The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Lunchtime queue

I'll circle back to a couple of these later today. But at the moment, I've got the following queued up for my lunch hour:

That's enough of a queue for now.

Why can't we live on the moon?

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing Saturday afternoon, CityLab asks the obvious question:

Many experts say there was nothing stopping humanity from following the Apollo missions with a permanent settlement. We had the technology to do it. But given the huge expense involved in such an endeavor, humans opted to spend limited resources solving (and, well, creating) problems here on Earth.

“The bottom line why we’re not there is there hasn’t been political will for it,” said Joanne Gabrynowicz, a professor emerita of space law at the University of Mississippi.

A range of experts agreed that technology was never the primary obstacle to establishing a permanent presence on the moon after humans had proven the capability to travel there and back. Instead, it was a cost-benefit analysis that settling the moon didn’t have enough payoff for the cost.

“It’s kind of like asking, ‘Why don’t we have condos in Antarctica?’” said Darby Dyar, a professor of astronomy at Mount Holyoke College who has worked on lunar geology for decades. “We could get stuff there. We have the technology to build structures there. But it would be incredibly expensive to heat them. And why would anyone want to live there?”

Still. It would be great to see a permanent settlement up there.

While we're on the subject, where the hell is my flying car?

Things I don't have time to read right now

But I will take the time as soon as I get it:

Now, I need more tea, and more coding.

Today in earth science

We woke up in the US to two major stories about the planet, one with a short-term effect and the other with a long-term effect.

The acute problem: a 7.1 mw earthquake in central California caused only minor damage and no fatalities because it happened in the middle of nowhere. But people reported feeling it from Phoenix to Sacramento:

Southern California was jolted by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake at 8:19 p.m. on Friday one day after the region was hit by a 6.4 quake, the USGS reports.

The epicenter was 10.5 miles away from Ridgecrest, Calif., and there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries. According to the USGS, the quake was felt as far north as San Jose and as far south as parts of Mexico.

Thursday's quake struck at 10:33 a.m., and was the largest temblor to strike the region in 20 years, until Friday night. According to the USGS, a 7.1-magnitude earthquake is 11 times stronger than the 6.4 earthquake.

Meanwhile, parts of Alaska got up to 32°C Thursday, breaking records and (probably) allowing methane to leak from melting permafrost farther north:

At 5 p.m. local time Thursday, Anchorage reached 32°C for the first time in the state’s recorded history, topping the previous record set at Anchorage International Airport of 29°C on June 14, 1969.

Kenai and King Salmon, Alaska, both hit a new all-time high temperature record of 31.7°C, according to the National Weather Service. The previous high in Kenai was 30.6°C on June 26, 1953 and June 18, 1903. Palmer, Alaska, reached 31°C, matching its previous record of 31°C on May 27, 2011.

The state has been battling several wildfires, with a dense smoke advisory in effect until noon local time on Saturday for the interior Kenai Peninsula, including the cities of Kenai, Soldotna, Homer,and Cooper Landing, the National Weather Service said. Smoke from the Swan Lake fire will reduce visibility to a quarter mile or less at times, the weather service said, with the worst conditions taking place overnight through the morning hours.

Wildfires, particulates, subliming methane gas...yeah, even though the earthquake has gotten more press today, the heat in Alaska actually matters more.

Not enough time on my hands

I thought the weekend of Canada Day and the weekend before Independence Day wouldn't have much a lot of news. I was wrong:

  • Ontario Premier Doug Ford (the brother of Rob Ford) cancelled Canada Day celebrations in Toronto*. (Imagine the Governor of Virginia or the Mayor of DC canceling the 4th of July and you've about got it.) Fortunately for the city, the Ontario legislature reinstated them.
  • You know how I write about how urban planning can make people happier, healthier, and friendlier? Yah, this city in California is my idea of hell. I hope the developers lost all their money.
  • In contrast, I learned of the Lil Yellow House while in Toronto, and the rap video the real-estate agent created to sell it. (It sold quickly, for C$500,000.)
  • Apparently, my drinking gets me a B-. (80% of Americans drink 6.75 drinks per week or less; the top 10% drink 15.28 per week. This is the one B- I'm happy to have.)
  • My alma mater recently published new research linking your email address to your credit score.
  • Alabama prosecutors have brought charges for manslaughter against a woman who miscarried after getting shot. No, really. Because Alabama.
  • Former President Jimmy Carter called out President Trump on the (alleged) illegitimacy of his election.
  • The New Republic adds to the chorus of organizations surprised at what it actually took to get the Supreme Court to call bullshit.
  • Ever wonder how often two bags of Skittles candy have the same proportions of flavors? No, me neither. But this guy did.
  • Windows has a case-insensitive file system; Git is case-sensitive. Do the math.
  • Um. That's not a pet bird.

*Those celebrations will be here, on the right, in this view from my hotel room yesterday:

This study is just nuts

Humorist and writer Jamie Allen has counted all the squirrels in Central Park:

“We kind of know other animal populations, like rats, in cities,” he says. (The conservative estimate is one for every New Yorker.) “It immediately became comical to me. Squirrels are an animal that we interact with on a daily basis, they’re disease-carrying, and they’re so common that we don’t even pay attention to them.” (It’s worth noting that most of the diseases squirrels carry don’t transmit to humans. Still, don’t go petting them.)

With that, Allen assembled a team of scientists, wildlife experts, and graphic designers and began counting the squirrels in Inman Park in Atlanta. After two counts, the team set their eyes on a more ambitious location: Central Park, which measures more than five times the size of his neighborhood park.

Overall, the volunteers documented 3,023 squirrel sightings (this number includes squirrels that were likely counted more than once). Of that, 2,472 sightings (about 81 percent) were of gray squirrels, with various mixes of black, white, and cinnamon highlights. Another 393 were primarily cinnamon-colored, and 103 were black. All in all, they recorded 21 variations in fur color.

Don't confuse this work with earlier work to map all the incidents of squirrel-on-power line mayhem in the US.

So I wonder if Dug helped?

The evolution of puppy-dog eyes

No, literally:

You know that face your dog makes, the one that’s a little bit quizzical, maybe a bit sad, a bit anticipatory, with the eyebrows slanted? Sometimes you think it says, “Don’t be sad. I can help.” Other times it quite clearly asks, “No salami for me?”

Scientists have not yet been able to translate the look, but they have given it a very serious label: “AU101: inner eyebrow raise.” And a team of evolutionary psychologists and anatomists reported Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that dogs make this face more often and way more intensely than wolves. In fact dogs, but not wolves, have a specific muscle that helps raise those brows.

The scientists hypothesize that humans have unconsciously favored eyebrow-raising dogs during fairly recent selective breeding. Dr. Burrows said that one tantalizing hint that could lead to future study was that one of the dogs, a Siberian husky, was more like the wolves and did not have the levator anguli oculi medialis.

I had a conversation the other day with a scientist (not a biologist, however) about when natural selection ended and breeding began for dogs. We didn't have any conclusions but we hypothesized it might be as recently as 8,000 years before present or as long ago as 40,000 YBP. This article suggests that it may be both, depending on the breed.

Epic trolling, or actually that dumb?

Tucker Carlson last night spent a full 90 seconds ranting against the "yoke of tyranny" called the "metric system:"

Fox News host Tucker Carlson railed against the metric system of measurement in his show on Wednesday night, describing it as "inelegant" and "creepy." James Panero, a cultural critic and executive editor of The New Criterion, joined Carlson for the segment.

Panero recently wrote an article for The Wall Street Journal attacking the metric system with its meters and kilograms and urging America to stick to its customary system of measurement, which resembles the old British Imperial system.

"Almost every nation on Earth has fallen under the yoke of tyranny—the metric system," Carlson said. "From Beijing to Buenos Aires, from Lusaka to London, the people of the world have been forced to measure their environment in millimeters and kilograms. "The United States is the only major country that has resisted, but we have no reason to be ashamed for using feet and pounds."

Panero called the metric system "the original system of global revolution and new world orders."

Carlson replied: "God bless you, and that's exactly what it is. Esperanto died, but the metric system continues, this weird, utopian, inelegant, creepy system that we alone have resisted."

They went on to laud the "ancient wisdom" of 12s and 60s that divide more easily into thirds, as opposed to the international system that's "totally made up."

I really wish I had made this up.

Knowing a bit about Carlson, I really can't tell if he's trolling. He may actually believe all of this. But knowing a bit about Fox News, it seems more likely that this rant fits more in the us-vs-them dynamic Fox encourages in its viewers. Anti-intellectualism separates "real muricans" from the kilogram-loving "coastal elites," I suppose.

I wonder if anyone told his viewers that most of our economy outside agriculture, and all of our defense spending, uses SI units?

Whatever. As Media Matters says, this is all part of Carlson's "absurd, ongoing caricature of 'the left'."

Anti-intellectualism lives on both sides

Williams College Biology Professor Luana Maroja sounds the alarm as she sees students challenging long-established science on political grounds:

The trouble began when we discussed the notion of heritability as it applies to human intelligence.

I asked students to think about the limitations of the data, which do not control for environmental differences, and explained that the raw numbers say nothing about whether observed differences are indeed “inborn”—that is, genetic.

There is, of course, a long history of charlatans who have cited dubious “science” as proof that certain racial and ethnic groups are genetically superior to others. My approach has been to teach students how to see through those efforts, by explaining how scientists understand heritability today, and by discussing how to interpret intelligence data—and how not to.

In class, though, some students argued instead that it is impossible to measure IQ in the first place, that IQ tests were invented to ostracize minority groups, or that IQ is not heritable at all. None of these arguments is true. In fact, IQ can certainly be measured, and it has some predictive value. While the score may not reflect satisfaction in life, it does correlate with academic success. And while IQ is very highly influenced by environmental differences, it also has a substantial heritable component; about 50 percent of the variation in measured intelligence among individuals in a population is based on variation in their genes. Even so, some students, without any evidence, started to deny the existence of heritability as a biological phenomenon.

Similar biological denialism exists about nearly any observed difference between human groups, including those between males and females. Unfortunately, students push back against these phenomena not by using scientific arguments, but by employing an a priori moral commitment to equality, anti-racism, and anti-sexism. They resort to denialism to protect themselves from having to confront a worldview they reject—that certain differences between groups may be based partly on biology.

She concludes that this has a chilling effect on education and research. It's pretty scary.

A warm, cozy feeling at Mauna Loa

The Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii reported that atmospheric carbon dioxide had reached 415 ppm on Friday:

In poetic punctuation to that point, Arkhangelsk, Russia, near the Arctic Ocean, recorded a temperature of 29°C Saturday:

In Koynas, a rural area to the east of Arkhangelsk, it was even hotter on Sunday, soaring to 87 degrees (31 Celsius). Many locations in Russia, from the Kazakhstan border to the White Sea, set record-high temperatures over the weekend, some 30 to 40 degrees (around 20 Celsius) above average. The warmth also bled west into Finland, which hit 77 degrees (25 Celsius) Saturday, the country’s warmest temperature of the season so far.

Across the Arctic overall, the extent of sea ice has hovered near a record low for weeks.

Data from the Japan Meteorological Agency show April was the second warmest on record for the entire planet.

These changes all have occurred against the backdrop of unremitting increases in carbon dioxide, which has now crossed another symbolic threshold.

Why is 415 ppm a "symbolic threshold?" Because for years, climate scientists have believed that at 415 ppm, we can't undo the damage; we can only slow it down a little. Even if we return to pre-industrial levels (280 ppm), we now have too much carbon in the atmosphere to stop radical climate change:

For the planet itself, 415 ppm is no BFD. Over the past 4 billion years or so, it’s been much, much higher. But for us humans, 415 is a very dangerous number. The last time CO2 levels were at 415 ppm, during the Pliocene period about 3 million years ago, there was plenty of life on Earth, but the Earth itself was a radically different place. Beech trees grew near the South Pole. There was no Greenland ice sheet, and probably not a West Antarctic ice sheet, either. Sea levels were 50 or 60 feet (or more) higher.

That’s the world we’re creating for ourselves by pushing carbon dioxide levels to 415 ppm. Right now, a lot of atmospheric warming is being absorbed in the oceans. But those oceans are like a big flywheel, and the heat will be radiated out. That means, among other things, goodbye ice sheets, hello condo diving in Miami.

One way to think about carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere is as a thermostat for the planet. As you’ll remember from third-grade science class, carbon dioxide is exhaled by animals, including humans, and inhaled by plants. It is also released when plants and animals decay, volcanoes erupt, and, most importantly, when we burn fossil fuels. Last year, we dumped about 37 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. The more coal, oil and gas we burn, the faster that number rises. Before the Industrial Revolution, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 280 ppm. Sixty years ago, it was 315 ppm. For the past few years, it has been rising by about 2 or 3 ppm a year.

That might not sound like much. However, carbon dioxide molecules happen to be very good at trapping heat in the atmosphere. Scientists have understood this very well since the 19th century. Carbon dioxide molecules are like the prison guards of the Earth’s atmosphere — they let sunlight in, but they don’t let heat out. Scientists argue about exactly how efficient carbon dioxide is at warming the Earth, but there is basic agreement that a doubling of carbon dioxide levels from 280 ppm will warm the Earth’s atmosphere by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius.

We predicted this in time to slow it down or even stop it. Nice work, team.