Spammers without a clue meet readers with a brain

I just chuckled deleting some spam from a site asking the question Am I Psychic? I can answer that to a near 100% metaphysical certainty: No, You Are Not. Really, one has to wonder if that is spam well spent, even if it only took a few seconds to post I believe that was a few seconds utterly wasted. 

FreeThoughtBloggers probably lean progressive as a group but that’s not mandatory or universal, it’s just a practical result of two-party system in the US where one party is compromised by money, a little spineless and at times scatter-brained, and the other one is bug-fuck crazy. What unites our writers and at least 90% of our commenters are refined critical thinking skills and healthy skepticism, often paid for with years of study in a solid field and some degree of natural mental discipline.  

I was just reading through some of the comments here and on other FTB sites and they make me damn proud. We’ve only been in operation for a few weeks, starting with a skeleton crew and two guys, Ed Brayton and our tech person, doing the work of ten. Already the comments are of impressive quality and have been since the doors opened; even when you guys and gals are arguing with one another or something I wrote it’s done almost exclusively with evidence and reasonable inference. The idea that a psychic site is going to garner paying customers from the reality-based crew that patrols these cyber waters is every bit as pitiful as the exploitive wares they offer to the incredulous.

If I ever have enough spare cash there might be a vacation in my future. If any regular reader is interested I could see wanting some guest writers. And no, it’s not a requirement to hew to my politics or specific takes on any of the issues I regularly write about. Just one warning: it’s not a gig for the thin skinned. If someone takes the time to read something you wrote they’ve bought a ticket to rip into it.


Back in the ER again

This time it wasn’t even in the same ballpark pain-wise or scare-wise than last time. I knew the procedure so well I was giving an admitting staffer pointers on how to speed me up. I developed a relatively minor and easily treatable complication called Atelectasis. Being vertical for several hours after being off for two days caused fluid to collect. The fluid affected the bottom of the lung impacting breathing and causing some weird sensations. Enough to make a little panicky and have to run to the ER. After checking it out they basically told me it was borderline, if I could increase my lung capacity no need to drain it and I could follow-up as needed as an outpatient. So I spent my Sunday afternoon on hard core painkillers working with a device called a spirometer, lo and behold after much effort and no small amount of discomfort I managed to exceed the mark.

The doc said one scary thing: ‘In a patient like you this is easily treated when caught early. For an elderly patient it can turn touch and go real quick; they can easily die from it.”

What sucks is after all that sacrifice and pain I endured to stay under the first threshold of my employer’s attendance policy, a few hours in the ER for a potentially serious condition will put me well over.

Lies, damned lies, and measurable lies

Intersting grahpic from our friends at Politifact. It shows the GOP Presidential candidates ranked according to the truthfuless of their statements. By and large the candidates most closely aligned with the Teaparty wing of the Republican party are the biggest liars, although there was a paucity of data on Huntsman.

Which is the head and which is the tail? Is the Teaparty base pushing the candidates to lie, or are the candidates and celebrities (I’d love to see a side by side comparison of Palin or Limbaugh) who lead the Teaparty feeding them false info? Hard to say, it probably goes both ways. But what we can can infer is the big liars are probably forcing the lessor lies into a campaign of more lies.

So how does Obama fare? He compares with the best of the GOP contenders, more honest than all them except Huntsman.

Former astronauts have their heart in the right place

Space Shuttle Transport System on the pad in prior to the first launch in 1981

Former moon-walkers address Congress last week on the future of the US space program and it wasn’t pretty. The overall gist was the US should maintain our lead in manned spaceflight, a laudable goal. But given the engineering reality, some of the specific suggestions they made could be judged misguided:

Cernan thinks that it’s not too late to reinstate the space shuttle. “You want a launch vehicle today that will service the ISS? We’ve got it sitting down there. So before we put it in a museum, let’s make use of it. It’s in the prime of its life, how could we just put it away?” he asked Congress. “Get the shuttle out of the garage down there at Kennedy [Space Center], crank up the motors and put it back in service.”

The shuttle was a prototype forced by budget concerns and too many masters to serve as a production spacecraft, and in that role it was proven dangerous. Occupants faced a one in 75 chance of death. That’s way, way too high for manned spaceflight to become routine, which was one of the primary things the shuttle was advertised and built. And it delivered those daunting odds at a premium price. If the cost of the two orbiters that were lost and the ensuing delays are factored in, the shuttle cost almost a billion dollars per flight by some estimates.

A smaller, second generation reentry space-plane intended to ferry humans only might work. But that still means things like wings and landing gear have to be paid for in precious payload from beginning to end. Ideally, our space program should run on a single axiom: what goes up stays up. As much as possible anyway. If humans have to come down the most efficient, proven safest way is in the smallest lightweight container possible.

Traditional, medium-sized rockets are going to give us the cheapest and safest transport into space in the forseeable future, reentry space-planes and lifting bodies could eventually play a role, but a great deal of work will have to be done before super sized winged reentry vehicles that serve as launch vehicle, high altitude hypersonic glider, mini space station, launch platform, space-truck, and many other roles can compete head to head as safely, cheaply, and efficiently as the 50 year-old Soyuz design our manned program currently depends on.

Perry’s debate performance costs him in straw poll

Rick Perry was the man with a bullseye on his back going into the debate last Thursday night. If the results of the straw poll conducted in Florida after his dismal debate performance are any indication — watch that clip above starting at about 1:30 and you’ll see the Texas Governor almost appeared drunk or noticeably medicated when responding to some questions — he’s been taken out:

Cain carried 37% of the vote, Perry 15% and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney 14%. Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum was at 11%, Texas Rep. Ron Paul at 10% and former House speaker Newt Gingrich at 9%. Trailing far behind were former Utah governor Jon Huntsman and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, at 2%.

It’s a real toss-up who my conservative friends secretly fear most with nukes, Sarah Palin or Herman Cain, not to mention Cain is an abrasive idiot, the rest of the field has other problems with one exception. That leaves Mittens as the most likely GOP candidate and that’s not a good thing. Romney could actually win.

Don’t anyone kid themselves that conservative voters will stay home in protest, afraid of the Mormon or the moderate in Mitt Romney. By the time the election rolls around, Romney will be portrayed in the wingnut parallel universe as a fire-breathing, second coming of Ronald Reagan and Obama will be Pol Pot and Josef Stalin rolled into one. Perry would be lot easier to beat in the general, and a HELL of a lot more fun to cover, but any more showings like that and his star will fall from the sky.

Of injuries and insurance

For those who don’t know, two weeks ago I broke my back. Technically it was a rib-back break; the joint between the bottom floating rib and the thoracic vertebrae was cracked. It was a hairline fracture, nothing was displaced meaning no need for a cast or a brace. The injury caused some complications, the most severe of which was a hemothorax — bleeding into the chest cavity — which required a chest tube and several days in the hospital. Even heavily medicated the pain was extraordinary.

I’m lucky, not just that there’s no permanent injury like paralysis, but the company I work for provides health insurance for its employees. They pay 100% of the premium, I pay zilch, which means my effective wage is really a couple of hundred bucks higher than my monthly take home. Moreover, it’s incredibly good insurance. Time and time again the docs treating me remarked on that. I didn’t have to wait for any approvals for expensive tests like CAT scans, if I needed it, I got it right away and the results were available immediately.  

The downside in modern corporate America is in attendance policies. A year ago I was just-a-temp for the same company I work for as a full time regular employee now. Had this accident occured then, when I had no insurance or sicks days, not only would  I be in hock to the tune of 50 grand right now — assuming I got the same degree of care which is debatable — I would have been fired while in the hospital. As is I managed to stay just under the threshold of my employer’s point system. No consequences at all for the missed time. Had I been out one more day, or if I miss another day for any reason over the next six months, well I’m not sure exactly what happens but consequences kick in and escalate from there on for any more missed time.

I was in the hospital for almost a week, went to home for a few hours, and then right back to work full-time, nine hours a day. I could have taken a half day or two without getting fired, but that would have pushed me past the threshold where consequences come into play. I chose to avoid that, my decision and all, but it came at one hell of a painful price and whole jug of narcotic painkillers. If there was any other way I’d have taken it

It strikes me through this ordeal that our system of healthcare is fucking insane.  It’s completely reasonable for a company to expect its workforce to show up, and the company I work for probably compares favorably to others in that regard. But loosing a job when you’re going to need money and/or health insurance the most serves no one. It means the docs and hospital probably won’t be paid,  and it means bankruptcy and misery for the patient.

John Cole nails it

More accurately, John Cole fucking nails it:

How do you have a sensible policy debate with people who reject basic facts? It’s like trying to debate members of a cargo cult- the modern GOP carry the crosses but have no idea what it means to be christian. They talk about free markets, but have no understanding of economics. Just say deregulate and tax cuts a lot, and MAGIC WILL HAPPEN. Evolution? LIES! Climate change? LIES! Modern Medicine and vaccines? LIES! KEEP GOVERNMENT OUT OF MY MEDICARE!

So true. They’ve been vaccinated against reality. The modern dominionist right isn’t just demonstrably dead wrong on just about everything I can think of, they’re absolutely convinced they’re right. And a sizable chunk of them are complete assholes about it. They’ll sneer at expertise, roll their eyes at empirical facts, hold events in recent history in contempt, all while parroting the latest ginormous whopper with a wild-eyed certainty and abrasive arrogance rarely found outside of the most fanatical religious cults.

The tragedy is the movement and celebrities they support with such fanaticism exploit them like no other. The Sarah Palin’s and Newt Gingrich’s who pretend to run for office so as to fleece the very people who defend them vigorously against those of us trying to pry the marks free of wingnut grifters and religious fraudsters. I can only wonder what future historians will make of it.

And even more on super luminal neutrinos

First a short atheist prayer: ‘Ahh sweet Friday, prince of days, deliver us from the evils of the workweek even as we, each in our own way, deliver ourselves from sobriety.’

This past week was the longest of my life. See, in modern corporate America, low-level employees like me are subject to strict attendance policies. Which means that I could either go almost straight from the hospital to work, nine hours a day, no half days or anything like that, with a freshly broken back-bone and a partially collapsed lung, or risk running afoul of that policy. I chose the former, and believe me it came at a damn painful price.

More on Neutrinos on Speed, this time from Sean Carroll, blogging at Cosmic Variance, who actually knows a thing or two about high energy physics (Plus he had that cool graphic above which begged to be swiped). Sean’s take sounds to me like a healthy skepticism:

I don’t mean to impugn the abilities or honesty of the experimenters, who are by all accounts top-notch people trying to do something very difficult. It’s just a very difficult experiment, and given that the result is so completely contrary to our expectations, it’s much easier at this point to believe there is a hidden glitch than to take it at face value. All that would instantly change, of course, if it were independently verified by another experiment; at that point the gleeful jumping up and down will justifiably commence. … This isn’t one of those annoying “three-sigma” results that sits at the tantalizing boundary of statistical significance. The OPERA folks are claiming a six-sigma deviation from the speed of light. But that doesn’t mean it’s overwhelmingly likely that the result is real; it just means it’s overwhelmingly unlikely that the result is simply a statistical fluctuation. There is another looming source of possible error: a “systematic effect,” i.e. some unknown miscalibration somewhere in the experiment or analysis pipeline. (If you are measuring something incorrectly, it doesn’t matter that you measure it very carefully.) In particular, the mismatch between the expected and observed timing amounts to tens of nanoseconds; but any individual “event” takes the form of a pulse that is spread out over thousands of nanoseconds. Extracting the signal is a matter of using statistics over many such events — a tricky business.

More on super-luminal neutrinos

Schematic of an early solar neutrino detector

It appears the articles the broke yesterday about neutrinos breaking the light-speed barrier were based on solid science (I can’t believe I just wrote that!). More here:

Over three years, and from 15,000 neutrino “events,” a huge detector at the Italian center deep under mountain rock recorded what OPERA spokesman Antonio Ereditato described as the “startling” findings. He said his team had high confidence they had measured correctly and excluded any possibility of some outside influence, or artefact, affecting the outcome. “My dream is now that other colleagues find we are right,” he added.

OK, admittedly my particle physics has turned to rust over the years. I recall there was some debate over whether or not neutrinos had a rest mass. Was that ever resolved? If they do, then either the mass equation for Special Relativity has to be adjusted, or those particles hit the detector with one hell of a wallop. More than a wallop, theoretically their mass would be greater than infinity on the north side of the speed of light. And if they have no rest mass, and went faster than light, that should open up all kinds of cans of worms in quantum physics.

Without getting all excited and biased, just for fun, let’s stipulate they did beat the speed of light. What’s your guess? Some kind of EPR effect where entanglement transfers into a particle, specifically a neutrino, at the other end? In this case knowing if pairs of particles were made at the origin very close together in time, say an average of 60 nano-seconds apart, might count for something. Some sort of reverse decay event that went anti-time to preserve symmetry or some other book keeping deal? Frankly I have no idea how anything like that would work, but then like I said, my last low level graduate physics class was over 20 years ago and these results, if confirmed, would probably make that course officially obsolete.

Clueless Teaparty demands Buffett’s tax returns

Back in my stock-broker days I had a great business partner who happened to a giant Warren Buffett fan. He had read all about the Sage of Omaha, could recite the stories, and given the field we worked in and Buffett’s success in it, that admiration was well placed. But my old partner was also a raging Limbaugh listener and a staunch social conservative. So I wonder where he’d be these days what with Buffett joining forces with a Kenyan Socialist to tax the job creators of America. Would he be swayed by Buffett’s advice to tax the rich more, or would he be among those now demanding the Sage’s tax returns as part of an intimidation campaign?

The Hill reports big names in Congress are starting to say Buffett “needs to reveal his finances if his views on tax rates are going to serve as the basis for Obama administration policy.” NRSC chair John Cornyn (TX), who took the call to Twitter Thursday, explained to ABC News that knowing how Buffett makes his money could change the way people view the so-called “Buffett Rule” that President Obama …

What a great idea. From now on whenever a politican says anything about the rich, the rich have to pony up records to back up what the politicians is saying. I’m all for that. When Eric Cantor says we can’t tax rich people or corporations because they are the job creators, I’d love to see all their raw data on finances, taxes, and workforce changes so that experts can sift through them and see if Cantor’s claim holds water. But on Buffett, well, here’s the hilarious thing: these clueless wingnut idiots apparently didn’t bother to make the most cursory check before firing off their not-so-veiled threat:

Warren Buffett has already made his 2010 tax return public. Appearing on Charlie Rose last month, the billionaire investor brought his tax return along to prove his point about the Buffett Rule, which has become the centerpiece of President Obama’s new plan to raise taxes on the super-rich.

Now this puts the Teaparty in a bind. Buffett is a self-made billionaire and therefore pretty close to a deity in the micro-brains of the extreme right. They’ve already taken a big chance by possibly angering one of their demigods. Do they now apologize at the altar of Wealth, or engage in the usual goal post hyper-drive and demand more documents while proclaiming the ones made public a forgery?