Excuse me for breathing

April 27, 2009

I heard over a week ago that the EPA has finally pulled the trigger and declared CO2 a pollutant that needs to be regulated. It’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard. What gets totally neglected here is the fact that plants (that grass growing in your yard, for example) feed on CO2. It is actually healthy for the environment. It’s not like CO (carbon monoxide), which is poisonous to most living things. I feel like a broken record saying this, but CO2 is in such low concentrations in the atmosphere that it doesn’t really matter to the climate, and the observational data shows that at these levels it follows temperature. It does not cause temperature to rise. The EPA is acting on pseudo-science.

In addition the EPA has declared other greenhouse gases as pollutants that need to be regulated: methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride.

Methane is emitted by us humans when we “pass gas”. One of the largest sources of methane is animals: cows, pigs, etc. So I’m waiting with a bit of a chuckle to see what the EPA is going to do about that. The thing is of all the greenhouse gases, this is the most innocuous. It doesn’t stay in the atmosphere long and its concentration is extremely small, less than CO2.

I did some research on Wikipedia for the others.

Nitrous oxide is commonly referred to as “laughing gas”. It’s used in medical settings as a mild sedative. It’s also used in rocket engines.

Hydrofluorocarbons are the latest in a line of refrigerants used in air conditioners. We went from freon, a chlorofluorocarbon, to hydrochlorofluorocarbons (which were seen as more environmentally friendly, but are now being phased out), to hydrofluorocarbons. Now the EPA says this is bad stuff, since it’s supposedly a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. So who knows what’s going to happen with air conditioners. Well heck, they’ll probably come after our air conditioners just because of the amount of power they use (CO2, remember?)

Perfluorcarbons are used in medical applications, and in the production of aluminum.

Sulfur hexafluoride is used in electricity production facilities.

The EPA’s ruling recommends regulating “smokestacks” and “tailpipes”. I assume the latter refers to our vehicles. There’s been talk that even though the Senate took out Obama’s cap and trade program from the 2010 budget, that it may reconsider it given this ruling. I fully expect that some sort of tax is going to be placed on our vehicles for the CO2 we emit, whether it’s a gax tax or mileage tax, or something along those lines. They’re considering such a thing in Oregon right now.

I’m not surprised by this, just disappointed. Energy is going to get more expensive. That’s the bottom line. Other things we use may be affected, such as air conditioners, but it’s hard to say at this point.

I am suspicious of this ruling since at least a part of it I know is not based on sound science. There may very well be cause for concern about hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride. I don’t know anything about them except what I researched for this post. It seems to me that the ruling is targeted primarily at two things: factories and farming. And it would not surprise me if EPA guidelines end up reducing the number of both in the long run in this country. I read comments in the Christian Science Monitor article I link to saying that this will accelerate the movement of factories to Asia, particularly China. So much for Obama’s plan of saving jobs.

As Robert J. Samuelson recently wrote, the “new energy” economy Obama says he has planned does not look to be a net jobs creator. It is likely to reduce employment.

Another thing to get distressed over is a bill that was recently passed in congress, which allows those “affected” by global warming to sue corporations who have been deemed to have “contributed” to the problem. Low on cash? Sidle up and suck the teat of manufacturers and energy companies for some “carbon damages”. I see resort areas taking advantage of this one, just as my home town of Boulder did not too long ago when they sued the federal government for this.

The DOD is tone deaf

April 27, 2009

I heard about this story today on the news. Learned a little more by reading the New York Post article (thanks to Army Wife). People in Manhattan were terrified for a brief time when the DOD decided to do a “photo op” with an Air Force One plane (a Boeing 747) just outside the city. The plane buzzed the city and circled the Statue of Liberty, all at low altitude (a la the terrorists on 9/11). The way I saw it reported made it sound like Obama was on the plane at the time. He wasn’t.

Good job guys. Way to announce that the War on Terror is over. I don’t think the people of Manhattan got the memo. Please don’t take their squeamishness at your stunt as a lack of sense of humor. What you did was in bad taste.

I found some video footage of the incident:

The liberal/conservative divide explained

April 18, 2009

Dr. Thomas Sowell on his book “A Conflict of Visions”

I really enjoyed this interview. Thomas Sowell explains a lot of things here that have mystified me about the liberal/conservative divide for years. He talks about a philosophical divide that’s existed in American politics since the founding of the country, and has indeed existed in Western civilization for thousands of years: the constrained vs. the unconstrained vision, as he calls it. He is a proponent of the constrained vision himself, but he does a studious job of explaining “the other side”, the unconstrained vision, though he criticizes it at every turn. I found myself agreeing strongly with the constrained vision.

The take-away for me is that the constrained vision believes that human nature is what it is, and will never be anything but what it is, so therefor systems have to be put in place to constrain the negative aspects of human nature, and liberate the positive aspects of it. It’s a vision that says “This is as good as it gets.” Life for individuals will never be perfect, and we should expect our national life to be no different. People who adhere to it believe that a peaceful society is best achieved by staying faithful to the constraints, and only modifying them when such a change has been tried and shown to work in small experiments. They take a conservative piecemeal approach to change.

Those who adhere to the unconstrained view, as Sowell defines it, believe that human nature is malleable, and seek to improve it. They do not accept poverty and inequality as unfortunate but natural conditions that exist in human society.

Most of all people who have the unconstrained vision believe that the right outcomes will happen only when “the right people” have been put into office. They do not believe in structures, only a leader’s judgement. Those who adhere to this vision also have a real problem with seeing that there are those who disagree with them, and that the opposition’s view is worth listening to. It sounded to me like it goes back to the idea that “the right people” need to be put in place. It follows then that if one believes in this, once “the right people” are in, they should be followed unquestioningly. It is a kind of “messiah” complex.

Sowell had a nice way of summing up the two visions and why they so fundamentally disagree. He said that people with the unconstrained view believe that communism failed because of Stalin (if only the right people had been in power it would have worked), and those with the constrained view believe that whenever a communist system is put in place a Stalin will arise in it.

I share Sowell’s judgement of Obama, for the most part, that he is most definitely a different sort of president than any we have had before, and that he is potentially dangerous because of his unconstrained vision, and his lack of experience. The closest analogy I can make to him is President Carter, though Obama has a much greater flair with the media than Carter did, akin to President Bill Clinton’s media savvy.

The one topic where I disagreed with Sowell was his reference to Obama’s brother who lives in a slum in Kenya. Conservatives have brought this up as an issue before, and from what I’ve heard, Obama’s brother has said he is happy where he is. I realize that to a lot of people this seems odd, but I will not pass judgement on how someone wants to live their life. Other than that I thought Sowell was right on the money.

Oh. My. God. They really are this crazy

April 9, 2009

I just heard that there is serious talk within the Obama Administration of setting up an “artificial volcano” to spew artificial pollution into the upper atmosphere in order to prevent global warming. The President’s science advisor is the one who said this. I said to myself, “Come on. This is a joke, right?” No, it isn’t. (h/t to Tammy Bruce)

I vaguely remember hearing about similar proposals in the 1990s, such as spewing dark particulate matter into the upper atmosphere to block the Sun’s energy, or spreading a sulphuric compound up there to reflect the Sun’s energy back into space. But then someone else said the latter would create acid rain, which has deleterious effects on plant life, and generally has a corrosive effect on stone and metal structures. So toss that one.

These people have no idea what they’re contemplating. The Earth is huge. The atmosphere has a massive volume. I feel like this is coming from people who have watched too many children’s cartoons where such solutions can just miraculously materialize in about a minute and take a minute to deploy. Creating something of the massive scale necessary to carry this off is mind boggling. It’s insane and megalomaniacal to seriously think that they can pull this off single-handedly.

Secondly they seem to forget the currently accepted science, which shows that because of the pollution that we and other industrialized/industrializing countries around the world are already putting into the atmosphere the Sun is “dimming”. This is causing a drop in humidity levels around the world, due to a drop in the evaporation of water, which is caused by photons hitting it. This in itself has the effect of somewhat cooling the planet. Water vapor is THE primary greenhouse gas. Even if the Obama Administration did manage to pull off this “geoengineering” experiment they would be making this problem worse.

A second, and I would say slightly more realistic proposal, is setting up “artificial trees” that would absorb CO2. I would say this proposal is probably friendlier to the environment, but again, seriously, how many of these “trees” would have to be “planted” to cause the kind of sequestration they’re looking for? Again, it sounds like a massive project. I bet it would be a boon to the manufacturer that got it! Hey, don’t knock it. It would create jobs for a while.

I’m just shocked that there are members of our elite who I am now convinced really believe the propaganda that human-caused global warming exists and is a real threat to the world. What a pathetic statement this is on the state of our civilization.

Insanity wins: Churchill wrongfully terminated

April 2, 2009

Ward Churchill, who was fired from his job as CU professor in 2007, sued CU for wrongful termination on First Amendment grounds. The jury found in his favor today, saying that Churchill’s speech (his infamous 9/11 essay) was one of the reasons CU fired him, and according to the law speech can play no part in the decision to fire a state employee.

This verdict stretches credulity. One could argue that the investigation of Churchill’s works began as a result of the uproar over his 9/11 essay. The timing of it certainly doesn’t look coincidental. The thing is, an investigation does not mean that Churchill’s termination was inevitable. The process took 2 years. Had Churchill shown real scholarship in his work the investigative committees would have had no reason to recommend his ouster, and the regents would have had little justification to do so. Yet the jury was convinced that while his essay was not the only reason he was fired, it was one of them, hence their verdict.

I followed the coverage of the trial a little bit, listening to Caplis & Silverman occasionally. Silverman noted during the trial that all of the jurors were under the age of 30. That concerned me, and my worst fears were vindicated. I listened to Caplis & Silverman today, and supposedly (it could not be confirmed at the time) one of the jurors called in. Dan Caplis had been gloating during the show today that while the jury voted in favor of Churchill, they only awarded him $1 in damages. He took this to mean that while CU lost, they had seen through Churchill’s charade and saw him for what he was: an academic fraud. The supposed juror who called in said this had nothing to do with the decision on damages. She said the jurors couldn’t make up their minds what to award him. Most of the jurors wanted to give him some amount, but one did not, and was apparently adamant about it. She said they spent several hours just on this subject. It sounded like they ultimately broke down and decided to award Churchill nothing just to get the matter overwith. The supposed juror said she couldn’t see why the legal system was asking them to make this decision anyway. They asked the judge if $0 was okay. The judge instructed that $1 was the minimum if they decided in favor of Churchill, and so that’s what they awarded. It was a cop out.

The supposed juror sounded confused and in over her head. When Caplis and Silverman asked her questions it was difficult for her to give a coherent answer. She said that the jury felt that their only job was to determine if Churchill had been fired because of his essay, and they didn’t consider other factors. It sounded like they found the credibility of CU’s witnesses suspect. She said she believed Churchill when he gave his testimony, and while she didn’t agree with all of his controversial 9/11 essay, she thought “he made some good points.” Unbelievable. She said the jurors reviewed the investigative committee report on Churchill’s plagiarism and academically unethical practices. She said she agreed with a couple things in the report, but she thought they nit-picked the rest, and she didn’t think that the violations cited in the report that she agreed with warranted his firing.

Apparently some of the fault for this falls on CU. I feel like they dropped the ball, like their attention has been diverted to other matters, and they didn’t consider this trial a priority. It looks like they didn’t do their due diligence in selecting a competent jury. I didn’t get a sense that the supposed juror who called in was competent to deal with the subject matter of the trial. She was only receptive to simple arguments, and lacked critical thinking skills.

This clip kind of reflects what a joke I think this trial was:

The Chewbacca Defense

Anyway, a separate hearing will be held to determine whether Churchill will be reinstated at CU, or the judge may just decide not to reinstate, but rather give him a lump sum. If Churchill is reinstated it’s going to be egg on CU’s face. In that case, how could CU be taken seriously again?

Not that anyone from CU administration is listening, but my one word of advice to them is the next time they receive complaints about the academic performance of their faculty, they should act to investigate it promptly rather than sit on it, which has been their modus operandi until this blew up in their face four years ago. Evidence of problems with Churchill’s scholarship had been mounting for years. The record that Caplis & Silverman were able to uncover through public document requests showed that Phil DiStephano yucked it up every time a complaint about Churchill came to his attention. He was apparently happy that Churchill was drawing the spotlight, perhaps bringing attention to CU in a sick sort of way. DiStephano had been helping Churchill advance his career at CU, until the controversy erupted. I shouldn’t single him out. The CU Administration has shown itself to be kind of like the Keystone Kops (again, no offense to the town of Keystone), stumbling into this investigation when they felt overwhelming public pressure. Maybe this will teach them a lesson? Are they learning the right lesson? Maybe not. A sad state of affairs indeed.