Friday, January 15, 2010

Having Your Pig & Eating It Too

Petri pork is almost here. Grow pork in a dish using pig stem cells. Cool!

Don't Forget the Bush II Federal Debt

With the constant chatter of how President Obama and the Democratic Congress is spending the US to death, it's good to be reminded every now from whence that debt came. Here's David Axelrod in today's Washington Post:
The day the Bush administration took over from President Bill Clinton in 2001, America enjoyed a $236 billion budget surplus -- with a projected 10-year surplus of $5.6 trillion. When the Bush administration left office, it handed President Obama a $1.3 trillion deficit -- and projected shortfalls of $8 trillion for the next decade. During eight years in office, the Bush administration passed two major tax cuts skewed to the wealthiest Americans, enacted a costly Medicare prescription-drug benefit and waged two wars, without paying for any of it.
Axlerod also reminds us that Obama is proposing far more cuts in government than are the Republicans. Don't believe him? Then maybe an article in the conservative Washington Times might convince you. Unfortunately, many of President Obama's proposed cuts do not make it through Congress. Why? Well I suspect it's because constituents of congressional reps do not actually want government cuts as much as they proclaim they do.

Just ask conservative Doug Hoffman what government cuts he would make if elected to Congress. We want cuts that affect the other guy, not us.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Census - What is it good for?

Yeah OK, the census asks some pretty personal questions. But what do they do with all that information? Robert J. Samuelson gives us an example in his Washington Post column today.
You may think that the last place to find a portrait of a nation is a book full of numbers. But turn to Page 673 of the Statistical Abstract of the United States, and you find these intriguing figures. About three-quarters of Americans (76.1 percent in 2007, to be exact) get to work by driving alone. Only 10.4 percent carpool, while 4.9 percent use public transportation and 2.8 percent walk. On average, Americans spend 25.3 minutes commuting each way. The state with the longest commuting time is New York, at 31.5 minutes; the states with the shortest are North and South Dakota, at about 16 minutes, followed closely by Montana and Nebraska, at 17.6.

In addition to the Libary of Congress, the U.S. Census Bureau provides a wealth of information. The 2010 Statistical Abstract can be found here.

I'm Back, but I Never Really Left

My winter sabatical is nearly over as I return to my office to order lab supplies, fill out workload and office hours schedules, prepare course syllabi, write new and rewrite old lectures etc. My first real big job is to work on a couple of presentations concerning fluid and electrolyte balance - a very complicated topic.

My annual New Year's trip to Washington, DC was another success. After living in the DC area for many years, there are still many places I've never visited or visited in a serious way. The Library of Congress is one of those places.

The LOC building itself is pretty spectacular and is located next to the Supreme Court on Capital Hill.

But it's what's inside that is really spectacular. It's probably one of the most beautiful buildings on the "Mall" and you really need a guided tour to appreciate the building's history. It's the largest library on Earth with 142 million items located on over 650 miles of shelves.

Above is a picture of the great hall (main entrance) taken from Wikipedia. The silver colored material around the ceiling is actually made of aluminum, a very difficult, expensive material to come by in those days. I have my own pictures but I haven't downloaded them off the camera yet.

The Library was destroyed by the British in 1814 but most of it's then 3000 books were replaced with over 6,000 books purchased from Thomas Jefferson. Unfortunately, another fire in 1851 destroyed about two-thirds of those books. One of the current exhibits at the LOC is the library of Thomas Jefferson which is being reconstituted either with the original books or replacement copies of the books. Some of the books will never be replaced because they are unavailable.

The reading room and the dome above it abound with architectural history.

Yes, you can actually use the library as a research library, but you must first become a registered reader. This is like applying for a library card that is good for two years.

But the primary reason I wanted to explore the LOC was to visit the exhibit on "Exploring the Early Americas". I wanted to see the first map ever drawn to use the word "America". This is the Martin Waldseemüller map of the world drawn in 1507 and given to the library by Germany.

The word "America" is printed on the continent of South America.

The LOC is a library but it is also a museum with changing exhibits. You really need to visit the library to appreciate the building and the exhibits. However, the LOC website is probably one of the most extensive and information filled sites ever published. And, don't forget...this is the Library of Congress, so you can find out what specifically is going on in Congress on a day-to-day basis using the "Thomas" portion of the website.