Highlights include two comets, a moon-Jupiter conjunction, and good viewing for Mercury.
The WMO is reporting that atmospheric CO2 concentrations reached a record high of 390 ppm in 2011. This should come as no great surprise, since CO2 concentrations have set a new record high pretty much every year since we started making measurements. See, for example, this plot of CO2 concentrations at Mauna Loa observatory since 1958, or this older paper that includes concentrations of other greenhouse gases.
These measurements don’t get enough attention. Much of the discussion surrounding climate change from greenhouse gases centers around the temperature record, which is noisy and affected by a lot of other factors. As you can see from the data, however, there is nothing at all ambiguous about the greenhouse gas concentration measurements.
At an estimated redshift of 11, this galaxy recently discovered by HST is a candidate for the most distant object ever observed. Its comoving distance is nearly 10Gpc (over 32 billion light-years)! This tiny galaxy was only observable at all due to the magnification provided by gravitational lensing from the MACS J0647.7+7015, which comprises most of the rest of the stuff visible in the image.
James Watt’s work on developing the steam engine lead to the discovery of what are now called Watt’s curves and linkages. The animation above shows how they are constructed from linking a fixed radius to another with a rod. I tweaked the lengths here to make a lovely heart. With different lengths it is possible to make sections of the red curve almost exactly straight. Watt was able to use this to double the power of a beam engine, and nowadays this is used in the suspension systems of some cars. [more] [more2] [code]
I have long held that anti-gouging laws harm the very people they are intended to protect. They create shortages by stimulating hoarding behavior and inhibiting import response. The shortages make it difficult to plan ahead because you can’t know whether you will be able to get necessities at some future date. That encourages even more hoarding, which aggravates the shortage, which leads to the vicious cycle that you can see being played out in New York in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. I believe that New Yorkers would be uniformly better off if New York’s anti-gouging laws had never been passed.
Greg Mankiw has posted some nice examples of the arguments for and against anti-gouging laws. The last of these is particularly worth reading, since it makes a direct rebuttal to the argument that anti-gouging laws ensure fairness in allocating scarce goods.
It turns out that the debate over gouging goes back further than you might think. On this week’s EconTalk, Russ Roberts and Mike Munger talk about John Locke’s theories on the subject of price justice. What was especially interesting about Locke’s treatment is that he acknowledges that there is such a thing as taking advantage of another person’s distress, and he tries to draw a line between reasonable adjustment of prices to changing market conditions and unreasonable extortion. Along the way he generalizes the concept of a “market price” (which he deems to be always just) to scenarios where there are but a single prospective buyer and seller. It’s all the more impressive when you consider that Locke wrote it in the 17th century, nearly a century before Smith and others expounded the classical theories of supply and demand.
With Joe Donnelly and Claire McCaskill projected to win their Senate races, the Tea Party has demonstrably cost the Republicans at least four senate seats over the past two elections: Delaware and Nevada in 2010, and now Indiana and Missouri. In all four cases the mainstream Republican was a favorite to win, and in all four cases once the Tea Party “primaried out a RINO,” to borrow a phrase from one of my less-charming interlocutors, the voters deserted the Republicans in droves. Can we please finally admit that America doesn’t want what the Tea Party is selling? This country needs a sensible center-right party, and that’s not going to happen until moderate Republicans tell their crazy wing to take it down the road. Lindsey Graham, the Republican Senator from South Carolina, seems to get it:
…if we lose this election there is only one explanation — demographics.”
If I hear anybody say it was because Romney wasn’t conservative enough I’m going to go nuts. We’re not losing 95 percent of African-Americans and two-thirds of Hispanics and voters under 30 because we’re not being hard-ass enough.
The Republicans are going to have to do a lot of this sort of soul searching if they’re going to have any sort of relevance going forward. Sadly, not everyone has gotten the message; the top result on the Google News search I used to find the quote above referred to Graham as “Lindsey Graham (RINO-SC).” Stay classy, Tea Party. Stay classy.