Archive for the ‘Rants’ Category

Deepwater Horizon: a “natural” disaster?

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

Rush Limbaugh’s comment about the Deepwater Horizon oil gusher has been widely mocked in the blogosphere. “The ocean will take care of this on its own if it was left alone and left out there,” Limbaugh said. “It’s natural. It’s as natural as the ocean water is.” (http://www.treehugger.com/files/2010/05/rush-limbaugh-on-oil-spill-debunked.php)

Just how wrong is Limpbaugh, anyway? Let’s look into it. First of all, there is a lot of natural seepage of oil from the ocean floor, so he’s got a point there. A 2003 article from GeoMarine Letters estimates global natural seepage of crude oil into the ocean at 600,000 metric tons/year, although there’s a wide range of uncertainty. This is a bit less than half of the total oil spilling into the oceans currently; the rest we owe to human activity. http://www.springerlink.com/content/bya6g7r7ceebanrl/

What happens to all that oil? A lot of it apparently stays on the bottom, as it’s pretty dense; much of that is consumed by bacteria. So Rush is right that there are natural processes to deal with it. http://www.isa.org/InTechTemplate.cfm?template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=76955

However, those oil-eating bacteria consume oxygen from the water while dealing with the oil, so the environment around a big spill is not too hospitable for other forms of marine life. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/16/us/16oil.html?hp

As has been widely noted, the current gusher is releasing a lot more than the official estimate of 5000 barrels a day – more like 25,000 to 80,000. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/16/us/16oil.html?hp

So how does this current “leak” compare to the natural leakage?

Some calculations are in order.

First, a barrel is .1192 cubic meters of oil. http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=barrel

Crude oil has a density somewhere around 800-900 kg/cubic meter (varies). Call it 850.
http://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/liquids-densities-d_743.html

And let’s estimate somewhere in the middle range for the size of the “leak” – 50,000 barrels/day.
That means the Deepwater Horizon is pouring 5066 metric tons of oil per day into the Gulf.

At that rate, as of today, it has already poured 1/5 of a year’s global natural leakage into one small part of the Gulf of Mexico. Left uncapped for a total of 118 days, it will have dumped a full year’s worth. And considering that the natural leakage is about equal to the average human-caused leakage, another way of looking at it is that this single accident could double the typical year’s worldwide artificial oil leakage by August 18th.

Think that it’s unlikely to continue this long? The previous record-holder for an offshore oil “leak” was the Ixtoc I well off Campeche, which spilled about 20,000 barrels a day for 290 days in 1979-1980 before it was capped. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ixtoc_I And that one was in only 50m of water rather than almost 2000m, making it technically much easier to deal with.

Now, Rushbo, it’s true that eventually natural processes will deal with this – but the environment of the Gulf of Mexico is going to be profoundly altered by this spill for a long time to come, even if they cap it completely today. The “dead zone” around the mouth of the Mississippi is going to grow enormously, and some of the most important fishing waters around our continent are going to be producing mainly oil-eating bacteria instead of shrimp, oysters, and redfish, probably for years. And I bet even Emeril can’t make a tasty etoufee out of oil-eating bacteria.

So, Rush has his facts right, but the implications totally wrong. It’s a bit like saying that there are traces of cyanide in almonds, and they don’t hurt you, so it’s okay to eat cyanide by the spoonful. Quantity matters, and this catastrophe is huge.

Eeek! Sex in the university!

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

So, a funny thing happened the other day.  A representative from Georgia, Calvin Hill (R-Canton), got hold of the media guide from Georgia State University — you know, one of those lists of “who to call for a quote about X” things.  And on there, he found people with expertise in things like male prostitution and oral sex.  He thought he was looking at a course catalog, and immediately got all bent out of shape about people teaching our children courses in oral sex, because of course this is a waste of taxpayer dollars, as kids know more about it than we do.  Ha ha, just kidding, I mean because nobody should know anything about it ever.

 

So then his colleague Charlice Byrd (R-Woodstock) got up on the House floor during prime C-Span hours (i.e. everyone else was asleep) and called for a grass-roots campaign to kick out professors who teach stuff like that, and especially “queer theory.”

“This is not considered higher education,” she said. “If legislators are going to dole out the dollars, we should have a say-so in where they go.”

Byrd and her supporters, including state Rep. Calvin Hill, said they will team with the Christian Coalition and other religious groups to pressure fellow lawmakers and the Board of Regents to eliminate the jobs.

“Our job is to educate our people in sciences, business, math,” said Hill, a vice chairman of the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee. He said professors aren’t going to meet those needs “by teaching a class in queer theory.”
(Fort Mill Times)

The whole thing more or less blew over — turns out that Kirk Elifson does fairly important research on the spread of HIV by male prostitutes, and Mindy Stombler is a sociologist studying attitudes of teens about sexual practices, and somehow it doesn’t sound as bad when you use your brain for an instant or two. Hill tried to back-pedal:

Several members of the committee praised Elifson and Stombler for their work; Hill, too, spoke to the committee but given the chance, did not ask the GSU faculty any questions.

He defended his interest in the issue and said he never specifically accused GSU of anything. He also said the media had blown the subject out of proportion.

“It’s been taken sideways by people who like the titillating words,” he said.

He argued that in a time of budget cuts universities should not offer classes that do not help students get jobs.(Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Because all he really meant to say was that higher education should be transformed into vo-tech.  Still, not everybody is ready to give up on this.   Just today the conservative blog Human Events published a philippic on the topic, supporting Byrd’s original plan to expunge all this nasty stuff from tax-supported educational institutions.

This is a management issue. Over the last thirty years, even in the bastion of large public universities, the mantra has been “let’s shock the parents.” Maybe it hasn’t been official or stated but it’s been there. The Deans of the Schools and the management structure of the University must be able to not only balance the curriculum, but also manage it through hard times. Too many times these academics don’t know how to manage people because they are academics and not business people.

If this is happening in University System in Georgia, it’s happening in your state, too. Go online and look at the course offerings at your son or daughter’s university and you’ll find these fringes offered there, too. They are counting on parents to be too intimidated to get involved. Parents should take charge of their child’s education at every level.

And taxpayers should demand better administration of college funds. If we are graduating people who can’t do math, don’t know science and can’t write or speak English well, why in Heaven’s name are we spending money on anything but to improve those results?

There you go! Higher education should be confined to teaching math, science (not the nasty kind, I’m guessing) and English. Out with those other fripperies like the arts, so-called sciences like sociology, and, I guess, epidemiology.  I mean, just while the economy is bad.  Once things get rolling again, we can just rebuild all those departments that we abolished before, no problem.

My lousy senator fights spending for alternative transportation

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

I just got a little note from MoBikeFed, the state bike advocacy group, with some interesting information.

Kit Bond, paleocon, Missouri’s senior senator, is sponsoring amendments to the stimulus bill that would strip all transportation funding except the part that goes to highways.  Like this:

[Bond] plans to offer an amendment that would transfer $5.5 billion in the bill for surface transportation competitive grants to the highway and bridge formula. The grants are meant for larger projects of national or regional significance that can be started within three years. Bond said that is not stimulative.

This is because bigger and better highways promote more gas-powered transportation, and as we know, gasoline is

a) Free

b) Not produced by countries that hate us

c) Non-polluting and non-CO2 producing (Not that Kit worries about global warming)

d) The most healthful way to get around

And, as Bond says, it’s “not stimulative” to spend money on alternative transportation.

Way to go, Kit!  Don’t waste taxpayer money on modernizing our infrastructure with light rail, buses, electric cars, bicycle paths, and pedestrian walkways.  Let’s invest in what got us where we are now.  Forward into the past!

Oh, btw, you can send your senators a message on this issue right here, if you’re interested.

Wingnuts

Friday, October 31st, 2008

A contact of mine in Flickr posted this pic of a defaced Obama sign, I commented sympathetically, and one of the people in the comment thread wound up sending me this Flickr Mail message:

:: OBAMA

HE WENT TO CHURCH FOR 25 YEARS WITH PREACHER WRONG. HE SAID
HE WAS ONE OF HIS TOP ADDVISERS. WRONG 5PREACHED HATE
AGAINST WHITE MEN AND OBAMA ACCTED LIKE HE NEVER SAW
ANYTHING BULLSHIT. HE FINALLY THREW  WRONG UNDER THE BUS
WHEN HE SEEN HOW PEOPLE WERE TURNING ON HIM.  BILL AYERS
AND HIM ARE LIKE BROTHERS AND THE MAN IS A TERROIST. HE
SAID HE WILL MEET WITH ALL THE ROGUE COUNTRIES LIKE IRAN
WITH OUT PRE-CONDITIONS HELL THAT CRAZY. HE USE TO BE HEAD
OF SIGNING PEOPLE UP TO VOTE WHEN THEY DIDN’T HAVE
ADDRESSES. HE HAS FLIP FLOPED ON EVERTHIG HE HAS SAID IT IS
JUST WHAT CROWD HE IS PLAYING. HE WANTS TO RAISE TAXES WHEN
THE IN A RECEASION. HE IS THE MOST LIBERAL PERSON IN THE
SENATE.  HES FRIENDS WITH LUIS FARAKKAN. HE WILL NOT PUT
HIS HAND OVER HIS HEART WHEN THE PLEGE OF ALLEGANCE IS
SAID. HE  WILL NOT WEAR A AMERICAN FLAG PIN. WHAT DAM MORE
DO YOU WANT THE SON OF A BITCH SHOULD BE RUN OUT OF THE
COUNTRY. IF DON’T SEE IT YOU NEED A SHRINK. BUT IF HE DOES
WIN IT WOULDN’T SURPRISE ME IS SOMEONE DIDN’T TAKE THE
BLACK BASTARD OUT BEFORE HE GETS TO THE WHITE HOUSE. ONE
MORE HOLIDAY. THANKS     PS IRAN NUKE THE BASTARDS. HAVE A
NCE DAY

Now, my initial response is two words: Snopes.com.  But this guy is pretty clearly immune to rational argument. Actually, I’m a bit disappointed that he missed the late-breaking news that Obama is actually the illegitimate son of Malcolm X.

What is it with the all-caps crowd, anyway?  I used to say it was the equivalent of shouting all the time, but I think it’s more like shouting all the time and spraying spittle in the process.

I don’t guess the Secret Service would consider this guy’s message an actual death threat against Obama, but I do hope that security is tight.  How do Republicans who actually have two neurons to rub together feel about the supporters they’re courting?  Bill Buckley must be spinning in his grave.

Hey, Joe.

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

Let’s see — it’s a weird and twisted journey that gets me to the point of this.  I was doing my patriotic duty by watching the debate and reading Wonkette‘s liveblogging of it, and Wonkette pointed out that, in the process of pandering to the middle class, both candidates managed to say “Hey, Joe”.  This led to this video clip. And then, of course, I spent way too much time looking at related clips, winding up with this one.  The thing about Red House is that hearing it always makes me so sad that Hendrix died so young.  Imagine the blues he’d be playing now.  It’s a tragic loss to all of us.

On the plus side,  a contact of mine on Flickr just posted this:

The day before his 81st birthday, playing in Rotterdam.  Thank you, God, but why the hell couldn’t we have Jimi that long?

Democrats vs Plutocrats

Friday, September 26th, 2008

Let’s take a look at the competing proposals for dealing with the financial meltdown:

Democrats (and some moderate Republicans, and apparently the administration):

  • Buy out failing companies with up to 700 billion dollars of taxpayer money
  • Give taxpayers equity in those companies (i.e. partially nationalize them)
  • Put caps on executive salaries at those companies and prohibit golden parachutes
  • Change bankruptcy laws so judges can extend homeowners’ mortgage terms

Meanwhile, the Republican hard core wants to:

  • Cut the capital gains tax (who makes up the resulting revenue shortfall? Guess.*)
  • Ensure fat cats who buy failing companies against loss (Guess who pays for that.)
  • No help for homeowners, no regulations on executives

So let’s see.  Either we spend taxpayer money to acquire financial interest in the companies, and eventually (if things turn around) get money back to help finance our government, or we use taxpayer money to make the rich richer.

Why would the Republicans prefer the latter scheme?  If they were honest, it’s just self-interest, but how can they justify it?  They can’t pretend this is free-market capitalism, in which the Invisible Hand can do no wrong; it’s government intervention either way, and the difference is who winds up owning the capital.  In essence, they’re saying you can’t trust the officials elected by jerks like me with money, you can only trust the same greed-addled plutocrats who got us into this mess in the first place.

Honestly, how can that party pretend to be anything but a shill for the rich? Why would anyone making under about $600,000 a year vote for them?

*Remember, if we cut the capital gains tax, we’re going to fund the government somehow. Either we raise your taxes, or we just run a deficit and transfer the cost to the taxpayer as a decline in the value of the dollar.

A less cheery side note about the Altenburg Fair

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

I’ll just paste the text of the letter I wrote to the local paper:

***********


For many years I’ve enjoyed going to the East Perry Community Fair in Altenburg.   The authentic rural atmosphere is a nice contrast with the larger, more commercialized SEMO district fair.   This year, though, I was disappointed to hear the announcer at the mule jump make a very mean-spirited joke:  A local farmer sees someone dipping water out of a cow pond with his hand and drinking it.  In German, he warns the man that the pond water isn’t safe to drink.  The man explains that he’s a Muslim, and speaks only Arabic and English, so if the farmer doesn’t speak Arabic, he should speak English to him.  The farmer tells him in English “Use both hands, you’ll get more.”   

It’s not a particularly funny joke, and especially not to any of my Muslim friends, as the point seems to be “Ha ha, we hate Muslims.” 

I have always encouraged newcomers to the area to attend the Altenburg Fair, for a taste of real Southeast Missouri life.  After this year’s fair, though, I think I’ll have to warn them that they’re likely to encounter some real Southeast Missouri intolerance as well.

*******************

What’s the matter with America?

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

The Freakonomics blog at the New York Times has a really interesting post today, which I’m going to steal from rather shamelessly here, but with a different slant in analysis.  It reproduces this graph from the Washington Post:

This compares Obama and McCain’s tax plans.  It’s interesting to see this redrawn so that the bars are proportional to the fraction of taxpayers in each bracket — note that the wealthy (over $600,000 annual income), who benefit most from McCain’s cuts and lose most from Obama’s, represent less than 1 percent of the population.

It’s even better to look at this graph, showing the proportion of total tax dollars paid:

Note here that you can see where the money comes from for Obama’s plan; it’s close to revenue-neutral, as the rich pay a large proportion of total tax, and their tax hike pays for cuts for most everyone else.  Since we all help to build the society that makes it possible for the rich to be rich, that’s fair enough, and they can best afford to spare it.

McCain, on the other hand, gives the biggest cuts to those wealthy families, and winds up with a big drop in net tax income for the country.  This will necessitate cuts in government programs, including ones that would benefit the lower and middle classes further.

The depressing thing is to look at any of these graphs and realize that about 80% of families would be better off under Obama’s plan.   If people vote their own interests — if they even vote the interests of the majority — then Obama should lead overwhelmingly in the polls.  In fact, it’s more or less a tie.

The book What’s the Matter with Kansas, by Thomas Frank, examined this phenomenon — that the middle class and much of the rural white lower class now vote Republican rather reliably, despite the obvious pro-corporate and pro-upper class policy bias of that party.  Why?  The Republicans have made a concerted effort ever since Reagan to ally themselves with social conservative views, although they’ve done little to enact policies that would further them.  McCain used to honestly reject such pandering, but once he had a serious chance at getting nominated, he started cuddling up to the religious right, even to the extent of choosing Sarah Palin as VP candidate.

I don’t think it’s all “values,” though, that causes people to vote for the Republicans against their own interests.  I saw a study some time ago where people were asked what level of income they expected to achieve in their lifetime.  50% of the sample expected to be in the top 1% of earners before they checked out.  This is the Republican party’s popular appeal in a nutshell.  I’m going to win the lottery, I’m going to be a star NFL quarterback, I’m going to be CEO of a Fortune 500 company.  And therefore, I don’t want the government raising taxes on the super-rich, because I intend to be one someday!   The fact that 49% of that sample is doomed to be disappointed just doesn’t sink in.  If you can’t admit you’re middle class, policies that favor the middle class won’t appeal to you.

*Sigh.*

***************

Update:  Turns out that a lot of political scientists say that Frank’s thesis doesn’t hold up when you look at the data — the evidence indicates that the more money people have, the more likely they are to vote Republican.  Doesn’t seem to be the case around here, but I have to say I haven’t collected data systematically.

Why drilling is the wrong answer

Monday, July 14th, 2008

2006 US Oil consumption 20,687,000 bbl/day
2006 World Oil production 87,000,000 bbl/day
US Oil production 5,102,000 bbl/day
(Source: DOE)Potential increase from offshore  and ANWR drilling: 3,000,000 bbl/day
Potential decrease in demand from higher fuel efficiency standards:  2,500,000 bbl/day
(Source: Newsweek)

So here’s the deal:

a) Our oil production is a relatively minor part of world oil consumption.
b) Increased exploration and drilling won’t result in more production for at least 5 or 10 years
c) We can get about as much effect more quickly by increasing fuel efficiency standards
d) Not to mention just driving less
e) Not to mention alternative energy sources
f) Oil is a finite resource that has many uses besides burning it
g) We’re going to be sorry if we burn the stuff up now and don’t have it later
h)  We’ll probably find safer ways to extract oil from sensitive places later

So we should spend our time and resources on conservation and alternative energy sources instead of frantically trying to find ways to use up an irreplaceable resource as fast as possible.

Yeah, the Newsweek article cited above presents an argument for more drilling as a stopgap to tide us over.  It’s a shortsighted answer to a long-term problem.  Get a bike.

A scam I hadn’t seen before…

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

Email received this morning:

*********************


SOMEONE YOU CALL YOUR FRIEND, WANTS YOU DEAD.

I felt very sorry and bad for you, that your life is going to end like this if you don’t comply, i was paid to eliminate you and I have to do it  within10 days.  Someone you call your friend wants you dead by all means, and the person havespent a lot of money on this, the person also came to us and told us that he wants you dead at any cost.

Meanwhile, I have sent my men to track you down and they have carried out all the necessary investigation needed for the operation, but I ordered them to stop for a while and not to strike immediately because I just felt something good and sympathetic about you. I decided to contact you first and know why somebody will want you dead by all means. Right now my men are monitoring you, their eye sare on you, and even the place you think is safer for you to hide might not be. Now do you want to LIVE OR DIE? It is up to you. Get back to me now if you are ready to enter deal with me, I mean life trade, who knows, and I might just spear your life, $12,000 is all you need to spend.

You will first of all pay $4,000 then I will send the tape of the person that want you dead to you and when the tape gets to you, you will pay the remaining $8,000. If you are not ready for my help, then I will have no choice but to carry on the assignment after all I have already being paid before now.

Warning: Do not think of contacting the police or even tell anyone because I will extend it to any member of your family espacialy the childrens since you are aware that somebody wants you dead, and the person knows some members of your family as well. For your own good I will advise you not to go out once is 7pm until I make out time to see you and give you the tape of my discussion with the person who want you dead then you can use it to take any legal action.

Good luck as I await your reply to this e-mail contact: bulletpoint_target@ubbi.com

Mr.Anthonio Benito.

**********************

I sent it to the information tech folks and campus police, not that it’s likely either of them can do anything about it  I see that there are other copies of this out on the web, but it is a new scam variation to me.

I wonder if threats work better than playing to greed?  Which is more likely to succeed, this or the Nigerian bank scam?