Monthly Archives: July 2008

Reality-based Intellectualist Liberal Elite – c’est Moi!

How’s this for independent confirmation of my elitist bona fides?

My Liberal Identity:

You are a Reality-Based Intellectualist, also known as the liberal elite. You are a proud member of what’s known as the reality-based community, where science, reason, and non-Jesus-based thought reign supreme.

Take the quiz at

Intellectualist elite I may be, but apparently not enough of a bastard yet! Gotta work some more on squirting blood from the eyes…

via Kevin, who got it from Bora, who got it from Mike

Has the Joker too outsourced himself to India?

I wonder because of this report in today’s NYT:

NEW DELHI — Over the past several years, terrorist attacks in India have become an everyday presence in everyday places. The targets seem to have nothing in common except that they are ordinary and brazenly easy to strike.

In eastern Varanasi, a deadly explosion interrupted Hindu devotees as they lighted oil lamps to Hanuman, the monkey god, one Tuesday at dusk. In southern Hyderabad, a homemade bomb planted inside a historic mosque killed worshipers on a Friday afternoon. In Mumbai, India’s largest city, nearly 200 commuters on packed city trains died in a series of blasts.

And, in the most recent attack, 17 back-to-back explosions struck shoppers and strollers on Saturday evening in Ahmedabad in western India, and then two blasts hit the very hospitals where the wounded and their relatives rushed for help, killing 49 people and wounding more than 200.

In a country long familiar with sharply focused violence — whether sectarian or fueled by insurgencies in Kashmir in the 1990s — the impersonal nature of the latest violence is new and deeply unsettling.

“This is different, because for the first time it’s everyday, it’s utterly anonymous, it’s excessive,” said Shiv Vishvanathan, a professor of anthropology in Ahmedabad. “The familiar becomes unfamiliar,” he said. “The apple seller you meet might be carrying a bomb. It creates suspicion. It’s a perfect way to destabilize society.”

Sounds like some men just want to watch the world burn! You may be forgiven for thinking that perhaps Somini Sengupta wrote the above too soon after watching The Dark Knight, with the Joker’s anarchy too fresh in her mind. But then she cites a chilling statistic:

A report last year by the National Counterterrorism Center in Washington concluded that from January 2004 to March 2007, the death toll from terrorist attacks in India was 3,674, second only to that in Iraq during the same period.

…followed by this really bizarre bit:

An obscure group calling itself the Indian Mujahedeen warned Saturday that an attack was about to take place “in revenge of Gujarat,” plainly referring to the 2002 killings. The statement was sent in an e-mail message, written in English, to television stations just before the first blasts.

The police in Mumbai traced the e-mail back to the Internet protocol address of an American citizen living in Navi Mumbai, a satellite city across the water from India’s commercial capital. They identified him as Kenneth Haywood, a general manager of an executive training firm called Campbell White. The firm’s Web site said it offers “accent neutralization, cultural comprehension and verbal/non verbal communication.”

The Mumbai police said that he had been questioned but not arrested and that they were still investigating whether he could have been involved or whether his e-mail account had been hacked. “He is a suspect, yes,” said a police officer involved in the investigation. “He may not be a suspect as well.”

The Times of India reported that it had reached Mr. Haywood and that he had denied sending the message.

An unidentified man who answered a Campbell White phone number in Bangalore said he could not comment. The United States Embassy in Delhi and the consulate in Mumbai declined to comment as well, citing American privacy laws.

Forgive me for belaboring this, but Holy Batman!! WTF is going on?!

And if that doesn’t fill you with enough despair about where India is going, how about this in the same newspaper of record?


Somehow, this video seems rather apropos given the rehashing of The Two Cultures going on over on ScienceBlogs these past few days. Which one of them is Wingdings, I wonder… or are the two camps of academia stuck using that font in trying to talk to each other? Will Comic Sans be able to rescue the text and context there too?

A smaller water footprint for Los Angeles?

Yes, it seems (at least one hopes so) that the the city of Angels, that megalopolis in the Cadillac Desert, may actually be beginning to live down its thirsty (Chinatown) past and doing a teeny little bit to address its sins when it comes to profligate water use. If you don’t know much about LA’s water history, a good starting place is Mark Reisner’s excellent book on water use and abuse throughout the southwestern US, Cadillac Desert. And if you haven’t even seen Chinatown you really should see it! For now, let’s start with this overview video:


That should give you enough background to appreciate this story in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times about the gradual recovery of the Mono Lake ecosystem – and yes, even that print newspaper offers the following video to accompany the report!

Go read the rest of the story, which is a bit more cautious in its optimism than the video. After all, we are in a drought, and this is LA we are talking about, at a time when other water wars are already brewing elsewhere in California. So the Mono Lake Committee clearly still has its work cut out to ensure that the lake gets its supply of fresh water.

And now the committee may have an unlikely ally in the LA Department of Water & Power, the lake’s nemesis! Because, according to this column, also in yesterday’s LA Times, the DWP is trying to sell its citizens on the idea of recycling water within the city. i.e., treating wastewater really really well till it is safe enough to drink (and the technology exists to do that now). This is something other cities are already doing, at least to use the treated water to water lawns and such if not directly for drinking, because people may balk at that. I hope the DWP can win the PR campaign to support its new treatment plant this time around (it failed when first proposed in the 1990s). After all, how can you argue with this?

Where do you all think the water that you drink now is coming from, anyway? Angels’ butts? It comes from far and wide, and even from places that may recycle wastewater themselves. San Diego is planning its own wastewater reclamation, and as the City Council president told the Wall Street Journal, “the Colorado River is not filled with Dasani.”


So if you live in LA (heck if you live in any city living beyond its water means (that would be most cities, I think!), get behind your politicians and start pushing them (if they aren’t moving in this direction already) to bring such wastewater treatment plants to your city!

If politicians believe it, they’ve got to sell it. No one sold it better than B.T. Collins. He was Gov. Jerry Brown’s Conservation Corps director when the state was spraying malathion to stop Mediterranean fruit flies. Collins was so eager to convince Californians that malathion was harmless that he drank a glass of it in front of 900 corps members.

Nahai promised me on the radio last week that he would drink the first glass of reclaimed water to come out of DWP pipes. Antonio Villaraigosa promised me the same thing this week. One glass, two straws, please.

As for the rest of you — suck it up, L.A. How do you like it: on the rocks, or straight up?

Time for us all to suck it up, and learn to better share this planet’s limited natural resources with all the other lifeforms that have evolved here with us!

George Bush: green president or greenest president?

Wow, that’s a tough one, huh! What do you think?

And what answer do you expect to hear from one of the most powerful people in Washington DC (he wishes!), head of one of the leading members of the insidious fighting treehuggers lobby?

I missed this interview last night (been writing a grant proposal; submitted today, so I’m catching up with these fun things!) but Stephen was in such excellent form that I can’t help but share a second video from his show today:

Total Perspective Vortex of Species

[From Explore Cornell – Beetle Science – Species-Scape]

That there, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call a Species-Scape, a graphical depiction of the relative diversity of species among various taxonomic groups on earth, where the relative size of each representative organism drawn is roughly proportional to the number of known species in that group (thus accurately depicting the creator’s inordinate fondness for beetles!). Here’s another version. The above image is flash-based, so go ahead and click on the different taxa for an informational blurb, or (if your eyes are as tired as mine) visit the larger original info-graphic on Cornell’s cool Beetle Science website for more fun stuff.

Our own puny little species, so full of itself, is part of that tiny little Elephant lurking under those big mushrooms in the middle of the picture. And think about how many kinds of organisms there are that we haven’t even discovered and catalogued yet! We mammals are only going to shrink in that picture relative to everything else!! Does that give you some pause, some sense of perspective, as you go about your important business?

Reminds me of a camping trip I went on, in Rajaji National Park, about a decade ago when I last visited my alma mater. My friend Charu and I were lying under a clear sky on a warm night, listening to the sounds of the nocturnal creatures around Dholkhand, and gazing in open wonder at the milky way shimmering above us, when I couldn’t help but let my inner stargazer come out. As is wont to happen under such circs, I felt compelled to share my limited knowledge of the night sky, the stars, the constellations, and the milky way, etc.! After a while I remember him telling me to shut up or he wouldn’t be able to sleep – for I was going on about how far everything was, and how long the light from some patch of sky had travelled to reach the earth! Imagine the vastness of the universe and how puny we are, I said. And it totally freaked him out!!

Kinda like stepping into Douglas Adams’ clever invention, the Total Perspective Vortex, which the above Species-Scape also brings to mind. And speaking of which, wouldn’t you know it? Someone on the dang internets (and from my other alma mater too, if you can believe it!) has gone and implemented it in Flash. Go on, take a deep breath, and dive into the Vortex, which awaits you below the fold! Find out if you really do you have Zaphod Beeblebrox’s cojones! I dare you… click on “OK” of you are up to the challenge:

And don’t tell me I didn’t warn you, as you try to duck from those repeated blows in the latter half of the above video – it does get a bit heavy!

[Hat-tips to Sandwalk & Catalogue of Organisms]

The value of a human life vs. the cost of environmental regulation

In case you hadn’t heard, under the Bush administration, human life (well, at least that of Americans) has become about a million dollars cheaper (according to their own agency, the EPA)! Here’s a clear explanation of why this is so great, in terms of environmental risk management:

Surely you don’t want society to spend more money protecting your health and environment any more than what the EPA thinks you are worth, do you? And by this calculus, it must make perfect sense for the cries of the Bhopal victims to go unheeded, for what are they worth, exactly, if even American lives are being devalued?

Will blogging hurt my tenure prospects?

I certainly hope not, based on the feedback I’ve had here at Fresno State, although some eyebrows are occasionally raised at how much time people think I spend on blogging. It certainly didn’t hurt John Hawks who just got tenure at the University of Wisconsin – Congratulations Prof. Hawk! He has begun sharing his experience of blogging while on the tenure-track in a four-part series:

This is the first of a four-part series on blogging and tenure. Each installment covers a different portion of the tenure process, from starting and establishing the tone of your blog, up to documenting your blog for your tenure dossier. I don’t guarantee anything, and I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I worked hard to develop some strategies in my tenure chase, and you may find some of them helpful.

The full story is divided into four parts. In the final installment, which may be most useful to current bloggers, I will describe the specific strategies that I applied to quantify my blog’s role as a service to the field and to the public. Over the next two weeks, I’ll be discussing strategies to build a blog’s reputation and readership in the years leading up to tenure review, and some ways to integrate research with blogging.

Today, I weigh the pluses and minuses of starting a blog on the tenure track, including the key question of anonymity. This will be especially relevant if you are newly on the tenure track and considering starting a blog. You may also find some of it useful if you have a blog already and are considering shedding a pseudonym and making a blog part of your academic life.

[From How to blog, get tenure and prosper: Starting the blog | john hawks weblog]

I sure could have used Hawks’ advice in the above post (especially where he says, “don’t do it”!!) a couple of years ago when I was contemplating dipping my toe into the blogosphere, but its too late for that now! I will, however, certainly wait for that final installment, especially the promised tips on quantifying a blog’s impact, as I begin to round the turn heading towards the final stretch of my own tenure-track here. Wish me luck!

I’m also looking around to see how many of my colleagues at Fresno State blog (e.g., TheAnthroGeek, Cakeypal, and Cakeypal) whether for fun or academic discourse. Perhaps it is time for us to network internally…

(Hat-tip: John Lynch at Stranger Fruit)

How about some “Braised enterovirus” to round off your meal?

I hear it goes well with “Fuck a Cuttlefish zhai” (know someone who might like that one?)! Or perhaps you want to try “Fuck a Fish Head” instead?

No, I’m not offering these lovely dishes to or directing the 4-letter word against those upset over some of my recent writings on this blog. Well, I might offer them the food (peace offer) if it facilitates dialog, come to think of it.

As for the 4-letter words, they come courtesy of some peculiar mistranslations on Chinese restaurant menus owing to the linguistic tangles we all get ourselves into these days:


The Language Log and Effect Measure have the rest of this appetizing story of what can be gained and lost in translation. Now how would that menu sound if Chinese take-out places were to outsource their order-taking phone to India, I wonder?

Ghosts of Martian rivers past


A color-enhanced image of the delta in Jezero Crater, which once held a lake. Researchers led by CRISM team member and Brown graduate student Bethany Ehlmann report that ancient rivers ferried clay-like minerals (shown in green) into the lake, forming the delta. Clays tend to trap and preserve organic matter, making the delta a good place to look for signs of ancient life.

Image credit: NASA/JPL/JHUAPL/MSSS/Brown University.

The colors may be false in this image, but the fact seems to be that once upon a time Mars had flowing rivers (carrying martian silt) and lakes with diverse local environments potentially capable of supporting some form of life!! Read the rest of the story behind this fascinating image at NASA’s website.

Meanwhile, the European Space Agency’s orbiter, the Mars Express craft, may have found traces of Ammonia in the Martian atmosphere, potentially indicating life on Mars too!