Monday, December 29, 2008

U.S. needs science and math teachers

Yet another study has come out that confirms what many others have concluded over the past couple years, and that is U.S. middle schools and high schools need many more teachers over the next decade. Specifically, it is estimated that schools are going to need some 200,000 plus science and math teachers to fill in positions. Keep in mind that it is already a bad situation in middle schools, where surveys have shown more than 40% of science teachers are not certified in science, but have been quickly converted from other areas of study they were originally trained in. This does not bode well for the U.S., nor for children, who need to be prepared for a globally competitive economy which, of course, is becoming more and more dependent on science and math. The need for massive teacher recruitment, training, and retention is upon us.

President-elect Barack Obama has identified this issue as one of his priorities for education when he officially takes office. Because of economic conditions, it is unclear what is fiscally possible because he would like to offer up to 40,000 scholarships for science and math teachers who would, in return, commit three years of teaching in high-needs schools. There would be a focus on teacher support and mentoring, seeing how something like 40% of new teachers leave the profession within three years (which is why I always scratch my head when I hear so many people complain how easy teaching is and how easy teachers have it, but that's just me). This is an ambitious plan that may or may not happen because there will likely be no money available for so many scholarships, so alternatives need to be figured out, stat.

One option is the concept of virtual science departments, which is something I am very interested in and have begun to think about, along with a number of education professors and think-tanks. There needs to be a paradigm shift in education that makes better use of technologies that already exist and can help expand educational opportunities and level the playing field so rural and inner-city children have similar learning experiences to those from wealthier suburban schools. In addition, the possibility to begin personalizing education to better-match individuals interests, and therefore increase student engagement and learning in and out of schools, will become a reality. I will be posting more about this in the future, as well as remote science experiments being developed for a global iLabs Network, being developed by MIT and Northwestern University. This network will allow high schools and universities to access physical experiments, for which they do not have the resources to do, from other locations and facilities that do have the required hardware and software, via the Internet. This is in the first stages of development and testing, but in the next couple years will begin expanding the lists of possible experiments all schools have available to them.

There is so much to do, and little time in which to do it, if the U.S. is remain at the top level of science, engineering and technological innovation, and have a work force that can keep the country competitive with good jobs in the future.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

There is a Correlation between Child's IQ and Birthweight

I found an interesting, short article on Scientific American. There is a direct, positive correlation between birth weight and IQ scores for children at the age of seven. I am not sure if this is true or not, and will look into it, but if one assumes that larger babies have correspondingly larger brain mass, this would seem to make sense. A newborn is literally moving from one world into a brand new world, and will naturally be overwhelmed by the huge amount of environmental stimulus. More brain mass should allow the infant to better comprehend, learn and adapt over time. The effect is more pronounced for boys than for girls, but the effect is significant for both genders. There are several other related articles that can be linked to off this article, so I recommend checking those out if you are interested in this topic.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Guess: What am I?

This comes from the site A student brought this to my attention. To what do you think this is referring? Thanks, MC.

"WARNING: This Product Warps Space and Time in Its Vicinity.

WARNING: This Product Attracts Every Other Piece of Matter in the universe, Including the Products of Other Manufacturers, with a Force Proportional to the Product of the Masses and Inversely Proportional to the Distance Between Them.

CAUTION: The Mass of This Product Contains the Energy Equivalent of 85 Million Tons of TNT per Net Ounce of Weight.

HANDLE WITH EXTREME CARE: This Product Contains Minute Electrically Charged Particles Moving at Velocities in Excess of Five Hundred Million Miles Per Hour.

CONSUMER NOTICE: Because of the "Uncertainty Principle," It Is Impossible for the Consumer to Find Out at the Same Time Both Precisely Where This Product Is And How Fast It Is Moving.

ADVISORY: There is an Extremely Small but Nonzero Chance That, Through a Process Know as "Tunneling," This Product May Spontaneously Disappear from Its Present location and Reappear at Any Random Place in the Universe, Including Your Neighbor's Domicile. The Manufacturer Will Not Be Responsible for Any Damages or Inconvenience That May Result.

READ THIS BEFORE OPENING PACKAGE: According to Certain Suggested Versions of the Grand Unified Theory, the Primary Particles Constituting this Product May Decay to Nothingness Within the Next Four Hundred Million Years.

THIS IS A 100% MATTER PRODUCT: In the Unlikely Event That This Merchandise Should Contact Antimatter in Any Form, a Catastrophic Explosion Will Result.

PUBLIC NOTICE AS REQUIRED BY LAW: Any Use of This Product, in Any Manner Whatsoever, Will Increase the Amount of Disorder in the Universe. Although No Liability Is Implied Herein, the Consumer Is Warned That This Process Will Ultimately Lead to the Heat Death of the Universe.

NOTE: The Most Fundamental Particles in This Product Are Held Together by a "Gluing" Force About Which Little is Currently Known and Whose Adhesive Power Can Therefore Not Be Permanently Guaranteed.

ATTENTION: Despite Any Other Listing of Product Contents Found Hereon, the Consumer is Advised That, in Actuality, This Product Consists Of 99.9999999999% Empty Space.

NEW GRAND UNIFIED THEORY DISCLAIMER: The Manufacturer May Technically Be Entitled to Claim That This Product Is Ten-Dimensional. However, the Consumer Is Reminded That This Confers No Legal Rights Above and Beyond Those Applicable to Three-Dimensional Objects, Since the Seven New Dimensions Are "Rolled Up" into Such a Small "Area" That They Cannot Be Detected.

PLEASE NOTE: Some Quantum Physics Theories Suggest That When the Consumer Is Not Directly Observing This Product, It May Cease to Exist or Will Exist Only in a Vague and Undetermined State.

COMPONENT EQUIVALENCY NOTICE: The Subatomic Particles (Electrons, Protons, etc.) Comprising This Product Are Exactly the Same in Every Measurable Respect as Those Used in the Products of Other Manufacturers, and No Claim to the Contrary May Legitimately Be Expressed or Implied.

HEALTH WARNING: Care Should Be Taken When Lifting This Product, Since Its Mass, and Thus Its Weight, Is Dependent on Its Velocity Relative to the User.

IMPORTANT NOTICE TO PURCHASERS: The Entire Physical Universe, Including This Product, May One Day Collapse Back into an Infinitesimally Small Space. Should Another Universe Subsequently Re-emerge, the Existence of This Product in That Universe Cannot Be Guaranteed."

Very clever!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Some Major Problems and Issues Requiring Science to Solve

President-elect Obama's choices for his primary science team are some of the more important selections he will make. Here is a post written a year ago that outlines why I would make that statement.

When one thinks about the variety of problems we face as both a national and global society, it becomes clear that science will be looked to to develop answers and solutions to many of these problems. It is also clear that we need to think of this as science in the broadest sense, as all areas and disciplines will need to contribute. This goes to the heart of the definition of consilience, as numerous areas of knowledge and expertise will need to mix together if we are to make solid progress in finding effective solutions.

To get the ball rolling, consider the following broad issues/problems. All of these will require contributions from a variety of scientific and technical areas of study...multidisciplinary tasks galore:

* Quality of air and water
* Fresh water supplies for much of the west and southwest
* Disposal of solid wastes (everyday garbage)
* Modernization and maintenance of national power grid
* New energy sources, better energy efficiency and conservation
* Climate change (both at an understanding level as well as preparing for consequences)
* Improved electronic encryption algorithms as we digitize everything (medical, financial records, etc)
* Transportation infrastructure
* Telecommunications networks, both development and maintenance
* Continued improvement and progress in computing technologies
* Mass electronic data storage
* Medical treatments for the disease of your choice. This includes stem cell issues, genetic engineering, drug R&D, and so on.
* Military related technologies
* Improved search technologies for earth-crossing asteroids (something I have yet to hear policymakers talk about publicly, but there are literally many thousands of sizeable objects that cross earth's orbit we should try to identify and monitor)
* Food supplies and quality control
* Disposal of nuclear wastes, nuclear proliferation issues
* Nanotechnology in general
* Security technology of all types
* Robotics
* Implementation of educational strategies and structures based on brain research and learning theory to best prepare the next generation of workers
* Continued development of network theory, game theory, etc., and progress in our understanding of complex systems for physical and social applications
* Materials science and development

I encourage comments with additional major issues that are technical in nature and subject to progress via scientific avenues; this is not at all a complete list. What we cannot forget is that further inclusion of other areas of study are intimately connected with just about everything on the above list, such as ethics, state/national/international law, economics, political science, sociology, public policy, military concerns, all areas of engineering, business/industry, job creation, international relations, anthropology, and countless subfields that fall under these larger areas of specialization.

The quicker we as a society recognize and realize the complexity, multidisciplinarity, and difficulty level of finding both short-term and long-term solutions to problems found in any of these areas, the better off we will be. The next president will need to address all of these during the course of an administration, as will every other prominent political figure in every nation across the globe. We will not be able to ignore any of them, and these loom as multi-generational issues that need to be solved. This will require leaders who are able to connect with the masses and communicate the seriousness of the issues, as well as move his or her nation toward a mindset of long-term planning and policy, something we seem to not be very good at.

We need to find and create massive numbers of people who are trained in the all of the sciences, mathematics, engineering and technology, and all the other fields mentioned above to remain competitive in a global marketplace, as well as the maintain and improve the quality of life for future generations. It is challenging work, but do we have any other choice but to address these challenges? Does our consumption-based and entertainment-driven society have the backbone and means to deal with these issues? Will we leave the world in better condition for our kids and grandkids than what we inherited?

Selections of Science Advisers Show Obama Wants Change in Science Policy

The general public will likely overlook the latest appointments President-elect Obama has made today. In naming science advisers, the public largely does not connect the dots of what those selections tell us about the President's views or the path the President wants to follow into the future. There are very few scientists who have 'big names' and there is next to no conversation or debate among average Americans about these selections as there are when, say, Secretaries of State and Defense are named. Those much more notable Cabinet positions have popular, 'big name' individuals at the helm.

Obama is appointing Harvard physicist John Holdren to the position of science adviser, who is the go-to person on science policy. A Harvard marine biologist, Jane Lubchenko, will direct the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA), whose primary concern now is climate change. These two individuals are big names in the scientific world and are both experts in climate change. Two other scientists who will co-chair the Council of Advisers on Science and Technology are Nobel laureate and former director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Harold Varmus and MIT professor Eric Lander, an expert in human genome science.

While not household names, this is an impressive team. It also tells us something that will be an ENORMOUS difference with the respect and role science plays at the top of government policy: there actually will be respect for science and a respect for open inquiry, and a goal of gathering facts, data and evidence for policy decisions. The Bush administration has been notorious for ignoring science that contradicts the path ideology laid down, particularly in climate change policy (or a complete lack of such policy, as it turned out). The Bush White House routinely ignored policy initiatives and edited out of papers those scientific findings and evidence from government scientists that contradicted Bush policy. I suspect the world is breathing a collective sigh of relief as well with these appointments and the use of science Obama has in mind. I also would imagine that, while not interested in a formal position within the administration, former Vice President and Nobel laureate Al Gore will play a big role in the development of policy and gaining public and global support for U.S. leadership in its approach to one of the great crises humans have ever collectively faced.

I applaud these selections in the form of a standing ovation, as I am sure scientists all over the world are doing this morning. Science is going to lead the way in the solutions to an enormous number of incredibly important problems and issues. My next post will be a re-post of something I wrote a year ago. While largely under the public radar and fanfare, these are some of the most important appointments Obama will make, and will have a lasting impact on how we are able to attack significant problems for decades to come. I sense a renewed energy and enthusiasm and sense of urgency in the scientific community is upon us.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Inefficiency when Multi-Tasking

The Drs. Eide found a study showing what happens in the brain when driving and talking to someone else...not on a cell phone, but to someone else in the car. It turns out that this type of multi-tasking, just listening to another person while trying to drive, involves visual and spatial areas of the brain that are also needed for driving. In other words, listening robs attention and capacity from the parts of the brain required for safe and effective driving. Cell phone use while driving certainly does the same sort of thing, but we are just learning what happens physically in the brain that makes cell phone use so distracting and dangerous.

I should mention that I often, at stoplights, observe how many cars drive by with cell phones to the driver's ear. My record so far is seeing 8 cars in a row with drivers with a phone to the ear. The illusion for those individuals is that the cell phone conversation does not affect the driving, so there is no danger. We need to change this myth with the hard data and evidence of studies such as this to show multi-tasking is not as hardened as we want to believe.

I am looking forward to seeing additional studies related to classroom participation and learning while there are side conversations that disrupt other students.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Genius in a Group-Think Era?

Found an interesting article off Yahoo. It asked the question if Albert Einstein is the last great genius. This is a legitimate question in an age where 'group-think' is becoming the rage. There are obvious benefits to mass collaboration, largely making use of Web 2.0 tools and applications, and the best set of examples I have found are in the book Wikinomics.

One would like to think that individuals can still make a difference. I suspect this will still be the case, but less frequently than in the past. Ideas can blossom so quickly once numerous people share concepts and possible solutions to problems, but I would argue that there lies a chance that group-think may, in some cases, have one idea catch on that leads the pack on a path that ultimately runs into a dead-end. The notion of 'trends' and 'fads' hold true, and the 'latest craze' idea can attract most minds of the group. It may turn out that it will take an individual or small subset of the larger group to break from the group mindset, think outside the box, and develop an original idea that becomes the next focus of the group. Perhaps a good structure to a mass collaboration is to have numerous subsets working on different aspects of the problem from different points of view, so as to resist the temptation to fall into a 'fad' mentality. This falls in line with 'Mediciexity.' One example of the 'fad' mentality may be string theory. The concept of the 'string' is attractive to solving the ultimate questions of the universe, and over the past couple decades many of the most promising and powerful theoretical and mathematical minds have become part of that 'group.' However, all these years later there is not a viable, i.e. testable, theory that fits into the experimental realm of physics. Time will tell if this mass collaboration is worth it in the may end up one brilliant idea, from one brilliant person, completely separated from the string theory group, will end up being correct. Individuals may still change the world.

Perhaps the notion of individual genius making its mark in the modern mass collaboration age is evolving to the point of the genius required to form the right group. Web 2.0 technology has been applied in an unprecedented way by Barack Obama and a small, few person group of advisers. The creativity, forward-thinking plan and then the discipline and message-delivery by Obama himself has taken a young, smart, but relatively unknown and inexperienced politician whose future was supposed to be a decade away (according the group-thinking of the more traditional political parties)to the presidency. It still takes individuals or very small groups to develop a concept and start the larger group/collaboration, so perhaps this is where we will see genius more often than not.

There will always be a place for individuals, so we need to be careful not to push young minds, which tend to be the most creative and open to new ways of thinking, entirely into a group-think mindset...they still need to be encouraged to think for themselves, be skeptical of the group, and not be afraid to offer up 'outside the box' thinking and creative solutions. I want my students, at least, to never shy away from individual interests and ideas, and to not just go along with the latest fad if they don't agree with it. As always, I am not a proponent of going with one way of doing something, but rather using variety; not to fall into a 'whole language only' or a 'phonics only' way of learning, but rather taking the good things from each and using them. Variety, in this case group-think and individual-think, and the good that comes from each, is the spice of the new Web 2.0 life.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Repeat Post: What are the Goals of K-12 Education?

I wanted to bring this old post back, with a hope of getting a larger discussion going, and to just , get us thinking about what we want from K-12 education in this country. With a new President coming in, I think we will see No Child Left Behind improved upon. This will likely fall into how progress of students is measured. Barack Obama has been talking in terms of longitudinal progress of individual students, with long-term learning being the goal, rather than snapshots of different groups of kids year to year. I would like to suggest that individual student growth be measured in a way as is done with the Measure of Academic Progress, or MAP, testing. This national exam series allows for more accurate student placement in math and English, as well as the establishment of growth targets for students and a measure of student academic growth.

Below is a link to an old post from last April. I hope it helps get us thinking about what we want as we are making a national and global transition from manufacturing and industrial economy to an information and energy economy, with global competition for jobs running wild.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Science of Thanksgiving

This is for my senior students, who shared with me some Thanksgiving science anecdotes before the holiday. Scientific American has a few articles related to the science of Thanksgiving. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Learning Enhanced Through Stories

Learning and memory can be enhanced and improved 2- to 7-fold when done through stories, rather than through listening or just straight factual reading. The Drs. Eide have a post up with some additional references. It appears that this is true because story comprehension requires both hemispheres of the brain, whereas other types of learning stay within one or the other hemisphere. Research like this is what educators need to pay attention to.

E = mc^2 Verified using QCD

The most famous equation ever written down (besides 1 + 1 = 2, perhaps) is E = mc^2. People who never had physics can quote it, although I suspect most have no clue what it truly means. Now, using a very mathematically sophisticated theory called quantum chromodynamics, or QCD, it has been shown that Einstein's equation accounts for the strange situation where a proton's mass is made up mostly of the energy of complicated particle interactions within the proton. Quarks and massless gluons make up the guts of a proton, and lattice calculations from supercomputers in Europe have now verified that the energy-mass equivalence works out to produce the observed mass of a proton, which is 1.6 x 10^-27 kg. Very cool! From a press release:

" According to the conventional model of particle physics, protons and neutrons comprise smaller particles known as quarks, which in turn are bound by gluons.

The odd thing is this: the mass of gluons is zero and the mass of quarks is only five percent. Where, therefore, is the missing 95 percent?

The answer, according to the study published in the US journal Science on Thursday, comes from the energy from the movements and interactions of quarks and gluons.

In other words, energy and mass are equivalent, as Einstein proposed in his Special Theory of Relativity in 1905.

The e=mc2 formula shows that mass can be converted into energy, and energy can be converted into mass.

By showing how much energy would be released if a certain amount of mass were to be converted into energy, the equation has been used many times, most famously as the inspirational basis for building atomic weapons.

But resolving e=mc2 at the scale of sub-atomic particles -- in equations called quantum chromodynamics -- has been fiendishly difficult.

"Until now, this has been a hypothesis," France's National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) said proudly in a press release.

"It has now been corroborated for the first time."

For those keen to know more: the computations involve "envisioning space and time as part of a four-dimensional crystal lattice, with discrete points spaced along columns and rows."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Al Gore's 5-step Proposal for Energy Independence

Former Vice President and Nobel Prize winner Al Gore wrote a recent op-ed in the NY Times. He outlined how the U.S. can begin to make real change regarding its energy usage, ultimately reaching a point of energy independence. Below is an excerpt where he outlines 5 points to address to reach such a goal:

"What follows is a five-part plan to repower America with a commitment to producing 100 percent of our electricity from carbon-free sources within 10 years. It is a plan that would simultaneously move us toward solutions to the climate crisis and the economic crisis -- and create millions of new jobs that cannot be outsourced.

First, the new president and the new Congress should offer large-scale investment in incentives for the construction of concentrated solar thermal plants in the Southwestern deserts, wind farms in the corridor stretching from Texas to the Dakotas and advanced plants in geothermal hot spots that could produce large amounts of electricity.

Second, we should begin the planning and construction of a unified national smart grid for the transport of renewable electricity from the rural places where it is mostly generated to the cities where it is mostly used. New high-voltage, low-loss underground lines can be designed with "smart" features that provide consumers with sophisticated information and easy-to-use tools for conserving electricity, eliminating inefficiency and reducing their energy bills. The cost of this modern grid -- $400 billion over 10 years -- pales in comparison with the annual loss to American business of $120 billion due to the cascading failures that are endemic to our current balkanized and antiquated electricity lines.

Third, we should help America's automobile industry (not only the Big Three but the innovative new startup companies as well) to convert quickly to plug-in hybrids that can run on the renewable electricity that will be available as the rest of this plan matures. In combination with the unified grid, a nationwide fleet of plug-in hybrids would also help to solve the problem of electricity storage. Think about it: with this sort of grid, cars could be charged during off-peak energy-use hours; during peak hours, when fewer cars are on the road, they could contribute their electricity back into the national grid.

Fourth, we should embark on a nationwide effort to retrofit buildings with better insulation and energy-efficient windows and lighting. Approximately 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States come from buildings -- and stopping that pollution saves money for homeowners and businesses. This initiative should be coupled with the proposal in Congress to help Americans who are burdened by mortgages that exceed the value of their homes.

Fifth, the United States should lead the way by putting a price on carbon here at home, and by leading the world's efforts to replace the Kyoto treaty next year in Copenhagen with a more effective treaty that caps global carbon dioxide emissions and encourages nations to invest together in efficient ways to reduce global warming pollution quickly, including by sharply reducing deforestation.

Of course, the best way -- indeed the only way -- to secure a global agreement to safeguard our future is by re-establishing the United States as the country with the moral and political authority to lead the world toward a solution. "

Will we have the political will to transform the nation and its thirst for energy? The technology for most of what is proposed already exists. It will take a massive effort from out science and technology base, but I do not doubt this will work if we put our collective minds to it. No nation in the history of the world can accomplish great things like the U.S. has, when it has the right leadership and the collective will of the American people behind it. Now is one of those times.

Read the entire op-ed here.

Interesting Discussion between Zakaria and Friedman

Two journalists whose main focus is globalization and how energy demands affect the present and project how those demands will affect the future, Fareed Zakaria and Thomas Friedman, had an interesting discussion with each other. Read the transcript here. I am presently reading Friedman's latest book, "Hot, Flat and Crowded," and it is very interesting. I hope the Obama administration will consider his ideas as far as what our economy will likely look like within a decade, and how what we do fits in with the rest of the world. I suspect how we transition from an information economy to an energy economy, and how we do or do not lead the world with such an effort, will define this entire generation. And it will also set the path the world will take and the conditions of the world in this century, which our children will inherit. Complex, massive problems, with enormous challenges to overcome, but we have no choice but to take it on head-on. I want to be optimistic and say we will figure it out (we already have a good start on the necessary science and technology to begin an overhaul of our energy infrastructure and production, but we have lacked political leadership...this is why I am excited about possibilities for changing this situation with the election of Barack Obama, who has bought into the notion that energy will dominate the new global economy, and he wants to see massive change in the U.S. within 10 years), but time will tell.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Turnout is now everything...get the word out!

In a little over 48 hours, polls begin to open on election day. In many states early voting continues through Monday. The name of the game is TURNOUT!! If the trend continues and record numbers of voters come out, that should be good news for Sen. Obama. This is because of the newly registered voters, which began to drastically increase during the later stages of the primary battle between Hillary Clinton and Obama, favor the Democrats by something like 4:1. It is now a matter of getting these new voters to the polls. Many of these are also younger voters, especially an explosion of college students. Bug those students and make sure they have voted or will vote. Polling data is meaningless on any election day, and all that matters is the actual turnout. Time to act!

Mental Math Ability

The Drs. Eide have a short post about mental math ability. Young children memorize numbers and the simplest arithmetic facts in the prefrontal region of the brain. But more complex math is done as the brain matures and grows in the parietal cortex.

The ability to have 'number sense' is related to the amount of white matter in the left corona radiata, which can be affected by premature birth, birth stress, dyslexia, and some other conditions at birth; these kids tend to have difficulty with math, and this new research helps explain why.

How does solar power work?

When the elections are finally over, we can move on to the real business of solving problems. I am especially anxious to see serious R&D, certainly more than what has happened the last few years, into new energy sources. Solar power is (hopefully) going to become a star player in the next national energy plan. To begin to learn about how it works, check out the short article from Scientific American.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

McCain's Argument for today

Sen. McCain is back to bashing Sen. Obama about national security, with Bill Ayers back yet again in his speech, and the attempt to say that what Ayers did when Obama was 8 years old means Obama is a terrorist...or whatever twisted 'logic' McCain is hoping will stick with certain voters. But then he said something that caught my attention.

"The question is whether this is a man who has what it takes to protect America from Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida and the other great threats in the world," McCain said. "He has given no reason to answer in the affirmative."

He pointed out bin Laden and al Qaeda. Here is my thought: If it were up to Obama and his judgment, there is a pretty good chance we would not still be talking about bin Laden and al Qaaeda at all. It was Obama who did not want the Iraq distraction in the first place. Obama wanted to actually finish the job in Afghanistan, the true front in the war on terrorism. Had we put in the effort and resources into actually hunting down and killing off al Qaeda, the Taliban, and bin Laden when they were in our sights 6 years ago, we can only imagine where we would be as far as national security and the status of the U.S. in the world. I suspect it would be very different than what we have now.

Judgment, Sen. McCain, that is what this is about, and whst many people think Obama has when it comes to national security. At least we only have five more days of campaigning where we must listen to whatever new attacks McCain will throw out there, hoping to win on nothing more than fear and smear. He and his associates have gone through calling Obama a non-patriot, a terrorist, a socialist, a marxist, the usual 'tax and spend liberal' (even though his tax plan benefits 95% of American workers more than McCain's plan), someone who wants to bring back the welfare state (when has tax cuts been the same as welfare???), someone who wants to teach kindergardeners sex before reading, and so on. All of this is utter nonsense and/or things taking completely out of context. What new names McCain will come up with is anyone's guess, all of which is meant to stick in the back of undecided voters' minds when they enter the voting booth, hoping that fear wins out over true beliefs and, yes, the actual truth itself. I suppose it worked four years ago for W's re-election, so that is all the McCain camp has left as its argument for why he should be President.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Presidential Dance-off - Funny!

One of the funnier things I have seen recently can be found here. Check it out, and enjoy!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

McCain Has His Own Baggage When it Comes to Acquaintances with Shady Pasts

Unfortunately, the McCain campaign has stooped to levels McCain himself had pledged never to reach, which is for lack of a better term 'character assassination' of Barack Obama. This happens when campaigns have nothing left and are behind. Some times it works, some times it does not. But beware, if Sen. Obama is forced to respond in kind, I'll bet he has ads in the vault that are ready to go at a moment's notice. McCain has plenty of old acquaintances and even those he calls friends that he admires, such as G. Gordon Liddy and a number of right-wing evangelicals and preachers (I imagine this is why he has put Rev. Wright off limits in his ads) who have made numerous inflammatory comments over the years that most would say rival what Rev. Wright has said on a few occasions.

But there are others that are not as well known. Check here if interested in some of McCain's associations that rival Obama's relationship on educational boards with Bill Ayers. I wonder why the press has not picked up on these?

Cool Photos - Nikon Small World Photos

Nikon sponsors a contest each year for the best scientific photo contest for small phenomena or objects. Some truly beautiful and wondrous photos can be found on a Scientific American site. Check them out and enjoy.

Children Under 12 Generally Don't Learn From Mistakes, But Respond to Positive Feedback

The Drs. Eide have a short post from Science Daily showing results of fMRI studies on children who try to learn from mistakes and those who try to learn from positive feedback, as well as older teenagers and adults under the same circumstances. Teens and adults have had their brains mature and develop pathways to learn from mistakes that they have made. Younger children generally do not learn well from the mistakes they make - the brain does not develop the same pathways in order for this to occur. There are always exceptions because of the uniqueness of individual brain development, but many more children under the age of 12 do not learn effectively from mistakes and are prone to make the same mistake. Positive praise and feedback works best for most children. Negative feedback is not effective either, as some teachers and parents may get angry with those children who make the same mistakes, rather than praise them for progress in moving away from a particular mistake. Very interesting and important for the home and the classroom!

Gen. Colin Powell Endorses Obama

This just happened about an hour ago, but Gen. Colin Powell, former National Security Advisor and Chairman of The Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of State during Bush's first term, a Republican, and long-time friend of John McCain, has given what may be the most eloquent and thoughtful reason to vote for Barack Obama as I have heard. On Meet the Press this morning, laid out his thinking and observations of both candidates, and gave very specific reasons why he is for Obama.

He stated his deep disappointment in how the GOP has been moving further to the right over the course of the campaign, and how the McCain campaign has continued to focus on what Powell believes to be insignificant issues and trying to make great stretches in truth and associations, such as the Bill Ayers issue (if McCain himself has called Ayers a "washed out terrorist," then why does he matter as an issue in a presidential campaign?), when those issues simply aren't part of the problems faced by America and by Americans. Powell is disappointed in McCain's daily changes to his message, and incosistency over many months. He is disappointed in the choice of Sarah Palin for veep, and that she is not ready to take over should something happen to McCain. This is not a typical campaign because of the numerous serious issues that need to be solved, and Gen. Powell wants all energy devoted to solving those issues; that will not happen with all the nonsense and inappropriate/false robocalls, etc., that McCain's campaign has resorted to.

He praised Obama for his intellectual curiosity and command of issues, his steadiness during the campaign and specifically the economic crisis we are in, and his trust in him to surround himself with experts of both parties for reaching his policy decisions, whether they are domestic of foreign policy/national security. Gen. Powell also strongly believes our international standing must improve, and that Obama is best suited for that, too.

See his endorsement for yourself.

McCain's Last Stand - Campaign of Fear

And now the final chapter of this election campaign - all out fear! Obama is a socialist! Obama will tax every citizen back to the Stone Age, just he will tax 'Joe the plumber' and ruin the American dream! (Anyone else sick of hearing that phrase, 'Joe the plumber' or is just me?) Obama is a terrorist! Obama kills babies! Obama is bringing down democracy itself! Obama is bringing back the black power era! Obama cares more about his campaign than a war! These, of course, are already out there and have all been statements of McCain himself or Palin, his running mate. (Interesting to note about Palin - when is the last time her campaign watchers allowed her to speak with the media on her own? She will be on the stump only, since her handlers are fearful of how she will be able to answer policy questions. Is this telling about her readiness to take over should something happen to McCain, who will still be the oldest person to take the office should he win? Her own campaign doesn't have confidence in her to handle the job, but still some flock to her)

And I am just waiting for this phrase to be uttered by McCain or Palin - We will be attacked by the evil-doers if Obama is in charge! Just wait, it will be said at some point if McCain is still down in the polls the last week of the campaign.

McCain and Palin's stump speeches are filled with these comments, and now the robocalls are out with completely deceitful and literally made-up charges against Obama. And McCain is still using charges he has brought up in all three debates that are blatantly not true, as confirmed by looking at Obama's campaign platform and countless checks by the media and even other Republicans (in fact, a number of high profile Republicans, including members of Congress such as Sen. Collins from Maine) who are in close races are asking for an end of the completely negative campaign of the person who once said something like, "mark my words, I will never go that rout, even if behind", because of the nonsense the Bush campaign laid on him in South Carolina in the 2000 primary race. McCain, time and time again, goes back on his word, back on his honor, and is simply a pure politician who will do anything and everything to be elected. But a good number of people buy into it.

Looking back from when the primaries began in both parties, who has been the most consistent candidate? I think it is clearly Sen. Obama. His message has not changed. His speeches and policies have not changed. All his opponents have ended up using his campaign slogans and philosophy, and have tried to mimic his unprecedented use of technology to build his vast grassroots foundation. He has tried to stay away entirely from negative ads, but has had to throw in some, which are based on policy differences or actual things his opponents have said, in the face of constant attacks by the other side. This is because the other sides have always been behind, and that is what trailing campaigns resort to.

I cannot help but reach the conclusion that McCain, who likes to think of himself as an honorable man, has lost that honor. He is beyond where he said he would ever go. Fact Check (on taxes for now, due to lack of time at the moment):

McCain's claims of raising taxes on everyone ("Watch your wallets" is his phrase nowadays) is utterly false, and anyone who has analyzed the tax plans will agree it is a made up charge, but that does not prevent McCain from scaring everyone in his ads and speeches and robocalls. It just ain't so.

- taxes: Obama gives a larger tax cut to 95% of working Americans than McCain. Only if net income is over $250000 will taxes go up. Why this policy? First, let's not forget that both candidates say they will raise spending because of the unprecedented number of major problems the nation faces. We are likely to have a deficit of between $800 billion and $1 trillion just this year. McCain wants to cut taxes on the wealthiest (he has never denied this) because his philosophy is trickle-down economics. That is where the difference lies between the two. The reason I support Obama's plan is that, with conditions as they stand right now, the middle class is in terrible economic shape. Personal debt is at historic highs on average, and savings rates are at historic lows on average. The average wages and take home income have been flat at best, and some studies show have declined when adjusted for inflation (largely due to gas and food price increases) over the past decade or so. With the additional economic collapse of global banking and lending systems, as well as the drop in personal wealth as home prices have declined sharply, everyone expects a terrible retail holiday season, more job cuts, and so on, as all this is linked together. The middle class, which is the engine that drives our economy with its spending, is not in a position to spend. If they do not spend, what business is going to be able to expand and create more jobs, as revenue and sales drop? By taking an approach to boost up the middle class, this will ultimately be good for everyone. Now the rich will still be rich, even after modest tax increases. That is simply a fact. But in order to offer tax cuts to help the rich become richer in the long-run (via higher middle class spending and purchasing), there is a good chance the super wealthy will do better long-term, even though they take a short-term hit. This is not without example, as it happened during the Clinton era. The history behind lowering taxes across the board, with increased spending, is record deficits and a hit on the economy long-term, as happened with Reagan and now Bush, and perhaps McCain if he wins.

By the way, Joe the plumber would do much better under Obama's tax plan than under McCain's. He makes far less than $250000. And Joe said the business would cost about $270000 to buy...but guess what, that would not be his take home pay if he were ever to make the purchase of the business. After expenses, payrolls, benefits for employees, and all the rest businesses are allowed to deduct on their tax returns, his take home pay would certainly be well under a quarter million dollars. He would not see one cent of a tax increase! He would likely see a tax break! This is why something like 98% of small businesses are not going to be affected by the Obama plan, and actually helped!! And with Obama's health care plan, there are further cost reductions and tax incentives for small businesses, which will likely be the biggest source of new jobs. Question for someone who knows: Is the definition of 'small business' one with less than one hundred employees?

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Contradictions of McCain's campaign

It seems that Sen. McCain cannot quite find a way to connect with average Americans during the last days of the campaign for President. He has yet another new stump speech, desperately trying to find any sort of message that will change the momentum of the race with Sen. Obama. First, neither he nor Sarah Palin have mentioned Obama's name or any reference to Bill Ayers the past two days. They realize that version of a stump speech and strategy was counterproductive and actually turned off some swing voters because the people want to hear what will be done for the economy, not personal attacks about things that happened a decade or more ago. Obama was smart to stay on the issues side, and rightly stated McCain simply wanted to divert voters' attention from the issues. Obama appeared more concerned for the average American, and he appeared more presidential staying away from character assassination.

So now McCain is back to issues supposedly, but that may be a war he cannot win at this late date. This past week of trying to bring Obama down instead of raising himself up could have been the last bit of precious time McCain had, and ended up wasting it. McCain is only adding on to the view he is erratic, with no clear strategy or message in a crisis situation that requires leadership, not speeches given after polling data is available. Contradictions galore now have enveloped the McCain campaign.

He was a major force for deregulation for decades. Now in the heat of the campaign and down in the polls, he wants us to believe he is a lifelong fighter for regulation and oversight. He was running on experience, but when that became inconvenient with the economic collapse, he is now a fight for change. He puts country first as a slogan, but chooses a running mate that was clearly a campaign first action. Just days before the crash of the market, he said the fundamentals of the economy are strong - The next day he says things are a disaster. He wanted an honorable, issues campaign, and we saw what that turned out to be in the past two weeks. He continues, even today, to insist Obama is simply going to tax us back to the stone-age, when Americans have paid attention and know that is an utter lie; Obama will give tax relief to 95% of taxpayers and also proposes a bigger tax cut than the McCain plan. He suspended his campaign to work in Washington (on committees he was not a member of...), then came back and said things would pass when suddenly that evening his Republican friends in the House did not pass the bailout; should a President not be able to handle multiple issues and crises at a time? Obama looked strong by staying engaged via technology, working Democrats to vote for the bailout plan, while still campaigning, and came in when appropriate and helped get the deal done. And Sarah Palin's line today was,

"There's anger about the insider dealing of lobbyists. Anger about the greed on Wall Street. Anger about the arrogance of the Washington elite,"

She is correct about the anger. But consider this: McCain's elite campaign staff is almost entirely made up of lobbyists (some 60 throughout the campaign), while Obama does not have any paid lobbyists. Greed on Wall Street was able to flourish in part because of the deregulation McCain has advocated and supported for decades. Is not a senator who has been in Washington for 26 years not part of the definition of Washington elite? I am not sure this is a good line to use since it works against Palin's own party candidate.

We'll see if his latest 'plan' and speech does anything, but with all the contradictions I will predict not. Next week, or perhaps sooner, we are likely to hear an entirely new message and plan. Americans are apparently seeing through all the pandering and desperation, which has been helping Obama.

Early Voting Begins Today!

For those former students who log in from time to time, keep in mind that early voting begins today in Illinois, and it has already begun in a number of other states. Please make sure to vote, regardless of who you are supporting, for this is how our voices are heard. Many have died to give us this right, and it is our responsibility to do so as citizens. Encourage friends in person, over the phone, through email and text messages, through Facebook and other online options, but keep in mind you can be difference makers in this election if your age-group turns out in force. Your future is at stake with the major problems (economic, climate change, energy, security) we face, so do not take this election lightly or for granted, because it will likely be close. Thanks, and stay in touch!!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Two Unknowns for the Election

Polling suggests that Sen. Obama has been building statistically significant leads in national polls of likely voters, as well as in a growing number of state polls. One fear among his supporters is that there will be a "Bradley effect" in this election, in reference to Tom Bradley's run for California governor. Bradley, an African-American, was up significantly in opinion polls right up to the election, and ended up losing the election. Other races between a white and non-white candidate show similar drops in actual votes compared to opinion polls. Will this be the case this year? No one can answer that question except the voters. Because of the economic mess countless American families find themselves in, if people truly feel better with Obama in control rather than McCain, will that trump any racial bias they may have for Obama? No one knows.

But one other aspect of the race that is not being talked about as much is the turnout of younger voters. The 18-28 block of voters is notoriously absent in elections. This is a group of voters that overwhelmingly support Obama. Typically these are voters who are newly registered, have never voted before, and therefore do not come up on 'likely voter' lists that are in turn used for polling purposes. There are literally multiple millions of new voters in this election, which are Democratic by something like a 4:1 margin. If they actually do turn out in large numbers, and economic conditions trump racial bias, the election will be won by Obama. If they turn out in the usual percentages (in the 25% range, for example), and there is a real racial factor, it is more of a toss-up. If there is a large turnout of young voters and a Bradley effect in the electorate, my best guess is that they cancel each other out more or less, and Obama would end up being the winner. Besides some unforeseeable event that will change the dynamics of the election, these two factors are the two unknowns that will determine the results in this historic election.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Palin Reportedly Abused Power as Governor

The bipartisan panel in Alaska has apparently found Gov. Palin unlawfully used her power to try and have a state trooper fired. Known as "Troopergate," the panel, which originally was formed by fellow Republicans, came out with its initial findings tonight. The governor has built herself up as a self-proclaimed 'reformer' and 'maverick' and one who wants to clean up Washington. I was never too sure about all those claims, and perhaps McCain will look back and wish he had actually done a bit of vetting before making his decision. It will be interesting to see how the McCain spin machine tries to wiggle out of this one over the next day or two, for it just came out.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Some Thoughts About How to Teach Science

There is a very good, thought provoking post on Phil Long's blog (from MIT and U. of Queensland). It is based on the Carl Wieman lecture and his thoughts on new research that should be guiding science teachers at all levels. Carl Wieman was a co-winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in physics, for his work on Bose-Einstein condensation.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

A Campaign Not for the Weak Hearted

The McCain campaign has actually admitted today that they are "taking off the gloves" in the presidential campaign. This is entirely predictable and expected, as McCain has run one of the more negative campaigns in recent memory. He has tried everything he can think of to keep media attention off of issues and policy positions, as he is aware he cannot win the election if it is in fact based on what each candidate wants to do for the country. It is yet one more admission that the campaign slogan of "Country first" is a front for "Campaign first."

Sarah Palin is now the attack dog, bringing up the Bil Ayers issue against Barack Obama at fundraisers and campaign stops today. The quote that Obama is "palling around with terrorists" is going to be but one more daily attempt to slow the Obama momentum. Some how they want the public to buy into something that has been out there since the days when Obama ran for the Senate, and anyone who has looked into the matter, which includes numerous papers, reporters, and opponents/political enemies have concluded there is no such thing as the 'buddy-buddy' relationship McCain and Palin will try to paint. The latest investigation into the matter was the New York Times, which concluded there is no close relationship at all. Obama was 8 years old when Ayers was a member of the radical Weather Underground, an anti-war group that did in fact act out bombings at government locations. While as despicable as Ayers' actions were, Ayers happened to move on and become a professor of education and has been active in Chicago Public School reform movements, such as small schools. This is how Obama and Ayers met, as they served on some of the same boards/committees when Obama moved to Chicago and worked in the community. The numerous investigations looking for close, personal and friendly relationships have concluded that there were none...McCain will try to use guilt through association to tilt the public towards away from Obama. Obama has never expressed any support for Ayers actions decades ago when the two did not even know each other, has denounced what Ayers did in his earlier life, has never had a friendship with him, and certainly has never used Ayers as an adviser, which I am sure McCain will try to state, though false. I can only imagine McCain and his allies will next bring up Rev. Jeremiah Wright. I would have to believe there are a number of ads from left-wing groups just waiting to bring out all of McCain's associations and skeletons over the last three decades, such as the Keating five and numerous radical right-wing preachers with whom McCain has been associated (and who believe, among other things, AIDS is God's way of getting homosexuals, etc), as well as a series of almost daily flip flops on the state of the economy and other issues. Does he really want to go there? Apparently so.

If McCain wants to continue this path as the thrust of his campaign, so be it. Obama will continue to address the problems that need to be solved, and keep plugging away on what he wants to do to solve them. He will continue to take the lead in appearing presidential rather than blatantly desperate, as McCain will, or at least should, appear. Is this what Americans want during the campaign, during a time when I suspect the vast majority of voters don't want their future leaders playing in the mud while they are on the verge of losing their homes, retirement savings, and health insurance? Give me a break, McCain. And one last thing...can someone please remind Sarah Palin she is running to be the Vice President of the United States, and not the vice president of the high school student council? I am personally so entirely sick of the 'folksy' and 'cute' commentary on her debate performance, where she consistently spewed out gibberish instead of talking about anything that resembled actual answers to the questions or any hint of detail in policy positions. And I cannot imagine, should she, God forbid, ever be President, that sitting across the table from a Vladimir Putin discussing nuclear proliferation and national security issues, that winking and saying that she looks forward to working 'wit cha' and being cute are going to win over any amount of respect. This is a serious job, 'doggone it,' and I'd like her to at least act like she understands that. She should also brush up on her high school civics so she understands the veep is only allowed to vote in the Senate to break a tie.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Math News - Number Sense Looks Like a Powerful Predictor

New research suggests that children with good number sense, who, for example, can make good estimates of how many objects are in a sample, are more likely to develop into powerful, intuitive mathematicians. Check out an article from the Eides.

Great Possibility for Energy - Ocean Currents

If interested in new potential energy sources, check out the Scientific American article on a new turbine design that rides deep ocean currents like a kite rides air currents. If we were to put R&D funds into such technologies, imagine what we can do. For instance, I can imagine using something like this not only to power shoreline towns, but also other facilities such as desalination plants (which are presently expensive because of their energy costs). Like any new technology, once resources are put into research and development, more often than not I like our chances of figuring out how to raise efficiencies and lower costs.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Fascinating 4 days for McCain

Four days, four flip-flops. Such is life on the campaign trail for John McCain.

He made another statement a few days ago, after the Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch demise, that the 'fundamentals of the economy are strong.' I am waiting for someone to ask him what, exactly, are these fundamentals. There are the theoretical and technical economic variables and defined quantities that may or may not be in value ranges that are strong, but McCain is missing the point that average Americans absolutely do not care about economic theory. Rather, we are struggling through everyday life with $3+ milk, $4+ gas, foreclosures down the street, declining home values, college costs that far outpace inflation, and so on. Within a day he flipped to say that he is concerned with the economy, after being blasted by both Democrats and some Republicans, as well as being beat to the punch by none other than the Bush administration, which said the economy is not as strong as once believed.

He then comes out solidly against any more government bailouts of the large financial firms, specifically AIG. That same evening, the Federal Reserve goes through an $85 Billion loan and effective takeover of AIG. The following morning, he is fully supportive of the Fed's action.

The solution to Wall Street's problems? During his career, McCain has wanted less government interference, free markets and deregulation. He ran on this in the primaries. His present stump speech, we need strict regulations and a new government agency to manage the business sector through this period.

In the primaries, 'straight-talking' McCain was in Michigan and flatly stated lost automotive manufacturing jobs were gone, and they are never coming back. He lost Michigan to Mitt Romney. In Michigan yesterday, he was at a GM plant saying he is a fighter for the workers, as he helps resurrect car manufacturing! Yee-hah, how about that flip?!

He is 4-for-4 this week, and this does not even include the blatantly misleading and false ad on Sen. Obama's vote on sex education when an Illinois state senator (one more example of lowering the bar with personal attacks, after starting the campaign a fervent supporter of issues campaigns, especially after what Bush did to him in 2004). Can't wait to hear what comes up tomorrow, as he continues his evolution from straight-talk to experience to the change agent. He continues to do and say everything and anything that might help him in the campaign. "Country First" is the fictional slogan that should truly be "Campaign First." We'll see what happens, but I have lost respect for the man, and do hope the increasing news coverage of the changing McCain continues, such as what I just saw on "Nightline." Will Americans be fooled by all this nonsense and lack of principles on where he stands on issues?

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Palin to finally sit down for an interview later this week

Sarah Palin, John McCain's choice for running mate, will (finally) sit down and face the type of probing questions we want all our candidates to answer. Charles Gibson of ABC News will get the first interview, at an undisclosed date and time, but later this week. When this happens, it will have been over two weeks that the McCain campaign has sequestered her from answering questions before the American people.

While some in the GOP have wondered if they can switch the ticket to Palin-McCain based on her rocketship trip to national and international fame and interest (wait, is she not now a 'celebrity candidate' running for the second highest position in the land? We had better not hear any more ads about an Obama celebrity run, now that he has been in the pressure cooker of a national campaign for over 1.5 years, and has taken on hundreds of interviews on all issues and dozens of debates through the primaries...this argument has no more footing for the GOP), it is probably time for her backers and potential backers to actually learn where she stands on real issues of national concern, and what her true record is over the past decade. Some questions I would like to hear answers to include:

- Do you promote teaching creationism/intelligent design in high school science classes?
- What decisions have you had to make involving the Alaska National Guard? When the McCain campaign was asked this question, they could not come up with an answer (keep in mind any deployment of troops overseas is federally managed, and governors have nothing to do with it).
- What is your relationship with 'Big Oil' companies? Why did BP sponsor and pay for your inauguration when you became governor? Have you ever promoted any other type of energy source while in Alaska?
- Is the war in Iraq a 'holy war?' Why did you say we are in Iraq doing 'God's will?' And is this not a truly dangerous type of rhetoric for a potential U.S. President? Could one argue this is a religiously extreme statement (are we not fighting against extreme religious-based violence in the first place)?
- Did you really wish the Alaskan Independence Party (AIP), which primarily promotes the secession of Alaska from the U.S., well and good luck at one of their conventions while governor? Is your husband registered, or has he been registered, with this group? Do you think Alaska should secede? If so, what does this say about your views of the U.S. (and perhaps your patriotism)?
- It is clear you take a 'pro-life' view on abortion. Do you resist abortion in the cases of rape and the threat to the mother's life?
- How large a role did you play in bringing the latest pipeline to Alaska, for which you took credit during your speech at the RNC? Was the deal mostly done when you took office, and simply had the benefit good timing in order to claim credit?
- What do you mean when you say building pipelines and pumping more oil in Alaska is 'God's will?'
- What is your view of other Christian denominations, as well as other religions such as Islam?
- Why did you campaign for governor as a strong supporter for the bridge to nowhere, but then pulled your support when it became clear national outrage was going to force Congress to pull the funding, and flip-flop to the position of a 'reformer' who rallied against earmark and special interest funding? Did you not ask for and receive tens of millions of dollars in earmarks while mayor of a town of less than 9000 people?

We'll see if these or other 'hard questions' are asked, as they have for Sens. McCain, Obama, and Biden. In the future, other possible questions may have to revolve around the investigation of Palin's possible abuse of power as governor (the so-called 'troopergate') because of Palin's self-proclaimed fight against political corruption.

McCain a "Maverick?" 31 other Senate Republicans can claim the title over him

Just a quick check of Senate voting records show that there are 31 Republicans who have voted against the Republican Party's stance on issues (which essentially lines up with the views of the Bush White House) more frequently than John McCain. Based on these data, is it fair for him to continuously call himself an 'independent thinker' and self-proclaimed 'maverick?' It's difficult to claim these titles when the real record is in front of you.

Science Debate 2008

I just came across the Science Debate site, which began with 6 individuals who wanted to promote getting science related issues back into the political debate process. I am so glad this developed into an enormous movement, with tens of thousands of scientists endorsing it, along with the major scientific agencies and institutions ranging from the National Academy of Science, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and numerous universities. Many of my friends and colleagues in science and engineering have been placed into a state of 'shock and awe' during the Bush years, for their interference and blatant editing of scientific manuscripts (mostly those related to climate change and the impact humans have had on climate)coming from science agencies within the federal government. Regardless of who wins the election, we need to place an end to such interference.

This group finalized a list of 14 science policy questions, and submitted them to Sens. Obama and McCain. Obama has responded; McCain has not yet done so. See Sen. Obama's responses here. The questions range from energy to health issues, and genetics, stem cells, climate change and water supplies.

I do hope Sen. McCain submits answers. I worry about some of his judgment regarding science when his running mate selection of Sarah Palin was made. She promotes ideas including creationism/intelligent design in high school science classes, insistence on abstinence-only sex education (even though this has been shown to not be as effective as other types of education programs in high schools; unfortunately her daughter's pregnancy may be further evidence), and a conclusion that humans have not contributed to climate change (and has been as aggressive as anyone to promote more oil development and usage - it is unclear to me, at least, how serious she is for other types of energy development), and I can only assume a strong dismissal of stem-cell research and perhaps some genetics research. Should McCain win, and should something happen to him, we would then have a President with these strong views.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

How did Rove spin his comment? Find out about that, and much more.

Classic video clips of the before and after comments from Karl Rove, Bill O'Reilly, and others, relating to the selection of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate. This is from the "Daily Show," and is funny and sad at the same time.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

McCain's Choice of Sarah Palin

I remember telling my parents a few weeks ago to watch for a darkhorse Republican veep choice of one Sarah Palin of Alaska. The reason for this was that, if Barack Obama had a lead and a good showing at the Democratic National Convention, which I think he did in a big way (and had an estimated record 42 million people watch his speech, when you include the PBS audience to the reported 38 million estimate), John McCain would try to solidify his base and do something that would not necessarily be possible with any other Republican choice - have someone on the ticket who had a middle class upbringing that would connect with middle class America. Sarah Palin has an "American Dream" type story, which can also be said about Obama and his veep choice, Joe Biden. These three came from average families and reached the top levels of government through hard work. In addition, McCain would be able to cause a stir with this "maverick" type choice, as he tries desperately to get back his preferred status amongst voters. The Dems effectively showed how, with the exception of a few instances he broke from his party, McCain is someone who is a loyal Bush Republican, voting over 90+% of the time with the White House, and who has flip-flopped his way to a more right-wing position solely to get elected. A previous post addresses how he has flipped his stance on countless issues over the years, which provides a record of doing whatever it takes to get a gig and being unprincipled, which runs contrary to the image he has somehow been able to build.

It is becoming clear McCain cannot win a debate on issues. The one issue he had placed an emphasis on, an argument that Obama does not have the experience to be commander in chief, now is off the table entirely because of his selection of Palin. Can anyone truly say with a straight face that she has credentials to be commander in chief? I don't think McCain will be able to attract very many disgruntled Hillary Clinton female supporters once Palin's record and stances on issues becomes clear. In fact, I wonder how many will follow through with threats of voting for McCain as they realize that would be the ultimate slap in the face of the woman they love, since McCain's stance on issues runs contrary to what Clinton believes. Pro-choice women won't vote for McCain-Palin. And, if anyone can let me know if this is correct, a stance of Palin that worries me is she is a creationist. (I had heard a report that claimed she supports teaching creationism in high school science classes...need to find out if this is indeed true)

Palin is a major supporter of Big Oil, who supports drilling just about anywhere they can. Perhaps many Americans are tired of Big Oil having direct influence in the White House. And with one of her very few noteworthy political accomplishments, where she gained a 'maverick' label, taxed oil company profits in Alaska, McCain loses one more attack on Obama's plan to have some version of a windfall profits tax on oil profits, which will be used to help fund his $150 billion Manhattan-type Project for energy development over a ten year period. (Obama wants this generation to follow the lead of the previous two generations with a massive scientific push - the Manhattan Project of my grandparents' generation to develop nuclear technology, and my parents' generation that developed the space age technology - where we develop an widely varied energy technology portfolio that puts us on a path where we greatly reduce oil and gas dependency and completely revamp our energy infrastructure and outdated power grid) As a side note, I think Obama's energy plan is the correct path to take, since it addresses numerous, intertwined issues at once: the economy (including manufacturing base), national security (reducing dependence on oil, most of which comes from foreign sources), the lack of a robust energy policy and strategy (let's face it, we have never really had one), our science and technology foundation and infrastructure, and job production. The McCain-Palin energy plan will be primarily to drill more offshore, and have massive investments in nuclear power plants. I do think we will need to build some more nuclear plants, and that nuclear power is grossly over-feared by the public, but construction of such plants takes an enormous amount of time and is publicly, and therefore politically, resisted, meaning there will be great resistance in a Democratic Congress...nuclear power expansion is simply not a realistic solution in the current political environment. I still believe someone at some point needs to publicly mention that offshore drilling, which has gained some popularity in the electorate, is not a preferred choice for a completely overlooked reason - we are going to reach a point where we will need ocean water as a primary drinking source, and will need to one day build desalination plants to address looming a fresh water crisis that is developing in many locations around the country and already is a major crisis in many parts of the world. It would take one drilling accident to disrupt that future source of drinking water. The McCain-Palin energy strategy is not, in my mind, a viable choice in the short-term, nor the long-term with offshore drilling.

The selection of Palin is obviously a purely political one. It does not follow a mold of being a responsible selection, which would be one where the candidate has a primary responsibility to put country first and have someone who can effectively take over the job should something happen to McCain. This includes having someone where the average American citizen has confidence the veep can immediately step into the job - I don't think most Americans will have such confidence with Palin, who truly has no national or international political experience. And this is, in the case of McCain, more important than ever, for he would be the oldest person to become President if he wins (and has already had several medical issues, including skin cancer). This is a case of McCain being perhaps a little desperate, and wanting to do anything he can to get the job, whether it is in the best interest of the country or not. He is counting on getting in better with the GOP evangelical base (which will like this selection), and trying to get a few more women to vote for him. He will rely on right-wing fringe groups (e.g. swift boat groups) to unleash numerous attacks on Obama (even though McCain was entirely against this type of politics when it happened to him in the South Carolina primary in the 2000 race against George W. Bush, and more recently promised a purely issues based campaign, which has fallen by the wayside already). The McCain strategy now rests on a hope, and an all-out fear and smear campaign.

All of this seems to be falling right in line with a quote in the movie "The American President," where the Republican candidate "is concerned about two things, and two things only - making you afraid of it, and telling you who is to blame for it - that, ladies and gentlemen, is how they win elections." This falls perfectly in line with the Rovian campaigns over the past couple decades...can the country afford it to work this time?

How will Rove spin this one?

With the selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate, how will Karl Rove spin this one? Here is what he predicted Obama would do before the Democratic convention (he was on Face the Nation):

"I think Obama's going to make an intensely political choice, not a governing choice," Rove said. "He's going to view this through the prism of a candidate, not through the prism of president; that is to say, he's going to pick somebody that he thinks will on the margin help him in a state like Indiana or Missouri or Virginia. He's not going to be thinking big and broad about the responsibilities of president."
Rove singled out Virginia governor Tim Kaine, also a Face The Nation guest, as an example of such a pick.
"With all due respect again to Governor Kaine, he's been a governor for three years, he's been able but undistinguished," Rove said. "I don't think people could really name a big, important thing that he's done. He was mayor of the 105th largest city in America."

Rove went further, stating that he was solely interested in winning Virginia’s electoral votes, rather than choose someone with the long-term interests of the U.S., should something happen to him as President, which is having someone with experience who would be capable to carry on as President. No one can argue with the selection of Joe Biden when it comes to experience and being capable of taking over…the right will disagree with where he stands, which is what is supposed to happen, but to a person Republicans at least respect the choice and cannot complain that Obama politicized the selection of Biden (Delaware won’t make or break the election).

Again, I am waiting to see how the spin comes out on this one, from the top political strategist the GOP has.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

"Get Back to Work!" Plea from McCain

Sen. John McCain was at a campaign rally, yelling for Congress, including Sen. Obama, to get back to work to solve the energy crisis. Fair enough...although on closer inspection, it is amusing that McCain has, by a decent margin, the worst attendance and voting record of any senator. He has missed nearly 2 out of every 3 votes in the 110th Congress, including the latest votes on alternative energy funding and stopping tax breaks for oil companies. Once again, he wants everyone to ignore facts and only listen to his non-stop negative attacks on Obama. His arguments and complains normally don't hold much substance, which is why I felt the need to point this latest amusing fact out. The full voting list for the Senate can be found here. For the record, Obama has missed just under 45% of all votes while on the campaign trail.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Inflating Tires and Tuning Up Cars Not Such a Bad Idea

John McCain is once again mocking Barack Obama for Obama's comment to a voter that keeping tires properly inflated and tuned up, with regular oil changes, can end up collectively saving almost as much oil as one might expect to get from offshore drilling. ABC News asked an expert about this savings, and the estimate is some 800,000 barrels of oil per day could be saved if we all kept our cars maintained as recommended. This value should be fairly reliable since we understand cars and their efficiencies. However, how much oil we would get from new drilling is quite speculative, and it will take time to get full production. If we want something we can do now to help reduce the amount of oil required to fuel out nation, I personally do not agree with mocking the savings that Obama is suggesting. New drilling is the heart and soul of McCain's energy plan, but it truly is not a quick fix for our energy needs. Americans need to understand this, and that an actual plan with new technologies and new infrastructure must be part of, ultimately, a longer-term energy solution. Much of the technology already exists, or is at a point where serious investment will almost certainly accelerate results and benefits. I'll be writing more about some energy possibilities, and why I believe the Obama plan is much more beneficial, better thought-out based on policy priorities in multiple areas of concern (including energy, the economy, jobs, national security, the environment, and manufacturing; all of these are related) and more realistic than many think based on the present science and technology. With a Manhattan Project type investment and challenge, it is very likely that a good portion of what Obama outlined today will be realized within a decade.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Is there anything left McCain has not flipped on?

In this day and age of non-stop news does a man running for President get away with accusing his opponent of everything under the sun while staying relatively clean, even though his views on most major issues have changed? I have not been able to figure it out, but I feel I must point out some of the issues John McCain, the self-proclaimed "straight talker," has flipped on, mostly over the past couple years, as he has changed his political persona to fit whatever wind happens to be blowing. But somehow, many people still see him as a "maverick" who "sticks to his deep, rock solid beliefs." Nothing could be further from the truth, and I suspect the Democrats will begin to point these out more and more as the right and McCain's campaign have all but thrown issues into the garbage disposal as they have begun the big attack campaign we have seen the last two elections (Rovian politics at its finest this past week).

McCain has flipped on his constant urging of a issues campaign...this past week has proved he will endorse just about any ad they think will work, regardless if it is true or not. Case in point, how low is the statement that Obama "is willing to lose a war in order to win an election" because he is for a timetable? A despicable statement, in my mind (for what it is worth, the Iraqi Prime Minister essentially endorsed the Obama plan). Or that they used comments from one of the Marines in Iraq who said Obama did not spend any time with troops, but only went for photo-ops...the Marine's letter was recanted, but the ad still ran. And then there is the one about the Obama celebrity. Yes, Obama draws large crowds, as he is a relative newcomer who is a curiosity for many people. But what about the real TV and movie star in the campaign...let's not forget McCain hosted "Saturday Night Live," appeared on "24" and made an appearance in the movie "The Wedding Crashers." His sudden lack of memory of these jaunts into Hollywood is almost laughable.

McCain is the "foreign policy expert," with decades of experience. How many times has he confused Sunni and Shia clans, or Iraq and Iran, in press conferences, or forgotten that the country my grandfather came from in the 1920s, Czechoslovakia, is no longer a country?

But now for the list. Here are some of the issues voters need to take into consideration when voting for President, and may be confused as to where McCain stands (since he has been on both sides of all these issues):

- the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy
- the status of Roe v Wade
- gay marriage
- finance reform (and, by the way, had over 50 current lobbyists working with his campaign)
- ethanol
- drilling for offshore oil
- torture (was against, but voted to allow Bush to use certain methods he opposed)
- certain members of the Christian right being "agents of intolerance;" suddenly they are good guys (eg Jerry Falwell)
- will run an issues, clean campaign
- confederate flag in South Carolina (first thought it was offensive and thought they should not fly it, now doesn't have a problem with it)
- immigration amnesty
- English as the national language
- at a primary debate on Nov 28, 2007, said "voters do not trust us (GOP) because of our failure with Katrina and failure in Iraq." Now claims Iraq is won.
- claimed he would not raise taxes to bail out Social Security, then said everything, including raising taxes, would be on the table when trying to fix it, then came out and said "No new taxes." This all happened in the past month. What's it going to be, John?
- blasted Obama for his view that if we had hard, solid intelligence of where someone such as bin Laden is in Pakistan we would hit it militarily even if the Pakistanis were against the action, but then praised a Predator strike which killed an upper level leader of al Qaeda in the Pakistan mountains
- the use of medical marijuana
- the estate tax (or death tax as the GOP calls it); he was for the continuation of the tax, and is now against it
- stand on Cuba (he said in 2000 he would want to normalize relations with Cuba, now does not want to talk with Cuban leaders, but keep embargo)

There are many YouTube videos showing the endless stream of flips and flops. The point is, McCain is the one who is doing and saying anything that will get him elected. He is no maverick, he is an old-time politician who is recreating himself at will to get the job. Certainly Obama has changed positions on some issues as well, but I suspect that list is not nearly as impressive as McCain's. I do fear that if history holds true, two things will happen: the allegations that Obama flips on 'everything' will get a grip with voters just as they did against Kerry (when Bush flipped on countless issues himself), and that negative campaigning will also work with the average American voter. John McCain is NOT the kind of politician he likes to claim, and his experience is not a saving grace. Look where the enormous amount of experience in the Bush foreign policy and national security team has gotten us...botched wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a team that ignored the Israeli-Palestinian talks for years when so much progress was made under Clinton, North Korea developed the bomb, continued civil war and genocide in Africa, and Iran had an all but free reign for several years as all U.S. attention focused on Iraq, leading to the present status of issues with Iran. McCain went along with all this, showing how his judgment is as flawed as the Bush judgment when it comes to foreign policy. I simply cannot buy into his experience argument, and lo and behold what Obama has been talking about is looking like the better approach, where talking with leaders and nations makes some sense (the latest round of diplmacy with Iran, engaging recently with North Korea, etc). But I do not know if this time around the average voter will be fooled once again. We will see.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

There is Something to Learning by Doing

The Drs. Eide linked to a paper from a study where there are significant differences between children who were taught via thinking/listening and those who were taught by doing, as well as a third group that was told how to do a task and also had hands on learning for the task. Those students who learned by just doing and those who learned by both listening and doing scored nearly twice as high on assessments as those who just were taught through listening. This is something I think many teachers have experienced at some point, but there is some research to support one's instincts in the classroom. This is the type of result that should be placed on all teachers' radar screens, where regardless of the subject one teaches, lessons need to have a physical component, whether it is experimentation in science, manipulatives or collection of data in math, or role playing or acting out something from a topic in history or language arts. One of the present key phrases in education circles is active participation, and the evidence suggests this is to be emphasized since physical involvement in a lesson literally turns on portions of the brain necessary for memory.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Emergence of Spacetime

One of the more intriguing ideas I have seen in some time is summarized at Scientific American, in an article entitled "Using Causality to Solve the Puzzle of Quantum Spacetime." The concept is this:

"To put it differently, if we think of empty spacetime as some immaterial substance, consisting of a very large number of minute, structureless pieces, and if we then let these microscopic building blocks interact with one another according to simple rules dictated by gravity and quantum theory, they will spontaneously arrange themselves into a whole that in many ways looks like the observed universe. It is similar to the way that molecules assemble themselves into crystalline or amorphous solids."

For a number of years, string theory (which evolved into superstring theory, then M-theory...) has been a leading candidate for Einstein's dream of unifying quantum mechanics with relativity, the two pillars of modern physics. However, despite an enormous intellectual effort from hundreds of theoreticians, no testable predictions have been produced. It is mathematically advanced, to say the least, and very difficult to comprehend conceptually with the 11 dimensions it now resides in. Coming from an experimental background, I have always had doubts of such a cumbersome theory which cannot produce physical tests. I would like to think there is something a bit more simple, which does a better job of being able to produce results consistent with quantum mechancs and general relativity, both being well-tested and investigated theories over the past century. This emergent model is 'simple' and has so far, in computer simulated 'experiments' at least, produced interesting results. One of these results is that the number of dimensions being N = 4 naturally arises from the emergence of spacetime (in a nonperturbative model, no less). Adding matter to space leads to naturally warped geometries, consistent with solutions to Einstein's field equations is another result. And yet another result is that at small size scales, spacetime takes on a fractal nature. See the latest technical article if interested. It will be interesting to see where this type of model leads in the next year or two, as work continues to probe the subtleties of the model and find out if actual testable predictions arise from the model.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The 5 Grand Challenges in Basic Energy Sciences

Today, Al Gore gave a major speech where he offered a national challenge similar to that posed by President Kennedy back in the 1960s, where he called for the U.S. to put a man on the moon within a decade, even though there was no infrastructure and limited knowledge as to how to complete such a task in place. Gore called for America to get itself to an energy budget completely reliant on renewable energy sources within a decade. This is a tall order, and whether or not U.S. policymakers take up this or any similar challenge to lift our dependence on foreign oil, solving our energy problems will require innovation and our science and technology base's best efforts. Coincidentally, Gore's challenge is made just after a report from the Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee (BESAC) of the Department of Energy's Office of Science was released. The BESAC report identified five 'grand challenges' for the scientific establishment to take on in order to develop energy independence.

The five grand challenges revolve around the quantum world, and are listed as:
1) control material processes at the level of electrons;
2) design and perfect atom-and energy-efficient syntheses of new forms of matter with tailored properties;
3) understand and control the remarkable properties of matter that emerge from complex correlations of atomic and electronic constituents;
4) master energy and information on the nanoscale to create new technologies with capabilities rivaling those of living things;
5) characterize and control matter away - especially far away - from equilibrium.

In a future post, I will expand on what these challenges focus on.

Time to Think About Impending Fresh Water Crisis

Of the 6+ billion people on the planet, it is estimated that around 1 billion do not have access to clean, fresh water on a daily basis. In the U.S., there are signs of shortages in numerous locations around the country, where combinations of drought, agricultural irrigation, insisting on having golf courses in the middle of deserts, and rising populations are draining water supplies to the point where there needs to be restrictions during good portions of the year. I fear we have already fallen into a pattern of not anticipating severe trouble both nationally and internationally and thinking about long-term solutions. Such a pattern has already put us in near crises with social security, the health care system, long-term debt issues, energy sources, climate change, and so on, where we have known of issues and problems for decades but refused to do the necessary work to find solutions to those problems. Now they are all upon us with, apparently, not too many policymakers who are willing to take on the leadership roles we need to get us through these problems. Water supplies should, in my opinion, be next on this list of 'MUST ADDRESS NOW' issues.

There is a fine article in the August issue of Scientific American dealing with this water issue. The numbers are impressive, but one that stands out is that the minimum amount of water a person needs for one year is 1000 cubic meters, which is one-fifth of an Olympic-sized pool. Multiply this by the 6 billion people on the planet, and just the shear volume of water necessary for every person is staggering. Obviously, as rivers and freshwater lakes dry up, potential disasters await. Besides the health issues associated with dehydration and lost crops, the potential for future outbreaks of war are real. The U.S. military, for instance, has begun to develop response scenarios to military conflict in anticipated regions around the world, including in the Mideast and sections of Asia that depend on the water runoff from mountainous glaciers for their drinking water; some of those glaciers are either melted or may be gone in just a few years as climate change picks up its pace.

Technologies exist that allow for the desalination of sea water, and some larger plants have been built overseas. It is likely a matter of time before the U.S. will build such plants along the national coastlines. Perhaps it is prudent to consider this future use of the coastal waters before we try more offshore oil drilling. I don't think today's policymakers who are pushing for such drilling have ever considered such a possibility because rarely do you hear anyone in Washington ever mention anything about water shortages, but imagine what a major accident or spill would do if we rely on seawater as drinking water. I believe water is a priority over oil. But water and energy relationships do not stop here. Many of the rivers where there are hydroelectric plants run the risk of dropping in water level, and may one day cease producing energy at their capacity. This is a potential problem in the western portion of the country, and new energy sources will need to be added to that portion of the power grid. Wind and solar sources are obvious candidates. Another option may be fuel cells, where one of the byproducts is in fact pure water. This is how NASA vessels, for example, combine energy sources and fresh water needs.

In the end, this is a major problem that will continue to grow not only in other parts of the world, but in the U.S. as well. Action needs to be taken, but our track record for attacking major problems has thus far been depressingly poor. It will take public pressure and demands for action to get policymakers to step up, and I encourage everyone to contact their congressional representatives and demand that they begin addressing big issues both in the near and long terms. It will take some amount of time to plan, design, and build the infrastructure needed for clean water (as well as new energy sources), and decisions need to be made now.