Posts Tagged Science

THE TRANSGENDER POTTY BROUHAHA HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH REST ROOMS, AND EVERYTHING TO DO WITH SEXUAL DISCRIMINATION!

NOTE:  With minor changes, this is a repeat of a prior post, which was first published on March 1, 2016.  I have tweaked it slightly, in order clarify some points, and to update it for the ignorance of the Trump White House.

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The equality of the Constitutional Rights of all Americans—regardless of age, sex, race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, etc.—are guaranteed under our Constitution.   As some Republican-led states have tried, in various and devious ways, to circumvent these rights, the U. S. Supreme Court has reaffirmed them over and over again.   But these ignorant attempts, costly to the taxpayers, continue on.

Usually such legislation has been initiated by individual states, and anointed with seemingly benign titles; however, those are merely dog whistles to excite the political base.  In fact, the true intent of such laws is often quite different from advertised.  Titles such as “Pastor Protection” or “Women’s Protection”, or suggesting that they are intended to protect small businesses, are really smoke screens.

Such laws can only be intended to deny specific constitutional rights of others.  here can be no other relevance!  Who’s going to sue a clergymen whose religion does not condone same-sex marriage for not performing a ceremony?  Or suing a caterer or pastry shop that refuses to provide services for an LGBT event?   Or a woman getting an abortion without having considered the various implications ahead of time?

This month (March 2016), North Carolina and Mississippi passed laws that require transgender persons to use rest rooms, in schools and public buildings, that confirm with the sex noted on their birth certificates.  (Who carries a Birth Certificate?)  Now, consider how asinine this is.  Would a woman who was born a man look for a urinal in the Ladies Room?  Likewise, would a man who was born a woman really try to use a urinal in the Mens Room?   In each case, they would go into a stall to…(well) GO.

These states have already seen major companies decide to cancel expanding facilities there.  Similarly, bills such as the current  “Potty Bill” have resulted in major sports leagues and national conventions shifting their biggest events to other states.  And as expected, individual tourism is seeing a fall-off, as well.

Such legislation truly serves no purpose!   As noted, there is nothing to see here!  The LGTB Community is not a haven for sexual perverts, no more than the general population.  And unfortunately, the larger cities, which tend to be more open-minded, will generally be the losers when corporate  expansion, sporting events, conventions, and tourism will be lost!   So, the areas that are trying to do the right thing are the ones that pay the price—for Bigotry.

More recently, the Trump Regime has suggested that such laws should be left up to the individual states; however, that is a lame attempt “not to take a stand”!  Just considering the past inane attempts to pass racist and bigoted legislation, by the individual states, just points-out what a patchwork quilt of laws, with conflicting values, America will have!  But, as the original post notes, isn’t “Who Goes Where” really a question of Reality?

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NO, DONALD, EVEN YOU CAN’T SUE THE ATLANTIC OCEAN!

Donald Trump has a reputation as someone with a hair-trigger, ready to sue someone— anyone—at a moment’s notice.  The real estate tycoon even reportedly sued the local airport authority in Palm Beach County, Florida; because, departing aircraft, under certain weather conditions, flew right over hie Mar-a-Lago Estate.  But this time, Mar-a-Lago faces an even greater danger than mere jet noise—the Rising Seas!

The various barrier islands, up and down the Atlantic Coast, are a natural buffer to protect the Mainland from the sea.  But, Americans have built palatial estates, vacation homes, hotels, and condominium complexes all along them.  And every year or two, the expense of such dangerous living becomes greater and greater, when one considers: ever-expensive insurance; property taxes, including beach erosion; home repairs due to the damage done by the elements.  Also, the protection that sea walls and pumps provide, on an island, can be limited.

The linked article, from The Boston Globe, shows aerial photography of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Estate, both currently and at various projected stages in the future.  Even if Donald, age 70, intends to leave the property to his children, the value may very well be plummeting by the time they take over.  And remember, the demand for palatial estates, as the sea is threatening, will surely be limited.  Open house…Anyone?

The Globe article cites the differences in opinions that some of the Trump uber-wealthy neighbors have.  While some have literally read the seawater on the wall; others believe, now that Donald was elected, he will make things better.  Perhaps, he can stick his finger in the non-existent dyke? 

The Globe article is linked, as follows: http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2017/01/13/rising-seas-threaten-jewel-trump-real-estate-empire/bsleB73TesDoLcVxJBK9LP/story.html

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DATA MINING TO SAVE THE WORLD!

Our supermarket, with stores all over Florida, stocks shelves according to the store-specific demographic—elderly, families with children, Hispanic, Asian, West Indian, Kosher, etc—which they know from what products are regularly purchased in each one.  Likewise, my computer distracts me with unwanted pop-up ads, for products based on the web sites I frequent.  So, what has the established purveyors of global health statistics been doing with those numbers, to solve life-or-death problems globally?  Apparently, not much!

Christopher Murray earned his Ph.D. in Medical Health Economics from Oxford, and a Medical Degree from Harvard.  Dr. Murray, however, neither practices medicine, nor does he even follow the stock market.  While researching his Dissertation at Oxford, he realized how sorely inconsistent, and useless, many of the statistics amassed by the various institutional bureaucracies actually were.

The focus was mostly limited to Early Childhood (ages 0 to 5) and Maternal Deaths. The World Health Organization and World Bank statistics for Life Expectancy for Men in Congo, for instance, between 1980 and 1984, differed by 15 years, with similar discrepancies for other nations, as well.  In another case, identical statistics for a particular disease were reported, for economically disadvantaged Somalia as it was for Sweden, which has one of the world’s best health care systems.  My supermarket, on the other hand, knows shopping patterns and re-supply needs, for each of its stores, and acts on them in order to enhance profits.  Why not enhance Global Health?

It appears that political motives might be involved, such as maintaining an organization’s level of stature within the overall Global Health arena, perhaps, are of greatest importance.  And focusing on Children’s Deaths might possibly make the fund-raising efforts much more engrossing.  But, why raise the funds to collect the statistics and, then, fail to act effectively on them?

Also, wouldn’t the elimination, or even the control, of a particular global health  problem, such as Small Pox, enable those resources to be shifted to other life-threatening diseases?  Wasn’t that the original purpose—perhaps a long, long time ago—to collect meaningful data, analyze it, set realistic expectations, and get the data and the appropriate resources out to the field?

Dr. Christopher Murray, a New Zealander by birth, met Dr. Alan Lopez, an Australian, at WHO Headquarters, in Geneva, Switzerland, and they began a collaboration to bring some sense to the global health statistics field.  They realized, however, that WHO would not be a suitable launching pad!  Throughout the ensuing 30 years, Murray and Lopez have encountered considerable skepticism among some in the Establishment, primarily at WHO.  But many other groups, within the global health care community, have embraced their ideas, and even promoted them to colleagues.

Besides expanding the data collection landscape beyond just Early Childhood and Maternal Deaths, Murray and Lopez also included Disabilities—illnesses which generally do not kill people—into their metric.  Early on, Chris Murray had developed his own measure of heath, the Disability-Adjusted Life Years, or DALYs.  The DALY reflects the average degree of health for a nation, from which Labor’s legitimate contribution to the GDP might be identified, as well as the potential future demand for health care services.

For instance, let’s assume that a 75 year-old person, in perfect health, is assigned a DALY of 75.  (Apparently there was apparently nothing to adjust for.)  Then, a similar-aged person, who developed a partially incapacitating illness, assigned a 20% disability rating at age 40, would have a DALY of 68 (40 + [80% of the remaining 35 years]). This metric is much more relevant to Labor and National Ministers of Public Health.  (Also, the disability ratings would be updated regularly, by country.)

With their Global Burden of Disability metric in hand, Murray and Lopez began selling the on-line concept to National Ministers of Public Health.  The fact that anyone—ministers, politicians or the general public—can access the data base, free of charge, (http://www.healthdata.org), means that the Public Health Ministers can more easily sell it to their colleagues, refute politicians’ objections, and encourage a buy-in by the general population.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had provided initial funding, which began the (now) Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, at the University of Washington.  The Gates Foundation had recently begun focusing on health care in impoverished nations, and its recognition of the importance of comprehensive statistical analysis in monitoring its funding, provided obvious legitimacy.  The metric’s focus can also be narrowed to individual cities, or regions, as is currently the case for Seattle, Washington, as well as a few other areas.

Additionally, the benefits of education have been cited, time and again, in various areas, and it appears to very specifically have a direct correlation with health care—especially for women and girls.  For instance, IHME has found that national health care seems to improve by ten percent with just one additional year of school, on average.  When China had a stunning surge in its GDP of ten percent; however, that only improved health care by one percent.

Just yesterday, I went on to the WHO web site, and I noticed that it still doesn’t appear to have embraced the IHME’s GBD concept.  In 2012, Dr. Richard Horton, Editor of the prestigious peer-review medical journal, “The Lancet”, suggested that Murray’s and Lopez’s GBD Metric is on a par with the Human Genome Project. And, then, he went on to say that: “Even Galileo was considered a radical in his time.”

NOTE:  The compelling story of Dr. Christoper Murray, and his collaboration with Dr. Alan Lopez, is a compelling, and vitally, important one.  It is eloquently told in “Epic Measures”, by Jeremy N. Smith.

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WHAT MIGHT WARS OF THE FUTURE LOOK LIKE?

Much of the political rhetoric spewed against Islamic State currently seems mostly based on the racist anti-Muslim agenda of certain politicians.  The strategic planners in our Defense Department place ISIS toward the bottom of our potential National Security risks.  Russia and China, by far, are at the very top of the Pentagon’s List of Risks.

Surely, terrorism will always be a risk in any peaceful country.  It always has been, and always will!  An advantage that we, in America, have is that our anti-terrorism activities are coordinated through one governmental entity, the FBI, as compared to 30 national defense entities across Europe.  Also, the Muslim Community here is somewhat better assimilated.  Again, terrorist attacks, by groups such as ISIS, are at the bottom of our Defense Department list of priorities.

The planning for Future Wars is coordinated by Deputy Secretary of Defense, Bob Work.  The so-called “Third Offset Strategy”, is fully-integrated with the knowledge and cooperation of our allies.  The First Offset (or Advantage) Strategy was initiated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in the 1950s, and it used nuclear power to compensate for the Soviet Union’s manpower advantage.  At the height of the Cold War (1970s and 80s), the Second Offset Strategy emphasized: long-range, precision-guided weapons: stealth aircraft; and new intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.

Currently, as our list of potential adversaries has increased, the Third Offset Strategy has classified our anticipated sources of danger as follows: Russia and China are the very highest priority; then Iran (an exporter of terrorism) and North Korea (only because Kim Jong-Un is unstable and has primitive nuclear weapons); and various rogue states and non-government organizations, such as ISIS, are at the bottom. Although they all pose dangers to America and our allies, it always are makes sense to prioritize risks.

Over the past fifteen years, as the U. S. military was distracted, fighting two wars, and depleting its Defense Budget, Russia and China were able to narrow the gap with our technological superiority. Both have grown their budgets substantially, increased their technology development programs, and they were able to observe both what our military did well, and notice its weaknesses.  Also, their cyber-intel warriors were able to hack into our computers, and steal technology—saving themselves time and money.

The T-O Strategy will include more coordination with our NATO Allies, as well as encourage them to increase their own defense budgets to the agreed-upon two percent of their respective GDPs.  In the future, research will be mostly carried-out in a combination of academic and commercial labs, rather than in government facilities.  Future weapon development will be developed and funded similar to how Boeing and SpaceX have taken on the mission of re-supplying the International Space Station with the rocket systems, which they funded and developed.

Besides traditional battlefields, look for: greater use of miniature air, land and sea-based drones; continued stealth technology; ships with lower manpower requirements; advanced manufacturing, to include robotics and 3-D systems; and guided bomb and missile systems. Future wars will also make greater use of cyber-technology, not only in hacking to gain intelligence, but in jamming, providing false intelligence or even, planting viruses to incapacitate enemy systems.  As in our daily lives, the advantages of digital technology can harm us when they become inoperable or malfunction.

Traditionally, the U. S. has had the unquestioned quickest and most comprehensive system of technology management, from development to useful application.  That requires: a combination of government-funding, as necessary; a rational regulatory environment; and the coordination of academia and corporate management.  It seems like Academia and Industry will be ready to go; but, the question is: Will Congress?

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AS TIME GOES BY, THE NEXT GENERATION OF “TREKKIES” IS IN THE WINGS!

It has been 50 years since that first episode of the original Star Trek, “The Man Trap”, was first aired on NBC-TV, in September of 1966.  The show was subsequently cancelled in 1969; however, it’s popularity only grew in syndication.  Over the years, its loyal fan-base—Trekkies—never waned.  And, the original cheesy version eventually gave way to several, more modern TV spin-offs, movies, board and video games, books, etc.

My young son, Andrew, told me as we watched it together, many, many, MANY times, in the 1980s, that the secret attraction was that it was based on actual science.  Real science fiction!  Sure, it used poetic license to enable the crew to walk on planets without helmets and restrictive suits. But, without that accommodation, the storyline would surely not have been effective.

Besides science, Star Trek addressed a myriad of other topics, which caused its viewers—the many loyal “Trekkies”—to actually think.  Consider:  Captain Kirk dealing with a veritable ”United Planets” of a crew, which included non-human members from other planets; the Save-the-Whales theme in one of the full-length movies; saving the life of a maniacal killer; and political/philosophical considerations regarding travel between time periods, such as the episode when Kirk and Spock  visited a Nazi-controlled like planet, similar to America in the late 1940s.  

The partnership between the Star Trek franchise and NASA (our Space Agency) is legendary among fans and agency employees alike.  In fact, many of the scientists, and perhaps some astronauts, have said that the show was responsible for developing their interest in science, at an early age.  Maybe they watch it today on the International Space Station!

There are a number of devices today, versions of which the average person first saw on Star Trek.  For instance: the “Communicator”, that each of the crew wore, is a version of a smart phone; Captain Jean Luc Picard had a device similar to a computer pad in his ready room; the medical crew carried Tri-corders, a version of which is used today by some physicians, providing a patients’ vital signs; and 3-D printers which have been used like Replicators.  Some other items are, no doubt. still in the works.

The show opens with a voice-over, spoken by Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner): “Space, the Final Frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its 5-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no (wo)man has gone before.”  To me, this establishes a real curiosity for the viewers’ own adventure, which surely will follow.

Now, my dilemma begins.  I know how important Star Trek had been in awakening our son Andrew’s academic interests, not only in science, but in other subjects, as well.  It also established a curiosity, his willingness to question what this all meant.  Not just the What, but the How, Why and potential Final Outcome! How do I fight the urge to encourage my three and a half-year old grandson, Henry,  to eventually become a Trekkie?

LIVE LONG AND PROSPER!

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ARE THE REPUBLICANS DOING ALL THEY CAN TO COMBAT THE ZIKA VIRUS?

Now, I’m not suggesting that the Republican Party is purposely enabling the spread of the Zika virus; however, by playing politics and making wrong-headed decisions, they don’t seem to be contributing to its timely eradication.  Let’s take a look.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito, which spreads the Zika, Guillain-Barré syndrome, and other viruses, has been on our Nation’s radar screen since last year.  Worldwide, however, it has been around for 70 years.  Zika is especially horrific due to the microcephaly it can cause in newborns babies.  At the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, President Barack Obama requested that Congress appropriate $1.9 billion, last February, to combat the spread of the Zika Virus.

The Republican Party, which controls both Houses of Congress, passed legislation authorizing $1.1 billion in the Senate for Zika, and just $633 million in the House.  Among the various “poison pills”, which the GOP slipped-in, were one that restricted the work of Planned Parenthood in offering contraception services to young women, and another to remove $543 million from the Affordable (Health) Care Act. Congress broke for summer recess before any legislation was finalized.

Let’s look at the risk of the Zika virus to young women of child-bearing age.  The spread of Zika was especially widespread in Latin America, earlier this year, since abortion and contraceptives are not widely-available there, other than to the wealthy.  So their only option was: Don’t get pregnant! Surely, we all know what happens with such sage advice.  But, unfortunately, that’s what the Republican Party seems to be saying to poor young American women.

Planned Parenthood is arguably the largest provider of comprehensive health care for women in America, especially among the poor, who might be dependent upon Medicaid for health care.  So, besides dallying on authorizing the funds requested by the health care professionals,  Republicans in Congress have undercut that amount by two-thirds, and they are trying to restrict the access to contraceptive services.

President Obama has promised to Veto this legislation, if passed with those amendments. But, how counter-productive those pills are to the basic legislation?  Abortion services, which are a major GOP target, only account for approximately three percent of Planned Parenthood’s business, and it is not government-funded.

Besides playing politics with women’s health care in Washington, Republicans, which also control a majority of the state houses, have also gotten into the act at that level.  Many of those same states have refused the Extended Medicaid which, by raising the income qualification, would provide government-subsidized health care to many more poor families.  

But, I’m not through yet!  Again, in many of these same states, public schools can only teach Abstinence in sex education classes—and not Contraception.  Is this all beginning to sink-in yet?

Lastly, the World Health Organization believes that global warming adds to the risks of mosquito-borne diseases, since warmer climates may broaden the contagion’s range, and advance the mosquito’s life cycle. The Aedes aegypti’s life span is just ten-to-twelve days, and it is only capable of carrying Zika toward the end of its life.  But if WHO is right, and global warming accelerates Aedes’ life cycle, the mosquito’s ability to spread Zika, or other viruses begins earlier, and its impact could be greatly enhanced!

When I consider all the possible politically-motivated and incoherently stupid things that the Republican Party is doing, at all levels, I can only question: Who’s side are they on?   Surely, when Fall arrives, we’ll have a break from the Zika virus; but, will we ever get a similar break from dumb political thinking?

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IT’S NOT JUST THE EARTH THAT WE ARE POLLUTING!

It’s been 58 years since the Soviet Union launched Sputnik—the first of many artificial Earth satellites. Sputnik was just slightly larger than a basketball, and the orbit was only 359 miles above the Earth.  Since that time, many satellites, both large and small, have been launched to survey the Universe, enhance global telecommunications, transport astronauts and cosmonauts to the International Space Station and even send men to land on the Moon.  While many satellites revolve around the Earth, some are geosynchronous, such as those that maintain fixed positions above Earth, as they provide vital weather data, and perhaps monitor other nations’ activities.

So, what do we do with all of that debris once it has depleted its useful life?   Really, have we done much of anything at all?   To an extent, our planet’s space rubble is similar to the plastic continents, of water bottles and the like, that have been forming in our oceans on Earth.  Besides that mass of space debris, what happens when collisions occur, say really big ones?

Over the years, there have been numerous sightings of fireballs streaking toward earth, presumably due to small asteroids, or one of these used-up satellites.  Perhaps it’s not a problem if it burns-up in the atmosphere…or is it?  Also, what about the ones that are too large to disintegrate as they approach Earth?

Sure, the recent Climate Change Summit in Paris has brought hope to finally—BELATEDLY—clean-up our environment.  And, there have also been numerous stories of successes in renewable energy, here on Earth. But, what about the Space Environment above us?  What are we, could be, should be doing about it?

NOTE: The linked one-minute video shows the build-up of Space Pollution over the past years, since the first Sputnik was launched: http://news.sciencemag.org/space/2015/12/video-watch-60-years-space-junk-accumulate-1-minute

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