Category Archives: Science

Is There A Doctor In The House?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

I suspect just about everyone is aware of the flap over an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal regarding our soon-to-be First Lady’s credentials. Written by Joseph Epstein, it’s entitled “Is There a Doctor in the White House? Not if You Need an M.D.” and subtitled “Jill Biden should think about dropping the honorific, which feels fraudulent, even comic.”

My most recent job was as the Business Manager for a Machine Learning (AI) Software Development firm, the co-founder of which had a PhD in computer science. When last I spoke with her, which was at least a year ago, she was not using her title, which she feared was seen as somewhat presumptuous. I’m not sure how she feels about it now, and I’m inclined to agree with those who see this op/ed piece as misogynistic and hollow. Frankly, I have often wondered if I could use the honorific “Dr.” in front of my name because I have earned a Juris Doctorate (JD) when I graduated Law School in 1976. However, I’ve never done so because the amount of schooling, and the quality of work, required for the degree don’t match up to that of a PhD or EdD. Actually, I tend to agree with those who suggest calling oneself “Dr.” when in possession of a law degree is ridiculous and pedantic.

It’s been discussed at great length by now, torn apart and analyzed by people far better at it than I, but I’d like to bring up what I think is an ancillary issue to that of the rank sexism and hypocrisy that exists wrt men and their seeming inability to accept women as their equals. What I’m referring to, which affects both men and women, regardless of race, creed, or color (though there are differences in degree and approach) is the depth of anti-intellectualism that has come to seemingly dominate our public life.

Just look at how many people are not only comfortable with, but are absolutely adamant about, ignoring science, facts, and reality-based analysis/synthesis. The number of people who believe most scientists are only doing what they do for the money is astounding. It’s likely one of, if not the, main reasons we’re doing so poorly in handling the pandemic here in the States.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. Hardly! I recall deciding in the third grade (that would have been around 1955) I didn’t want to be seen by everybody as an egghead, which changed the trajectory of my life . . . and probably not in the best way it could have. I remember feeling at the time that I wouldn’t have any friends if I continued on the path of academic excellence I had been on. Part of me wishes I hadn’t made that choice, though my life turned out pretty well regardless. It’s just that, in retrospect, the decision was made because of the negative view most people I knew seemed to have about being too intelligent; or, at least, being willing to use that intelligence in a positive way.

I believe this is one of the reasons the United States is in the bind it’s in right now. We’re just coming off of a four-year bender with the sleaziest and dumbest President in our nation’s history. He came to power as the result of years of anti-intellectual posturing and reality TV-informed ignorance. I am thankful I have never watched one reality TV show, especially not The Apprentice or Celebrity Apprentice. It’s clear Donald Chrump managed to suck a large portion of the nation into believing he was a highly successful businessman when, in fact, he’s a serial fuck-up who managed to burn through tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars given to him by his father.

These past four years of the worst “leadership” of my lifetime has been brought to us by our nation’s well-developed sense of anti-intellectualism. This does not bode well for maintaining our position as a preeminent nation of entrepreneurs and innovators. Our quality of life in the United States is what it is in large part because of our scientific accomplishments. It amazes me so many people don’t recognize the value that science has added to our lives, be it at work, home, or play. Virtually every aspect of our lives is enhanced by science and the products and enhancements it brings to us on a heretofore regular basis. I fear we’re going to lose that edge. Perhaps we already have. More the pity.


Evolution

Another quite simple Photoshop effort, though all this is is a compilation of a quote I’m fond of and a photo of what is referred to as the pillars of creation, located in M16, the Eagle Nebula, over thataway.

The Pillars of Creation

If you study cosmology, and you’re not blinded by any particular religious dogma, it becomes clear that our evolution as a species (the human one) draws a gravity-assisted line from the first hydrogen atoms to who we are now. That we have reached a point in our evolution where we have been able to understand how we and our universe came about and developed over billions of years, I find every bit as awesome as the thought of some bearded white dude thinking us up out of nothing. Actually, I find it more awesome.

Understanding cosmological (read, primarily, stellar) as well as biological evolution is, to me, far more beautiful and compelling than anything I’ve learned from all of the world’s religions, including the one I was raised in (Judaism) and the one I was surrounded by (Christianity). I find it far more compelling and reasonable and, again for me, all the proof I need that we don’t need a “God” or “Gods” to explain how we came to be and where we’re headed.


Who’s The Virus?

The number and quality of videos being produced to educate the public about Trump’s many abuses and violations of the law is astounding. Between The Lincoln Project, Meidus Touch, and this one from Indivisible, he’s being hammered regularly. Only time will tell if it’s enough to ensure he is resoundingly repudiated this November 3, but I’m glad to see all the energy working for his political demise. This is my feeble attempt to spread the word as well. Please consider sharing. It doesn’t have to be my post; get the URL from YouTube and share that . . . on Twitter, FB, and wherever else your little ol’ pea-pickin’ heart desires. Thank you kindly.


Secular Religion. WTF?

The United States’ rogue Attorney General, Bill Barr, gave an interview to right wing dick bag, Mark Levin, the other day and I came across this tweet and response that highlights what I think is a deeply troubling reality about religion in today’s United States.

Putting aside Barr’s constant projection, what Soap And Science, PhD says about how much of the religious world views science seems on point. Science is based, above all else, on provable facts and reproducible evidence. Conclusions may be reduced by some to dogma, but they will not be able to withstand the scrutiny of others who can show reality is otherwise. We’re constantly updating our scientific knowledge as we learn more.

Not so with religion. Most all religions, certainly the major religions of the world, are built on dogma. For Judaism it’s the Torah, the Old Testament. For Christians it’s the New Testament with a nod to the Old Testament. For Islam, it’s the Koran with a nod to both the New and the Old Testaments. For Hinduism, it’s the Bhagavad-gita, and for Buddhism it’s the Sutras of Buddha, as well as others. I certainly don’t hold myself out as a religious scholar, so please don’t hold me too strictly to my list. I’ve likely missed quite a few and, perhaps, mis-characterized one or more of the others. All these books might as well have been written in stone, as they are accepted (mostly) as the word of the Almighty. (NB – I don’t think the Buddha was seen as a God, per se, but I think the basic theme here is correct.)

What concerns me most about the point Soap And Science is getting at is the concept that religious nutbags like Barr are, indeed, jealous of how well science works and, in fact, that it serves to explain the world far better than any religion has or is capable of doing.

While it pains me to do so, I don’t see any other conclusion than that the right—representing, in part, fundamental Christianity—will not hesitate to use violence when they realize they’re not getting their way. They are more than capable of perpetrating every vile thing they accuse the left of currently doing. In fact, that it’s in the very nature is proved by their accusations when there’s no evidence to substantiate them. They are hateful and violent; ergo so is everyone else, especially those they fear the most.

As Rachel Maddow is fond of saying, “watch this space.”


Masks Are For Cowards!

The Country’s Full of Sissies!

It really blows my mind that people think wearing a mask in order to protect others, as well as yourself, is somehow an indication of weakness. Is it weak for soldiers to wear helmets or gas masks when necessary? Do we make fun of Law Enforcement Officers who wear bullet-proof vests? How about nurses wearing masks, gowns, and face shields?

I guess only sheep and cowards use seat belts when driving and, really, who cares when food has reached its expiration date? It’s only a number, right?

Have I ever mentioned my belief Trump supporters are some of the dumbest idiots to ever “walk” this planet? For them, everything is politicized and science has no place in their understanding of how the world works. I’d pity them, but it seems they’re bound and determined to drag us down with them. Let’s not comply. Wear your mask in public. Let’s mitigate and bring this beast under control, which we may have to do without the assistance or coordination we might ordinarily expect from the Feds, seeing as how we have an incompetent boob at the top.


Time Stamp!

The RS-25, aka Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME)

Just thought I should mention today (Thursday, 14 May 2020) is the 10th anniversary of my retirement from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. I’m still not entirely sure it was the right thing to do (accept the early severance package they offered everyone over 60) but her I yam!


Wear Your Fucking Mask!

The Headgear Might Not Be, But The Use Of Facemasks Is Serious Business

It’s still kind of mind-blowing to me how many people don’t seem to understand the argument for wearing a mask while we’re struggling to contain this virus pandemic. While it’s true the CDC and others have changed their recommendation over time, this is not something new. Because the Corona Virus is so new (hence the name “novel”) there’s very little we can say about it with any certainty.

For instance, it’s still unknown if exposure, infection, and survival confers any kind of immunity from another, subsequent infection. If it doesn’t, then antibody testing isn’t going to tell us much of anything useful. We’re just discovering that it affects children more than we had previously thought, and we’ve also discovered the virus affects far more than merely the pulmonary system.

While it seems to me it was always a good idea to wear a mask in public once this thing had spread far enough to make containment impossible, I can understand why—when there is a shortage of masks available for our front-line healthcare workers—the authorities would suggest we not wear masks, at least not the kind that are used in medical settings. That makes sense given how important those workers are, and how important it’s been to not overwhelm our healthcare system.

Now that we know more about how it spreads, I think there are a lot of people who don’t appreciate the concept of droplets and aerosols. I have an experience that I always wondered whether or not I would be able to share without sounding a bit daffy. I think it’s apropos now, however.

I believe it was in 2015, when I had returned as a contractor to the place I had retired from five years prior. I had to drive east to get there and west to return home. I distinctly remember coming home one evening, driving into the sunset. I had a Plantronics wireless earpiece, so I could talk on my phone while driving. As I was talking normally, I could see dozens and dozens of small droplets spraying out of my mouth with the enunciation of certain sounds. It was a bit disconcerting as I’d never noticed just how sloppy we are when we’re just speaking, let alone coughing or sneezing.

How COVID-19 Is Transmitted Through Aerosol Particles

Bottom line is this; as long as we don’t have a vaccine, nor a known, useful treatment for Covid-19, the disease caused by the Corona Virus SARS-CoV-2, we need to take steps to mitigate its spread. Not necessarily to keep everyone from being exposed, but (at the very least) to spread out (flatten the curve) it’s path of infection to prevent such rampant disease that we are incapable of handling it and thousands die because we just don’t have the necessary medical infrastructure, tools, supplies, and equipment to keep our healthcare workers safe.

I know some think wearing a mask makes them look like a dork but, in my less than humble opinion, if you’re too self-centered to realize wearing one is in everyone’s best interests because it goes a long way to preventing you from spreading the virus, in case you’re infected yet asymptomatic, then you actually are a dork . . . or something much worse.

If interested, and you want to learn more about how this deadly virus spreads, here’s a great article ‘splaining it for you.


Contemporary American History

I just came across one of the better summarizations of two disparate responses to infectious diseases by our two latest Presidents here in the United States. I am not the author of what follows, but I would like to post it here, as I believe it will ultimately get more exposure than it will on Facebook (where I encountered it.)


For those of you complaining about Trump being blamed for the COVID-19 pandemic, here’s a little history lesson for everyone on both sides of the political divide. It’s important that we understand the truth, especially come November when it’s time to vote. Forgive the length, but hey, we all have time on our hands to read, correct?

In December 2013, an 18-month-old boy in Guinea was bitten by a bat and died a brutal death a day later. After that, there were five more fatal cases. When Ebola spread out of the Guinea borders into neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone in July 2014, President Obama activated the Emergency Operations Center at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. The CDC immediately deployed CDC personnel to West Africa to coordinate a response that included vector tracing, testing, education, logistics, and communication.

Altogether, the CDC, under President Obama, trained 24,655 medical workers in West Africa, educating them on how to prevent and control the disease before a single case left Africa or reached the U.S. Working with the U.N. and the World Health Organization President Obama ordered the re-routing of travelers heading to the U.S. through certain specific airports equipped to handle mass testing. Back home in America, more than 6,500 people were trained through mock outbreaks and practice scenarios. That was done before a single case hit America.

Three months after President Obama activated this unprecedented response, on September 30, 2014, we detected our first case in the U.S.A. A man had traveled from West Africa to Dallas and somehow slipped through the testing protocol. He was immediately detected and isolated. He died a week later. Two nurses who tended to him contracted Ebola but later recovered. All the protocols had worked. It was contained. The Ebola epidemic could have easily become a pandemic, but thanks to the actions of our government under President Obama, it never did. Those THREE EBOLA CONFIRMED CASES were the ONLY cases of Ebola in the U.S.A. because Obama did what needed to be done THREE MONTHS PRIOR TO THE FIRST CASE.

Ebola is even more contagious than COVID-19. Had Obama not acted swiftly, millions of Americans would have died horrible, painful, deaths like something out of a horror movie (if you’ve never seen how Ebola kills, it’s horrific). It is ironic because since President Obama acted decisively we forget about his actions since the disease never reached our shores.

Now the story of COVID-19 and Trump’s response that we know about thus far:
Before anyone even knew about the disease (even in China) Trump disbanded the pandemic response team that Obama had put in place. He cut funding to the CDC, and he cut our contribution to the World Health Organization (WHO). Trump fired Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer, the person on the National Security Council in charge of stopping the spread of infectious diseases before they reach our country – a position created by the Obama administration.

When the outbreak started in China, Trump assumed it was China’s problem and sent no research, supplies or help of any kind. We were in a trade war, why should he help them? In January he received a briefing from our intelligence organizations that the outbreak was much worse than China was admitting and that it would definitely hit our country if something wasn’t done to prevent it. He ignored the report, not trusting our own intelligence.

When the disease spread to Europe, the World Health Organization offered a plethora of tests to the United States. Trump turned them down, saying private companies here would make the tests “better” if we needed them. However, he never ordered U.S. companies to make tests and they had no profit motive to do so on their own.According to scientists at Yale and several public university medical schools, when they asked for permission to start working on our own testing protocol and potential treatments or vaccines, they were denied by Trump’s FDA.

When Trump knew about the first case in the United States he did nothing. It was just one case and the patient was isolated. When doctors and scientists started screaming in the media that this was a mistake, Trump claimed it was a “liberal hoax” conjured up to try to make him “look bad after impeachment failed.”

The next time Trump spoke of COVID-19, we had SIXTY-FOUR CONFIRMED CASES but Trump went before microphones and told the American public that we only had FIFTEEN cases “and pretty soon that number will be close to zero.” All while the disease was spreading, he took no action to get more tests. What Trump did was to stop flights from China from coming here. This was too late and accomplished nothing according to scientists and doctors. By then the disease was worldwide and was already spreading exponentially in the U.S. by Americans, not Chinese people as Trump would like you to believe.

As of the moment I am posting this, the morning of April 20, 2020, we have 770,076 COVID-19 CONFIRMED CASES and 40,316 COVID-19 DEATHS in the U.S.A. The actual number is undoubtedly more than triple that amount.

As if you needed one more reason to vote, here it is.


Quick Covid-19 Update

Looking back on the news, it appears Governor Newsom ordered a statewide shelter-in-place on the 19th of this month (03/19/20.) However, when I look at my calendar, I see we started doing it the previous day. So, despite what I said in an earlier post, today seems to be the 10th day of our hermitage.

I’ve been spending a fair amount of time tracking the course of this pandemic, especially here in the U.S. and my home state of California. In doing so, I created a meme showing how things are changing . . . actually, accelerating with time, just as we were told would happen. Here’s that meme, which I just updated as of a few minutes ago.

I’ve also been keeping track of the growing death rate and graphing it for myself. All the data I’m using is coming from a site called worldometer and there are numerous tables and charts available there for a breakdown of all the states, as well as a list of every country’s numbers for this virus. The link I’ve provided is to the page with U.S. info on the Corona virus. If you go to their home page, you’ll find links to all kinds of statistics. Check it out.

It’s worthy to note that the percentage of deaths to total cases is 0.0154, which is considerably higher than the rate for the flu. It’s really far too early to tell if that’s what the actual death rate is, as there are just too many unresolved cases. Based on the data available now, the percentage of deaths to total resolved cases is 0.385, which is astoundingly high. What we should glean from this, IMO, is that it’s just far too early in the trajectory of this disease to gather much useful information on lethality or recovery.

I don’t know if or when I’ll update this again. It’s fascinating, but also quite depressing. Perhaps I should just watch television. 😦


Are We Alone?

“Is it all just for us, or do we get to share it with anyone?”

~ Paul Sutter (Astrophysicist on “How The Universe Works”)


Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is around 100,000 light years in diameter. That’s roughly 587,900,000,000,000,000 miles or 946,100,000,000,000,000 kilometers across. Those are in the quadrillions, which translates loosely into a “shitload.” The fastest man-made object—according to my research on the Intertubes—was a bit of a toss-up between NASA’s Helios 2 and their Juno spacecraft; that is until the Parker Solar Probe was launched. When it reaches its closest to the sun (in a few years) it will be traveling at approximately 430,000 MPH! That’s screaming. However, even at that speed it would take nearly 1,560 years to cross the entire galaxy.

Current estimates suggest there may be as many as 200,000,000,000 galaxies in the universe. Astronomers, astrophysicists, and cosmologists suggest our galaxy alone contains up to 200,000,000,000 stars. That’s an awful lot of stuff, eh?

The Milky Way
The Milky Way

Yet, in all of this, we have not been able to answer the most fundamental question we have about the universe . . . Are we alone? Is there life out there we just haven’t discovered? I like how astrophysicist Paul Sutter looks at it (see the quote from him, above, that I started this post off with.) I find it difficult to believe, now that we understand much of the physics and chemistry of the Universe, that life hasn’t (or won’t) evolve in places other than this one nondescript star system we call home.

Another quote I love is one I’m going to paraphrase, as the original quote, from Edward Robert Harrison, doesn’t quite provide the essence of what I’m trying to get across. His quote is: “Hydrogen is a light, odorless gas, which, given enough time, turns into people.” It almost says it all, but I think “Hydrogen is a light, odorless gas which, given enough time, begins to wonder where it came from . . . and where it’s going,” is a bit more on point.

If you are unfamiliar with, or new to, the field of cosmology you might not know what this means. Essentially, it’s refining what is the generally accepted understanding of how the Universe has evolved from nothing but sub-atomic particles to Hydrogen and, through the process of star formation (and spectacular stellar deaths via supernovae) the heavier elements have been formed . . . many of which are the building blocks of life, and us. We’re the descendants of the primal Hydrogen that made up the early universe and its first generation of stars.

To me, the concept of evolution—both of the universe itself and of life on Earth (perhaps elsewhere)—is far more incredible and truly beautiful than any origin story of any religion I’ve encountered . . . and I’ve encountered a fair number of them. Imagining the evolutionary process, which has played out over billions and billions (h/t Carl Sagan) of years is—for me—a challenging flight of fancy and an enlightening exercise in the dialectic, or zen, or yin-yang of life in this universe.

I hope one day we’ll find out we’re not alone. Perhaps that will give us the humility we need to get along with one another on this little blue dot we call home.


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