Thursday, July 29, 2010

Severe Drought in Southern Russia

Severe Drought in Southern Russia
Severe and persistent drought held southern Russia in its grip in June and July 2010. Low rainfall and hot temperatures damaged 32 percent of the country’s grain crops.

New Map of Antarctica's Icy Edge

New Map of Antarctica's Icy Edge
Antarctica is covered by the world’s largest ice sheet, and it is losing mass. At present, ice is slipping into the sea from the continent’s icy edge more quickly than snowfall is accumulating in the high-altitude interior. The imbalance means that Antarctic ice loss is contributing to rising sea level.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Who is Clint Didier?

Prominent Republicans, including Sarah Palin and Ron Paul, are supporting Clint Didier, in his campaign bid to unseat 3-term incumbent US Senator Patty Murray (D-WA).

Just who is Clint Didier?
  • a graduate of Connell High School
  • attended Columbia Basin College and Portland State where he was a star football player
  • played professional football
  • presently has an alfalfa farm and runs an earth moving business, as well as coaches at Connell High School.
 His stated positions are:
  • Health care: "I will not support a federal government health care plan – period."
  • Immigration: "We need to revamp and revisit the guest worker program." 
  • Government: "If not authorized by the Constitution, it will be a NAY vote from me."
  • Foreign Policy: "I favor a non-interventionist philosophy. Let’s stop trying to spread 'democracy.'"
  • Gun Law: "I will never submit to, or support, any legislation seeking to undermine this essential right and protection of individual liberty."
  • Marriage Rights: "I believe marriage is between one man and one woman."
  • Women's Rights: "I am pro-life – from conception until natural death." 
  • Global Warming: "It is becoming increasingly clear much of our climate change data affecting public policy is not scientifically sound."
  • Energy: "We must drill for oil and do it now. We need to reduce stifling regulations that keep refineries from being built. We need to revitalize our nuclear energy industry."
  • Agriculture: "I believe it is time to begin backing the federal government out of farm subsidy programs and let farmers become self-sufficient."
  • The Economy: "I will introduce and support legislation seeking to reduce taxes and meddlesome bureaucratic regulations. I will not vote for any new taxes, or any increases in existing taxes."
Didier's blunt, angry rhetoric is music to Tea Party ears. One wonders if they even consider what he is saying; eliminate the Department of Energy, the Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency. He'd cut Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, and food stamps. Didier says people should take care of themselves. At a Tea Party forum in Bellingham, Washington in July he said, "We've got to get rid of this 'protecting the weak.' If we keep the weak alive all the time, it eats up the strong, and then our economy will never come back."

Nature…confers the master's right on her favorite child, the strongest in courage and industry ... The stronger must dominate and not blend with the weaker, thus sacrificing his own greatness.
Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (1925-26), American Edition (1943), 134-5.
In William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1990), 86.

God, the Universe, Extraterrestrial Intelligence, and all that stuff

A Hubble Space Telescope Photo of the Planetary Nebula NGC 2818

A few days after my birthday in 2009 in a post titled, "The Search for Extraterrestrial Life," I promised to revisit in a future post the subject of extraterrestrial intelligence. Well, the future is here -- whoops! it's gone; we're in the present, or were...

Anyway, if you'll allow me, I'd like to ramble a bit in an effort to describe (explain would be too ambitious) my idea (theory would be presumptuous) about extraterrestrial intelligence. In doing so, I will necessarily touch on the concept of god (lack of capitalization is intended), the Universe, the Big Bang Theory, and stuff like that.

Big Bang Model, NASA/WMAP Science Team

Let me start with the Big Bang Theory, because it's so popular and many of the world's major religions assert that it supports their view of their God and His creation. So here's my take -- I don't buy it. I believe the Big Bang Theory is popular because it conforms with our experiential basis for understanding our own existence. After all, in our world, things have beginnings and endings, including us (our pets, too, which is really sad).

The idea that our universe had no beginning and will have no ending comes and goes in cosmology (kind of like our universe, as you'll see). In fact, no less a light than Albert Einstein initially believed the universe was closed and steady state. But his own General Theory of Relativity required that the universe be either expanding or contracting, so Einstein created a "cosmological constant" to insert in his equations in order to make them conform to his belief in a steady state universe. He later came to see this as a mistake. Well, anyone could have told Albert that, don't you think?

Anyway, where the hell am I going with this. Let me think... Oh yeah, there were other respected astrophysicists/cosmologists who believed in an essentially eternal universe, but the discovery by Edwin Hubble that the universe appeared to be expanding and the further discovery of microwave background radiation predicted by the Big Bang Theory seemed to seal the deal -- Big Bang was king.

Not so fast (although the "singularity" that composed all that existed before anything existed and became The Universe did it in ten to the minus four seconds and that's damned fast). There are other theories of cosmological reality and they are pretty cool, e.g., parallel universes anyone?

Mathematical physicist Neil Turok theorizes that the universe cycles through expansions and contractions (the "Cyclic Universe" theory), and neither time nor the universe has a beginning or end. Google Turok and you can read all you want about "string theory" and "M-theory," and branes, and black holes, and try to figure it all out -- good luck with that.

My own "theory" is that the universe is and has always been, but it's nature changes because it's being pulled in and out of an infinite number of black holes (thus the appearance of expansion and contraction); think about pulling your socks inside out before you throw them in the wash and then pulling them back right side out when you pull them out of the dryer. If you don't wash your socks and want a different example, forget about it you stinker!

I posit this theory because I want you to expand your ability to conceptualize possibilities that are outside the realm of your physical being and your experience as such. Consider this for example, mathematical physicists like Neil Turok deal with many more than 3 dimensions (10 or more sometimes) when they cogitate on the nature of our universe. Imagine how many pairs of special glasses you'd have to wear to watch a movie in 10-D.

Now that your mind has expanded, consider your place in a universe that is infinite and eternal. You may see yourself as floating on an air mattress in a pool, in your backyard, in your neighborhood, in, say, Washington State, in the USA. So, on the North American continent, on the earth, which you may think of as floating around the sun with a bunch of other planets that form our Solar System.

Well fine, but keep going. Okay, so you know about the Milky Way Galaxy. Do you know that the only stars we see with the naked eye are all part of our Galaxy? And that there are an unknown number of galaxies (some say billions) in the universe? That seems really big, doesn't it. Maybe not. Maybe all this is just a gas bubble in the lower intestine of a super being that ate too much dark matter for dinner, and you're a microbe sitting on a piece of undigested fruit, say a blueberry -- our earth -- working with all the other microbes on the partially digested blueberry to turn it into fecal matter (you have to admit, we're doing a pretty good job).

The point is, that in a universe of essentially unknown size, we have no real point of reference for the size of our Galaxy, Solar System, planet, or ourselves. I will tell you this. We are larger than some of the things on this planet that we know about, like bacteria. We're a lot larger than those little buggers.

Again, in an earlier post I wrote about something called Cyanobacteria. This microbe is largely responsible for creating the earth as we know it. An interesting question is, how did it get here? Furthermore, we might ask if it exists only here, or has this particular bacterium migrated elsewhere? Do the bacteria we encounter exist because we exist, or do we exist because they exist?

There is some evidence that suggests certain bacteria were carried to earth on meteorites. The possibility that life first came to earth and indeed, was distributed throughout the universe by ejecta blasted from planets bombarded by huge meteors has spawned a theory of interstellar life called "panspermia" (or "transpermia"). The prospect was first proposed in the 1870s by physicists Lord Kelvin (British) and Hermann von Helmholtz (German).

A hundred years later, British astronomers Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe found new evidence for panspermia, traces of life in the dust of space. They also proposed that comets carry bacterial life across galaxies and protect it from radiation damage along the way because comets are largely made of water-ice.

James Lovelock's Gaia theory of the earth can be seen as complementary to the theory of panspermia, or vice versa, I don't know. In any case, it's intriguing to think of the earth as a living being in its own right, and more so if we accept that it's "life" was seeded from space.

Let's summarize. We have an eternal, infinite universe that contains the building blocks of life. Life on earth was seeded from somewhere in that infinite, eternal universe. Given this, there's no reason not to believe that many other life forms exist in many other parts of the universe. But are they "intelligent?"

The very question is posed in such a way that it once again anthropomorphizes our consideration of possibilities. Why? Because it's altogether possible that we humans are an integral part of a pervasive, self-perpetuating, cosmic intelligence, i.e., Cosmic Gaia, in which elemental life is transported via comets throughout the universe, making course corrections as the universe expands and contracts and planetary bodies form and are destroyed.

The universe exists in a state of homeostasis, forever and always. The intelligence necessary for that to happen has existed and will exist forever and ever. Right now, we are part of it. Some day, we'll be replaced. Our replacements will be wearing their socks wrong side out.

Written December 10, 2007: Sound Familiar?

Democratic leaders in the Senate are planning a vote on a retooled energy bill late next week after they failed to muster enough support yesterday to prevent a filibuster of ambitious legislation passed by the House on Thursday.
The Senate voted 53 to 42 yesterday to close debate, falling short of the 60 votes needed to permit a vote on passage even though four Democratic presidential candidates rushed back from the campaign trail to bolster the measure's chances. All but three of senators who blocked a vote on the bill were Republicans; five Republicans joined with Democrats in favor of closing debate.
The failure to close debate was a victory for the major oil companies, Southeastern utilities and coal-mining firms that had opposed the legislation. One of the companies most opposed to the measure was Southern Co., the holding company for GeorgiaAlabama and Mississippi utilities. The firm spent $7.1 million on in-house lobbying efforts and an additional $1.1 million for outside lobbying firms on energy and environmental issues in the first half of this year.

On Thursday, the House had brushed aside a veto threat from [then] President Bush and approved an energy bill that would raise vehicle mileage standards for the first time in 32 years, set a quota of 36 billion gallons a year for the use of ethanol and other biofuels, and require increased use of renewable energy sources to generate electricity. The bill would also raise $21 billion in revenue over 10 years, largely through ending tax breaks for the nation's biggest oil companies, while extending tax incentives for wind, solar and other renewable energy sources.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Promoting scientific ignorance in the guise of learning

Science as a way of knowing has been extremely successful, although people may not like all the changes science and its handmaiden, technology, have wrought. But people who oppose evolution, and seek to have creationism or intelligent design included in science curricula, seek to dismiss and change the most successful way of knowing ever discovered. They wish to substitute opinion and belief for evidence and testing. The proponents of creationism/intelligent design promote scientific ignorance in the guise of learning. As professional scientists and educators, we strongly assert that such efforts are both misguided and flawed, presenting an incorrect view of science, its understandings, and its processes.
From the Botanical Society of America's statement on evolution
July 27, 2003

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Is Hydropower a Renewable Energy Resource?

Venezuela's Drought, the Worst in 50 Years

Republican politicians have for some time argued that hydroelectric power should be classified as a renewable resource. Their motivation is clear. If hydropower is renewable, then states like Washington, which require that public utilities generate a given percentage of their electricity (15% for Washington) from renewable energy resources by a certain date (2020 in the case of Washington), would effectively have to do nothing. About 87 percent of the electricity made in Washington state is produced by hydroelectric facilities. The State even sells some of its hydroelectric power to other states. But is hydropower renewable?

The situation in Venezuela today is instructive. Up to now, hydropower has been the major energy source in Venezuela — providing residents and industry with up to two-thirds of the total electricity produced. But a record lack of rainfall has resulted in low water flows and several power interruptions.

Venezuela imposed electricity and water rationing in December to prevent a collapse of the electricity grid as water levels behind the Guri Dam fell to critical lows. The dam supplies most of Venezuela's electricity.
Rolling blackouts lasting up to four hours are bring imposed throughout the country except the capital of Caracas as the country struggles with the severe drought.

Hugo Chavez is moving to build wind farms and is vowing to develop nuclear energy, whether the U.S. likes it or not. If Chavez’s nuclear bluster is just a lot of hot air, then at least he’ll have the wind turbines to harness it.
In the meantime, Republicans might want to rethink their energy platform.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Washington State Senate Race: Clint Didier

As the November elections approach, Didier for Senate signs are popping up on summer lawns here in the Tri-Cities like toadstools. Letters to the editor are also appearing, bolstering the Tea Party’s grass roots effort to elect the Eltopia alfalfa farmer and former football player to the U.S. Senate seat now held by Patty Murray, Washington State's first female senator.

Mr. Didier’s “game plan for Washington” includes cutting taxes, and repealing health care reform, which he believes should be addressed by the State. These features of Didier’s “game plan” seem odd for a state that's forecast to be $2.6B in the red in 2011.

Didier is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment right to bear arms, a favorite Tea Party position and one strongly endorsed by Sarah Palin, who has endorsed Mr. Didier's candidacy. I doubt the fatal July shooting at Lake Sammamish State Park (2 dead, 4 wounded) will change Didier's mind, as he seems to be an admirer of Arizona, where resident may carry a concealed weapon without a permit and do so anywhere they damn well please.

Didier is also an admirer of Arizona's recent immigration law, now under scrutiny by the courts. The combination of concealed weapons, and police challenging brown-skinned people for citizenship papers should make for an exciting state of affairs in Arizona, the dumbest state in the Union (according to Morgan Quitno Press).

If you happened to ask Mr. Didier why Arizona ranks dead last in intelligence, he'd probably tell you it's the federal government's fault. "We got to get rid of the Department of Education and give it back to the States and there's a 10th amendment," he writes while "chatting" with the blogger, Kevin Ewoldt. At the time, Didier was referring to kids' ability to learn football formations. So, while cutting taxes, Mr. Didier will place the full burden of our children's education on the state. Another "game plan" feature bound to drive the state further into debt.

As far as global warming is concerned, Didier is unapologetic in his skepticism, stating, "It is becoming increasingly clear much of our climate change data affecting public policy is not scientifically sound." Presumably, Didier learned his climate science while perusing the Washington Redskins' tight end play book. Mr. Didier believes that, "If America is to survive economically and compete in the world marketplace, we must curtail our burdensome regulations." Perhaps he's referring to the regulations not being enforced on off shore drilling, although he may be referring to those effecting coal mine safety.

Didier presents himself as a strict constitutional constructionist, “If not authorized by the constitution, it will be a nay vote for me.” If only the constitution were that straightforward, we could eliminate the Supreme Court and save millions.

I'll say this for Clint Didier, he has made his positions on the issues clear, even having himself videotaped expressing them in his down home way, his Redskins' game ball prominently displayed on the hearth of his fireplace. If you want to know where Mr. Didier stands, visit his web site. He's a lot easier to peg than his slick  Republican opponent, Dino Rossi, whom Didier refers to as the "establishment candidate."

Friday, July 16, 2010

Inquiry into Behavior of CRU Scientists

It’s interesting to me that although there have now been several inquiries into the allegations of misconduct on the part of climate scientists at East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (CRU) stemming from the November 2009 hacked email incident, the mainstream media seem to have lost interest in the whole sordid affair. Global warming deniers used carefully selected quotes from the emails to smear the reputations of climate scientists and cast doubt on the science. The timing of this assault was no accident, occurring as it did just before the UN Conference on Climate held in Copenhagen in December 2009. It’s hard to say what impact the manufactured scandal had on the potential for achieving substantive change, but it certainly couldn’t have helped. The sad fact is that the entire hullabaloo orchestrated by the fossil fuel special interests and their lackeys was a sham. None of the carefully conducted inquiries have come up with a shred of evidence suggesting wrong doing on the part of the CRU climate scientists, nor have they cast doubt on their findings, or those of the many climate scientists around the world with whom they work. Global warming is real, and it’s past time we did something about it.

The latest inquiry to be published, “The Independent Climate Change Emails Review,” July 2010, was performed by a team of cross-disciplinary scientists chaired by Sir Muir Russell, former Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Glasgow, and included David Eyton, Group Head of Research & Technology at BP. This team concluded that, “on the specific allegations made against the behaviour of CRU scientists, we find that their
rigour and honesty as scientists are not in doubt.” The team further stated, “we do not find that their behaviour has prejudiced the balance of advice given to policy makers. In particular, we did not find any evidence of behaviour that might undermine the conclusions of the IPCC assessments.”

The inquiry did find that CRU scientists were reluctant to promptly address the myriad FOIA requests launched at the scientists and in my view, this reluctance is understandable. CRU is a small (16 staff) organization and many of the FOIA requests were meant to harass the scientists, rather than to acquire information for legitimate purposes.

In the meantime, the world’s combined global land and ocean surface temperature made last month the warmest March on record. Taken separately, average ocean temperatures were the warmest for any March and the global land surface was the fourth warmest for any March on record. Additionally, the planet has seen the fourth warmest January – March period on record (NOAA).