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Entries from blogs tagged with “Nature”

About this global warming stuff…

My wife and I returned from Florida last Friday just in time for last week's snow. And as I write, it is snowing again. But the discussion section in the Lawrence Journal World is hot today because of a column by Cal Thomas in which he accuses Al Gore and other believers in global warming as being fundamentalists. He cites a global warming skeptic "Paleoclimate scientist" Bob Carter as writing""In one of the more expensive ironies of history, the expenditure of more than $50 billion (U.S.) on research into global warming since 1990 has failed to demonstrate any human-caused climate trend, let alone a dangerous one..."This is an interesting comment which flies in the face of the general scientific consensus. So who is the average person to believe? This is important because if Gore and the vast bulk of climate scientists are right then we have an environmental problem that can't wait another 50 years to fix. We are going to have to make both personal and policy decisions either directly or indirectly about this issue.The first thing we need to do is cut partisanship out of the loop. Second of all we need to look at the information that is out there and try to evaluate it as best we can. Fortunately there are several good sources of information. The U.S. government's EPA site (http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/) is much improved in terms of its coverage and I strongly recommend exploring its links. Another site is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Global Warming FAQ which gives a quick synopsis the current consensus on global warming. There is plenty of room to discuss what sorts of solutions - free market, government incentives and mandates, individual action but denying what we are doing to the environment is not productive.As for non governmental sources, Science Daily keeps tabs on climate change at http://www.sciencedaily.com/news/earth_climate/global_warming/ and this is perhaps the site for the latest developments in our understanding of climate change.If you are a regular blog reader, a good unbiased site is Real Climate (http://www.realclimate.org/). This blog's contributors are climate scientists-not geologists and not ideologues. Of course look at some of the advocacy sites on the left and the right-what ever your ideological fancy, but do yourself and civilization a favor and check the claims that are made on those sites against each other and come to an honest judgment for yourself about where the truth most likely is. Don't just believe some numskull on the left or the right because you agree with their ideology, unless the numskull happens to be me of course.In the interest of full disclosure I am pretty much in agreement with the scientific consensus but some of my conclusions about where we stand probably go beyond the scientific consensus:1. Global warming is real and not just an artifact of changes in data collection.2. Much but probably not all of recent global warming is due to human activity including burning of fossil fuels but also deforestation and increased agricultural production.3. Global warming may be to the point that we can do little to affect it quickly.4. Climate change happening more rapidly than we thought possible even five years ago and may be happening more rapidly than many populations can adapt to.5. There is no magic bullet to solving global warming and we probably will need to make some uncomfortable choices concerning energy sources and (dare I say it?) some sacrifice of living standards.6. Poorer countries will be more severely affected than developed countries.7. We have exceeded the ability of the planet to sustain our current population, and global warming is interacting with other human disturbances to bring about an irreversible biodiversity crisis.8. There is still hope for our species but our environment is going to become biologically impoverished in ways we might not like.Of course all comments are welcome; just play nicely.

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A Mother’s Prayer

It's 7:45 in the evening, and I sit in the dark rocking and nursing my one-year-old to sleep. When I can stop my mind from racing about the events of today and tomorrow, I turn my full attention to the warm, vulnerable little boy in my arms. I'm moved to say a prayer, though I don't really know where I stand with God. I say a heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving for Max and an equally heartfelt prayer that God will help us keep him healthy and safe. I'm still overcome by love and awe for Max, and my prayer becomes "Let us be worthy." Right away, I realize my husband and I can never be worthy. How can anyone be worthy of the extraordinary privilege and oh-so-difficult job of raising a child? So I whisper, "Let us be enough."

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In-Box or Mailbox

The New York Time published an article Sunday, December 16, by Phyllis Korkki entitled Still Choosing the Mailbox Over the In-Box.In the article Ms Korkki noted that today 275 million first-class cards and letters are expected to be mailed. From Thanksgiving to Christmas the USPS estimates 20 billion cards, letters, packages and other pieces of mail will be handled.Korkki goes on to say many thought the Internet would be the beginning of the end of the USPS. Instead, the Internet, especially the online shopping aspect, has created the need for hard copy as well as a service to ship the packages. Consequently, since 2001, the first class volume of mail has remained fairly steady.Finally, Korkki says,"...although email is now a permanent part of the communication landscape, the old-fashioned letter is far from dead...."I agree. It is a great feeling to open my mailbox and find a letter from family or friends. I can reread it as often as I like and save it for reference later when I return the favor. And, sometimes the short three sentence notes are meaningful. My grand kids love to receive a note about something significant in their lives.What do you think. Do you still choose the mailbox over the in-box?

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Anatomy of an Ice Storm

It is Monday evening and a major ice storm forecast looms. My backup front wheel drive 1987 model car is ready for my ninety mile route. With studded snow tires in front, it is better than four-wheel drive on ice.Tuesday morning it is raining steadily. The temperature lingers at freezing. I am not sure I have seen an ice storm begin with so much water run off. By noon it is running over the low water bridge on Deer Creek. Slowly the temperature drops and ice begins to accumulate on trees, fences and electrical wires. Trees bend more and more under the weight. Lines must be going down as the radio reports lost electricity.Low night temperatures and a thick coating of ice give way Wednesday morning to limbs, mainly Elm, lying under trees. Several times I hear a sharp crack and see a limb go down. Hardy cedar tree limbs simply bend to make a tent of ice forming a house underneath for rabbits and quail. Pines bend but hold. Oaks with leaves still attached have an extra burden. I saw one large branch loose the battle. With pastures frozen over, cattle stand at gates waiting for a bale of last summer's hay. Geese honk as they follow the Wakarusa Valley. Are they thinking of turning south? I would not blame them.I had company on the roads. Douglas County, Clinton and Kanwaka townships are busy blading and throwing sand. I wonder if they have been out all night as many roads and all bridges and steep hills are treated. A rancher with a big bale heads for the pasture. Along with me, brown, yellow and white delivery trucks bring holiday orders. It seems everyone else smartly stays home.Thursday dawns beautiful. There is no other word to describe the ice covered world under a clear sky and sunshine. Branches encased in ice radiated like stars or prism-like spectrum of colors. Ice on metal mailboxes melts from the inside out. A drive under a tree results in a barrage of ice falling like rain. Squirrels and turkeys, run about excited to feel the warmth on their backs. As the sun warms, steam rises. Birds, especially finches and sparrows fluttered in cedar branches. Hawks use warm updrafts from the melted fields to soar low looking for prey. Cattle spread out over the same fields grazing contently.Three days, the ice storm is history. In our area, most have electricity. Trees survive although some still bend as ice clings on northern exposures.What's next? Snow.

December 2007
Click on picture for pictures of the ice storm.
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A Move’s a foot…

There is a movement underway to goad the presidential candidates into a debate on science policy. Given that so many of our issues today involve science, it is only fair that the voters get to hear candidate's views on science and science priorities. Visit the Science debate 2008 web site for more information and about how you can get involved.www.sciencedebate2008.com

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A Big Day in Boston!

If you are a Boston single, as of today you have a new option to find a mate. A company called scientificmatch.com has a new wrinkle in the match making game-matchmaking based on DNA analysis. The idea is to find a mate based on the compatibility of the genes related to characteristics of the immune system. The company's website claims:

"When you share chemistry with someone:

  • 1. You love their natural body odor. They smell "sexier" than other people.
  • 2. You have a more satisfying sex life.
  • 3. If you're a woman, you have more orgasms.
  • 4. There's significantly less cheating in your relationships than if your DNA isn't matched properly.
  • 5. As a couple, you're more fertile.
  • 6. Your children have a better chance of being healthy."
And there is peer reviewed science to back up at least some of these claims individually, much of which is cited on the company web site. In fact, I talk about some of this literature in my classes. But it is quite a leap from the basic scientific literature to the claim that DNA analysis can make for better matchmaking. Testing that hypothesis would seem would seem to require a whole other layer of analysis which doesn't appear to have been done. Also the site is a bit vague about how the genetic testing is done and what genes are examined.I must remain very skeptical for now. By the way, a one year membership costs $1,995.95. So if this system is an improvement over the old fashioned way of finding a mate-is that improvement great enough to make the cost worth it? This is especially true since the company makes the case that odor is an important part of compatibility. Maybe the company's owner ought to consider making little scratch and sniff tabs with arm pit odor that clients can give to each other. But perhaps that is not as sexy as DNA analysis.The web site suggests that the company is planning on expanding to other cities, so have a look and let me know what you think.
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A Lesson in Time

I emailed my daughter for her permission to post this video. I thought it unfair that she did not know she was being taped. As a matter of fact, I did not realize the background conversation when I made this little poor quality video of our youngest grandson discovering the Christmas tree. When I previewed it, I decided both were worth preserving. Thank you Kim for letting me post this even though you think you sound a bit edgy. Considering it was dinner time and everyone was tired and hungry, it is a delightful conversation to overhear.

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Now this is really cool.

Today, Gyroduck commenting on a Journal World article, Drawing on God posted a link (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfPepr...) from You Tube explaining a really puzzling aspect of quantum mechanics. Hop on over to view the video. Also read Gyroduck's comment linking the observations discussed in the video to prayer. Is Gyroduck right to make this connection?

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Synthetic Life

One of the hottest areas of biology today is synthetic biology. Synthetic biologists are not content to take a gene from one species and insert it into the genetic material of another species.Instead, synthetic biologists are attempting to build a set of standard building blocks often by synthesizing DNA from scratch. The idea is to have a set of modules that can be plugged together to make the biological equivalent of electrical devices.So just as an electrical engineer designs new circuits by plugging together standard parts on a breadboard, the synthetic biologist attempts to create custom organisms by inserting these biological circuits into cells.The field has progressed to the point where there is an annual student competition at MIT dedicated to designing custom devices called iGEM which stands for InternationalGenetically Engineered Machine Competition. The winners of the 2007 competition have just been announced and they include teams that developed applications of synthetic biology to medicine, environmental sensing, energy and information processing.For example a team from Alberta Canada developed a synthetic set of genes involved in the production of butanol, an organic compound that could serve as a fuel alternative to ethanol.A team from University of Missouri at Rolla, the Missouri Miners developed a biological breathalyser and a biological timer.Synthetic biology is in its infancy and the power of this technology is rapidly increasing, much like the power of computers, so that soon synthetic biologists may be able to construct synthetic organisms entirely from scratch!Readers, how is this dangerous in a positive sense? How about the risks?LinksSyntheticbiology.orgSynthetic Life, Scientific American 2004

iGem2007Missouri Miners

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Small Town Christmas Road Trip

This is how our spur of the moment road trip through small towns of the Flint Hills materialized. My husband said, "How about:" and I said, "Let's go." That's it. It only takes an hour from idea to heading up the lane in our camper van. These kinds of trips happen other times of the year, but never before at Christmas. We are ready to leave by 6:00 pm. Armed with Marci Penner's Kansas Guidebook for Explorers, a list of the best Chicken-fried Steaks in Kansas from the Kansas Explorers Club, and a map, we plan to find good rural Kansas food and Christmas decorations.Overbrook is a progressive small town only 11 miles south of our rural home. It does not surprise us their decorations are nice. Normally, we stop at Conrad's for their special, but there are more towns to visit. So, from there we head west on Hwy 56. We consider the restaurant at Four Corners because the parking lot is packed, a good sign in small town Kansas. Alas, it is not on the Best Chicken Fried List it so we head on, past The Trop for those who know.Scranton's lighted snowflakes are very beautiful for the size of their main street. No tarrying, it is on to Burlingame and Santa Fe Cafe, which is on the List. Decorated for the season and housed in an obviously historical storefront, the Santa Fe Cafe is busy. Local families laugh and visit while waiting for their orders. Even though pan-fried steaks are a prerequisite, ours are deep-fried. No matter, the homemade gravy and real mashed potatoes make up for it. Full with enough leftovers for breakfast, one last look at Burlingame's lights and we are off.Continuing on the old Santa Fe Trail route, Hwy 56, we visit Osage City, Admire and Bushong. Community spirit is still strong in small towns because they all manage nice decorations. Council Grove did not disappoint. As we slowly drive main street it seems the lights outlining the buildings and the decorated storefronts have a charm befitting the historic town. We take a little extra time to drive back through before taking off south on Hwy 177 toward our destination of Strong City and Cottonwood Falls. As we turn on the street leading up to the town square in Cottonwood Falls, the sight of the historic courthouse completely outlined in white lights was breathtaking. Businesses on each side of the street are festive but not over done to take away from the beautiful building. We stop right on the street to take it all in. Image Hosted by ImageShack.us
By LindaKBy then it is 10:00 pm but Cottonwood Fall's Emma Chase Cafe is still rocking. We slip in a corner table and enjoy the bluegrass music. As people drifted home, the musicians soon outnumber the audience. Obviously, the jean and overall clad participants are having fun. The Emma Chase is winding down and so are we. We scout around for a spot to boondock for the night. Saturday morning finds us in a parking lot near downtown Cottonwood Falls. We enjoy our leftover chicken fried steak and coffee for breakfast and take off. I want to see the sunrise over the Flint Hills. We continued south on Hwy 57, part of the Flint Hills Scenic Byway. The sun is just peeking over the horizon as we stop at an overlook. Flint Hills as far as we can see with cattle still grazing despite the time of year makes this scene a quiet, inspirational moment. We continue south still enjoying the beautiful rolling hills, impressive barns and rock fences. Matfield Green is a tiny town, but earned an entrance to the turnpike.In no time, we are in Wichita and the outdoor/sporting store located in downtown near the convention center. We spend several hours shopping and turned toward home. We again exit at Matfield Green exit on the KTA because nearby is the Cassody Cafe in the town by the same name. The Cafe is on the Best Chicken Fried Steak list and we are hungry. Unfortunately, the menu said Thursdays only for the steak. We settle for their buffet of fried chicken and homemade beef and noodles with four-star gravy. The Cassody Cafe is a destination for motorcycle riders in the summer. From the pictures posted by the register, it appears the city doubles its size on weekends.As we once again stop at the tollbooth at Matfield Green, the lady recognizes it is our third time through. We laughingly tell her, Merry Christmas and head for home.

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The Faith of a Child

Took my almost-five-year-old to his first Advent service last night. Actually, it was Simon's first church service, period. I wanted him to understand at least a little of what he heard, so on the way, I told him the basics of the Christmas story. I started with the parts I thought would be most interesting to a child: How Jesus was born in a stable to parents Mary and Joseph, and how shepherds got a message from an angel that something special had happened, followed a bright star, and found the baby Jesus.My husband and I are not religious, at least not as the term is usually used, but I've given a little thought to how and when to explain mainstream religious beliefs and stories to our two young sons. A child who isn't familiar with, say, the Christmas story or the notion of heaven will be at a loss at times, to say the least. (Last night, it struck me how big this cultural disadvantage might be when Simon asked "Is Jesus a boy or a girl?")After the service, we talked more about the Christmas story--including the belief that Jesus is the son of God--and I found myself fielding questions like "How can Jesus be the son of God if his parents are Mary and Joseph?" and "How can God still be alive if Jesus was born such a long time ago?" and "Is God a man or a woman?" Now I was the one at a loss! More than once I answered, "That's a great question" and "Well, the story goes like this:" and "Many people believe that:." I've talked to Simon about God before, usually referring to the "Animal Maker" or the "Great Spirit." I want him to have some notion of a powerful, good, divine spirit who takes an interest in our universe. I also want him to understand that there are different and beautiful faith traditions around the world. I'm not comfortable presenting typical Sunday School stories as if they're facts. And I sensed last night that Simon would take what I said as fact. That means I have a lot of power, at this point in Simon's life, to shape his beliefs about religion and the divine. I want to use this power wisely, so I've got a lot more thinking to do.I'd like to hear from others who've struggled with this. If your family doesn't have obvious faith traditions and beliefs to pass down, what role do religion and spirituality play in your family life? How and when have you presented religion and spirituality to your children? Are there any faith groups in town you recommend?

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Walking Petri Dishes?

Biology is messy. We can't put organisms into neat little boxes and as it turns out, while we think of ourselves as being individual organisms, the truth is a bit more complex. According to an online article from Scientific American, "Humans Carry More Bacterial Cells than Human Ones" , we are probably best thought of as walking petri dishes because of the number and diversity of bacteria that live inside of us. According to the article, scientists used to think that these bacteria were commensals, that is organisms living in or on a member of a different species with out harming or providing much benefit to the "host". But new research reveals that these bacteria interact with us in complex ways and and often significantly benefit us. For instance many of these bacteria appear to help us process our food and help regulate certain aspects of our immune system. So there is a real sense that you and I are really communities of organisms. Now I wonder if the dreaded toe fungus some of us have also benefits us in some way.

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Say what?

The name "Dangerous Ideas" comes from a book titled "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" by the philosopher Daniel Dennett. Dennett's thesis is that the concept of natural selection is a sort of universal acid eating away at our traditional intellectual disciplines well beyond its traditional application as an evolutionary mechanism.Science in general is dangerous to traditional ways of viewing the universe. It transforms us. It breaks down boundaries between traditional areas of thought. It challenges our comfortable preconceptions about reality. And it forces us to think in rational and empirical ways that are foreign to emotional and often irrational way that we process information about the world.I use dangerous here in a positive sense. For me science is a liberating force. It doesn't do away with a sense of wonder, a sense of poetry or wonder. But science does not worship mystery but replaces it with a sense of awe at the quirky creativeness of the universe. This blog will focus on science. I will try to stay away from politics and religion...there are plenty of other blogs that do that including my companion blog at The Force that ThroughSometimes I will cross post entries with "The Force" But that blog tends to be much more explicitly poetic, political and philosophical than what I am planning for this space. Also since biology is my thing, expect a bias toward biology and related areas.

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The Milky Way Woman

I heard about the Milky Way Woman while attending Douglas County's first healing retreat for those people who had lost someone due to suicide.

I have been trying to put a spiritual perspective on my mother's suicide, when I was three, for most of my life. See my article: http://www2.ljworld.com/news/20/nov/loved_ones_gather_healing_retreat_wake_suicide

While at the retreat, I met a native American Indian woman who had recently lost her sister to suicide. She told me about the belief that the Lakota Indians have. They believe that the Milky Way is the crossroads between heaven and earth and that an old woman, the Milky Way Woman, stands guard at this crossroads. The Milky Way Woman decides when someone dies whether they go to heaven or are sent back to earth depending on how well they lived their life.

After some research, I discovered that several other Indian tribes have a similar belief, and some tribes believe that the light coming from the Milky Way is the campfires of souls as they make their journey to heaven.

The Lakota Indians have an extremely high rate of suicide among their young people.

I dedicate the following poem to the Lakota people, all of those who have lost someone to suicide, and to my mother, Peggy Miller Wiggins.

The Milky Way Woman 11-14-07

When I was three

And you sent me

Out to play in the

Snow while you

Put a bullet through

Your heart

I did not cry

I curled into a ball

And sucked my thumb

When Daddy came

That night and said

Look up into the

Sky and see your

Mommy's face In the stars

I did not look

I did not want

To see your face

So far away

And so small

But now I'm

Grown and have

Children of my own

I want to stand

On the edge

Of the Milky Way

With you, hand in hand

And when the

Milky Way Woman

Gives the command

You and I

Will take that

Leap together

Wait for me

Where do you believe souls go after they leave the physical body?

How is the soul separate from the spirit?

How is the mind separate from the soul?

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