The End of Chemical Weapons

World is safer with Utah chemical stockpile gone, Army commander says | The Salt Lake Tribune

It’s hard to believe, but there is good news out there. At least, there was two months ago when I cam across this article. The efforts to eliminate chemical weapons according to the Chemical Weapons Convention treaty to which the United States became a signatory in 1997.

This particular facility in Utah is but one facility in which chemical weapon stockpiles were destroyed, and the numbers are quite staggering:

Since the Utah plant burned its first GB nerve agent-filled rocket on Aug. 22, 1996, it has destroyed more than 1.1 million munitions containing 13,617 tons of chemical agent, said Ted Ryba, the Army’s site project manager, who has worked at the depot throughout the incinerator’s life.

Wikipedia claims that as of July, 2010, approximately 60% of the known stockpiles had been destroyed. The above story is dated January of 2012. It will be interesting to know how much that percentage has increased.

Being Green in Death

BBC News – New body ‘liquefaction’ unit unveiled in Florida funeral home

A Scottish company has refined–revived, if we want to be sarcastic–an old method for disposing of corpses: dissolving them in caustic solution. Why? They claim that this method of disposing of the deceased has a smaller carbon footprint than the infernal flames of cremation. It’s a claim that is hard to believe and even more difficult to digest or to undertake, as it were. 

Once the corpse has been liquified, what will they do with it? Flush it down the toilet? Feed it to plants? The former would be a desirable means for survivors who hate you to exact a form of revenge. The latter actually sounds like fun. I wouldn’t mind becoming fertilizer in death. It might be my only act of creating life.

Female Bisexuality: A Best Seller.

Bisexuality Not A Transitional Phase Among Women, According To New Research

The definitions of sexuality are morphing, transmogrifying and blending into a nebulous haze that seems to obscure debate for the sake of enabling the publication of such contentious theses about sexuality. There is something exceptionally irresistible about the notion that a woman’s ambiguous sexuality tends to be a lifelong trend rather than an ephemeral phase most often experienced during the “college years” in the United States. Consequently, are women compelled to believe the findings of the study by virtue of the strong evidence and argument it presents and men because we want to believe that our girlfriends and wives can still turn lesbian at the drop of a hat?

Approaching the boundaries between knowledge and faith never makes for good science, but it always makes for compelling reading.

I’m fantasizing already.

Effects of Smog on Pregnancy

L.A. Traffic Causing Premature Births: Study: Discovery News.

The number of studies linking the poor air quality to pulmonary problems and generally poor health are numerous. Now, a new study shows that smog adversely affects pregnancies. Yet, somehow, one cannot believe that this will effect any more action in a populace long since drowned in utter apathy.


Did We Kill the Neanderthals?

BBC NEWS | Health | Neanderthals ‘distinct from us’

The obvious joke here is that, yes, it is because of the FOXP2 that George W Bush can communicate with modern humans. And, yes, it was very kind of George W Bush to donate his DNA to this study.

In seriousness, however, this is a very provocative study. It evokes so many images of a wild Asian subcontinent (Europe) teeming with all varieties of humanoids who lived peacefully for some time until, perhaps, circumstances forced them to compete for resources.

One wonders if this competition is what finally ushered in the age of warfare. Absent a distinct advantage that would allow one race to annihilate the other, war was inevitable.

That may well explain why having a Neanderthal president for eight years nearly brought the United States close to the edge of annihilation.


The New Softer Robot’s Touch

Bayer MaterialScience: FSK’s prize for wrinkle-free polyurethane skin for service robots

After some very limited exposure to polyurethane, everyone will marvel at the utility of this material. The chemists, materials scientists and engineers who keep discovering new formulations, new processing methods and new manufacturing methods for this remarkable material ought to be applauded for their remarkable ingenuity and persistence. Polyurethanes are now available with virtually any property one desires, and this latest formulation by Bayer scientists is especially intriguing because, so goes the claim, it will enable robots to handle objects as humans do. Its flexibility allows the robot to pick up gentle objects without breaking them. Bayer further promises the capability of embedding sensors that will enable the robot to judge the hardness of the object before grasping it.

Persistence pays.


Nanotechnology: the Ultimately Publicity Gimmick


What more can we say? Politics and science converge on the nanotechnology platform. This means of patterning vertically aligned carbon nanotubes is ingenious, of course, but is it of any use beyond public relations? Certainly, no other scientist has been so bold in ingratiating himself with the political establishment. Without a doubt, this is the greatest public relations coup by any modern scientist. Barack Obamas image constructed of carbon nanotubes.

Chad Mirkin and company of Northwestern University wooed Fraser Stoddart away from UCLA by making a microportrait of him using the “dip-pen nanolithography” method (see page 2). This stunt pales dramatically when compared with John Hart’s microportraiture of the most popular human being on the planet. (He would be Barack Obama.)

If his stunt proves successfull, will I have contributed to it? One would hope that publicity stunts don’t end up being the greatest value of nanotechnology. That has certainly been the case thus far.


Southern Evolution

ABC News: Florida Calls Evolution ‘Scientific Theory’

Does this mean that Floridians now view Barrack Obama differently? Does it mean that they intend to end the disenfranchisement of minorities?

It is somewhat comforting to note that people change over time. 

Upgrade to a Slow Computer

Windows XP Significantly Outperforms Vista, Tests Show | Windows | InformationWeek

Wow. This is truly unbelievable. Information Week conducted tests to show that Windows XP outperforms Vista–Microsoft’s upgrade to XP–in every category, even if the computer is equipped with all of the latest hardware. This is the greatest testimony to Microsoft’s monopoly power. The company is forcing computer makers like Dell and HP to sell an inferior product. Instead of suffering losses, it is recording higher profits, to boot! 

My upgrade to Leopard was not totally smooth, but now that I have worked out all the kinks, it’s truly phenomenal. This thing rocks. I think I will stay with Apple a little while longer. They actually deliver something for the price they charge.

Crime and the Punishment of Municipalities

Detroit declared most dangerous US city | Yahoo! News

The American obsession with rankings and the “competition” that rankings are believed to spur is so fervent, so strong and so overwhelming that any ranking–no matter how unscientific, how thoroughly biased or how flawed–is bound to get press. The college football and basketball rankings, the US News & World Report’s annual college rankings, hospital rankings, etc., etc., etc. So many rankings exist that they have obscured the more important question of whether all universities, hospitals or whatever are competent at all. After all, overall competence and excellence is the goal of standards, not individual competence or excellence. Who cares if you have 50 good universities (or even 200), if 1000 universities are lousy? A thousand competent hospitals do much more for public health than five stellar ones.

The 14th annual  City Crime Rankings: Crime in Metropolitan America published by Congressional Quarterly threatens to be the most irresponsible of such rankings primarily because it is published by a trusted source. When a report on crime is anticipated by such criticism from the highest sources on criminology, the reasons why anyone gives it press become baffling. The criticism included in the above article include:

The study drew harsh criticism even before it came out. The American Society of Criminology launched a pre-emptive strike Friday, issuing a statement attacking it as “an irresponsible misuse” of crime data.  

Critics also complain that numbers don’t tell the whole story because of differences among cities.

“You’re not comparing apples and oranges; you’re comparing watermelons and grapes,” said Rob Casey, who heads the FBI section that puts out the Uniform Crime Report that provides the data for the Quitno report.The FBI posted a statement on its Web site criticizing such use of its statistics.”These rough rankings provide no insight into the numerous variables that mold crime in a particular town, city, county, state, or region,” the FBI said. “Consequently, they lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting communities and their residents.”

But, most appalling is the CQ Press’s own insistence and admission that the study is worthless:

 CQ Press spokesman Ben Krasney said details of the weighting system were proprietary.    

Thus, the publisher asserts that it is propounding a hypothesis–their statistical model–that they refuse to have tested independently. This runs contrary to all scientific principles of inquiry. In all sciences–including social sciences like sociology–openness is the most essential ingredient. Without it, hypotheses cannot be tested independently in order to be verified. Without independent verification, there is no truth. By making the hypothesis proprietary, CQ Press is disallowing scrutiny and forbidding independent verification. Thus, CQ Press propagates an untested notion, a falsehood. In effect, it is acting as a propagandist. 

Hopefully other silly rankings will soon be discredited by similar confession of inadequacy by their publishers.