Sunday, November 29, 2015

Education in Decline

As a former educator I can tell you that some of the huge challenges faced by teachers are 1) students are connected now more than they've ever been; 2) they are entertained and engaged now out of school way more than they have ever been; 3) they are are distracted now while in school more than they've ever been; 4) administrators soaking up more and more of the school budget; 5) many parents are concerned only with the illusion of education; and 6) the entertainment industry often shows teenage stupidity and violence as somehow cool.

I have memorized one letter I got from an angry parent: "The A you gave my child is small compensation for how hard he had to work to get it." Amazing and a real letter.
So for the majority of unmotivated students, educators fight a losing battle. The only solution has been to dumb down the classes, inflate grades and dumb down the standardized tests. The reality: America in decline. The solution: A change in the prevailing culture. The prospect of success: None for the vast majority. Luckily the brilliant few will always be with us. But then, they don't really need school.

I have memorized one letter I got from an angry parent: "The A you gave my child is small compensation for how hard he had to work to get it." Amazing and a real letter.
So for the majority of unmotivated students, educators fight a losing battle. The only solution has been to dumb down the classes, inflate grades and dumb down the standardized tests. The reality: America in decline. The solution: A change in the prevailing culture. The prospect of success: None for the vast majority. Luckily the brilliant few will always be with us. But then, they don't really need school.

Start-ups Take on Challenge of Nuclear Fusion

I read with interest Dino Grandoni's article in the New York Times. Being a physicist and interested for many decades in this subject I was not surprised to find yet another article on laser-fusion energy that fails to mention  the company KMS Fusion. This was a small startup founded in 1969 by physics professor Keeve Siegel for the sole purpose of developing controlled nuclear fusion for energy production. By 1974 it had achieved with an investment of about 10 million (not billion) dollars the production of fusion neutrons using their single laser and brilliant design. Their claim to have succeeded in the first step towards successful fusion energy was verified by the American Physical Society and other credible experts. By 1975 the company was essentially on life support and eventually closed, driven to an early death by the vicious jealousies of unsuccessful scientists working at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and by government bureaucrats determined to keep private companies from researching nuclear energy. Incredibly professor Siegel died of a stroke at the podium while testifying before the Joint Congressional Committee on Nuclear Energy about the harassment his company had endured at the hands of the federal government. FORTY-ONE YEARS AGO this company had achieved on a shoestring what other labs are only now managing to duplicate despite the fortunes thrown at the problem over the intervening years. I always find it strangely reminiscent of the novel 1984 how successfully the history and achievements of this company have been erased from scientific awareness or mention. I met personally with Professor Siegel and was privileged at the time (1974) to tour his laboratory. There were no smarter people on earth than those working for him. 

Capitalism vs Environmentalism 1

Unfortunately with the demise of communism, the only system left standing is capitalism. That gives the impression that capitalism is the better economic model. Part of the problem with this is that capitalism has within its nature the seed of its own (and our) destruction: continual growth in a closed system. It is not possible and only leads to eventual ruin. What is missing is an Adam Smith or a Karl Marx who can articulate a DIFFERENT system that does not lead to ultimate exhaustion of resources and destruction of a human-friendly environment. It's not enough to be "against". What is missing is the clear vision of what to be "for".

Friday, March 27, 2015

Republican War with Science. What killed the dinosaurs?

What is it with Republicans and Climate Change? According to every Republican talking head, global warming and its associated climate change are a huge hoax perpetrated by a conspiracy of Democratic Party talking heads and the worldwide community of climate scientists who are making false claims and alleging a false consensus because they are getting paid to do so. In support of these startling claims, they cherry pick data so as to create the appearance of doubt and confusion where none really exists. This tactic has been used successfully for years by the tobacco industry to undermine the credibility of the science relating addiction and cancer to cigarette smoking. For decades people died, confident that the link to cancer had not yet been “proven.” Finally, the evidence became so overwhelming that the deniers could no longer convince enough people that doubt was the wisest conclusion regarding whether smoking was safe or not.
      The same strategy of spreading doubt and confusion where the science is clear is now currently being waged by the Republican party. The hope is that doubt will be maintained as the wisest conclusion regarding the burning of fossil fuels. Just as with cigarette smoking, confusion and doubt are the friends of the moneyed interests. Even among the Republican deniers there is confusion as to what to confuse. 
Republican talking heads at all levels confuse two issues: 1. Is the average temperature of Earth rising? The evidence for this is overwhelming and not an item of belief but of fact. Some of the currently observable indicators of global warming, trends that take decades to establish, are
·      disrupted weather patterns and severity of storms
·      changed migratory patterns
·      rising tree lines to higher elevations
·      diminished glacial melt due to diminished glaciers
·      rising sea level due to thermal expansion
·      net loss of polar ice
·      diminished thickness of arctic ocean ice
·      accelerating melting of the Greenland ice pack
The consequences in coastal real estate lost and the increasing height of tidal surges during hurricanes as the ocean rises have been widely discussed. However, more serious than real estate investments is life itself.
About 30% of the world's population depends on glacial melt to supply its drinking water. With glaciers disappearing at an alarming rate, available drinking water is endangered as well. Think about where loyalties should lie: with the moneyed interests who own coalfields or with humanity. That's a pretty stark choice, but not a scientifically implausible one. And it is beginning to happen before our eyes in Asia. Global warming threatens drinking water security.
      All these indicators are equivalent to looking out the window to see if it is raining. Republican talking heads will point to some measurement or other that by itself would seem to suggest no global warming. That’s like pointing to some model that says the chance of rain today is 60% while the head out the window sees the rain. That’s what is meant by cherry picking the data. The science is settled. The warming of Earth is readily visible by the effects of climate change and disrupted weather patterns as well as by independent measurements from monitoring stations worldwide as well as from satellite data.
       The other issue for Republican attack by sewing doubt and confusion  with confidence is whether human activity (burning fossil fuels) is driving global warming. Republicans conflate the certainty in the case of global warming and the high probability for the case that human activity is a major driver for global warming to diminish the credibility of the climate change argument. Their claim is that where doubt exists, the science is not settled. In other words, the case for human influence is not proven. This is a bogus argument because very rarely does empirical science deal with proving anything. Its business is to establish a high probability that its conclusions are correct. That is exactly the case with the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Experimental scientists leave “proofs” to the mathematicians.
      However, let’s take a closer look at human influence on climate. It is well known that carbon dioxide, CO2, is a significant greenhouse gas. Indeed, so is water. The major products of combustion of fossil fuels, besides ash, are CO2 and water. Let’s look at the human contribution to putting theses gases into the atmosphere.
      There are about 23,000 coal-fired power stations in the world. An average 500-megawatt station takes about 14,300 train cars a year just to supply just one of these power stations with coal. That's 329 million train cars of coal in one year worldwide. Just one power station produces on average 6 billion pounds of CO2 per year. For all the power stations worldwide, that's 138 trillion pounds of CO2 per year going into the atmosphere. Every year! Think about how much gas it takes to make one pound of gas. Take a container and keep pumping gas into it until its weight has increased by one point. Gases are almost weightless, right? So it takes a lot of gas to make a pound. We are talking about putting more than a hundred trillion of pounds of gas into the atmosphere every year. How can Republicans claim with such certainty that the influence of such massive human activity is negligible? Even if the science seems sketchy to them, how can they be so certain there is no human influence? Could it be all about money?
      The numbers above regarding the burning of coal (just one of the fossil fuels) show there are very large dollar amounts at stake here. There are about 100 tons of coal in an average coal train car. At about $50 per ton of coal that’s about $5000 dollars per car load. At about 14,300 car loads per year at one station, that’s about $70,000,000 per year for the cost of coal for one station. There are about 600 coal fired power stations in the United Sates alone. That amounts to a minimum of about $40,000,000,000 per year just in the US, every year. People have been killed for a lot less than that, much less lied to. This amount of money can turn otherwise reasonably intelligent people into dangerous advocates of something really bad. And has.

What Killed the Dinosaurs?
   by David H Spielberg
What killed the dinosaurs? Really?
Was it climate change?

A virus?
A meteor?
Or was it simply
that they'd held the stage too long

had lost their edge

and that their time was up?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The End of National Allegiances

On Deception Watch describes the convergence of global issues that necessitates the creation of a new world governing paradigm. The current model, active since the dawn of recorded history, territorial, patriarchal, and tribal, is no longer up to the task of fulfilling the social contract whereby the people governed acquiesce to be governed in return for protection from alien intrusion, unlawful or anarchistic threats to local and personal security, and a modicum of assurance to at least marginal food and shelter. That contract, in the age of global communication, immediate access to almost the entire fund of human knowledge, and the rapid globalization of what once were merely local crises and opportunities, is proving less and less relevant. Loyalties are becoming less and less directed to traditional political symbols and institutions. Allegiances and self-interest are moving rapidly towards economic power centers and away from political power centers.

Accountability in this age of the global super corporation has become more and more invisible, more and more opaque. Power is no longer derived from the people, willingly or unwillingly. Power is more and more becoming centered around economic algorithms and those who manage the application of those algorithms. Markets are global. The algorithms are global and national governments are becoming simply one of the many variables to be manipulated, measured, and rewarded or punished.

It is the new world of the illusion of government while the real power works behind the scenes rewarding with the opiate of the means to political power or punishing with the withdrawal of those means, closely followed by a swift spiral into public oblivion.

Nothing is as it seems, which has always been true. News media are businesses and businesses have an agenda that supports that business and so the news supports the agenda that supports the business. Government purveyors of information are part of a business, the business of preserving access to the prerogatives of government. They have an agenda to support the government that provides the prerogatives. And all sources of information and opinion have one thing in common: the will to deceive. The world is complicated and the lure of deception is partly traditional (how do you tell if a politician is lying...?) and partly the result of the need to deceive because the truth is too complicated.

This and the near future (thirty to fifty years) is an age of transition. The tangling alliances of global economics have only two paths to take. The alliances evolve into a world governed by protocols that manage self-interest by nourishing a unique global unity, a world of "all us and no them", a world of coerced inclusion or they evolve into uncontrolled chaos. So the only sustainable path (not to mention the only profitable path) for the alliances is to accept the new allegiance to a global economic structure, its governing algorithms, its economically incentivized system of rewards and punishments, and constitutions (real and alleged) replaced by a mission statement and a business plan.

On Deception Watch proposes how this new world order comes to be. The sequel, a work currently in progress, will bring the reader to a closer examination of this transition stage, the beginning of which we see all around us, from The People's Republic of China being the creditor of last resort to the melting of the Arctic Ocean in the summer. The global imperative is all around us and is the focus of the second in the series of World Federation novels.