Archive | June 2015

Sucker Punch

Amid the dispiriting news of droughts in Pakistan and the Western US, Greece’s stranded economy, three almost simultaneous terrorist attacks, escaped convicts and shark bites, two stories caught my eye:

Molycorp — sole U.S. rare earth producer — files for bankruptcy

Molycorp Inc. — the only U.S. producer of rare earth elements used in high-tech communications, transportation and industrial products — filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection amid competition from China and waning demand.

A North Dakota Oil Boom Goes Bust

In a field of brittle yellow grass and clotted mud about five miles north of Dickinson, North Dakota, stands a cemetery of sorts. Drilling rigs stretch into the sky like tall skeletons. … Similar graveyards have been popping up across the western half of the state since the price of oil sharply declined last fall. …

In both cases we see business models that were predicated on artificially high prices overseas: rare earths from China and oil from OPEC. In response to China’s limiting the export of rare earths, investors revived an old rare earth mine in Colorado. In response to a long run of high prices set by OPEC, US oil companies expected that tight oil from shale formations in North Dakota and Texas would eventually turn a profit.

Then both China and OPEC changed the rules. The Middle Kingdom suddenly relaxed restrictions on exporting rare earths, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia led OPEC to decide against holding up high prices. Investors failed to consider the influence that a swing producer has over the market.

Shiny, Happy People

A lot of my friends got good news last week when the US Supreme Court affirmed their right to be married. I’m happy for them. Others were glad to see that the Affordable Care Act was re-re-re-affirmed by the Supreme Court. I think the ACA is flawed, but better than nothing. And a lot of people are very happy that medical and recreational marijuana bills are making their way through state legislatures. I have family members that would benefit from medical marijuana, if it ever comes to Pennsyltucky.

But while all of that was making headlines (which was no accident) the Trans Pacific Partnership “trade agreement” – so secretive that we are not allowed to read and discuss it in public – has snuck through Congress. CNET:

Despite concerns over transparency stateside, the US Senate last week voted to give President Barack Obama the power to “fast track” the TPP. This grants the President authority to put a final draft of the TPP before Congress for a ‘yes-or-no’ vote, but Congress will not have power to amend any part of the trade agreement.

There’s a short Australian video clip (2:44) here.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation explains what we think we know about it here, but anything that secret should be voted down as a matter of principle.

The Ugly Little Boy

Way back before the internets, Isaac Asimov wrote, The Ugly Little Boy, which he included in his anthology Nine Tomorrows. Robert Silverberg later expanded the short story into a novel, which I have not read. In 1977, Barry Morse and Kate Reid starred in a TV version, which is supposed to be very faithful to the short story and is available on youtube.

The boy was a neanderthal (or neandertal) child, brought to, and kept in, the future at great expense of energy by a corporation for scientific research. In the years after the story was written, I read that one scientist claimed we probably couldn’t tell a well-dressed neanderthal apart from anyone else on the street, but knew that when the lay person heard, “neanderthal” they saw a dim but muscular caveman with a sloping forehead. And that is how most popular culture has portrayed them, one example being Jean M Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear books and the 1986 film starring tall, pale, blonde Darryl Hannah as a Cro-Magnon, adopted by a tribe of stocky, swarthy (but not black-skinned), black-haired Neanderthals.

But if one were to recast Clan of the Cave Bear based on the latest information, one should cast light-skinned people as the Neanderthals, and a taller, darker-skinned woman (perhaps Rosario Dawson) as Ayla the Homo Sapiens Sapiens or Early European Modern Human (EEMH). It is now suggested that populations of Homo Neanderthalensis had already adapted to Northern climates over some three or four hundred thousand years, and that the still dark-skinned Homo Sapiens benefited by acquiring those traits through interbreeding as they displaced the older species. [It is also counter-suggested that the neanderthal DNA remains from before the two species diverged from Homo Erectus.]

It is currently thought that humans (except those strictly descended from sub-Saharan Africans) have between 1% to 4% of neanderthal DNA and that some Melanesians and Australian Aborigines have Denisovan DNA as well. In other words, most of us humans are actually ugly little boys and girls, too.

Master of the Middle

In, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Master of Ballantrae: A Winter’s Tale, the local laird has a problem – who to support in the final Jacobite rebellion of Charles Edward Stuart against the Hanovers. The Durie family is sympathetic to Bonnie Prince Charlie, but rather than risk aligning themselves entirely with the losing side, one son supports the status quo while the other goes off to join the insurgency. The plan was that no matter who wins, a Durie would keep the land and title. Stevenson’s plot gets a lot more complicated, though, as things often do.

In the climate change debate, a lot of people have picked a side, and are fightly fiercely in the media (and courts) to convince others of the cause. The climate, of course, is changing more obviously every month, but deniers are fighting a rearguard action. Like the Duries, many in the media are trying play to both sides. I have read claims that most mainstream media meteorologists accept climate change, but you’d never know that from watching the weather on television. I’m guessing most station managers expect only decreased ratings if they so much as mention climate change on air.

Recently Pope Francis, the public face of the Catholic Church, issued an encyclical called Laudatum Si, (Praise Be To You) subtitled On the Care For Our Common Home, which recognizes climate change as a threat, and calls on the world to stop destroying the environment. Predictably, environmentalists have hailed Laudatum Si, and, also predictably, deniers have suggested the pope should stay out of science and politics. At the New York Times DotEarth blog, Andrew Revkin takes a cautionary tone, warning us, Beware Casting Pope Francis as a Caped Crusader, where he applauds the pontiff:

The greatest value in the pope’s decision to press on climate policy and environmental care, to my mind, lies in the reminder that, while science matters enormously in identifying the risks from an unabated buildup of greenhouse gases, the choices we make are shaped more by values and appropriately should involve every sector of society.

… but also quietly undercuts the message:

… “It’s important not to conclude that moral arguments for action on global warming, even conveyed by a pope, are a world-changing breakthrough. The reason is that the climate issue doesn’t exist in a moral vacuum. A powerful moral argument can also be built around the right of poorer countries to get out of poverty using fossil fuels. That argument bolsters Prime Minister Modi’s commitment to double coal production by 2020, for example, even as India also (at a much, much smaller scale) expands solar capacity and nuclear power.”

I’m excited to see such an influential and thoughtful figure pressing the case for action, and acknowledging the need for dialogue.

But Francis remains a man, not a Superman.

Dot Earth was moved from News to Opinion several years ago, and the Times dropped a lot of other ‘green’ blogs in 2013, so Revkin is politically smart to be cautious. But Greg Laden, who I follow on Science Blogs, has called him out for playing to the middle:

But then I look at Dot Earth, and I see two things. First is Andy Revkin’s tendency to occupy that space between serious concern about climate change and acceptance of consensus science on one hand, and questioning of the reality and importance of climate change, on the other. In other words, Andy likes to write, often, in the space between what deniers call “warmists” and what warmists call “deniers.”

And now there’s a lot of finger-pointing on both blogs.

IMO, it isn’t just DotEarth, it is the entire mainstream media, many so-called environmental groups and even people like me that accept climate change, but are trying not to alienate our spouses and bosses while slowly making a transition to a more sustainable existence. Just how long the climate lets us live in the middle is hard to predict.

Wasting Water in the West

In, Killing The Colorado, ProPublica looks at manmade projects as a culprit in the current drought. In the Explore the River section of the series of articles, each dam, each power generating station is shown to lose vast vast amounts of water to evaporation and seepage.

In the first article, Holy Crop, farmers feel compelled to grow thirsty cotton to benefit from, and survive on, government subsidies:

The water shortages that have brought California, Arizona and other Western states to the edge of an environmental cliff have been attributed to a historic climate event — a dry spell that experts worry could be the worst in 1,000 years. But an examination by ProPublica shows that the scarcity of water is as much a man-made crisis as a natural one, the result of decades of missteps and misapprehensions by governments and businesses as they have faced surging demand driven by a booming population.

Even in the face of a drought, the current laws actually encourage wasting water:

… He knows his fields could thrive with much smaller amounts of water — he’s seen them do so in dry years — but the property owners he works for have the legal right to take a large supply, and he applies the water generously. … Ketterhagen feels he has little choice. A vestige of 139-year-old water law pushes ranchers to use as much water as they possibly can, even during a drought. “Use it or lose it” clauses, as they are known, are common in state laws throughout the Colorado River basin and give the farmers, ranchers and governments holding water rights a powerful incentive to use more water than they need. Under the provisions of these measures, people who use less water than they are legally entitled to risk seeing their allotment slashed.

And moving that water takes a toll on the climate:

The power generated enables a modern wonder. It drives a set of pumps 325 miles down the Colorado River that heave trillions of gallons of water out of the river and send it shooting over mountains and through canals. That water — lifted 3,000 vertical feet and carried 336 miles — has enabled the cities of Phoenix and Tucson to rapidly expand. This achievement in moving water, however, is gained at an enormous cost. Every hour the Navajo’s generators spin, the plant spews more climate-warming gases into the atmosphere than almost any other facility in the United States. Alone, it accounts for 29 percent of Arizona’s emissions from energy generation. The Navajo station’s infernos gobble 15 tons of coal each minute, 24 hours each day, every day.

Rachel and the Irish Slaves

Spokane NAACP President Rachel Dolezal is all over the news. Apparently she was raised with four adopted African-American children, attended predominantly-black Howard University, and somewhere along the way, decided that she preferred to fit in with black culture. That’s her choice, in my opinion, but she would be in a more defensible position now if she hadn’t invented a black father and son to sell herself as black. [Update: She resigned.]

Which reminds me, when I was looking at colleges in the 1970s, I got this giant green book with stats on all the colleges and universities in the Educational Testing Service database. I went through all of them looking for what I thought was important then: colleges that offered Architecture degrees, colleges that had a reasonable proportion of women students, and colleges that had swimming programs.

One of the schools I contacted for more info was the Hampton Institute, in Virginia, which is now called Hampton University. When I got their brochure, it had Architecture, women and swimming, but I noticed that just about everyone in the photos was dark-skinned. ETS hadn’t mentioned that Hampton Agricultural and Industrial School was founded to educate freed slaves, for a while had a program to educate Native Americans, and was still a predominantly-black college. I’m sure attending Hampton would have affected my life a great deal, but even so, I’d have a hard time ever calling myself African-American.

Perhaps I would have considered Hampton if they had had a program to educate freed Irish slaves. I learned in school that many destitute Irish, and other Europeans, were brought into the United States as indentured servants. A friend’s facebook post – which I saw this morning – claims that Irish were sold into actual slavery, and I find that several books have been written on the subject:

To Hell and Barbados: The Ethnic Cleansing of Ireland (2001) by Sean O’Callaghan focuses on Irish sent to Barbados, while in, White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain’s White Slaves in America (2008) Don Jordan looks at all white Britons swept up into the slave trade. There’s also a historical novel called Testimony of an Irish Slave Girl, by Kate McCafferty, though the reviews are not that flattering.

On a Race and History discussion board, James F Cavanaugh, since deceased, wrote about what he learned researching one ancestor:

After the Battle of Kinsale at the beginning of the 17th century, … James II encouraged selling the Irish as slaves to planters and settlers in the New World colonies. The first Irish slaves were sold to a settlement on the Amazon River In South America in 1612. …

The Proclamation of 1625 ordered that Irish political prisoners be transported overseas and sold as laborers to English planters, who were settling the islands of the West Indies, officially establishing a policy that was to continue for two centuries. In 1629 a large group of Irish men and women were sent to Guiana, and by 1632, Irish were the main slaves sold to Antigua and Montserrat in the West Indies. By 1637 a census showed that 69% of the total population of Montserrat were Irish slaves, which records show was a cause of concern to the English planters. But there were not enough political prisoners to supply the demand, so every petty infraction carried a sentence of transporting, and slaver gangs combed the country sides to kidnap enough people to fill out their quotas. …

In the 12 year period during and following the Confederation revolt, from 1641 to 1652, over 550,000 Irish were killed by the English and 300,000 were sold as slaves, as the Irish population of Ireland fell from 1,466,000 to 616,000. Banished soldiers were not allowed to take their wives and children with them, and naturally, the same for those sold as slaves. The result was a growing population of homeless women and children, who being a public nuisance, were likewise rounded up and sold. But the worse was yet to come.

In 1649, Cromwell landed in Ireland and attacked Drogheda, slaughtering some 30,000 Irish living in the city. … A few months later, in 1650, 25,000 Irish were sold to planters in St. Kitt. During the 1650s decade of Cromwell’s Reign of Terror, over 100,000 Irish children, generally from 10 to 14 years old, were taken from Catholic parents and sold as slaves in the West Indies, Virginia and New England. In fact, more Irish were sold as slaves to the American colonies and plantations from 1651 to 1660 than the total existing free population of the Americas!

But all did not go smoothly with Cromwell’s extermination plan, as Irish slaves revolted in Barbados in 1649. They were hanged, drawn and quartered and their heads were put on pikes, prominently displayed around Bridgetown as a warning to others.

There is a lot of controversy about these claims, though, and it doesn’t help that white supremacists have used the idea of white American slavery to disparage black Americans who complain about black slavery. One example of rebuttal is Liam Hogan’s online paper called, The Myth of Irish Slaves in the Colonies:

Recent years have seen the marked growth of the “Irish slaves” narrative, which is itself a subset of the “white slavery” myth. This myth has been currency in ultranationalist, white supremacist and neo-Nazi circles for decades and their promotion of it frequently occurs on their websites and across social media. The myth has recently entered the mainstream, partly due to the decision by national newspapers and popular websites to endorse a spurious “Irish Slave Trade” article that conflates indentured servitude or forced labour with chattel slavery. Surprisingly, this claim has gone relatively unchallenged in the public domain, thus this paper will analyse its veracity.

Essentially Hogan attacks the scholarship of the Irish slavery authors, attacks the websites that carry such claims as conspiracy sites, and accuses all parties of confusing Indentured Servitude with Chattel Slavery. After a very quick reading of several pieces, I can’t really say where the truth lies. I do suspect that what happened to the Irish, and others, in some Caribbean islands may well have been called indentured servitude, or conscripted labour, or something else, but resembles slavery in so many aspects that it hardly mattered to the individuals how they ended up in the fields and under the lash.

On the other hand, I don’t see how the experience of Irish and Britons in the 17th century diminishes the use and abuse of African-Americans that is still occurring today.

I Do the Rock

Albert giving charcoal lessons
after Age of Limits
Richard says the party’s over
Dmitry needs an engine
Gail is back from China
Raul is talking Greece
Me, I do the only thing that still makes sense to me
I do the Rock
I do the Rock Rock

Sharon and her husband Eric
Selling Gleanings Farm
Try to give their kids abundance
in a rust belt yard
Whipple’s pushing fusion
But it’s really frightfully cold
Me, I do the only thing that stops me growing old
I do the Rock
I do the Rock Rock
I do the Rock Rock Rock

Well, it’s stimulating

John Michael Greer and his beard
sees a slow collapsing
Spengler’s six feet under but his West is still declining
Growth has Limits after four decades
but I’m afraid ecology is just too much responsibility for me
I do the Rock
I do the Rock

Daniel Yergin wrote The Prize
And made a lot of money
Peakists gasped when Matthew Simmons
Lost his bet with Tierney
There’s a Bartlett name of Roscoe
but Albert’s pretty smart you know
I could never calculate so exponentially
I do the Rock
I do the Rock
I do the Rock
It’s stimulating – I’m a keen student

Ken Deffeyes, M King Hubbert
Dennis and Donella
Tom will always do the math
Robert wields his rapier
Ugo on his cliff
Malthus sounding mean
It must be really frightful to predict humanity
I do the Rock
I do the Rock
Obama, Putin, Xi Jinping
Yellen, Lagarde and Merkel
everyday QE inflate us down to our last nickel
ISIL, Hamas and the Sauds
and al-Assad is quite bizarre
I could never get the hang of Islamology
I do the Rock
I do the Rock
I do – I do – I do – do the Rock

Actor and singer Tim Curry had a stroke in 2012. After missing out on a Tony for Spamalot several years ago, in 2015 he got an Actor’s Fund Lifetime Achievement award at a Tony Awards viewing party. I’ve seen Curry live in Travesties, Amadeus and singing on a small stage in Georgetown DC. I’ve seen him in films like Rocky Horror, Shout, Clue, Treasure Island, Times Square, even The Worst Witch, and recognized his voice in Ferngully and a Scooby Doo flick.

After humming this song, I Do The Rock, I decided to update the lyrics with references to the energy depletion crowd.