Saturday, March 29, 2008

The best position on Global Warming- the "Radical Middle"

This story from The Press Association sums up the best policy on Global Warming in the first three paragraphs:

"It would be cheaper and more effective for the world to adapt to global warming rather than fight it, scientists have said.

The scientists - including Mike Hulme, the founding director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia - accept the scientific consensus on the causes and effects of climate change, but differ on what to do about it.

Their view, which has caused them to be labelled "the new pariahs of global warming", is that the world should work to reduce hunger, storm damage and disease, rather than spending trillions of pounds trying to stabilise carbon dioxide levels across the planet."

These thnigs should be mankind's goal with or without Global Warming! What are the fears from Global Warming? Drought? Drought is not a function of weather; it's a function of bad water management and bad planning- heck, most of the third world doesn't have reliable water supplies now. It's one of mankind's greatest shames that there are billions of people without potable water. If we built the aqueducts, viaducts, canals, and where necessary, desalinization plants to serve the people who need it today, a one or two degree average temperature change would not be able to overwhelm the system.

What else? Famine? As I noted
previously , the United Nations says enough food exists to end hunger today- not in some wistful future, today. All we need do is build the political trust and the distribution systems. Once such systems were in place, food would be routinely routed from places having bumper crops to places having bad crops. Once again, with such systems in place, Global Warming could not overwhelm it.

What else? Disease? It boggles the mind that the world tolerates millions dying from easily controlable diseases even without Global Warming. We have hot years now- in 2003 there was a heat wave that caused tens of thousands of deaths by heat stroke in Europe- but there were no malaria or encephalitis epidemics. We know how to control these things, and controling the CO2 in the atmosphere isn't the method.

If we cared about our fellow man today, we could worry less about Global Warming tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

We don't see with our eyes

We've just returned from the previously mentioned trip to Italy a little worse for the wear, being both jetlagged and suffering some upper respiratory thing. This has left me feeling too tired to do any housework, so I've been pondering things I learned on the trip- one of which has to do with human nature in general.

I normally wear a necklace- just a thin black cord with two small pendants, both one inch in diameter. One is a gold UUA symbol, and the other, which usually overlays the chalice, is a silver star. A curious thing is that while I was in Italy, a round dozen noted the star. A couple asked if I was Israeli... one older man at the laundromat spoke of his childhood in Beirut... a Murano glass dealer displayed a beautiful handblown menorah.

Why did I call these encounters curious? Because the pendant is not a Star of David, it is a pentacle. Outside of England, Paganism is virtually unknown in Europe, so when they saw a star, their minds saw the Star of David, not the five-pointed star their eyes were seeing. I didn't bother to correct them- there was too much language barrier to fully explain, and they were being so nice it would have been churlish to try... but it did teach me something.

CC, when you become a lawyer, you might want to remember this lesson about eyewitnesses.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Facing my demons

I haven't made an entry in a while because I've been rather busy- traveling in Italy! We've found a lot of fascinating things traveling together- me, my wife, Ginger, and her mother (who I love), Marcia- but it was on a solo side trip that I found the most fascinating and terrifying experience of the trip so far.

We were in Florence, and a must-see on my list (but nobody else's) was the interior details of Dell Duomo. It's not that I'm a major fan of cathedrals, but this one has a very famous dome- huge, masterpiece painted on the inside, and the world's first example of the "dome within a dome" construction technique later used on our own capitol. Most important of all, you're allowed to climb to the top, within the walls, between the domes, to see the construction techniques all the way to the cupola on top, from where you can see nearly all of Tuscany.

I was slightly apprehensive about the climb, 463 vertical steps, but finally told myself, "So what if you're slow- let 'em go around!" As it happened, the kids did squeeze around me, at first, (at the landings, the stairs themselves were far too narrow for passing- in many places my shoulders touched on either side) After a few hundred steps, however, I was no longer being overtaken, my endurance had outlasted their youthful speed.

When we got up to the base of the dome, the path turned from inside the walls to inside the base of the dome itself- you could look up and see the magnificent paintings overhead, look down and see the marble floors hundreds of feet below. At this point I should mention that I have what other people call a fear of heights, and what I call a fear of falling. The distinction is not a silly one; if I feel secure, I can easily look into the abyss, height makes no difference. I can look out the window of an airplane without fear... but a five foot precepice with no railing can make me nervous. It's purely a question of how secure I feel, not how secure I really am.

This walkway, while high enough to thoroughly squick me out, was solid stone, part of the church; I was able to work my way around to the far side of the dome where it re-entered the wall. From there one climbs another seemingly endless spiral of stairs until one reaches a T intersection: straight to the cupola and observation deck, turn to exit.

Suddenly, I was afraid... I had a good idea why one had to turn to exit. I put it off for a while, but eventually one must exit. There was no question of going back the way I came, even if it were permitted, the tightness of the fit would have meant forcing everyone back down with me. Telling myself, "How bad could it possibly be?", I stepped through the archway labeled "Exit" that I knew would lead me back inside the dome.

It could be bad indeed. This time, the walkway was near the very top of the dome, even with the paintings, this time, the walkway was so narrow that not only did I have to turn sideways to fit, but suck it in, too- my butt pressed against the wall and my lower belly against the railing. A few steps, and some projection on the wall popped a suspender buckle off my pants in back; another step and something in front caught the top button of my pants. I slid my hand down between pants and railing and looked down to see what had caught me.

Here's a funny thing I didn't know about domes: when you're inside one like I was, not on the bottom looking up, it's very disorienting- there's nothing to differentiate "Wall" from "Ceiling"... and when I looked down, my perspective shifted and I was suddenly on the ceiling, looking straight down at the floor 463 steps below, with nothing but a stuck waist button to keep me from falling.

My eyes snapped shut, my head snapped back. I chewed on my tongue to prevent the scream that I knew would never stop if I permitted it to start. Tasting blood, I turned my head left (the direction I had to go) and opened my eyes, hoping to find a focal point to prevent me from looking in other directions. I found my self looking at the portion of the painting that depicts Hell. Well, more specifically at a sinner some demon had speared in the back, the poor guy's arms and legs splayed in agony. OK, to be more precise, I was staring at what this poor sinner, were he a Chuck Berry fan, would call "My Ding-a-ling". As stupid and childish as it sounds, I was able to get control of myself by focusing on a 600 year old painting of a wang.

I was able to start moving again. As I did, my eyes slid to the next figure in Hell- a woman this time. And I noticed something. (I had been anxious to notive something, to occupy my mind) The thing I noticed was that the agonies of Hell had caused her legs to come together, rather than splaying apart as the male sinner's had. This observation created a game to occupy my mind, to keep me from thinking of you know what. As my eyes slid from scene to scene, I noted how male nudity was handled differently from female nudity, and kept a running total of wangs / to whats (say it quickly). When I reached the safety of the stairs down, the count was 11-0.

When I rejoined Ginj and Marcia at the Galleria Dell Accademia, I resumed the count; by the time we left for dinner it was 73-2. Contemplating that count prevented me from having any nightmares.

Now you know how twisted I really am.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Cafe standards won't fix it

Raising the CAFE standards is the first thing mentioned by any politician when discussing the oil crisis, and they throw out ambitious (to say the least) numbers- 40, 50, even 100 MPG requirements. I guarantee you one thing: any politician calling for 100 MPG CAFE standards either doesn't understand the problem, or is a lying demagogue. Even 50- as a fleet standard, not for a single model- is a fantasy without a breakthrough in basic technology. It might be possible to reach 35- but that's not enough to solve the problem.

Why do I say this? Three sentences: Force equals Mass times Accelleration. Work equals Force over Distance. Power equals Work over Time. What does that mean? That you can only have two- at best- of the three characteristics- size, performance, economy. A certain level of performance is absolutely required for safety's sake- that's part of why they don't allow bicycles on highways- and a certain size is needed for survivability. Those requirements put limits on the third factor, economy. The smallest car in mass production (it doesn't even pretend to have a back seat) that will accellerate quickly enough to merge on a highway ramp (just barely) or drive in the mountains (possibly), and meet American safety standards is the Smart Car, and it only gets 40 city/45 highway. Hybrid cars, despite some claims, don't do any better in real life. Nothing with an internal combustion engine is ever going to do significantly better, (many people don't realize this, but despite the great strides we've made in reliability and cleanliness, the specific fuel consumption of the internal combustion engine has improved very little in the last 75 years) and there is no technology yet ready to replace it. (See Who killed the electric car? ) These are not Republican or Democratic positions, these are physical realities.

Richard Nixon, for all his other flaws, understood this; that's why he lowered the speed limits instead thirty years ago during the first oil crisis- doesn't anyone remember the double nickel? That is still the only quick answer, if it weren't for the fact that the American public is firmly in Sammy Hagar's camp. Finding an alternative fuel will take longer and be more expensive, specially if you want to reduce the carbon footprint at the same time- hydrogen is the only candidate we have at the moment fitting that description, and we're years away from making that practical. Light rail is not an answer- a rail system extensive enough to seriously cut into our gas consumption would take decades to build, and be so hideously expensive as to be "the moral equivalent of war".

It's time to realize that "I can't drive 55" is just 80s big hair rock, not a lifestyle.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Diabetics look away

Ok, I try not to fill the blog with cutsey pictures- there's way too much of that goin' round anyway... but I can't resist this one .

The last one just blew...

Something under three years ago I bought a dozen fluorescent bulbs to replace the incandescent bulbs in all the household fixtures. (except the chandeliers that use shaped bulbs). I've bought another half-dozen since. The first of the original batch went in less than nine months, and the last of the original batch blew today. Of the eighteen or so I've bought, three remain functional.

Verdict: the experiment is a total failure. They don't last a single day longer than incandescent, and even when they worked, I had to buy or position supplemental lamps to be able to read, write, or do any fine work without glasses. The total dollar cost was never amortized because the claimed "longer life" didn't hold true. Given the much greater manufacturing cost, the energy/carbon difference was never amortized, either, and the environmental impact is also a net loss, given that the fluorescent bulbs contain mercury.

Moral: Even if you believe in Global Warming, don't leap on every bandwagon that claims to be a solution without extensive study- which wasn't really done with the Compact Fluorescent Light. It was an example of what is called "politician's logic"- something must be done; this is something, therefore we must do it. You think I jest? Congress has outlawed the incandescent bulb, beginning 2014, and Bush signed it . This is a lesson for future such measures as well- even if actions of humankind have a significant lobal Warming impact, we must take the time to find out if the unintended consequences of our "solutions" won't make things worse rather than better.