July 5, 2008

Other Things That Happened on July 4th

1. 1826 - Second U.S. President John Adams and third U.S. President Thomas Jefferson both die. They had a love-hate relationship, and Adams' last words were supposedly, "Thomas Jefferson survives...", not knowing that Jefferson had passed away a few hours earlier. Exactly five years later, fifth U.S. President James Monroe dies.
2. 1845 - Near Concord, Mass., Henry David Thoreau starts his two-year living experiment at Walden Pond.
3. 1862 - Little Alice Liddell sits down to listen to a story told by Lewis Carroll... it would later become, of course, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. It was published exactly three years later - July 4, 1865.
5. 1918 - Twin sisters Esther Pauline and Pauline Esther Friedman are born...AKA Ann Lander and Dear Abby.
6. 1939 - Lou Gehrig gives his famous retirement speech at Yankee Stadium after being diagnosed with ALS. He tells the crowd that he considers himself "the luckiest man on the face of the earth."
7. 1995 - Bob Ross dies, and all over the world happy little trees are just a little less happy.

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July 2, 2008

Moratorium Placed on US Solar

What the fuck?!?!? Yes, that's right, the U.S., the country I live in and call home, land of the largest collective research and university system/intellectual property bank, the so called "richest" country in the world, the self-made policemen of the world, the home to more scientists and engineers than any other place on earth, has shut down all solar projects on public land.

Surely the reason behind this should be an earth shattering revelation to the rest of the world, who are currently pressuring the market for silicon in an attempt to build an energy infrastructure powered by an INFINITE AND FREE SOURCE. Wait, what?...we're shutting down solar projects because a two year study into their environmental impacts needs to be done? That's right, the same government who refused to open emails from the EPA concluding that greenhouse gases are pollutants and must be controlled, has decided that solar installations may be too harmful to the environment to begin construction on them. Yes, the same government that has decided that offshore drilling is the answer have had an epiphany of conscience.

If it has not been clear that the Bush administration is simply an arm of the oil/gas/coal industry before, then this should seal the deal. Detriment to the environment is something that we as a human society cannot escape, but it is feasible to minimize the negative impact we have. I'm unconvinced and will remain so that further oil/gas/coal dependency is safer for the environment than a push toward any renewable source.

And the problem could be magnified by the time we are ready to start building in the future. The New York Times reports:

The decision to freeze new solar proposals temporarily, reached late last month, has caused widespread concern in the alternative-energy industry, as fledgling solar companies must wait to see if they can realize their hopes of harnessing power from swaths of sun-baked public land, just as the demand for viable alternative energy is accelerating.
The unfortunate story of many of those start-up companies will end with failure, a fact no moratorium would have changed for many, but some would have survived. Those that did would have become the experienced companies, those looking to expand and rethink their first designs, one thing that can not be learned is experience. With this moratorium there will be none of those survivors, the few who go on to become second generation alternative-energy companies. The logic baffles me.

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July 1, 2008

America Rules...At Smoking Drugs

An article published in PLoS Medicine this week reported that the U.S. has the highest level of illegal cocaine and cannabis use in the world. The study, conducted through the WHO World Mental Health Surveys, surveyed participants in seventeen different countries around the world from each continent (excluding Australia). 
Alcohol and tobacco were widely used in all countries, but cannabis and cocaine use showed a large variability between countries.

New Zealand and the U.S. are far outliers in cannabis use, while the U.S. cocaine use far surpassed that of any other country, even Colombia, the only cocaine producing country on the list.

I usually love to use these studies to laugh at how ineffective the U.S. drug policy is, but this study does not reflect that. The survey determined what percentage of people had used any of the drugs listed at any point in their life. The age of exposure was also recorded, but the study did nothing to determine between continued use, dependence, or one-time use. By asking the question in a "have you ever in your lifetime" format, the conclusions that can be drawn between drug use and drug policy become very limited.

But there is something to take away from this study. It does show that different drug policies around the world do not have a significant effect on how many people, over their lifetime, are exposed to a drug. Other factors of course contribute greatly which vary from country to country and lie outside drug policy, such as personal income, cost of drug, social surroundings, proximity to sources, etc.

Drug policies may however keep those who are exposed to drugs from becoming recurrent users. The threat of fines, imprisonment, losing home/family/car can deter those who encounter drugs to stay away from them but they are not going to have a large effect on whether people are exposed to drugs or not.

I will say this study lets us know that if you see a bunch of people walking around in the U.S. there is a good chance they have done cocaine, and an even better chance (almost 50%) that they have smoked pot.

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And We're Off, a Year of Natural Selection!

I've been quietly hiding out for a few weeks waiting for today, it truly is a momentous event. Today, July 1, 2008 marks 150 years since a joint reading of Darwin's and Wallace's papers at the Linnean Society of London, truly the Forth of July for the biology revolution! Since that time the idea of evolution and natural selection has driven the biological sciences to the point we have reached today.

The Beagle Project Blog has a great summary of the significance of this day in history.

The whole year is going to be a celebration of Darwin's principles as cities such as Philadelphia are showcasing large public works about his work. Hooray Darwin! So light those fireworks if you got 'em, today is a day to celebrate!

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