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Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

the kabbalist’s cabal

I recently got involved in an(other) debate (I use that term advisedly – the nitwits with whom I was in discussion are only capable of shouting slogans and regurgitating talking points filled with disproved pseudo-facts) with a small group of ersatz conservatives who have been drinking Glen Beck’s Kool Aid by the gallon – especially when it comes to climate issues. Please note that I refer to them as ersatz conservatives because real conservatives are inherently concerned about conserving the health of the environment – not allowing the commons to be spoiled in ways that threaten their lives, their families, their property, their livelihoods, and their freedoms.

One of the things that these dim bulbs kept pointing to is a conspiracy that links climate scientists (and others in the scientific community) to a global movement intent on imposing a new economic and social order on the world.  Their theory involves the UN and targets the IPCC.  And it reserves some special scorn for James Hansen and NASA – which, I was shocked (shocked!) to learn, is capable of sending men to the moon and robots to Mars, and taking photographs of the further reaches of the universe . . . but is incapable of accurately measuring atmospheric temperatures on earth.

I’ve never felt especially comfortable with this kind of unproven conspiratorial thinking.  I’m no fan of the UN – in fact, I’d be happy to see it disbanded (and replaced with an institution that consists only of democratic countries that subscribe to, and practice, policies based on fundamental freedoms – but that’s another story).  But I really don’t think there’s any more of a high probability for a conspiracy linking thousands of scientists, their support staffs, the institutions they work for, the governments that support them, and all of the rest of the moving parts needed for such a plan to have any basis in reality.  It’s more likely, to my mind, that 9/11 was engineered by the CIA. Which is to say, not very likely at all.

On the other hand, there are some good reasons to believe that the industries which stand to lose the most if the world determines there is merit in the emerging findings of climate science are behind a deliberate campaign of disinformation that is specifically intended to cloud the discussion and delay or derail the public policies required to meet the existential threat posed by climate extinction. These good reasons include the fact that the funding for the guys who are on the front lines “challenging” the climate science comes from the industries which stand to lose the most if the world decides to reduce or eliminate its dependence on fossil energy sources.  Guys like Richard Lindzen and Alan Watt are totally dependent on the largess of the oil, coal, gas, and electric companies.

Here’s a good example of what I mean.  Pat Michaels – who is a real climate scientist – has sold out to fossil energy industry.  Of course, the mainstream media has not raised this issue in any kind of substantive way, preferring, instead, to keep the pot boiling by creating the appearance of a rational and reasonable other point of view.  Not that other points of view are to be universally eschewed.  Like the proposition that Hamas, which clearly has another point of view, warrants equal time in the media, to say nothing of a seat at the negotiating table, is just a ludicrous as the notion that a small group of fringe thinkers – who are on the payroll of the fossil energy industry – have a point of view that warrants serious consideration.

All of this said, I’m waiting for someone to prove, to a standard of clear and convincing evidence, what the impetus for the climate change cabal is.  Once you get past the possibility that climate scientists will garner more research dollars by coming up with new facts that prove rising GHG levels are forcing rising temperatures (regardless of whether you measure them in the atmosphere, in the land, or in the ocean) and other phenomena (soil and ocean acidification, polar ice melt, reef collapse, forest decline), the conspiracy theory loses steam pretty quickly, there’s no place to go with the conspiracy.  Unless you think NASA and NOAA are part of some kind of fifth column being organized and led by Al Gore.  If you belive that’s the case, just relax, Nurse Ratchet will be along with your meds any minute.

So, what’s the point of the climate conspiracy – who’s behind it (is James Hanson really the Grand High Archon of the Illuminati?) – how does it operate ? ? ?

Just askin’.

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Written by unreal2r

February 27, 2010 at 11:13 PM

renaming the whirlwind

The climate science community is populated by a lot of very nice people who, unfortunately, believe in a kind of dainty political correctness when it comes to languaging.

The discourse is dominated by headlines that talk about climate “change”.  Now, there’s a powerful descriptor.  As in, “I think I better change the baby’s diaper.”  Or, “We’re going to dinner and then the opera, so I need to hurry home and change.”  Or, “He’s so obdurate, he’ll never change.”

And then there’s the more stick-in-your-eye alternative, climate “warming”.  That really has some frightening connotations.  Like, “I’m warming the milk for some cocoa.” Or, “We’re warming the tires on the Ferrari before Sir Stirling takes it out for the record run around the Nurburgring.”  Or, “The Phillies have two pitchers warming up in the Bull Pen.”

A few people have tried to break out of the trap of politically correct soft-and-fuzzy speech.  Some brave Brits have taken to climate “heating”.  That sounds like an optional method of keeping your house warm.  “Would you like forced air, hydronic baseboard, or climate heating in the new family room?”

Let’s get real about this.  Wit’s End thinks we should refer to it as “Climate Chaos” or, better, “Climaticide”.  Those are certainly improvements – but the first calls to mind things like “chaos theory” – which will invariably provoke the kind of asinine public debate that still surrounds evolution. [See, “it’s only a theory“]

I prefer “Climate Extinction” because, to my mind at least, it hits the nail squarely on the head.  It’s pretty hard to misinterpret extinction as something other than an existential threat.

It’s kind of like “Death Panel” or “Euthanasia”.  Even the more cretinous denizens of Teabagistan will be able to get whatever-passes-for-a-mind around the concept of extinction.

And it’s easier to spell than “annihilation” – a life preserver tossed to our brain-addled brethren still struggling on the far side of Da Nile.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of languaging, I’ll address another pet peeve: let’s pound a stake into the heart of “renewable energy”.  This is another one of those friendly sounding concepts that, when you pop the hood and get a good look at the mill, makes you wonder how many cylinders are really firing.

There’s been a good deal of critical commentary aimed at the underlying economics of making fuel additives from corn, soybeans, and biomass (none of which work without substantial gummint subsidies).  But there’s another factor in this equation that hasn’t received much airtime.

Burning ethanol produces tropospheric ozone and a number of carbonyls including acetaldehyde.  Acetaldehyde reacts in the atmosphere to become peroxyacetal nitrates (PANs).   These pollutants are remarkably efficient herbicides (trees, crops, flowers – they are an equal opportunity annihilator).  And they are alarmingly carcinogenic.

Renewable?  Sure, it’s renewable funding for the corporate welfare queens who are living on the gummint crop subsidy and fake science dole.

Let’s stop talking about “renewable energy” and ratchet up the discussion about “free energy” – solar, wind, geothermal, tidal – because those are proven, scalable, off-the-shelf technologies that can completely transform our energy economy with little heavy lifting and fewer environmental downsides.

Written by unreal2r

September 29, 2009 at 8:26 PM

creative destruction

Whenever there is a paradigmatic shift in market forces, entrenched interests battle to maintain their share.  More often than not, they lose and are swept into history’s dustbin.  The automobile supplanted the horse and carriage.  Diesel electric locomotives spelled the extinction of the steam engine.  Jet propulsion eclipsed propellers powered by reciprocating internal combustion engines.  Vacuum tubes gave way to transistors.

(A good interview with Ira Magaziner – snatched from Climate Progress – on this subject here.)

Invariably, every time the fundamental nature of a technology changes, there are winners and losers.  The fossil fuel industry is on the brink of extinction.  The resistance to change that is expressed in different ways and by different spokesfools – from fossilized politicians like Senators Imhofe and Byrd to birdbrained pseudo-scientists like  Anthony Watts and Bjorn Lomborg – are just part of the death rattle of the soon-to-be-displaced special interests.  (Even the smarter guys among the established interests – like Duke Energy and Exelon – are already jumping ship and lining up for a place in the fossil-less energy future.)

There are only two important questions that have yet to be answered as the shift from fossil energy to free energy rolls out:

1.  Who will the winners (other than the inhabitants of the planet) be?  Clearly guys like Jeff Immelt, who has bet the future of GE on new energy technologies is going to be among the winners – as will GE shareholders.  There’s a good chance that Shai Agassi will be among the winners – as will investors in his electric car venture, Better Place.  But there will be many others.  From the development and deployment of high efficiency photovoltaic solar panels.  And the invention of new quick charging, long lasting battery technologies.  And many other technological wonders that are just over the horizon.

2.  Will we get there in time?  This is the most important existential question the world now faces.  The science says we have until 2015 to cap GHG output – and then begin to roll it back to 350 ppm or lower.  What’s the over and under on that?

Written by unreal2r

September 28, 2009 at 5:19 PM

so sue me

One of the more novel aspects of our government is its division into three co-equal branches (remember, the guys who designed it were – for good reason – inherently distrustful of government and, accordingly, came up with a blueprint that is intentionally incapable of being effective and efficient unless threatened with imminent catastrophe).

This results in a structural incapacity that is facilitated by politicians who often lack the brains or testicles to tackle big issues.

Enter the Courts.

Not the most elegant of solutions, but effective nonetheless.

Let’s apply this to the current dilemma over climate heating.

Only 1% of the scientists in the world do not accept the relevant findings of climate science.  But this 99% majority is not mirrored in the galactically void minds of elected officialdom, the media, or the teabagging masses yearning to be free.

Ergo, this is one of those issues that is apt to be substantially resolved in places that have rules and deadlines and tend to make decisions based on the weight of evidence and other troublesome metrics.

Good thing, too.

We have until 2015 (at the latest) to cap GHG emissions globally – and then wind them back – or the die may be cast for the end of the human genome project:

Sue the f***ers!

All of them!

And that mental Lilliputian, Glenn Beck, just for good measure!

Written by unreal2r

September 22, 2009 at 4:05 PM

parallel looniverse

I am an equal opportunity offender – as happy to take aim at the deficiencies of the left as I am at the excesses of the right – and vice versa.  Each often warrants a full compliment of cynicism and an extra helping of disdain.  Fortunately, both ends of the political spectrum are target rich environments.  Here’s what I mean . . .

Progressives are often quick to recognize important inconsistencies and inequities in the world.  They are, more often than not, the driving force behind measures aimed at moral issues like discrimination and inequality, public policy issues like health care and climate heating, and personal economic issues like minimum wage and retirement.  But they are also apt to identify an issue and then completely misidentify its cause – which, more often than not, results in solutions that camouflage the underlying problems – and never fully resolves them.

Traditionalists (I hesitate identifying them as conservatives because most of them are simply articulating variations on a theme premised on a large, intrusive, and costly bureaucracy – funded by deficits, and debt, and inflation) are the canaries in the national security coal mine and masters of the status quo.  They’ve never met a conspiracy that isn’t plausible (especially if it involves a threat that can be, even tentatively, linked to a foreign source), never met a criminal not deserving of life (with the possibility of execution for good behavior), and never read a passage in the bible that isn’t literally true.  Their world does not allow for uncertainty or doubt because an invisible, all-seeing, all-knowing, and all-powerful cosmic wizard (with whom they have an intimate personal relationship and who intercedes in the minutiae of their daily lives) is on their side.  They are always right . . . regardless of the facts.

A couple of applied examples of these observations:

Climate Change.  Those who (rightly) see climate heating as the most significant existential threat facing the world in the history of the human species are baffled that anyone has a different opinion.  This generally prompts a lot of mea culpa naval gazing aimed at identifying the cause of this otherwise inexplicable disconnect, and its political implications and consequences.

It’s the media’s fault – they are pandering to their fossil industry advertisers and/or inflating the (false) validity of deniers and delayers by giving them equal ink and air time.  It’s human nature – we are genetically and/or culturally programmed to avoid the unpleasant implications of the future and, instead, see only a fantasized destination filled with endless pleasures.  Or my favorite, it’s the result of an aversion to science – a fundamental ignorance that belies an inability to grasp basic principles of chemistry and physics.

It is hard to make heads or tails out of a world constructed of such infinite complexity.  Where to start?  Nationalize the media and force the public to accept a daily diet of science facts?  Go on a crash course to reprogram the human race culturally and genetically?  Fix education?  Ban religion and other iterations of mystical fantasy?  May as well just cut the soles off your shoes, climb a tree, and learn to play the flute!

Like most other issues, this is just not that hard.  We’ve known for decades that pumping bad stuff into the air changes atmospheric chemistry and results in a variety of negative outcomes.  Many of these effects are well-documented – like acid rain, increases in asthma, and increases in cancer and other diseases.  But, regardless of political orientation, most policy wonks come to the most inane conclusions.  Carbon sequestration for “clean coal”, for example.  If ever there was a Rube Goldberg solution, this one has to take first prize.

Let’s apply Occam’s Law of Parsimony: stop using fossil fuels.  Phase them out over, say, ten years.  Make them illegal – all of them.  Force the economy to switch to alternative energy.  It will – simply because it won’t have a choice.  If you insist on adding a government catalyst, increase the patent protection period on new energy technologies to 100 years – and watch the mutants who brought us hedge funds and derivatives stampede down Wall Street to place their bets in the new Patent Futures market.

In other words, don’t try to change human nature – take advantage of it.  Harness the power of shameless greed to the benefit of the planet’s future.  Give the robber barons a new and better opportunity to loot and pillage.  They’ll abandon their carbon addictions in a New York minute for a shot at the new high.  It’s in their nature.  They won’t be able to resist.

Education.  If public education was a product like an automobile or a microwave oven, we’d have to increase the size of the Court system by an exponential factor just to handle the consumer fraud and liability claims.

The progressive response to a public education system that is beyond redemption is, generally, twofold.  First, they send their kids to private schools.  Second, they pump more money into a system that is inherently irrational and dysfunctional.  It’s the traditional way the government works – if a program doesn’t work, spend more money on it.

The traditionalist response is not much different.  They have a personal interest in maintaining the status quo because (a) they send their kids to private schools and don’t want them to have to compete (or associate) with the progeny of common folks (which would inevitably occur if the entire education market was privatized and school admissions were based on academic merit), or (b) they are the plumber or beautician sitting on the local school board and are addicted to the sense of power and self-esteem that comes with being an indispensable watchdog of the community’s interest.

The recent flap over Obama’s “stay in school” pep talk is illustrative. Some of  the stupendously vapid plumbers and beauticians who sit on local school boards from coast-to-coast – egged on by the so-called conservatives on the right wing lunatic fringe of the media – rallied to protect America’s youth from the potential despair that would inevitably result from listening to the words of a freed slave who managed to make something of himself.

This is all bulltinky.  It makes no more sense for the gummint to own education as it does for the gummint to own General Motors (ooops!).  There’s a difference between providing access to education and providing the education itself.  The first is what the government should do – provide equal access to affordable education.  The second is what is at the heart of the massive ignorance about basic science (and history, and math, and geography . . .) in this country.

Why?  Also very simple.  Any time the government creates a program it also invests one or more constituencies with one or more special interests.  The constituencies that dominate the content and direction of education in the US are not the consumers of educational services – rather, the government serves the institutional interests of teachers and schools and publishers and the rest.  Several decades ago, Milton Friedman argued eloquently for the replacement of the current public school miasma with a voucher-funded, student-centric, totally privatized system.  It’s long overdue.

The take away: government never solves problems – it only manages them.  If you want to imbue a problem with immortality, aim a government program at it.  If you want to solve a problem, turn it into a opportunity in which quality results become the distinguishing factors in the eyes of the consumer – and in which the consumer holds the important cards.

healthcare redux

I am not at all enthusiastic about the portents for a rational public policy response to what is, by any objective analysis, an emergent – and growing – political issue.  As a matter of philosophical preference, I would much prefer a market-based solution.  Having said that, the market has failed – massively – to minimally, let alone comprehensively, address even the most basic of health-related issues.  By way of example, we have the technological means to digitize and standardize medical records – and yet the entire health care industry, from doctor and hospital record-keeping to insurance company billing, is operating in the dark ages.

In many other industries, there are ongoing efforts to eliminate waste and inefficiency – and, generally, these efforts result in higher quality and lower prices.  My first cell phone – which was permanently mounted in my car – cost around $900.  I paid roaming charges, long distance charges – and a ludicrous (by today’s standards) per-minute base rate for local (within the same area code) calls.  My first monthly bill was north of $500.  Today I get a lot more service from my Crackberry – for a lot less money.

I can apply the same model to computers.  The first computer I operated was an IBM 360 Model 40.  It filled the first floor of an office building, had a whopping 144 kb memory, and disc drives (this is when DOS was really DOS) that required a semi-annual hernia waiver to move.  We had modems the size of refrigerators that transmitted at teletype baud rates – and all of this miraculous stuff costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.  In fact, the first “portable” terminal I used was packed in a fiberglass suitcase and weighed close to 100 pounds.  I used to buy a ticket for it and strap it into the seat next to me when flying to a sales call.  The stupid thing cost around $10,000 and hardly ever worked.   Today, my laptop – around $1,200 at Costco – is hundreds of times more powerful than all of that ancient (circa 1970) equipment.

There are other models that run contrary to these examples.  The office space in which that old IBM clunker was housed rented at $6.00 per square foot.  Today it’s close to $25.00 psf.  And the BMW 2002 tii that I bought for around $4,500 in 1971 would, comparably, sell for nine or ten times that today.

And then there’s health insurance.  I started a business in the early 1980s.  One of the first things that I did was arrange for a small group health insurance plan for me, my partners, and our handful of employees.  It covered everything.  Well care.  Sick care.  Hospitalization.  X-rays and labs.  Medication.  Dental.  Eyeglasses.  It even came with a life insurance policy.  There was a modest deductible that was capped at some infernally low amount.  The paperwork amounted to two simple forms – one that had to be filled out at the beginning of every year on the first visit to a doctor – one page, front and back.  And another that was half a page – just enough room for some very basic information (name, policy number, physician’s name and address, a few lines of description for whatever the issue was, and an amount to be paid).  My family coverage (two adults, three kids) cost less than $300 per month for the works.  And it was accepted by every doctor and every hospital I ever encountered while I had it.

Today, a comprehensive policy would be four or five times that – probably more – and would likely not provide anywhere near the same coverage (in New Jersey, for example, thanks to the miracle of incestuous state regulation, medication coverage can’t exceed 50% and is further capped at some inanely low annual maximum).

All this is just by way of introduction.  What I really want to do is ask two relatively straightforward questions.

First, what, from a consumer’s perspective, is the value proposition of the health insurance industry?  I’m sure industry spokespeople have a litany of answers – all of which are based on the same kind of actuarial logic that makes casualty or life insurance make sense.  But does the same value proposition apply to health insurance?   Put another way, what value (again, from the consumer’s perspective) do health insurance companies actually add to the health care process?  They clearly don’t add efficiency, cut waste, or contain costs.  What is their value proposition to the health care consumer?

Second, why do we have government funded, government run, insurance plans for banks (FDIC), stock brokerages (SIPC), health care for retirees (Medicare) and veterans (VA) – and even potentially flooded properties – all delivered in a single payer context – but that isn’t socialism, or nazism, or part of a liberal conspiracy to hand the treasury over to the Chinese or the Muslins or some as yet unidentified third round African draft choice?  We just blew a few trillion bucks paying off the bad bets of the geniuses in our financial services industry – and bailing out the boneheads in the auto industry – but when it comes down to regular check-ups and flu shots and sick care for the average citizen, it becomes part of some alien invasion conspiracy.  Why?

Answer those questions honestly and objectively.  Put your preconceptions aside.  The answer could be to privatize everything – jettison the FDIC, dump the flood insurance program, turn Medicare over to Goldman Sachs and Social Security over to Morgan Stanley, and so on.  That wouldn’t necessarily get the government off the hook because when those guys screw up – as they invariably will (giving money to a banker is like giving heroin to an addict) – the government will still be holding the bag.  But if it makes you feel better to think that the law of gravity can be broken, have at it.  On the other hand, if you think that the gummint can do a super swell job running things – give it your best shot.  The “public option” may wind up looking like FEMA or the Army Corp of Engineers or the IRS or the Pentagon.  I’m sure there’s an agency or two or three that you can think of – the EPA, the FDA . . . the choices are almost limitless – that is the exception that proves the rule.

I haven’t changed my earlier solution, mind you.  I’m just trying to spark a discussion that doesn’t involve the kind of abject stupidity the nine twelvers – or the single payers (particularly the dim bulbs who think that’s a dating service for Pay Pal members) – have been tossing around.

Just be consistent.

Written by unreal2r

September 16, 2009 at 2:15 AM

clash of the eliterati

Poe’s Law:

Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won’t mistake for the real thing.

And so it goes.  A few thousand ersatz conservative vaporheads gather in DC, only to find themselves as the next laugh line on Letterman and the illustration in Wiki under “Fuqtard”.  Not only were they the joke, but the joke was on them, too.  Another exercise in useful idiocy.

Oh and then there’s the denial by the deniers who tried to deny that they denied any part of the denial . . . a further adventure in the anals of the Anti Science Society (ASS), the members of which must be found to be contaminated with – or carriers of – Anti Science Syndrome which, according to Joe Romm, can be diagnosed in the following way:

If you suspect someone of ASS, look for the repeated use of the following phrases:

  • Medieval Warm Period
  • Hockey Stick
  • Michael Mann
  • The climate is always changing
  • Alarmist
  • Hoax
  • Temperature rises precede rises in carbon dioxide
  • Pacific Decadal Oscillation
  • Water vapor
  • Sunspots
  • Cosmic rays
  • Danish physicist Henrik Svensmark
  • Ice Age was predicted in the 1970s
  • Global cooling

Individually, some of these words and phrases are quite useful and indeed are commonly used by both scientists and non-scientists who are not anti-science. But the use of more than half of these in a single speech or article is pretty much a definitive diagnosis of ASS.

When someone repeats virtually all of those phrases, along with multiple references to Al Gore, they are wholly a victim of ASS — in scientific circles they are referred to as ASS-wholes.

Romm, gentleman that he is, neglected to mention that poking fun at ASS-wholes is known as “ASS-play”.

Some of you already know that.  But a few may need to take Yoga lessons from my friend cutshot so that you can assume the same anatomically impossible positions he’s so deftly mastered.

Written by unreal2r

September 15, 2009 at 11:08 PM