Thursday, June 28, 2007

Poison Ivy

There's a news story going around that poison ivy is becoming more hazardous due to global warming. I saw similar stories on NBC and ABC. Here' s ABC's story on it. This is an example of the sort of global warming spin being put on nearly everything.

The story itself is that two studies have been published in the last year on the effects of carbon dioxide on poison ivy. They showed that the plant grows faster in the presence of elevated CO2 and that the amount of oil the plant produces is higher but not significantly so.

Here is how the story is being spun.

The study examined how the increase of carbon dioxide in the past 50 years, brought on by climate change, has affected the growth of poison ivy.

This confuses global warming and climate change. The writer thinks that global warming caused the increase in CO2 instead of CO2 causing global warming. (1)

Although the amount of the rash-causing oil produced by the plant didn't increase significantly, the amount of the oil produced per plant did increase, according to the study.

NBC hasn't posted a version of their story so you will have to take my word on this part - the NBC story began by telling about a young teenager who didn't used to react to poison ivy but does now. We were left to conclude that poison ivy is now stronger than it had been. The teaser for the story implied the same thing. Notice that the quote above says that the oil did not increase significantly. we are not growing super-ivy that can infect the previously immune.

All of this is obvious and superficial. The real spin is focusing on poison ivy. There have been numerous studies showing that all plants grow faster with increased CO2. This means more food with less fertilizer. This is a very strong up-side to the increased levels of CO2 but it is usually ignored. After all, we can't let people think that something good might come from carbon dioxide.

There have literally been hundreds of these studies done since the early 1980s. The results have been so consistent that I'm surprised that anyone is still doing them.

But two studies showed that an undesirable weed is also affected by CO2. None of the other studies made the national news, just the ones that make increased plant growth seem like a bad thing.

(1) There actually is some evidence that warming is causing some of the increase in CO2. In Al Gore's movie, he shows slides of temperature increases and CO2 increases. These are on separate slides because the CO2 increases follow the temperature increases. I suspect that the reporter who wrote the article was not aware of this and simply got his cause and effect reversed.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Progressive or Liberal?

My local paper carried a column today about how many Democrats are calling themselves Progressives instead of Liberal. The common wisdom is that the two terms are the same but Republicans have poisoned the term Liberal. I disagree.

For years I've seen people on the left refer to progressive values and they are not the same as classical liberalism. Progressives are much more influenced by folk-Marxism.

Back in the 1970s when I was deciding which side really appealed to me I saw things in both the Democratic and Republican parties that were appealing. In short, I preferred the Democrats' hands-off social policies and the Republicans' fiscal policy.

Then Jimmy Carter messed everything up so bad that the Republicans were the only real choice.

The things I admired in the Democrats are long gone. The Progressives have taken over. Here are some examples:

Classical liberals stood for freedom of expression - "I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Progressive are for outlawing an ever-expanding definition of "hate speech".

Classical liberals said that you should be judged by your abilities, not your race. Progressives only care about racial quotas.

The goal of Progressives is to insert government into every corner of life in order to control it in the hope of making it better. Classical Liberals would have called that fascism.

Just look at the presidential candidates. They all have some sort of health care proposal. Some of them (Obama) simply propose making it illegal to be uninsured. A young person with little risk of major illness might disagree with this but the government knows best.

Last week the Senate passed a measure requiring a 40% increase in fuel economy. This will outlaw SUVs and raise the price of all other vehicles. It might very well put Ford and GM out of business. It will not produce the type of cars that people want to drive.Again, the government knows best.

The funny thing about Progressives - they never spell out where they are going, just that they are making "progress".

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Jetpacks and Flying Cars

Every now and then, someone remembers the old predictions of the future. By now we were supposed to have jetpack, rocket belts, or some other form of personal flight. For longer travel were were to have flying cars. Both were featured in the 1960s cartoon the Jetsons.

So what happened? Where are they?

The problem is that both technologies require one or two breakthroughs and neither has happened. In order to get individuals off the ground we need a new means of propulsion or a much more efficient energy source.

While there has been progress on top-end speed, the technology at the bottom end hasn't changed in fifty years. The cheapest way of getting someone off the ground involves a propeller and an airfoil - in other words, an airplane. The next option is the helicopter which is much more complex and takes a lot more energy. In fact, nearly all helicopters are propelled by turbines which are first cousins to jets. A regular internal combustion engine just doesn't have the power to weight ratio to power a helicopter.

On the energy side, the most common fuel continues to be distilled petroleum. None of the other alternatives are new either. This is just too heavy for personal flight.

Here is an example of the problem. Two companies are now offering rocket packs. Flight time is around 30 seconds. A different company is planning to offer a true jetpack in the near future. It is more efficient than the rocket packs so it can offer flight times approaching 20 minutes. While this is long enough to be entertaining, I would not like to depend on that for the morning commute.

We have possibly hit against the limits of physics. We made the easy advances in propulsion and energy storage decades ago and there are no good alternative in sight.

The same thing is happening in computers. There is something called Moore's Law which says that the complexity of computer chips will keep doubling every couple of years. Some people treat this as an iron law but it started out as an observation. Intel's marketing department grabbed a hold of this and pushed the engineers to treat it as a requirement. They started running into the laws of physics with the last generation of chips. Instead of coming up with a new generation that breaks the previous generation's clock speed, they went for dual core. This is a slower chip with two processors. In theory it can process nearly twice as much as the same speed. Future generations are supposed to add additional cores instead of increased speed.

This strategy will probably fail. Multiple processors are not new, even if putting them on the same chip is. But adding a processor requires special software that can split the instructions into tasks that can be executed out of order. In practice, adding a second processor speeds things up by 50% instead of 100%. The gains go down as you add more cores.

All of this will probably keep another of the predictions for the future from happening anytime soon - artificial intelligence. No HAL 9000.

Friday, June 15, 2007

How to hype your movie

Three years ago, shortly before Michael Moore's new movie came out, it was announced that his distributor, a Disney subsidiary, didn't want to be connected with the movie and pulled it. Obviously the movie was released anyway. The spat got the movie a lot of free publicity and it made a fortune.

Moore has a new movie out so he has started up the publicity machine. Stories have been going out for a few weeks about how he violated the travel ban on trips to Cuba and is being investigated. When the stories die down, he revives them by issuing a press release that the investigation is politically motivated. Possible penalties for breaking the travel ban include fines and confiscation of all film shot in Cuba.

I predict that he will pay a fine (which will be charged off as a cost of making the movie) and nothing further will come of it.

Also, several months ago the guy who runs one of the anti-Moore web sites got an anonymous contribution to help with is wife's health. A few weeks before Moore's movie was to be released, Moore reveled that he was the donor.

While it is a good think for the guy running the web site, it is a calculated move by Moore who is not otherwise known for charitable giving. The idea that Moore gave money to help a sick woman for the sole purpose of helping his movie is vaguely disquieting. This is the sort of thing you find half-way into a Frank Capra movie when the hero (for example George Baily) has to ask the heavy (for example Old Man Potter) for help. In this case, Old Man Potter is likely to win. Moore will get a wider audience for his call for socialized medicine at the expense of a detractor.

One question that Moore's movie is not likely to bring up - would he be satisfied with the sort of health service he is advocating? Moore is a wealthy man who gives himself and his family the best.

One of the medical centers in Britain recently announced that it will no longer do hip or knee replacements for people of Moore's body type. They admitted that this was a pure cost-saving move. If Moore needed a new knee, would he just shrug and start using a walker, knowing that his sacrifice was for the greater good? Or would he take a jet to India and get a new knee there?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

What Terrorists? part II

Arianna herself entered the fray with this post.
There was no set plan. There was no financing. They didn't have any explosives -- and yet government officials were quoted calling the amorphous plot "one of the most chilling plots imaginable" that almost "resulted in unfathomable damage, deaths, and destruction." And people wonder why the public has become cynical about how the war on terror is being used for political purposes.
Keith Olbermann on MSNBC Countdown went even further, speculating that the arrests were made to distract the country from the real story of the weekend - the second Democratic debate. Note to Olbermann - I'm a political junkie and I'm not bothering to watch the debates. The candidates will be chosen by the time Ohio has its primary.

Olbermann's conclusion is inevitable if you start with the premise that there are no home-grown terrorists. Of course, once you start down that road you quickly find yourself part of the 9/11 Truth crowd who believe that the US government killed 3,000 of its own citizens.

Arianna is at least closer to reality but she misses a couple of important points. This is the first one:

The damage to people and property itself would have been minimal - it was the intention that was grand. These men hoped for an act of destruction so great that it would actually minimize the devastation and dwarf the trauma of 9/11.

The other point is related and is really important. Six years ago a group like this one could have hooked up with al Qaeda and gotten some expert advice. Since the invasion of Afghanistan, al Qaeda has broken up into numerous small cells. I don't know how many news reports I have seen telling what a disaster this is - with a decentralized structure we will never find all of the cells.

It works the other way, also. With smaller cells and no over-all structure, there is no one for the home-grown terrorists to turn to for training and expertise. They are left on their own, making it up as they go along and getting caught when they make basic mistakes.

This is something you will never hear Huffington admit. To Arianna and her crowd, there was never any threat in the first place so it cannot have been reduced. She quotes New York Mayor Bloomberg as saying "You can't sit there and worry about everything. Get a life. You have a much greater danger of being hit by lightning than being struck by a terrorist."

That may be true, but thunder storms don't sit up late nights thinking of ways to kill more people. 9/11 happened because the authorities assumed that nothing bad could ever happen.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Terrorists? What Terrorists?

The news over the weekend was freighting - a group of home-grown terrorists were planning to ignite the pipeline that feeds fuel to JFK airport. If things had gone as they hoped, the entire airport would have been destroyed as well as part of Queens. JFK was targeted in part because of its name. One of the plotters was quoted as saying, "If you hit that, the whole country will be in mourning. It's like you can kill the man twice."

A bit of reality - their plot would not have worked. There are safeguards to keep a fire from spreading through the pipeline. The most they could have actually accomplished would be to blow up a storage tank or two. That would have been significant but nothing compared to what they wanted to do. The real issue is the goals of the would-be terrorists. They wanted to cause more destruction than 9/11.

There is a logical disconnect in the left when it comes to terrorism. They don't believe it exists. This pattern has been repeated many times. When a group of people was arrested in Miami for planning to buy guns and start shooting people, the left insisted that they were just teenagers talking big (most of them were in the same age range as army recruits). When Britain announced a plot to blow up airplanes with binary explosives, the left insisted that there was never any danger and suggested that the Bush administration had made up the entire plot to distract people from the real news of the day - Ed Lamont winning a primary.

So how did the left react to this newest revelation? The New York Times buried the article on page 30. John Murtha insisted that the plot was inspired by Bush's invasion of Iraq and that no terrorist would every want to hurt Americans had it not been for Bush's war.

Posters at Huffington went further. David Goldstein picked up on a comment from the New York Times article, "
off the record, a federal law-enforcement official admits that the suspect seemed more like a "sad old guy who's got a lot of spit and vinegar in him." but admitted that there might be something to it in which case it would be best left to the police. Nora Ephron went a step further, suggesting that there was never a plot int he first place. A paid informer invented it in order to keep getting paid.

The common thread here is that we don't need to worry about terrorists. Why? Because the real enemy is Bush, of course! Bush invented the War on Terror in order to distract us as he set up a fascist dictatorship. The distraction was so successful that we haven't noticed it. As an additional distraction, Bush allowed the Democrats to take over Congress (the Republicans control the voting machines so they must have manipulated the election) and, for some reason, they expect BusHitler to turn over power at the end of his term.

Like I said - a logical disconnect. They are too busy worrying about conspiracies that don't exist to acknowledge the real ones.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Confused About CO2

A lot of people are totally confused about what CO2 is. Take this example from Joseph Palermo writing on the Huffington Post:
I live in the heart of California's largest valley. On a clear day I can see the majestic snow-capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada. But on brown, sooty, smoggy days I can't even see past the horizon. Luckily, the local news tells us when we're having a bad smog day so the elderly know they should stay indoors. Not far from my home is the intersection of four major freeways, a perennial haze hovers over the elevated concrete interchanges. On hot days you cannot roll down your car window or you'll be overcome by the CO2 entering your lungs.
Here is someone who has no idea what CO2 looks like or what makes up air pollution. Carbon Dioxide is colorless and tasteless. You can verify this for yourself - just exhale. Except for cold days when the moisture in your breath condenses, you cannot see your breath. You can smell components of it (last night's garlic pizza) but not the CO2.

What Palermo is describing is a combination of ozone, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter (tiny specks). That's what makes up smog and what can be seen in large quantities.

It is not surprising that Palermo is confused. Al Gore and the news confused him. When they talk about CO2 emissions they show a graphic of a smokestack belching visible clouds. There might be some CO2 along with the smoke but you will never see it. But TV and PowerPoint presentations demand graphics so they show something visible.

For those who are not paying attention, this gives the impression that you can see the carbon dioxide building up.

As for being overcome by the CO2, that can't happen either, at least in the amounts found in California. You can test this one, also. Just breath into a paper bag for a while. It will not take long for the levels of CO2 in the bag to exceed anything found in California but you will not be overcome. You may calm down a bit. You might even cure the hiccups. If you put a tight plastic bag over your head you will eventually die, but from lack of oxygen, not from CO2.

So how can anyone have a rational conversation with Palermo when he misunderstands the basics?

Bush and Warming

President Bush revealed his new anti-global warming plan today. It involves talks between the top emitters, sharing technology, and allowing nations to set their own strategies. It is unlikely to go anywhere for a few reasons. A big one is that Bush is a lame duck and none of the Democratic challengers are going to support Bush's plan. A second reason is that most of the world prefers the Kyoto Protocols.

The world has good reason to prefer Kyoto. China and India get a pass on doing anything. That leaves the US to make the cuts. If we had signed it, we would be expected to make 60% of the cuts. We do not emit anything near 60% of the world's CO2 but we would have to shoulder the lion's share of the cuts.

That's why Congress voted unanimously (with a few abstentions) on a resolution warning President Clinton (this was long before Bush) not to even bother submitting the treaty.

Kyoto was flawed from the start. It was meant as a down payment on CO2 cuts with stricter cuts to follow. It is implemented through a cap and trade scheme which totally failed. Countries were asked how much CO2 their industry emitted and were issued credits for that much minus the cuts. In order to save themselves pain, most countries in Europe exaggerated how many credits they would need. As a result, no one needs any credits and the credit market collapsed.

Even if everything had gone as planned, the amount to be cut is meaningless. This is especially true since China and India are allowed to expand their emissions under the treaty.

Bush's proposal stands a good chance of actually making cuts in emissions. Kyoto will not. Guess which one will win?