Archive for December, 2011

The worst and the best

December 29, 2011

Every paper, TV station, blog, outfit, demagogue and twittiretero is posting best and worst of 2011. I will accordingly, sort of.

But this is the exclusive and only truth: The best and worst, at unison, is the sad and surrealistic GOP soap opera disintegrating right before our eyes: this is the real USA.

It wasnt difficult to predict Cain’s fall of grace (get the names’ irony?), hope for Newt imploding (almost there), Perry busting (he did, didnt he?), Paul own his own words and eat them (poor man, with his son nefarious Rand), M. Bachmann  in heels (and thongs), resplandescent, shining.  Romney having intercourse with  Callista, naked, and eating brioches afterwards (did you read about his Obama Marie Antoinette comment?). It actually pains to watch Santorum wriggle  and wiggle, I kind of awe his animal innocence?? has he any decorum?

Sing Goddess the rage: declare the GOP dead, at last. Oh I forgot the Donald Duck and Palin, constant sources of cheap, but deep comedy: the world is not the same without them, they are busy making some money.

How bad this is? It is so bad it can be good. I mean: It was about time for the USA to come to terms (another futile attempt) with 150 years of self denial, starting as a Civil War (which wars are civil?) and realize that the system as it is, doesnt work.  It worked before, when there resources ad libitum, less people, slaves, servants, defranchised people to dump capitalist bullshit on. And despite the scientific triumphalism, which is ridiculous, as claiming we live perfectly in a world of better angels (Pinker), and that knowledge will take care of global warming and 4 billion people living the 2 buck shuck life,  and the sanctification of western capitalism and free markets economies as the epitomes of cultural evolution and the solution to humankind (N. Ferguson, Hitchens (on sabbatical in hell), Fukuyama, twice,  (he repented), Hutington and others).

Yet, there isnt one single convincing argument that capitalism and knowledge themselves will take us out of the toilette. Maybe the collective shame will cathartically emerge a sense of astonishment regarding  our condition and induce change, positive change. Yeah right.

Not that the democrats are any better at doing government , however, i can still sense a decency about them. Who can say that Barack is not decent?

In science, we lived  warped zone(s). The “neodarwinians” have transmutated unto the “new atheists”, some of them, the ones that blog; others are busy working in science. The darwocapitalists are fighting the creationists, IDers, christian and catholic and muslim scientists; going nowhere, raising bad karma and collecting insults and contempt and anyone that disagrees with them is qualified as a dumb, ignorant self: Darwin is here to stay but corrected!! by saner minds. So? big deal! Somehow, evolutionary psychology (the collection of adaptive behavioural manouevers humans use, we use, to increase fitness?) has a rebirth, fueled by just so stories taken seriously by news media and scientific so journals. At the bottom of this resurgiment is the conviction that we are nothing but physics, that human nature, its causality and meaning are engrained in the quantum mambo danced in our brains, since the human lineage showed up in this one universe of the multiverse, carrying all the quantum mambos of our phylogeny (however serious doubts that our current version of microreality is flawed have appeared: Weinberg, one the Limbaughs’ of physics has challenged quantum mechanics at its core).

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The worst of 2011

December 27, 2011

1. Cain

2. Cain

3. Cain

4. Newt

5. Ron Paul

6. Michelle B.

7. Sarah MIA palin

3.The Donald Duck

A 2011 favourite.

December 25, 2011

Fig 2 of “Stepwise evolution of stable sociality in primates”: Susanne Shultz, Christopher Opie & Quentin D. Atkinson. Nature. Nov 10. 470:219.2011.

Arrows represent allowable transitions between modes of social living under each model. Under the complexity and parameter-rich model, transition rates represented by each arrow can vary. Under the equal rates model, all rates are fixed to a single optimized rate parameter. The reversible-jump-derived model is a significantly better fit to the data than the alternative models.

At the NYT, Dec 19,  Wade wrote:

“The scientists, at the University of Oxford in England, looked at the evolutionary family tree of 217 primate species whose social organization is known. Their findings, published in the journal Nature, challenge some of the leading theories of social behavior, including:

¶ That social structure is shaped by environment — for instance, a species whose food is widely dispersed may need to live in large groups.

¶ That complex societies evolve step by step from simple ones.

¶ And the so-called social brain hypothesis: that intelligence and brain volume increase with group size because individuals must manage more social relationships.

By contrast, the new survey emphasizes the major role of genetics in shaping sociality. Being rooted in genetics, social structure is hard to change, and a species has to operate with whatever social structure it inherits.”

TCM, the chinese way.

December 25, 2011

Nature, 22 December brings a rather unexpected “analysis” of Traditional Chinese Medicine, so maligned among pharma/doc establishment in USA. I strongly recommend it: it will not only open your eyes, but it will help you to be more tolerant and unbiased.

tcm historical roots

D’où Venons Nous / Que Sommes Nous / Où Allons Nous?

December 24, 2011

gaugin was the first cosmologist

Gaugins’ painting (the title of this post) is a fitting background for the deep question(ing) that has appeared in several places this week. But Homers’ version of Le Cri is even more fitting to our psyches drenched in uncertainty. In many respects it is only proper the year ends with a bang and a whimper, concomintantly. Ugly in its search for the Higgs, the LHC works were remarkably whimperish: to much sigma fiddling, too much anxiety to sanctify theory. Ackward. The Science and Nature news of the year are remarkably lame, except for human origins. I missed gene expression regulation. And for ow long(er) will exoplanets be news?

Notable  among articles that open exciting bag of questions regarding final explanations , is Revkins’ NYT, Dec 23rd  (now DothEarth is in Opinions):  Is Confidence in Science as a Source of Progress?” based on faith or fact” A propos of the fully commented paper on virulent flu strain disclosure or not of data?. The other one is Alan P. Lightmans’ Harpers’ astonishing:  “The accidental universe: sciences’ crisis of faith (of faith?)?”  (Brooks has honored the article with his dubious awards). In here, Lightman makes this absolutely flooring disquisition:

whats goin on? (american/simpsonianism of gaugins frenchism)

“This long and appealing trend may be coming to an end. Dramatic developments in cosmological findings and thought have led some of the world’s premier physicists to propose that our universe is only one of an enormous number of universes with wildly varying properties, and that some of the most basic features of our particular universe are indeed mere accidents—a random throw of the cosmic dice. In which case, there is no hope of ever explaining our universe’s features in terms of fundamental causes and principles. It is perhaps impossible to say how far apart the different universes may be, or whether they exist simultaneously in time. Some may have stars and galaxies like ours. Some may not. Some may be finite in size. Some may be infinite. Physicists call the totality of universes the “multiverse.” Alan Guth, a pioneer in cosmological thought, says that “the multiple-universe idea severely limits our hopes to understand the world from fundamental principles.” And the philosophical ethos of science is torn from its roots. As put to me recently by Nobel Prize–winning physicist Steven Weinberg, a man as careful in his words as in his mathematical calculations, “We now find ourselves at a historic fork in the road we travel to understand the laws of nature. If the multiverse idea is correct, the style of fundamental physics will be radically changed.” (trumpets) (Weinberg the Grouching Grinch reasonable?).

Becoming Human wasn’t so Clovis

December 23, 2011

Not “being so Clovis’ means human origins in America are not so straightforward as once the neocapitalistscientists arguing for the Clovis ‘origin’ of American descent claimed.

Ann Gibbons, October 14, 2011, in Science  wrote a cool summary of recent developments in becoming human. This issue is a most fascinating perhaps the most, for me, in our newer understanding of becoming human. The emergence of consciousness and language are the 2 most critical unsolved biological underpinnings of our nature:

“After sequencing the genome of Neandertals and that of mysterious hominins from Denisova Cave in Siberia, researchers concluded last year that our ancestors interbred with both Neandertals and Denisovans. One meeting may have been in western Asia with Neandertals, and a separate intermingling with Denisovans may have taken place in Asia (Science, 23 September, 1689).

Now, a team led by Hammer has found that some hunter-gatherers in Africa also carry unusual segments of DNA that the researchers propose are archaic, as reported last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The team screened 61 regions of DNA from three relatively isolated groups in sub-Saharan Africa, examining noncoding DNA that was less likely to be influenced by natural selection. They found three regions whose pattern of alleles varied widely among individuals—a sign of great antiquity. But the variants were linked to each other across extended regions of the chromosome, which suggested they were inherited recently, because such associations among chromosomal regions break down over time. So the overall pattern suggests that ancient segments of DNA recently entered the H. sapiens genome, as would be the case if the DNA was inherited from an archaic human.

The team screened for these three variants in an expanded sample of 500 Africans and found them in pygmy and nonpygmy populations from Zaire, Cameroon, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. By using computational and statistical methods to simulate the distribution of the variants, Hammer’s team concluded that modern humans mated with archaic humans perhaps as recently as 35,000 years ago in central Africa. Hammer stresses that it was a small amount of interbreeding, “or we would have discovered this long ago.”

Just what archaic human did the ancestors of these Africans mate with? Geneticists can’t say because they have no ancient DNA from African fossils. And there are no fossils of Neandertals or Denisovans on the continent. But fossil hunters have long puzzled over a few strange African bones that carry both archaic and modern features. In a PLoS ONE paper published a week after Hammer’s, a team led by Stringer and Katerina Harvati of the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen in Germany took a new look at the cranium of a modern human found in 1965 at Nigeria’s Iwo Eleru rock shelter.”

Thought of the year (according to nature.com)

December 23, 2011

I suggest that the following encapsulates the mother root of many of our challenges, especially the 2 bucks bit. Lets stop the bullshitting about god and the devil and lets do something about it:

“Living in the Anthropocene”

“The world’s population passed 7 billion this year, and our carbon emissions carried on rising too. Little wonder that geologists gathered in May to discuss whether human impact on the planet deserved recognition through the declaration of a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene. The year’s main climate-change conference in Durban, South Africa, ended with a last-minute agreement to work towards a global treaty to set emissions-reduction targets, bolstering political progress that included Australia instituting a carbon tax and a record low for deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. For the 3.4 billion people surviving on less than $2 a day, getting enough food and avoiding disease are more urgent priorities. And it is not getting any easier: after droughts and oil-price hikes, the cost of food staples reached a record high in February and dropped only slightly through the year. Help from the GAVI Alliance, however, came in the form of a new pneumococcal vaccinerolled out widely in February, and a rotavirus-vaccination programme to target childhood diarrhoea in Africa. In October, interim results from a huge phase III clinical trial of the RTS,S malaria vaccine candidate showed disappointing efficacy and no effect on mortality. But there was promising news in HIV: one trial showed thattreating infected people with antiretroviral drugs early helped to prevent them spreading the virus, and two others suggested that giving antiretrovirals to healthy people reduced their chances of becoming infected.”

The rest is commentary. The golden rule.

One crazy loonie atheist on a crazy loonie monster

December 20, 2011

A propos  of the insane monster  Kim Jong Ils’ death and the obvioulsy staged TV public display of sorrow by wailing,  Coyne (WEIT) writes:

“…..Probably some of this is orchestrated, but I have absolutely no doubt that most of the grief is genuine.  After all, these people, kept completely isolated from the rest of the world, have been told from birth that their worker’s paradise, far superior to the rest of the world, is the largesse of their Dear Leader.  And they believe it.  The followers of Jesus are supposed to have wept after his death, too, and that’s what we’re seeing here: the effect of a theocracy on its credulous victims. There’s precious little we can do to help these oppressed people, and it’s ineffably sad. “

Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) satellite image (stole it from slate)

I think Coyne is getting ridiculous. Case in point: the demonstrations of grief due to Hitchens death are very ridiculous. A lot of blogwailing lamenting lovely Hitchens molecules dissolving unto nothingness. Lovely???  Ridiculous. This comment is ridiculous too: but couldnt avoid doing the Kim Jong/Jesus gambit on Coyne/Hitchens.

The Nature of human

December 17, 2011

Somel M, Liu X, Tang L, Yan Z, Hu H, et al. (2011) MicroRNA-Driven Developmental Remodeling in the Brain Distinguishes Humans from Other Primates.PLoS Biol 9(12): e1001214. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001214

look at divergence diagrams

(from Paabos’ group at the Max Planck)

Also: Functional Network Organization of the Human Brain
Jonathan D. Power, Alexander L. Cohen, Steven M. Nelson, Gagan S. Wig, Kelly Anne Barnes, Jessica A. Church, Alecia C. Vogel, Timothy O. Laumann, Fran M. Miezin, Bradley L. Schlaggar, Steven E. Petersen. Neuron, 72: Nov 17 2011 .665-678:

your mind in colors

                 

► Areal and modified voxelwise graph definitions are proposed ► Subgraphs reflect known and unknown brain systems ► Default mode, sensory, and motor systems share network properties ► Functional systems are patterned across the cortex with spatial regularities.

End of the Iraq war and of Hitchens

December 16, 2011

The war in Iraq and Hitchens died the same day; he was a supporter of this atrocity: karma