Friday, May 22, 2015

Not One or The Other

Stephen Barr and Dermott Mullan on Planets, Priests and a Persistent Myth:

Most news accounts don’t mention that Piazzi was a Catholic priest. In fact, the remarkable story of the Catholic clergy’s contributions to science is one of the best-kept secrets of scientific history. The exception is Gregor Mendel; it is widely known that the science of genetics began with the experiments of the Austrian monk.

But it is the rare person who knows that the big-bang theory, the central pillar of modern cosmology, was the brainchild of the Belgian Catholic priest and physicist Georges Lemaître. In the 1920s, Lemaître showed that Albert Einstein’s equations of gravity allow space itself to expand and, connecting this to observations that distant galaxies were flying apart, he formulated his famous theory of how the universe began.

The Jesuits have an especially rich scientific tradition. In the 16th century, the Jesuit astronomer Christopher Clavius developed our modern calendar. In the 17th century, Jesuit Giambattista Riccioli mapped the moon, and Christoph Scheiner helped discover sunspots. Francesco Grimaldi discovered the enormously important physics effect called “diffraction,” the effects of which you can see in the colorful bands of a glimmering CD. In the 19th century, the Jesuit Angelo Secchi, a founder of astrophysics, pioneered the study of the sun and stars using the spectra of their light and developed the first spectral classification of stars, the basis of the one now used.

But Jesuits don’t have all the glory. Blessed Niels Stensen (1638-86) made major contributions to anatomy, especially of the glandular-lymphatic system, and, even more impressively, helped found the science of geology by developing the correct theory of sedimentary rock, geological strata and the origin of fossils, which unlocked Earth’s history. Marin Mersenne (1588-1648), of the Minimite Order, made fundamental discoveries about sound. The work of the Abbé Lazzaro Spallanzani, one of the top biologists of the 18th century, is taught in high-school textbooks today.

Wait, you mean that science and religion aren't mutually incompatible? Imagine that.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Have To Admit It's Getting Better

A comprehensive essay by Jesse H. Ausubel called The Return of Nature: How Technology Liberates the Environment documents how technological advances have allowed the developed world to do more with less and how this reduced dependence on natural resources has led to significant environmental improvements. The bottom line is that not only are things not getting worse, in most environmental areas they’ve been getting better for some time and will likely continue to do so.

Here are a few of my favorite nuggets from the piece:

Agriculture has always been the greatest destroyer of nature, stripping and despoiling it, and reducing acreage left. Then, in about 1940, acreage and yield decoupled in the United States. Since then American farmers have quintupled corn while using the same or even less land (Figure 1).


The 800 million or so hungry humans worldwide are not hungry because of inadequate production.


If we keep lifting average yields toward the demonstrated levels of David Hula and Randy Dowdy, stop feeding corn to cars, restrain our diets lightly, and reduce waste, then an area the size of India or of the United States east of the Mississippi could be released globally from agriculture over the next 50 years or so (Figure 6).

The fact that we’re using corn to make fuel while America is producing record amounts of oil is insane.

Measured by growing stock, the United States enjoyed its forest transition around 1950, and, measured by area, about 1990. The forest transition began around 1900, when states such as Connecticut had almost no forest, and now encompasses dozens of states. The thick green cover of New England, Pennsylvania, and New York today would be unrecognizable to Teddy Roosevelt, who knew them as wheat fields, pastures mown by sheep, and hillsides denuded by logging.


Bottom-up land-sparing forces relating to farms and forests and top-down forces are collectively causing global greening, the most important ecological trend on Earth today. The biosphere on land is getting bigger, year by year, by 2 billion tons or even more. Researchers are finding the evidence weekly in places ranging from arid Australia and Africa to moist Germany and the northernmost woods.


Back in the 1970s, it was thought that America’s growing appetite might exhaust Earth’s crust of just about every metal and mineral. But a surprising thing happened: even as our population kept growing, the intensity of use of the resources began to fall. For each new dollar in the economy, we used less copper and steel than we had used before — not just the relative but also the absolute use of nine basic commodities, flat or falling for about 20 years (Figure 8). By about 1990, Americans even began to use less plastic. America has started to dematerialize.


While America added 80 million people –– the population of Turkey –– American water use stayed flat. In fact, US Geological Survey data through 2010 shows that water use has now declined below the level of 1970, while production of corn, for example, has tripled (Figure 11). More efficient water use in farming and power generation contribute the most to the reduction.


The arc of sulfur dioxide forms a classic curve in which pollution grew for a while as Americans grew richer but then fell as Americans grew richer still and preferred clean air. American emissions of carbon dioxide appear to have peaked around 2007 (Figure 13). Emissions in 2014 dropped to 1990 levels. It does not take a rocket scientist to project a falling trajectory.


Not everything is rosy and Ausubel notes that wild fishery stocks have been dangerously depleted. However, there is a solution for that:

High levels of harvest of wild fishes, and destruction of marine habitat to capture them, need not continue. The 40 percent of seafood already raised by aquaculture signals the potential for reversal. With smart aquaculture, life in the oceans can rebound while feeding humanity and restoring nature.


Until about 1970, per capita petroleum use in America rose alarmingly. Most experts worried about further rises, but Figure 14 shows what actually happened — a plateau and then a fall. Partly, vehicles have become more efficient. But partly, travel in personal vehicles seems to have saturated. America may be at peak car travel. If you buy an extra car, it is probably for fashion or flexibility. You won’t spend more minutes per day driving or drive more miles.


He also shows what all these improvements in resource efficiency mean for the environment, especially the return of nature:

So why do we want nature to rebound? And why do we care about the achievements of farmers like David Hula and Randy Dowdy and aquaculturist Aaron Watson and their counterparts in forestry and water resources? Because the incipient rewilding of Europe and the United States is thrilling. Salmon have returned to the Seine and Rhine, lynx to several countries, and wolves to Italy. Reindeer herds have rebounded in Scandinavia. In Eastern Europe, bison have multiplied in Poland. The French film producer Jacques Perrin, who made the films Winged Migration about birds and Microcosmos about insects, is working on a film about rewilding. The new film, The Seasons, scheduled for release later this year, will open millions of eyes to Europe’s rewilding.

Environmental fear-mongers like to portray a world that was once clean and pristine and has been steadily and progressively destroyed by the acts of man. The only way to stop this on-going destruction is to halt further advancements and return to a more “natural” state even if that means leaving millions (if not billions) of people behind in poverty. The latter is usually not stated so clearly of course.

The reality is that the environment hasn’t been on a constant path to inevitable destruction and in fact in many areas we’re in far better shape today than we were thirty or forty years ago. We don’t need to give up the trappings of modern civilization or prevent those in less developed countries from one day enjoying them. With advances in technology we can continue to produce more of what we need while using less resources. Things have gotten better and they will in the future if we don’t overreact to overhyped fears of impending catastrophe and give up on one of our greatest attributes: our ability to innovate and adapt.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

HWX: The End of Letterman and the Age of Rodham

It's a very special episode of HWX, with Brian Ward of Fraters Libertas and Paul Happe of the Nihilist in Golf Pants reconvening to discuss the crucial issues of the day. Topics addressed include:

david-letterman-hillary-clinton1* David Letterman’s last week of broadcasting and his lost legacy

* Preview of the next Avenger’s movie

* Hillary Clinton vs. the GOP field, early polling trends

* The UK elections, what it means for them and us

* This Week in Gate Keeping, with George Stephanopoulos

There are many ways to hear the podcast, including over on the mother ship at Ricochet.  You can be sure to never miss an episode by subscribing via iTunes.  Or you can just use the player embedded in the upper right hand corner of this website.  If all of these fail, send me an email and I'll come to your house and read from a written transcript.  Hope you enjoy.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Hoping That It's Still The Best Hope

A thoroughly interesting NRO interview with Jim Geraghty contained this observation on his hopes as a father that I found particularly insightful:

Lopez: What is your hope for America as a father?

Geraghty: One of my most deep-rooted fears is that by trying to teach my boys right from wrong, I’m teaching them to be suckers. You try to teach your child the value of hard work, the value of honestly, the need to treat people with kindness and so on, and maybe the rest of the world isn’t teaching their kids the same things. A lot of parents aren’t even in the picture for their kids, and the lessons that are getting fed into their heads are more or less the opposite of what those kids need.

So my hope is that the boys grow up strong, smart, confident, and big-hearted, and that the country is in a good shape as they enter adulthood — secure, prosperous, full of opportunity, and considering how things are going lately, still having a Constitution and rule of law.

He is definitely not alone there and many of us share those wishes for our children and our country.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Looks Do Matter

One of the under-appreciated aspects of the rise of craft beer in recent years is the care and attention that most craft brewers put into the designs on their bottle labels and cans. It’s something that I’ve taken note of it my Beer of the Week reviews and to me is an integral part of the package. Sure you can still have great taste with a lousy look, but when the two come together you truly have the real deal.

An article in today’s WSJ described how critical the right design was one particular beer. A Craft Brew With a Chimp on the Label Retools to Stand Out on Crowded Shelves:

People weren’t reaching for the “Bitter American” beer.

The beer itself—actually, a lower-alcohol pale ale known as a session ale—wasn’t the problem; that style of brew is a favorite in the booming craft-beer market. Rather, the company behind Bitter American, 21st Amendment Brewery, decided a new package and a new name might help their IPA win over the finicky craft-beer crowd.

In early April, the Bay Area brewer launched Bitter American’s replacement, called Down to Earth, another lower-alcohol IPA with a more citrusy flavor and aroma. The bigger change was on the outside of the can: The chimpanzee floating in dark space on the outside of the Bitter American can was now, on the Down to Earth can, pictured in a colorful tropical locale.

Since the change, sales of Down to Earth to retailers, including grocery stores and bars, are triple what Bitter American sold in all of 2014.

Bitter American was a good beer, but it wasn’t clear from the name or can design exactly what kind of beer it was. I can see why the change made a difference.

Good design that fits the beer is no longer optional for craft brewers who aspire for greatness:

Designers and beer-makers say a successful package helps tell the story behind both a brewery and a particular beer. The can or bottle has the feel of an artistic one-off; but when it is stocked on a shelf with its sister beers, they call can “hang together and establish a billboard effect for the brand,” says designer Joe Duffy of Duffy & Partners, a Minneapolis design firm that has designed bottles for Summit Brewing Co., with skyline, bridge, and lake illustrations tying it to the St. Paul region.

In the past, craft brands tried to set themselves apart from big brewers by aiming for package design that looked intentionally amateurish, but that isn’t done much anymore, Mr. Evers says.

You can’t take yourself too seriously, but you need to show you put a lot of thought and care into the design and recipe, says 21st Amendment’s Mr. O’Sullivan. “The craft beer consumer can smell it if it’s not real.”

It’s pretty easy to tell which brewers put the thought and time into it and which ones don’t. And it does make a difference.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Beer of the Week (Vol. CXCVII)

Another edition of Beer of the Week, sponsored as always by the fun folks at Glen Lake Wine and Spirits who are more than happy to help you double your pleasure with the beer, wine, or whiskey you need to get you on your game.

I’ve long been a big fan of 8-Bit Pale Ale from Tallgrass Brewing. The colorful can contained a beer with hoppy, tangy flavors that tickled the taste buds while remaining eminently quaffable.

So when I heard that the renowned Kansas brewery was releasing a 16-Bit Double Pale Ale, it immediately was added to my “must have” list.

A four-pack of 16oz cans goes for $9.99. Like 8-Bit the 16-Bit can design and colors are an homage to video games with sharper graphics this time around.

STYLE: American Pale Ale


COLOR (0-2): Golden brown and mostly clear. 2

HEAD (0-2): Clear white color with good volume and lacing. 2

AROMA (0-2): Pine and grapefruit with a little sweet mango. 2

TASTE (0-5): Hop heavy at the front with pine and citrus flavors. More malty at the back with some astringency and subtle sweetness. Smooth mouthfeel with a crisp finish. 4

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Follows through and lingers nicely. 2

OVERALL (0-6): 16-Bit is not just a hopped up version of 8-Bit (as delicious as that sounds). While definitely related, they are distinct beers with different flavor profiles. 16-Bit is a little hoppier and a littler heavier, but still strikes a good balance. If you like 8-Bit you almost certainly will also enjoy this beer. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 16

Monday, May 04, 2015

Mister We Could Use A Man Like Calvin Coolidge Again

The latest course offering from Prager University trumpets the virtues of Calvin Coolidge, an underrated president who accomplished much by doing less:

These days, many voters want the president to "do something" -- often, it seems, anything. But what would happen if a president decided to do...nothing? Nothing, that is, except actively shrink the size of government. In this week's video, award-winning author Amity Shlaes tells you about just such a president: Calvin Coolidge. Under his administration, Americans earned higher wages, experienced fewer strikes, and were introduced to new, affordable technology in the form of cars, phones, and radios.

I recently finished reading Shlaes’ recent biography on Coolidge. While I found her writing to be uneven and at times unorganized, the story of Coolidge is a fascinating one that most Americans are woefully unfamiliar with (I know I was until I read the book).

It’s probably too much to hope for a leader with the temperament and economy of Coolidge today, but Republicans vying for the chance to run in 2016 would do well to understand the approach he took to governing as previous GOP leaders have. Ronald Reagan was said to be a big fan of Silent Cal and it’s hard to imagine a better endorsement than that.