Archive | June 2014

Bang, You’re Dead. No, You’re Dead!

In, It’s Really Hard to Be a Good Guy With a Gun – an unusually serious article for Gawker – Adam Weinstein writes about the decision of Joseph Wilcox, who was shot to death by the woman member of the rightwing pair that shot two Las Vegas police officers in a diner and then proclaimed a revolution in a nearby WalMart.

[My wife] thought Wilcox should have been running in the other direction, seeking cover … I could see myself doing exactly the same thing in the same scenario. Armed with a handgun and licensed to carry it concealed on his person, Wilcox read the situation, saw Miller—male, armed, firing a long gun and yelling—and thought he had an opportunity to end the threat.

He did not notice the diminutive woman on the sidelines with shopping cart and the handbag. … Amanda came up behind him and pumped multiple shots into his ribs.

… My wife is the child of a cop who’s lost a partner in a shootout and had a lifetime of run-ins with wannabe civilian heroes. My father is one of those wannabe heroes. So am I. Dad and I have had our concealed carry permits for a combined 42 years. We love guns. We believe in self-reliance and self-protection.

But as the years go on and the country gets crazier—stirred up by paranoiacs, political hardliners, lobbyists, and simple gun-fetishists—I come nearer to my wife’s side. The universe of scenarios in which carrying a gun seems prudent or useful just keeps shrinking and shrinking, even as the legal freedom to wield personal firepower keeps expanding. …

I agree with the wife.

After What Seemed Like an Age …

Shortly after presenting at the 2014 Age of Limits, Dmitry Orlov, Albert Bates and Gail Tverberg each posted articles to address the issues they raised (and encountered) in the conference. PeakOil.com and PeakOil.Org reblogged all three, engendering some debate. Despite, or maybe because of, Orren Whiddon’s complaints that Resilience ignores AoL, the former Energy Bulletin carried Gail’s and Albert’s articles. On C-Realm, KMO just podcast Conversations in the Round with some AoL attendees. I presume John Michael Greer will weigh in when he returns from England, but I have no idea whether Dr Mark Cochrane or Dr Dennis Meadows will blog about it.

At Saturday evening’s roundtable, Whiddon asked us for collapse timelines before we had heard from Greer, Tverberg or Cochrane. Ideally (and I know how hard it is to schedule events), I would have followed Whiddon’s opening session with Dr Meadows and Dr Cochrane to define the situation. I would then have followed with Tverberg and Greer to make their cases about whether collapse may unfold quickly or slowly, then I might have finished with Orlov and Bates to propose and describe preparations.

Despite the spiking asymptotic trajectories on the Limits to Growth chart posted on the Age of Limits home page, Dr Meadows said that the World3 model is not all that predictive after collapse. I believe he said that there simply is no reliable data for what happens next. Cochrane described climate change that was both more complex and frightening than what I had heard before.

The extremes of collapse – Near Term Extinction and Business As Usual – were not represented in the schedule. Tverberg’s complex scenario of eight crashing vectors leading to a steep decline (Seneca’s Cliff) contrasts with Greer’s feeling that governments can take action to maintain some semblance of normality during a long, catabolic collapse (Meriga). As I said at the conference, I think the collapse is being carefully managed – but not to the benefit of the poor or middle classes. The stock market surges until the well-connected take profits, then it falls back so the media screamers can tout the bargains. We hardly realize that we have gone from being pets to being meat.

Some collapsniks have made the point that some populations are already in collapse, such as the millions of unemployed and incarcerated Americans. Some collapsniks make the point that collapse may well manifest differently around the world. Given both of those points, it seems clear to me that Tverberg and Greer may both be right, but in different places. Africa, North America, Europe and parts of Asia may collapse hard while South America, Australia and other parts of Asia follow a slower collapse. It may vary on a more local level, but I think only the oceans may contain some effects of collapse.

Greer dismissed the possibility of a pandemic as an asteroid-like event that can’t be predicted. I think the effects of failing antibiotics and poor sanitation in industrial cities with decaying infrastructure should be anticipated and may be as severe as any pandemic.

How then to prepare? One attendee suggested – in absolute sincerity – that the seven billion inhabitants of Earth be winnowed down by lottery to 85 million souls, who could then live off hydroelectric power and maintain the current European standard of living. Given a one in eighty chance of surviving the lottery, I have no idea whether he planned to let parents pass their places to children, etc. Nor was he clear about who would administer such a lottery and enforce the results. I recommend he read Gore Vidal’s novel, Kalki. Another attendee insisted, repeatedly, that we should have a talk with God, and not in the key of life. He was not received well.

Bates presented the solution of the ecovillage, which was also before us with the example of Four Quarters. Orlov presented resilient communities like the Roma or Amish as opposed to failed utopian societies. While I suppose that one could carve out a very fulfilling and successful life in an ecovillage, Americans have a history of leaving tightly knit villages to go it alone. Responsibility to the group, perhaps even fealty to a leader, would have to replace the modern concept of personal freedom. I also wonder if such places will A: be the first target of local oligarch/warlords, or B: become the operating bases of local oligarch/warlords.

While Orlov was talking my mind drifted to the novel Galapagos, in which Kurt Vonnegut describes an ideal resilient community as nuclear radiation spurs mankind to evolve into peaceful aquatic creatures much like seals or furry dolphins. While Orlov’s subject resilient communities have abided, the groups described have also been persecuted, driven out, and slaughtered throughout history. I haven’t read my copy of Communities That Abide yet but I’ll be looking for some discussion of how an already-persecuted group might survive collapse better than a well-connected group.

More than a few people noticed that while the sort of person attending Age of Limits might do fine in an ecovillage, we did not bear much resemblance to the average Roma or Amish member. Someone challenged the idea of home-schooling, but I think they were really challenging the idea of limited education. A plaintive questioner wondered if there was any place for gay couples in an abiding community that needed a steady birthrate. Orlov (diplomatically, I thought) allowed that there might be, but there is a strong fear – as evidenced by last year’s AoL feminism broughaha – that leaving the industrial model behind also means leaving behind all the social gains made by people that are physically weaker (women, children, the disabled) and very recent gains made by people that are different colors and sexual orientations than the majority. Can we create resilient communities that will still support modern values when the going gets rough, or will we simply have to make choices from what evolves?

I listened to KMO’s podcast while writing this, and I appreciated the commenter who brought up good and bad luck. He predicted that many of us will do the right things, and make the right preparations, but will be swept away by situations and forces beyond our control. That lottery will be administered by nature and by each other.

Frack Babies

At ScienceBlogs, The Pump Handle posts, Maternal health and fracking: Is there a link?:

In recent months, spikes in birth defects, and stillborn and neonatal deaths in drilling-dense regions of Colorado and Utah has raised the attention of local communities, researchers, and public health officials. There is still much to be studied to be able to determine if there is in fact a causal link between hydraulic fracturing and adverse outcomes for infants and children. However, preliminary research is starting to suggest that there very well could be a connection. Researchers McKenzie et al. in a recent study released in February 2014, observed an association between proximity to natural gas wells within a 10-mile radius of maternal residence and a prevalence of congenital heart defects and possibly neural tube defects (an opening in the spinal cord or brain that occurs in early development) in an area of Denver, Colorado. These findings strongly suggest that rapid and thorough further investigation is warranted.

The authors are concerned but cautious. If this post supported big industry, online trolls would claim the science was settled, time to move on (as with the Diet Soda study). Instead I expect to read comments that correlation does not prove causation. But dismissing correlation altogether is also a fallacy.

Diet Soda Empire Strikes Back

Over the last year, many media outlets have been reporting a decline in soda sales, particularly diet soda sales. In January, the NY Times posted The Quest for a Natural Sugar Substitute, which is largely about the beverage industry trying stevia instead of aspartame to sweeten diet sodas.

In April, Forbes wrote that stevia’s aftertaste wasn’t selling, and suggested the better pitch might be still, or non-carbonated, beverages like teas:

… volumes declined by 3.2% year-over-year to less than 13 billion gallons last year, primarily due to a slide in diet drink sales. … Consumers have been shifting to natural and healthier beverages with less sugar and calorie content due to the health risks associated with sugary drinks. The diet counterparts have fared even worse, with the artificial sweetener aspartame being criticized for causing sugar cravings, dehydration, weight gain and even heart diseases. Health and wellness concerns have further caused a 7% decline in diet soda consumption in the domestic market in the first quarter. Consumers have also reported bitter aftertastes of diet drinks which use the natural sweetener stevia, initially considered a bankable solution. …

More recently, the industry has turned to science – sort of. The American Beverage Association funded a study, which purports to show that diet soda is better for weight loss than soda. That study was published in a journal called Obesity, and has been widely reported regurgitated by media such as the NY Times Well blog, CNN and probably your local news. At the Well, many commenters reject the study because of who funded it, while other supposedly unpaid commenters implore us to accept the study as proven science, writing, “Conspiracy theories abound but the simple truth is that non-caloric sweeteners are useful, safe and tasty. Time to move on.

Nothing to see here, folks. Keep buying diet soda. Pleeease!

Medical News Today offers a more critical look, starting with the headline, Industry-funded study implies diet soda is ‘superior to water for weight loss’:

The new study included 303 overweight participants, all of whom were taking part in a weight loss and exercise program and all of whom were regular consumers of diet drinks. Randomized into two groups, one group was instructed not to consume any diet drinks and to drink at least 24 oz of water daily during the study period. The other group could continue to drink diet sodas.

After 12 weeks, … those in the diet drink group had lost 14.2 lb on average. … about 4 lb more than the people in the group instructed to drink mostly water …

Did both groups do the same exercises? What else did they eat? Did both groups lose inches? Did both groups add muscle mass? Did both groups keep the weight off? We are not being told much beyond the one stat about weight loss.

But … researchers themselves confess … that because of the design of the study they are unable to identify the mechanism for the greater weight loss in the diet soda group. … the study does not detail what the non-diet drink group consumed, beyond water.

The study does not provide detailed information on what – in addition to water – the control group consumed in lieu of diet drinks. As these participants were regular soda drinkers, it could be that they replaced their diet soda intake with other sweetened drinks, in addition to the water they were asked to drink.