter Meg was an Amherst ’02 graduate, and she responded with a letter to the campus paper The Amherst Student.  Furtunately the student paper didn’t follow the logic of the professors– try to suppress the views which you don’t like.

I linked to this item from the “Power Line” blog:

Note:  I just noticed that in the link to the student newspaper, following the 2 Scalia letters, there are 2 more, regarding a sex column, which should be adult-rated.

For St. Patrick’s day

March 17, 2009

Last night exchanging emails with Ed Schmahl, I turned to Irish poetry.  Here is one from the late 17th century by Daibhni O Brudair, lamenting the decline of the Irish language and culture.  Which was certainly happening then, just after the decisive defeat of O’Neill and his forces at Kinsale, leaving the English in full control of the country.  Anyway:

The High Poets Are Gone    by Dáibhni Ó Brudair

D’aithle na bhfileadh n-uasal,
truaghsan timheal an tsaoghail;
clann na n-ollamh go n-eagna
folamh gan freagra faobhair.

Truagh a leabhair ag liatha,
tiacha nach treabhair bhaoise;
ar ceal níor chóir a bhfoilcheas,
toircheas bhfear n-óil  na gaoise.

D’aithle na bhfileadh dár ionnmhas éigse is iul
is mairg de-chonnairc an chinneamhain d’éirigh dhúinn;
a leabhair ag titim i leimhe ‘s i léithe i gcúil
‘s ag macaibh na droinge gan sileadh dá séadaibh rún.

The high poets are gone
and I mourn for the world’s waning;
the sons of those learned masters
emptied of sharp responses.

I mourn for their fading books,
reams of no earnest stupidity,
lost—unjustly abandoned—
begotten by drinkers of wisdom.

After those poets, for whom art and knowledge were wealth,
alas to have lived to see this fate befall us:
their books in corners greying into nothing
and their sons without one syllable of their secret knowledge.

trans. by Thomas Kinsella—from
An Duanaire:  An Irish Anthology
1600-1900:  Poems of the Dispossessed

And after that not-so-cheerful item:  a happy St. Patrick’s day to all!

Friends & Family

March 17, 2009

Friends are family too!  And for those who want to originate new posts (not just comment on items already posted) I’m prepared to authorize this.

Mario Acuna, NASA scientist

March 15, 2009

Today (Sunday) the Washington Post published an obituary story for Mario Acuna.  Mario was a distinguished scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Center “whose scientific instruments have flown on more that 30 NASA missions to every planet in the solar system,  including the sun.”   His specialty was  designing and building magnetometers which seem to have been used in just about all the planetary missions, along with the Voyager probe to interstellar space.

I played soccer with Mario in the Goddard soccer league back in the early 1970’s, when his great scientific career was just getting started; but I never got to work with him.  He was a fine soccer player too.