Friday, December 16, 2005

Deborah Sends Holiday Greetings!

Interesting, symbolically. Kind of cryptic. A DMTC metaphor can be imagined, somehow, but thinking about it too hard makes my head hurt.
Pepper, RIP

December 15, 1966: the day Walt Disney died. My dog, Pepper, also died on this date.

It's 39 years later, but I miss Pepper.....
Mainstream Media Bias

Franklin Foer at The New Republic warns liberal bloggers to go easy on the mainstream media (MSM):
(T)hey don't deserve the savage treatment that they routinely receive in the blogosphere. The problem isn't just that they have been flogged by bloggers desperate for material. It's that the blogosphere nurses an ideological disdain for "Mainstream Media"--or MSM, as it has derisively (and somewhat adolescently) come to be known.

...You would expect this kind of populism from the right, which long ago pioneered the trashing of the MSM, or, as Spiro Agnew famously called its practitioners, "nattering nabobs of negativism." ...(The Right wants) to weaken the press so it will stop obstructing their agenda, a motive that liberal bloggers seem to have forgotten. By repeating conservative criticisms about the allegedly elitist, sycophantic, biased MSM, liberal bloggers have played straight into conservative hands. These bloggers have begun unwittingly doing conservatives' dirty work.

What they're attacking is the MSM's Progressive-era ethos of public-minded disinterestedness. By embracing the idea of objectivity, newspapers took a radical turn from the raw partisanship that guided them in the nineteenth century. "Without fear or favor" was Times owner Adolph Ochs's famous phrase. That "objective" style worked well for many years, because, in the postwar period, political elites shared broad assumptions about policy with one another--and the media. But the Bush administration has violently rejected that consensus. And, instead of playing by the old rules that governed the relationship between reporters and the White House, it has exploited them.

...But, after examining the news media's failings, many liberal bloggers still conclude that the system is beyond repair. They have begun to dismiss the MSM as doomed avatars of the ancien régime. Atrios, one of the most popular of the liberal bloggers, recently threw up his arms: "If idiots destroy institutions there's no reason to continue to respect them." (Their derisive attitude resembles nothing more than the New Left, which charged journalism with dulling the sense and sensibility of the masses, preventing them from seeing the horrors of the capitalist order.)

The mainstream blogosphere (MSB) is only too happy to bury the old media regime, because it has an implicit vision for a new order, one that would largely consist of ... bloggers.

...This model stinks for countless reasons. But its most fundamental flaw is that bloggers will always be dismissed by their opponents as biased.

...There's another reason that liberals shouldn't be so quick to help conservatives crush old media. Because of the right's alliance with business, it simply has more resources to shovel at its institutions--and it has been doing exactly that for the last 40 years. And, unlike liberals, conservatives have already proved themselves masters of partisan media, where they reduce their political program into highly saleable, entertaining populism. If the battle of ideas doesn't have credible, neutral arbiters like the so-called MSM--and liberals jump into an ideological shoving match with bigger, badder, conservative outlets--there's no question which side will prevail.
That pushed me over the edge:
"For starters, there was the 2000 campaign, in which the press presented Bush as essentially the heir to Clintonian centrism...." That was the MSM's work, Mr. Foer: a pretty piece of absolute pro-Bush bias. So why blame the bloggers for complaining about it?

Bloggers don't want to replace the MSM: we want the MSM to do its job. If the MSM wants to cater to power, so be it, but then don't expect us to read your rags anymore. Sure, big business can throw resources into media, but until they drug the populace, they can't force us to consume their crap. I've given up Cable, TNR, and this week, the NY Times, because, as a literate person, I'm tired of your games. If I have to, I will run my own press. I'm not alone! The hell with the MSM (and that includes TNR too!)
Todd Gitlin gets it, though. Referring to The New York Times' Judith Miller:
"WMD --I got it totally wrong," Miller told the Times’ Don Van Natta Jr., Adam Liptak, and Clifford J. Levy, who wrote the paper’s long overdue self-study on October 16, 2005. "The analysts, the experts and the journalists who covered them -- we were all wrong. If your sources are wrong, you are wrong."

These sentences deserve the closest of parsing. "The analysts, the experts" were not all wrong -- David Albright wasn’t, for one, nor were various State Department and Energy Department officials mentioned in passing by Miller and Gordon without citing any reasons for their dissent. "The journalists who covered them"? Knight Ridder’s Jonathan S. Landay and Warren P. Strobel were right. The Washington Post’s Joby Warrick was right, though his important piece, under the headline "Evidence on Iraq Challenged; Experts Question If Tubes Were Meant for Weapons Program," ran on page A18 on September 19, 2002.

The key to Judy Miller’s cri de coeur lies in her repeated alibi that the journalist is only as good as her sources. But sources, like WMDs, do not grow on trees ... A journalist chooses them. Miller -- and her superiors -- fail to consider that her sources opened up to her precisely because they found her sufficiently reliable, meaning credulous. "My job," she said in a 2004 radio debate with Massing, "was not to collect information and analyze it independently as an intelligence agency; my job was to tell readers of The New York Times, as best as I could ?gure out, what people inside the governments who had very high security clearances, who were not supposed to talk to me, were saying to one another about what they thought Iraq had and did not have in the area of weapons of mass destruction." No wonder Massing told me: "From her stories, it seems clear to me that she had an ideological agenda and went out to ?nd information that would support it."

...(W)hat lessons have the nation’s news proprietors learned?

Not many. Our top newspapers seem to think that, in an age when they are under 24-7 blogger scrutiny, they can still purify themselves with ease, if embarrassed ease, by banishing Miller and slapping Woodward on the wrist. But top managers at the Times and the Post are clueless about how much respect they’ve lost. How did they miss ?rst the WMD hoax, then the White House’s Wilson-baiting and CIA-baiting cover-up? How come Knight Ridder didn’t miss those stories? What does their team know about covering Washington that the huge Times bureau doesn’t?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Hey, Girlie Man!

Over in Austria, people are annoyed with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger:
The Arnold Schwarzenegger Football Stadium in Austria's second-largest city Graz is to be renamed as a sign of displeasure with the city's most famous son.

A majority of members on Graz City Council voted to rename the stadium after the Austrian-born governor of California approved the execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams, according to newspaper Kleine Zeitung.
Meanwhile, Earl notes that the Phil Angelides campaign is making fun of Arnold - with animation - and he wonders if this is the future of political campaigning.

It's the future all right, but I just wish the cast of bad guys wasn't quite so stereotyped. Effective satire needs an element of surprise to make it memorable.

Well, it's a good first effort. Maybe Phil will have more cartoons as the election approaches!
Andee Thorpe Says Listen!

Do as Andee says!
On Friday 12/16, listen to Y92.5. I am entered into a "Christmas Idol" Contest for Y92.5, you can hear me sing LIVE on the air just after the traffic and news at 9AM.
Welcome DMTC News

In order to stabilize short-term debts incurred in the last, frantic autumn rush to finish construction of the new Hoblit Performing Arts Center, DMTC relied upon the promised sale of a home. We had hoped the home sale would be finished by last month, but things took longer than expected, and we were all beginning to anxiously eye the calendar, since most of the short-term loans were scheduled to be paid back by the end of this year.

Today, Our Fearless Leader, Ryan Adame, reports the sale of the home:
Mr. Isaacson just reported that (the) house ... has been sold.... Everyone can now breathe a sigh of relief, as we are now able to finish paying ... all of the short term loans, and the remaining projects at the new theater. Congratulations to everyone, especially Mr. Isaacson for his extraordinary efforts....
Boy, no one is more relieved than I! Broken promises are excruciating, particularly those involving money, and must be avoided at all costs. It now looks like we will end this turbulent, tumultuous year of 2005 on a very happy note! Happy endings are often preferred, after all, in Musical Theater!
Damn, That Branson Is Yanking On My Chain!

Tribune caption: Billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson stands with elementary students from Las Cruces as they launch model rockets near the site of a proposed spaceport in Upham. Branson, owner of the British company Virgin Galactic, said Wednesday he hopes to start launching tourists, satellites and scientific experiments from the site within four years. (Associated Press)

Fourteen-year-olds Marc Valdez (right) and Jonathan Amsbary launch a model rocket from behind Marc's childhood home in Corrales, NM, with the Sandia Mountains in the background. The model rocket smoke trail splits the photo in half. Photo by Jonathan’s father, and provided courtesy of Jonathan Amsbary.

There is actually a lot of information in this (fuzzy) photograph. The view is from a slight elevation, indicating Mr. Amsbary was standing on the deck of the swimming pool the Lewis family (the previous owners) had built. The footpaths, which had once run straight along the divisions of the irrigated alfalfa fields that had predated construction of the house (one runs from the red door on right to the camera) were now running at diverse angles: we kids, having grown older, were no longer running along them quite so much as we had in childhood, and the dogs that now ran the paths preferred shortcuts (my dog “Prince” is visible near the snow patch). The date of the photo is probably about February 1971 (although it might be late 1970).

We, The Animals

So this is where the threat to our way of life comes from? Pardon me, it's time to prey:
Evolutionists claim that their battle against creation-science is primarily a "scientific" issue, not a constitutional question. But our treasured U. S. Constitution is written by persons and for persons. If man is an animal, the Constitution was written by animals and for animals. This preposterous conclusion destroys the Constitution. The Aguillard Humanists leave us with no Constitution and no constitutional rights of any kind if they allow us to teach only that man is an animal.
Oy Vey! Broadway!

Lenore Sebastian just stopped by to chat! As an aside, she says that both her and Gil will be reviving a favorite show of theirs over at Chautauqua Playhouse, running from mid-May to the end of June, 2006, called "Oy Vey! Broadway!" The show is apparently a revue of Broadway musical tunes created by Jewish composers. (Isn't that just about everyone, maybe excluding Cole Porter???) In any event, this sounds like something nice to look forward to in the coming year!
Skyrocket In Flight, Afternoon Delight!

MSNBC caption: New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, left, receives a model of the Virgin Galactic spacecraft as a gift from Virgin Group Chairman Richard Branson during Wednesday's news conference in Santa Fe.

Gene passed along this Bill Richardson razzle-dazzle from New Mexico:
"What we are calling the second space age will open up a wide range of commercial opportunities, including point-to-point cargo delivery, with personal and business travel," Richardson said, during a Santa Fe news briefing that provided New Mexico's perspective on the ambitious spaceport plan.

...The "anchor tenant" of the 27-square-mile facility is to be Virgin Galactic, which intends to offer suborbital spaceflights starting in late 2008 or early 2009. The very first flights will take off from Mojave Airport in the California desert, but Virgin will move its base of operations to New Mexico after the new Southwest Regional Spaceport is finished, in late 2009 or early 2010.
If Virgin can't even sell compact disks at a profit, what makes them think they can run a spaceport? And they are trying to rope in the chic Hollywood/Santa Fe crowd too? (gag!) The Roswell/Flying Saucer crowd won't be far behind either.... Science guys probably won't even be able to stick a thermometer outside either - insurance regulations, you know.....

I'd very much would like to be on one of these flights, but it would be much more fun if I could leave the crystals-and-pyramids and UFO crowds behind. And the crazed millionaires. I'd also like to pay for it with other people's money (which is an advantage of the U.S. Space Program for the few, lucky astronauts). Everyone is going to have their hands out to get paid here. And the ultimate goal of people like Richardson is to make sure the sidewalks in Alamogordo and Tularosa get paved and everyone has a good time.

Well, what are you going to do? The Space Shuttle is becoming more and more of a White Elephant as the years go by, and there's a lot of Federal investment in the Space Program (all that *stuff*) rusting away under-used out there at White Sands. I figure Richardson is thinking that someone has to be pro-active, or the place will become some kind of eccentric Space Slum. And if you could make it cheap enough, maybe some sub-millionaires would like to join in on the action. But the personal travel portion just killed me: "Quick! I've got to travel from Tehachapi, CA to Carrizozo, NM, today, and I can spare no more than an hour to do it!"

Bread and circuses; circuses and bread.


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Dude, Where's My Car?

Oh, here it is!
Idle Speculation About Acid Deposition & Mercury

Walt, who lives in South Carolina, asked some air chemistry questions about California, and got me going....
I note from acid rain data that California doesn't seem to have any acid rain. Why is that? Aren't there any power plants in CA?

Also: Why is mercury deposition by rainfall concentrated in south Florida and the gulf coast? Is it from TX/LA oil refineries, or does it come from tropical ocean air?
These are really-interesting, thought-provoking, isopleth maps that Walt pointed out! I answered:
These inorganic ions do not correlate precisely with acid rain: rain acidity depends on anions like carbonate as well. In general, the West doesn't get much acid rain because of the buffering presence of alkaine dust in the rain. There is much less of that dust in the Northeast, and so acid rain is more of a problem there.

The sulfur comes mostly from coal combustion (which has a lot of sulfur - much more than most petroleum), and so sulfate deposition closely-tracks the power-plant region of the Ohio Valley (particularly around Wheeling, WV), but also noticeable around Price, Utah, a coal-mining area in the Green River Valley. The mystery, in my mind, is why there isn't more deposition in the Tennessee River Valley, where there are also large power plants. Is the coal cleaner there? Or does the sulfur come down far enough downwind to obscure the source location? But then why does Price, Utah stand out (unless the source is actually from farther south, like the Navajo Power Plant?)

Nitrate deposition is more erratic, and depends, in part, on whether an area is ammonia-rich, or not. Ammonia emissions closely track soil fecundity and seasonality. There are two, common, depositable forms of nitrate: nitric acid and ammonium nitrate. Nitric acid can deposit directly to surfaces as a gas, or dissolve directly into rain, and deposit that way. Ammonium nitrate is very volatile, and small changes in temperature and humidity can strongly affect how much of it is present. Deposition of ammonium nitrate occurs as particles.

Ammonia-rich means nothing more than total ammonia (TA) molar concentration is more than twice the total sulfur (TS) molar concentration: [TA] > 2*[TS] (ref.: Seinfeld & Pandis, p.538). Under ammonia-rich conditions, rather large amounts of nitrates are sometimes formed, particularly if its humid and sunny. A runaway heterogeneous reaction occurs whereby ammonia dissolves into aerosol water, more than neutralizing the sulfate present, raising the pH and drawing nitric acid in. At times, you see huge spikes in ammonium nitrate concentrations, expressed as Extremely Hazy Days and Nights (the kind of nights that disoriented novice pilot JFK, Jr. and caused him to crash near Martha's Vineyard), but it's a finicky process, and easily derailed. The process is also affected by the presence of sea-salt aerosol. Ammonium nitrate (particulate) concentrations are low to non-existent under ammonia-poor conditions.

So, nitrate and ammonium deposition tends to track:
  • humid areas
  • fertile areas
  • urban areas, where there are more nitrogen emissions
The West sees less deposition of nitrates as a whole than the East, but there are exceptions, like the Central Valley, where there's lots of ammonia, lots of nitrogen emissions, and where it's humid and fecund enough in the winter.

I haven't followed mercury issues. My understanding is that there is a significant marine source of that volatile metal, but I also understand that people are puzzled why Florida and the Gulf Coast get so much deposition. The area is not downwind of a lot of the coal combustion, and so it's a mystery. But there's a reason, I'm sure.
    Walt then asked:
    OK. Referring to the sulfate isopleths, I notice that California has very little. Being a populous state, I would expect coal plants there to put sulfate into the air; but I don't see that. Whats up?

    Nitrate: Is this mostly from combustion or from agriculture?

    Ammonium: Is this released by plants, or is it particulate fertilizer?

    Haze: Is ammonium nitrate a major cause of haze?
    I answered:
    Actually, there is very little coal combustion in California (very little coal in California at all). The comparatively small, but numerous power plants here are powered mostly by natural gas, most of which is derived from either Alberta, or Texas (with some exceptions, like dual gas/oil in at least one of San Diego's power plants). In a broad sense, no coal combustion means little sulfur in the air (with the notable exception of petroleum extraction and refining in the SF Bay, LA area, Kern Co., and Santa Barbara Co.)

    It's not an iron-clad rule, though. There are some exceptions, of course: they burn nasty sulfur-rich petroleum-based fuels from Indonesia and elsewhere in Hawaii and the Pacific Islands (mostly out of necessity, given the remote locations). The air isn't that bad, though, because the islands are compact.

    The nitrate derives principally from transportation emissions, but with an agricultural component. Oxidized nitrogen can deposit anytime as nitric acid, but it can sometimes, erratically, deposit as ammonium nitrate. Ammonia can deposit anytime as ammonia (but only sometimes as ammonium nitrate).

    The ammonia can come from either plants, or from fertilizer, or both. It would be interesting to have a tracer study and see which dominates in a place like the Central Valley (my guess would be fertilizer, but I could be wrong).

    Haze is hydrated aerosol deriving from numerous sources: elemental carbon, organic carbon, sea-salt aerosol, sulfates and nitrates. Sometimes you see huge spikes in particulate concentrations, however. In California, these spikes occur in the winter, when it's humid, and can prevent you from seeing even short distances. These haze spikes are principally, sometimes almost exclusively, ammonium nitrate.

    Two more points occur to me....

    Deposition is dependent on available surface area, particularly inviting leaf surface area, with its numerous, intricate stomata. Because the East is lusher and has a lot more leaf surface area than the West, all else being equal, it will receive higher deposition.

    Also, these wintertime haze spikes of which I speak are different than California's famous summertime smog. Smog aerosol is generally ammonia-poor and tends to be more acidic than ammonium-nitrate aerosol. Smog aerosol contains a lot of nasty oxidants that accumulate due to rapid, solar-powered reactions of nitrogen oxide and hydrocarbon precursors.

    Plus, there's plain, old wildfire smoke.

    So, no matter what the season, California can generate a visibility-robbing aerosol to soot (sorry, suit).
    Then, I started looking harder at the mercury question. It's actually pretty interesting, and has contradictory aspects that make me think the chemists don't have a strong handle on it yet.

    The deposition map for mercury tends to mirror the U.S. annual rainfall map. That's interesting: unlike mercury, inorganic ions get rained out, so the deposition isn't proportional. Tripling rainfall will increase inorganic ion wet deposition by a lesser factor, say 1.5, because the cleansing effect of the rain strips out the available ions. In a single rainstorm, the last bit of rainfall is much cleaner than the first bit of rainfall.

    With mercury, that seems to be less true - perhaps not true at all. Perhaps there is a larger reservoir of mercury in the air, so that no matter how much it rains, there is still much more mercury around. Now, I wonder about the chemistry of mercury! Are there multiple species??

    Checking further, the reservoir species is probably elemental mercury (~ 0.5 ppb), and the removable species is either mercuric oxide or mercuric chloride, or both. Oxidation seems to be rapid when water is around (like in a rainstorm - otherwise the depositable mercury would rain out), but the apparent long residence time of mercury in the atmosphere (several months) suggests either the natural or anthropogenic source emissions for mercury have been underestimated (meaning the residence time is actually shorter), or oxidation just about ceases in the absence of water. In any event, the information looks kind of contradictory to me. Strange stuff!

    Anyway, like Mark Twain says, this is the value of science: investing a little knowledge yields a huge dividend of idle speculation!
    False Comfort

    Another sham success in the U.S. Missile Defense system. This time, the attacking warhead didn't even exist: it was computer-generated:
    A ground-based interceptor missile was launched from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands against a simulated target, the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency said late on Tuesday night.

    The simulation was based on a hypothetical missile launch from Kodiak, Alaska, using data from previous launches, said the agency, known as MDA.

    In full-fledged interceptor tests of the so-called Ground-Based Midcourse Defense System, the system has successfully shot down five live targets in 10 tries.

    The last successful intercept took place in October 2002. The interceptor failed to launch in the two tests that preceded the latest one, in February 2005 and December 2004.

    The latest test was designed chiefly to evaluate the performance of the interceptor missile's rocket motor system and Raytheon Co.-built "exoatmospheric kill vehicle," the bit designed to smash into the target warhead and pulverize it in space, MDA said.

    It also successfully tested, among other things, silo support equipment, the agency said.

    Last February, a ground support arm in the silo malfunctioned because of hinge corrosion caused by what MDA later said had been "salt air fog" that entered the underground silo.
    Twenty-five years ago, physicists like Freeman Dyson showed how easy it is to overwhelm a missile defense system. Attacking missiles are cheap, compared to defensive missiles. So, instead of attacking a target with one missile, attack it with two. Or ten. Or twenty. Eventually, one makes it through, and the target is wiped out. Imagine playing sudden-death defensive basketball, against a team where everyone has a basketball!

    To test an effective missile defense, divide the Air Force team into two: a Red Team in Alaska and a Blue Team at Kwajalein Atoll. Red Team gets to attack whenever and however they feel like (just like in reality!) Then, let's see how well the Blue Team does!
    Down With The Uncle Toms!

    Four church burnings in the Sydney suburbs, apparently as the result of intra-Arab violence, in order to force people to choose sides, in anticipation of more extensive rioting this coming weekend.
    Audience Reaction

    Jon Carroll, over at the San Francisco Chronicle, went to go see "Ballet Russes", and he liked what he saw:
    So, now, is there anyone more fabulous than a Russian ballerina, particularly a Russian ballerina willing to tell stories? As it happens: no. That's why the film spends so much time in the room of fabulous people. There are many, many "moments" in the film, partly because these folks are no dummies and know how to create crowd-pleasing moments, even though (or especially because) they're mostly in their 80s.

    But wait, there's more: Amazing archival footage, most of it shot by amateurs using wind-up 16mm cameras. The quality of the film is not wonderful, but the quality of the dance is astonishing. Even the bad dances -- and there's some pretty over-the-top stuff, and not in a good way -- are exhilarating in their ambition. If some of the numbers seemed to be based on the "throw it against the wall and see what sticks" school of aesthetics, that is always to be preferred to the "let's not throw anything against the wall and hope no one notices" school of polite, cautious performance.
    The Purchase Is Off

    The Louisiana Purchase, that is. A disgruntled New Orleans evacuee wants to sell the place back to France.
    Programs Progress

    Progress continues on updating the computerized Master Cast List for DMTC. This cast list, currently in Excel, will be converted in a couple of months into a database that can be accessed via the Web on DMTC's Web Site. It will have the name and function of every participant in a DMTC show (with the exception of Summer Workshops and occasional fundraisers). Currently, the list has about 14,000 entries, representing the activities of roughly 2,700 people over a 21-year time span.

    There are a few holes in the Master Cast List, particularly in the YPT in the early 90's. Here is the current list of YPT programs needed to complete the DMTC Master Cast List:

    NARNIA.................. JUN 92-JUL 92
    SLEEPING BEAUTY......... SEP 93-OCT 93
    MUSIC MAN............... MAR 94 (Missing program altogether)
    WIZARD OF OZ............ SEP 94
    PETER PAN............... MAR 96 (Missing program altogether)

    In addition, the Main Stage program for 1997 Secret Garden (Director, Valerie Cogdill) lists no orchestra (likely an oversight), and so we need to remember who those folks were, if possible.

    Tuesday, December 13, 2005

    Ghost Story

    There is a fascinating story in today's Wall Street Journal regarding the dreadful practice of medical research ghostwriting (the article is available on-line only for subscribers, but there is a helpful, free pop-up feature illustrating the problem). This story reveals what happens when you define deviancy downwards: what once were vices, or even crimes, become common habits.

    Scientific ethics have traditionally insisted that the writers of an article be intimately associated with the research for that article: otherwise, slipshod work can go undetected. Scientific ethics have also traditionally insisted that possible conflicts-of-interest be fully revealed, at the very least, and certainly avoided if possible, to preserve one's all-important reputation for good work. Traditionally, scientific ghostwriting has been absolutely, unequivocally unethical.

    Nevertheless, there is a temptation to engage ghostwriters, because writing is so time-consuming. Squeaky wheels get the grease, as they say! Pressed for time? Poor researcher! Let *us* at Smith/Merck/Glaxo/Kline do the work!

    The practice of medical research ghostwriting is going to allow a series of avoidable disasters to happen. Ghostwriters, in the pay of drug companies, can write up medical research on behalf of harried medical researchers, who then check off on the work, in order to catapult (what can amount to inflated) drug company propaganda into the top-tier medical journals. The researcher gets another paper to pad their curriculum vitae, and the drug companies move the onerous drug approval process that much further along, for an eventual payoff when the drug enters the market.

    I always wondered how the top medical researchers got so many papers published: their output is much higher than most scientific research fields. I thought it was because they had labs full of post-docs and graduate students hard at work, but apparently it isn't even that anymore. There is an entire group of poorly-acknowledged ghostwriters hard at work as well.

    Merck's trouble with Vioxx is a perfect illustration. Someone at Merck withheld late-arriving information from the rent-a-doc at the University of Arizona whose name they were using to help promote Vioxx in the medical literature. The researcher may not have even known his reputation was in the process of being tarnished, but he should have been more wary! (The researcher says he actually had very little to do with the article - AT ALL!!!)

    The Merck folks did not misconstrue data so much as they omitted data. That should still count as unethical. After all, if you were hastily trying to cross the street, and I *forgot* to tell you about the approaching traffic you failed to see (but that I did), I should share blame for the ensuing accident.

    The entire enterprise of medical research has become a house of cards!
    Those Who Live In Glass Houses...

    Interesting point on Daily Kos regarding silly 'War On Christmas' stuff, that even though O'Reilley on Fox News has been at war with use of the term 'Happy Holidays' instead of 'Merry Christmas', one of Fox's own Web Pages had eleven uses of the term 'Holidays' and none of the term 'Christmas', until the lapse was pointed out and hastily changed.
    The Thunder Down Under

    A few related, violent incidents reported in Perth, Adelaide, and the Gold Coast. Sydney and Cronulla Beach quiets down, but uneasily.

    It's interesting that the Lebanese immigrants are taking the brunt of the reaction. I had thought that Indonesians might be targeted instead, what, with all the recent tension regarding Schapelle Corby and terrorism, but maybe there aren't enough of them around for a mob to zero in on.

    Monday, December 12, 2005

    Oklahoma Weirdness

    An outbreak of geysers spewing mud and gas into the air in rural Kingfisher County is puzzling state and local officials.

    ...The geysers have appeared throughout the countryside of rural Kingfisher, with stretches of up to 12 miles between spots, and some as short as a quarter of a mile.

    Crawford says the threat of the gas igniting is unlikely, but he says there is a concern the gas could begin coming up through water-well lines.

    He says sheriff's deputies were dispatched to inform residents of the possibility of gas coming through wells and water systems.
    Who Is A Boomer? Not I!

    Gabe and I have had a friendly, long-running debate about whether I (born 1956) belong to the Baby Boom, or not. Gabe follows the conventional time-line that anyone born in the 19-year span of time (1946 - 1964), when birth rates were statistically-higher than usual, belongs to the Baby Boom. By that logic, of course, I belong to the Baby Boom.

    Since Gabe was born in 1968 (a Gen X-er), he has an (unstated, of course) moral superiority that goes with not belonging to a supposedly morally-compromised generation (Acid, Amnesty, and Abortion). Indeed, Gabe tends to attribute the end of the Baby Boom with the widespread introduction of birth control, so even in birth, Boomers are somehow compromised.

    Age notwithstanding, however, I don't feel I belong to the Baby Boom. I suppose one could say I also want to have the moral superiority that goes with not belonging to a supposedly morally-compromised generation, but actually it's because I more-narrowly define the Boomer generation birth years to be from 1946, to about 1954 (nine years, rather than an unwieldy 19).

    I attribute the start of the Baby Boom to a generation of hyper-normal people, people who were eager to start families seeing how the disruptions of the Great Depression and World War II had ravaged the prospects of their parents and older brothers and sisters. Also, I think birth control had nothing to do with the Boom's end: it was simply the end of the child-bearing years of this particular generation.

    So what do I think defines Boomers? I think it's the common experiences people have. Two touchstones define the Boomers: the last generation of Americans not to have television strongly-affecting their earliest childhood years, and the generation most affected by the Vietnam War military draft. I can remember television right back into nursery school days. Older Boomers can remember a time when many people didn't have television at all. There's a difference there.

    More important is the military draft, however. I remember burning my draft card in 1975, when such an exercise, fraught with the threat of prison in prior years, had become totally meaningless. I posted the fragments of the burnt card (with portions still legible) on a bulletin board at the New Mexico Tech canteen. A janitor removed the fragments within half-an-hour. Big deal! Not so to Boomers!

    Even at Baby Boomer HeadQuarters, there is the recognition that not everyone is on the same page:
    The 1960s is the decade that defined the boomers. The music, events, and the social changes made a permanent impression on us. Those of us born during the "peak" boomer years, '52-'57, were in our formative years during the sixties. There were so many changes in the sixties that how old you were during the decade greatly affected how you turned out. 1961 was a whole lot different from 1969!

    Those born at the early end of the spectrum were in our early 20s by 1970. The deaths of President Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, and Dr. Martin Luther King; the Vietnam war and related protests; and the Watergate scandal... all made deep impressions on us.

    At the other end, those born after 1959 have no direct recollection of the assassination of President Kennedy; they were not yet listening to rock music by the time the Beatles broke up. They were much more likely to use illegal drugs.... often to a great and disturbing excess. And they were never subjected to the military draft. So any attempt to lump us all together probably won't work. We can tell, by the e-mail we receive here at BBHQ, that there is much that ties us together, but also much that separates us.
    So, what generation do I belong to? Who's to say, but I like to think I'm at the leading edge of the Disco Generation. Get down, get down, tonight!
    CYA Over At NEJM Regarding Vioxx

    The weekend Wall Street Journal reports (sorry, no link; I just have the hard copy) that editor Gregory Curfman is strongly defending the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) for its handling of the revelation that Merck & Co. omitted data regarding three heart attacks from its article submitted to NEJM regarding the drug Vioxx. Apparently Dr. Curfman was *surprised* at his deposition last month:
    The discovery of the deleted heart attacks was prompted by information contained in internal Merck documents and provided to Dr. Curfman during the deposition last month. The documents indicated to Dr. Curfman that Merck researchers on the study knew of the three heart attacks in July 2000, more than four months before the journal published the Vigor paper - plenty of time to have included them in the report.
    Yet, how is this possible? Hasn't NEJM been paying attention? Earth to NEJM! I mean, it's been clear that Merck & Co. completely corrupted the scientific review process of Vioxx: I blogged myself about it in May and August of this year, after reading open-press articles in The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. If the problem was obvious then, why isn't Dr. Curfman, who has a stake in the process, better informed? Or is it precisely because he has a stake in the process that he can't handle dissonant information? This a CYA process gone awry!

    Apparently the third Vioxx trial ended in a mistrial today: it'll be fun to read the details!
    Cool Recent Satellite Pictures

    Caption: London is completely blanketed by the black plume of smoke from Europe's worst peacetime fire in this Envisat image, taken within five hours of the blaze beginning.

    This image was acquired at 10:45 GMT on Sunday morning by the Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MERIS), one of ten instruments aboard Envisat, Europe's largest satellite for environmental monitoring. This Reduced Resolution mode image has a spatial resolution of 1200 metres, and shows the cloud spread across a span of around 140 km.

    The pall of smoke comes from a fire at Buncefield oil depot on the outskirts of Hemel Hempstead. Buncefield is the fifth largest fuel storage depot in the UK, distributing millions of tonnes of petrol and other oil products per year, including aviation fuel to nearby Luton and Heathrow Airports.

    Dust storms along the Mexico-Texas border
    Date: Sunday, November 27, 2005.

    Nothing like a massive dust storm in the desert! The stuff gets everywhere. The barren Northern Mexico desert playas are unusually vulnerable to high winds, as is evident in the picture.
    American Conservatives

    Getting excited by the Sydney riots.

    Sunday, December 11, 2005

    Sydney Violence

    The U.S. and Australia share a lot of common characteristics, including an insular mindset that can lead to violence towards foreigners. Lots of trouble today in Sydney:
    CRONULLA'S day of shame began like any normal Sunday.Families enjoyed a morning swim and early cloud gave way to brilliant December sunshine.

    ...By midday the beachfront concourse at North Cronulla resembled a summer cricket match with thousands of bare-chested locals chanting and drinking.

    A group of mates ran a sausage sizzle from the back of their ute, blasting out favourites by AC/DC and Cold Chisel.

    But as the beer flowed the day began to turn ugly. Cries of "f... off Leb" goaded the crowd.

    Surfers young and old, bikies, white supremacists, and even families with young children joined in the chants.

    Just after 1pm (AEDT) the throng descended on Northies Hotel where a Middle Eastern man was rumoured to be hiding.

    The mob screamed for him to show himself, chanting "string him up".

    ...Two girls of Middle Eastern descent were the next victims. As they walked along the street another group of teenage girls pushed them to the ground and assaulted them.

    The baying crowd erupted again, this time with calls of "cat fight" and "kill the Leb b......".

    ...With the PolAir helicopter overhead, the crowd swarmed towards Cronulla station with talk of catching a train to Bankstown to "bash Lebs".

    ..."This has been coming. It's not about race, it's about respect and pride," said local volunteer lifesaver Luke O'Brien.

    The mob nearby sang "I am, you are, we are Australian".
    Did You See That VW Pass By?

    They're nuts over there at VW:
    A superlative on four wheels, the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 is not only the world's fastest production car but also the most expensive: $1.25 million before taxes and richly deserved gas-guzzler penalties. Also, the most powerful: Its 8.0-liter 16-cylinder quad-turbo engine produces about 1,000 horsepower and churns it through a high-tech all-wheel-drive system and gob-smacking foot-wide tires. Also, the quickest: The Veyron accelerates to 60 mph in 2.1 seconds, faster than a Formula 1 car, but then it's just getting started. In 20 seconds — about the time it takes a fast reader to get through this paragraph — it reaches 200 mph. In 53 mind-blowing seconds, the Veyron reaches its marquee speed: 253 mph.At that speed, the tires would begin to soften in about half an hour.

    Fortunately, at top speed, it runs out of gas in 12 minutes. "It's a safety feature," Wolfgang Schreiber, the Veyron's chief engineer, says with a smile.