Short takes on science, business, health, agriculture and possibly the kitchen sinkRobert Wise email
Why did the Tourist Cross the Ocean?
Wanderlust...love of the sea and the land...hypocrisy
I wake at the old men's hour, around dawn, climb a few flights of stairs and walk out into cold wind on a rocking, nearly deserted deck. The party people, the young and beautiful are mostly asleep. Only a few of my fellow geezers are up, scattered at tables around the coffee station. One has a ship's name on his cap, with a splash of gold braid. Another rolls his wheelchair carefully between the tables.
Little gray cumuli dot the pale sky, merging into a gray murk at the horizon. The deck rolls and pitches a few degrees each way, walkable but demanding attention. Nets are rigged over the swimming pools to retard splashing as they slosh back and forth. The deck is wet, either from rain or the early morning washdown.
Left: Sunrise ahead, still to right of our heading / Right: Moon setting astern, before dawn
I make a cup of tea, having quit a lifetime coffee habit after some disturbing endoscopy results (which later turn out to be insignificant.) Stuffing the waste paper into the little trash can before the wind takes it, I ride an elevator to the upper sun deck to take some pictures. I like to catch the sun rising, sometimes the moon setting, and the state of the sea Most of all, I'd like to see a healthy mat of sargassum weed. This is our second day out, well into the Sargasso Sea.
And we are truly at sea now, the air reflecting sea surface temperature around 60F. Small dimples of wind-driven waves blow at right angles across a steady swell from the north. It comes from a storm far away off the Maritimes, as I can see from the wave and weather charts on the Ocean Weather website.
I hope to see the big, classic mats of Sargassum, ten feet wide and hundreds of yards long, typical of the Sargasso sea. The weed and many fish and crabs that live in it spend their entire life cycle at sea; eels migrate here from the coasts of America and Europe to spawn in this "Rainforest of the Ocean." But the mats only hang together when wind, wave and current are right. On another voyage through the Sargasso, I saw only isolated clumps.
Some heavy weather might be in store for us. Last week, a long-range weather model predicted that a subtropical storm, sort of a mild hurricane, would form tomorrow or next day in mid-Atlantic, along our route.
Pictures done, I head down to the card room to check email, news and weather on the internet. Once Kae awakes, I'll spend the rest of the day with her- bridge lessons, the art auction, progressive trivia and whatever else we find to do.
Our ship had come straight east out of Port Canaveral the first day, to the edge of the continental shelf, then turned northeast on a course straight toward Bermuda. The Gulf Stream was 30 miles offshore the night we left, and is roughly 30 miles wide in these latitudes, so we were across it and into the Sargasso Sea before midnight.
Bermuda: pastel-colored houses of limestone or block, "pink sand" beaches looking a lot like Florida's, and the ramparts and magazines of what had been a key Royal Navy outpost two centuries ago - the Gibraltar of the Atlantic.
Left: Our course to Bermuda on ship's navigation display / Right: Town hall in St. John, original capital of Bermuda
Out of Bermuda, we followed the great circle course to Madeira, a gentle arc on the chart marking the shortest distance between those islands. The ship's heading would gradually change, until on the morning of the third day out I found we were heading due east- halfway through our arc. The Sargasso sea was behind us, having not shown more than a small scrap of seaweed. The subtropical storm had never appeared, though a few days after our return home, a tropical storm formed at about the same coordinates.
We'll round out the cruise with some attractive ports: flowery Madeira, the island of eternal spring; ancient/modern Malaga, older than the Roman empire but now Spain's fourth largest city; and Barcelona, with its broad pedestrian Ramblas and gaudy Gaudi architecture. Another week to spend with 4,000 well-heeled fellow passengers, all of us with ample money and leisure time and no concerns for the moment but amusing ourselves.
Right: Suburbs of Funchal, Madeira. Note the extreme contour spading in the garden. We probably wouldn't plow a slope like this in Iowa.
The Thursday after our return, I'll strap on a backpack and ride a second-hand bicycle three miles to the bus stop, catch the bus to the mainland, and join a kitchen crew to prepare and serve a free meal for 150 or so people who need one. Thursdays are my weekly tithe to some good causes: saving energy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, supporting public transit and helping the poor. (Though I conserve energy in small ways all week.)
My contributions are small, and don't offset the rest of my lifestyle. I could have saved a good deal of bunker oil and jet fuel by not taking that transatlantic cruise. Even more by giving up my automobile. But I'm not that good a person.
Hypocrisy? Maybe. But anyone trying to conserve energy and reduce emissions is faced with the temptations and necessities of life in industrial society. What if you decide to build an off-grid shack in the woods? You'll probably start with some nice milled lumber, rather than felling trees and getting out the boards. You'll probably work with mass-produced steel tools, probably travel at least part way to your site in a rubber-tired vehicle, etc., etc.
I say it's worthwhile to make some contribution, whatever works in your life. Every gallon of gasoline not burned, every puff of carbon dioxide not emitted, has its effect.
Left: Murky dawn, one day out of Bermuda / Right: Just after sunrise, mid-Atlantic
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Breaking New Ground in Economic Theory
Steve Keen defines a production function based on energy
Professor Steve Keen may be the first mainstream economist to address a fatal flaw in economic theory: omitting or minimizing the role of energy. Keen has developed a production formula incorporating energy, not as one factor of production along with capital and labor, but as the indispensable flow activating both.
"Labor without energy is a corpse" says Keen; "Capital without energy is a sculpture."
Keen was one of twenty or so economists who made a credible prediction of the 2008-9 crisis, which government economists in the US and abroad declared "unpredictable" - after it blindsided them. His work draws on contemporary economic theory and generates real-world predictions. He's the sort of economist who financial commentators, investors and even government economists listen to; folks who haven't heard of Daly's steady state economy, Odum's energy flow analysis of the ecosystem-economy, or Hall's EROI "cheese slicer" model.
Keen's model implies that economic production is measurable in energy units, as Odum and others argued. Wealth is "nothing but the food, conveniences and pleasures of life," as the earliest economists recognized. But it results from useful work, which can be measured in kilocalories. (To us weight watchers, just "calories.") Here is his fundamental equation (the only one here, I promise):
Y(E) = (K.EK.xK.eK)α . (L.EL.xL.eL)1-α
(If that seemed hard to read, try coding it in html.) It's worthwhile to look at what goes into this equation, the product of a Capital term and a Labor term. Each of these terms is itself a product of energy flow and two small modifiers. To define the terms,
To test his model against real data, Keen correlated its results with historical statistics of US GDP, and then compared correlations of GDP with the key terms individually. Over 40-odd years of data, his function correlated 0.79 with US GDP. The correlations with employment (Labor) alone and energy consumption (E) alone were much lower, at 0.60 and 0.59 respectively.
His model might have correlated better if applied to a closed economic system, such as the entire world, or the US prior to 1970, if good data were available. Most of the useful work that supports Americans today is performed in the Far East or in the engines of container ships, and the energy inputs are considerable.
Introducing his test data, Keen remarked that government statistics showing minimal unemployment were "just nonsense". He presented a measure of employment instead.
"They ask what Trump is complaining about- here's what he's complaining about.." (This was back in November.)
A decline of a few percent seems small, but two million fewer Americans in their working years have jobs than before the 2008-9 crisis.
Presenting a chart of industrial energy consumption 1960-present, Keen remarked on the on the long decline since the 1979 peak, his latest values showing consumption comparable to 1967-8. Partly the result of increased efficiency, he said, but also "..becoming intractable because we are moving from highly efficient oil and coal to much less efficient wind and solar." (Efficiency as energy output per unit of energy input.)
I don't think I'm overstating to say that Keen's model marks a breakthrough in mainstream economics, though Keen describes it as merely
"..the beginnings of a decent equation to explain the role of energy in production."..demonstrating that wealth is "..fundamentally created by the exploitation of free energy, as the Physiocrats argued two centuries ago."
For those who discount any economic reasoning not expressed in calculus, Keen's work opens an access to the wisdom of the Physiocrats. Maybe that of Daly, Odum and Hall as well.
Nearly all I've said above is taken from Keen's lecture on You tube, which I highly recommend. There's a lot more there, including deep historical background and comparisons with contemporary economic theories. If you haven't listened to a real science lecture since college, it may wake up some brain cells.
Keen's introduction gives you some of that background. He wants his theory to conform to the laws of thermodynamics.
But nearly every time I get interested in economic models, I read something that pretty convincingly argues that such models are so flawed (for the energy as well as other factors) that we're wrong to pay much attention to them.
They're a lot like theories of mass communication. Whenever someone thinks he's got a good one, something -- like, maybe, digital technology -- comes along and makes it look silly, or at least irrelevant...
The cheap-fuel and cheap-labor modes of production could be distinguished by varying those exponents alpha and (1-alpha). But Keen seems to be describing a complete, integrated economy, like the whole world, that would include both modes. He tests his model against figures for the US economy, which would have made more sense prior to around 1970 when it was fairly self contained.
To put actual numbers to his equation, he simplifies the energy inputs to labor into food alone, and uses that approach to turn the whole labor term into an approximate constant, multiplied by employment. Then he applies industrial energy use statistics to solve the equation over a period of 40-odd years.
In reality, production has to pay the full life cycle maintenance costs of capital and labor (to include rent, medical care, education, etc.) Those costs are logically part of the efficiency factors e, though I'm not sure if Keen intended to include them.
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Charles Hall and Kent Klitgaard, 2012, Energy and the Wealth of Nations: Understanding the Biophysical Economy
Herman Daly and Joshua Farley, 2010, Ecological Economics, Second Edition
Howard Odum, 1971, Environment, Power and Society, also 2007,
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Poisoning the Well
The Global Temperature Hiatus Scandal
Sadly, the dissension between scientists about a NOAA study of sea surface temperature trends will go down in many citizen's minds as another data point showing that NOAA, NASA and climate science in general is "politicized." The study was part of an effort to re-evaluate the finding of a "hiatus" - a pause - in the trend of global temperature, noted in the 2013 report of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The charge of politically motivated science comes up regularly, and was heard frequently during the Trump campaign. It's a pervasive "poisoning of the well"* for anyone trying to discuss global warming. Some of my friends distrust the data, the theory and the scientists themselves on the basis of this alleged politicization.
All the professional organizations of meteorologists and other climate scientists agree that human activity is the main cause of global warming. By NOAA's count, this amounts to 97% of all such scientists. But apparently they're all deluded or else in on the scam.
One vocal critic of the IPCC writes that "The politicians wanted scientific support for their agendas and the scientists were more than willing to oblige because the politicians held the purse strings for climate research." What these politicians' "agendas" were, and who would benefit by them, he doesn't mention.
Another critic, in his self published book on the subject, promises to expose "the malicious misuse of climate science as it was distorted by dishonest brokers to advance the political aspirations of the progressive left."
The "Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change" (NIPCC) states that "The United Nations [is] a famously corrupt body in which most votes are controlled by kleptocracies and outright dictatorships..any settlement of the Global Warming issue by the UN would entail massive transfers of wealth from the citizens of wealthy countries to the politicians and bureaucrats of the poorer countries."
NIPCC works closely with the Heartland Institute, a "think tank" which cut its teeth trying to discredit the link between smoking and cancer, and now has turned it attention to climate science.
So all the research and reporting on global warming is a huge boondoggle to keep politicians and scientists employed - as if they could find no other work - or else to funnel cash to politicians and bureaucrats in poor countries. I don't think anyone could disprove these charges, but they seem highly unlikely.
I was in graduate school, studying climatology, at the same time as many of the scientists now investigating global warming. I remember the studies of paleoclimate that were starting to show us the baseline against which the recent warming trend is measured, and the new mathematical techniques being developed to study time series of measurements. The grad students and professors I studied with were honest scientists, working hard to discover what actually happened in climate history and what was currently going on in the atmosphere.
Back then, meteorologists were just beginning to understand the El Nino effect, and there was some interest in "atmospheric teleconnections in the equatorial Pacific." Now we have a grab-bag of oscillations and cycles known to affect temperature and rainfall in particular regions. And not just known but measured and somewhat predictable.
I admire the work of all these people, and when 97% of them support a given conclusion, it seems highly likely to me.
*Poisoning the well: "..a fallacy where irrelevant adverse information about a target is preemptively presented to an audience, with the intention of discrediting or ridiculing everything that the target person is about to say." - Wikipedia
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Pam Wright, Weather Underground Wunderblog, February 9, 2017, "The Data Is Right: Climate Change Is Still Real"
Daily Mail, February 4, 2017, "Exposed: How world leaders were duped into investing billions over manipulated global warming data"
Bob Tisdale, "The Politicization of Climate Science Is NOT a Recent Phenomenon",
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The First 100 Tweets
Relief, disappointment and a slim hope
Ah, the sweet normality of gridlock! Immigration, Customs and Homeland Security resume normal operations, sixty thousand visa holders get their visas back, and President Trump's immigration initiative starts to grind its way through the Federal courts.
Trump apparently means to walk his campaign talk, and walk it within the bounds of the Constitution. Fears and rumors about Homeland Security defying court orders were unfounded. Anyone who doubts the administration's intent to work within the law should read its memo to the Labor Department about the Fiduciary Duty Rule: more clauses and qualifiers than a bungee jumping waiver.
I had hoped for a few good outcomes from the new crew, along with the other stuff, but I've had one big disappointment. I hoped Trump would go along with the Republican Party platform and reinstate the Glass Steagall act in place of the present Dodd Frank law. The repeal of Glass Steagall during the Clinton administration paved the way for the many of the financial excesses that led to the banking crisis of 2008.
Instead, Trump is moving to weaken Dodd Frank - consistent with his statements during the campaign. He ordered a review of the law, which he says discourages banks from lending for new business ventures. His NEC Director Gary Cohn says it forces banks to build capital "to meet regulatory requirements and pay for additional regulations," reducing the funds available to loan out.
Reserve requirements could be lowered without taking away other protections, such as the Consumer Protection Act. But- "pay for additional regulations"? If you're draining capital to meet day-to-day expenses, you need to raise your fees, right? I don't know much about banks, though; I keep my money in a credit union.
I'm also disappointed in my own party, who seem determined to become the Party of Nooo. If they put all their energy into delay, "resistance" and protest, they'll have a hard time joining in discussions and negotiations as environmental laws are brought up for repeal and new legislation is put through tough Congressional reviews.
It won't help at all with the We the People Amendment, HJR 48, introduced in Congress last week by Rep. Rick Nolan (Dem, MN). We the People addresses the granddaddy of all political issues: campaign finance.
It establishes that corporations are not people, and mandates a redefinition of corporate personhood in more realistic terms. It establishes that money is not speech, contradicting a key point in the 2010 Citizens United court decision.
Citizens United was the ultimate absurdity in a long series of court decisions defending the "civil rights" of corporate persons. It essentially legalized bribery. Justice Stevens wrote in a dissenting opinion,
"...corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their 'personhood' often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of “We the People” by whom and for whom our Constitution was established."
Corporate personhood is a bipartisan issue if there ever was one. Passing the amendment will take a 2/3 majority in both houses - or a constitutional convention. But so far, only one of Nolan's twenty cosponsors is a Republican. There's bound to be more support out there, in the electorate and in Congress, but it will be hard for Democrats to rally it with their heels dug in the "resistance forever" posture.
We the People isn't new; it's been introduced every year, in concert with a growing movement led by the Move to Amend organization. The legal language of HJR 48 addresses all the points of Move to Amend's petition, which has been endorsed in resolutions by hundreds of communities and five U.S. states. Its text is even shorter than Trump's inauguration speech:
"We, the People of the United States of America, reject the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling and other related cases, and move to amend our Constitution to firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights."
It is possible that Trump himself might endorse the We the People Amendment. He spoke honestly about campaign finance during the debates:
"When you give," he said, "they [politicians] do whatever the hell you want them to do."
“I was a businessman, I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And you know what? When I need something from them, two years later, three years later, I call them, and they are there for me.” He added, “And that’s a broken system.”
Trump's inauguration speech was about handing power back to the people. Literally "about" - that was its only topic. And it seems that, for a time, the people have won out against the establishment and its multimillion dollar lobbying arm.
"What truly matters," he said, "is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people."
HJR 48 is our best chance of keeping the people in power. It's a slim chance, because every successful politician depends on campaign donations. The more successful, the more dependent, and the less likely to give up the big donations. But Trump is not in any donor's pocket, He's led his party to an overwhelming victory, and he could bring many legislators and citizens along on this issue.
Back this one, Mr. President, and you solve a host of serious problems in one move. And you'll keep the people in power.
Section 1. The rights protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons only. Artificial entities, such as corporations, limited liability companies, and other entities, established by the laws of any State, the United States, or any foreign state shall have no rights under this Constitution and are subject to regulation by the People, through Federal, State, or local law. The privileges of artificial entities shall be determined by the People, through Federal, State, or local law, and shall not be construed to be inherent or inalienable.
Section 2. Federal, State and local government shall regulate, limit, or prohibit contributions and expenditures, including a candidate’s own contributions and expenditures, to ensure that all citizens, regardless of their economic status, have access to the political process, and that no person gains, as a result of that person’s money, substantially more access or ability to influence in any way the election of any candidate for public office or any ballot measure. Federal, State, and local governments shall require that any permissible contributions and expenditures be publicly disclosed. The judiciary shall not construe the spending of money to influence elections to be speech under the First Amendment.
Presidential Memorandum on Fiduciary Duty Rule
Trump's Corporate donations, September 2016,
Contact your representative: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/
Contact your Senators: https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/
Contact the White House: https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact#page
Sign the Move to Amend Petition: https://movetoamend.org/motion
Image: Adapted from image of page 1 of the U.S. Constitution, from National Archives, at
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