Saturday, July 19, 2014

Letter to the editor, 'The Downing of MH17'


In 'The Downing of MH17', you stated that, if the separatists are responsible for the tragedy, then 'the civilized world will have no choice but to change how it deals with the Kremlin'.You also quote President Reagan's condemning as an 'act of barbarism' the Soviet downing of a Korean Air Lines plane in 1983.
 
But doesn't the Wall Street Journal multi-year calendar also include the year 1988, the year in which the American destroyer USS Vincennes, while sailing in the Persian Gulf, shot down an Iranian Air Lines passenger plane with the death of all 290 on board? Should the world have had to change the way it dealt with the 'barbarian' White House? (It's good to be...exceptional.)
 
The fact is that MH17 was an accident. The Korean Air Lines plane was an accident. And the Iranian Air Lines plane was also an accident. Maybe time to calm down, take a deep breath and, most of all, resist the calls which will probably soon be coming from the usual suspects to incorporate Ukraine into NATO so that the next 'incident' doesn't lead to a direct confrontation between the United States and Russia.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Here today, gone tomorrow?


             "Who was that Neanderthal I saw you with last night?"
             "That was no Neanderthal. That was my Cro-Magnon."
                                                     ***
        Between 98 and 99.9% of all species that ever walked, crawled, swam, flew, or ran for office anywhere on Earth are now extinct. (No, you don't get to pick which ones stay and which go.)
        But, as some species become extinct, others manage to adapt to a changing environment and thrive. It's called 'evolution' and has been going on for all the billions of years since life first appeared on Earth.
        "But, if we keep burning fossil fuels and carbon dioxide increases, won't that tip the balance? Won't we ALL soon become extinct? I saw this movie..."
        Maybe time for a little perspective here. Movies are fun. Go, eat some popcorn, have a few laughs...but don't think you're watching a lecture by Albert Einstein. Make believe is, well, make believe.
        'Sea snails', for instance, are less than one-half inch in size and with very delicate, fragile shells. If the carbon dioxide dissolved in the ocean increases and  this damages their shells, could the snails be hurt and possibly even become extinct? Well, maybe. But, at the same time,
         The oceans are also filled with 'Phytoplankton' which are microscopic 'plants' that make their own food from carbon dioxide. If carbon dioxide in the oceans increases, they grow and thrive, i.e. "Viva la food chain!"
        In other words, maybe it's time to take a deep breath and calm down a little. There's a lot we don't know and, despite the assertions of some people who should  know better, this whole subject is far from 'settled science.'
        Maybe even time to give up the politically correct greeting, "Hi. The Koch brothers are eating your children" and go back to the old fashioned, "Hello," which is rumored to still be popular in some remote parts of the country and can be very soothing.  

Friday, July 4, 2014

TANSTAAFL

Yesterday, or was it two days ago, New Yorkers awoke to find bright yellow signs hanging in front of all their public school buildings, bearing in bold red lettering the words, 'Free Lunch.'
What?! But before they could finish blurting out the iconic, "There ain't no such thing as a...," they noticed on the bottom of the same signs the additional confusing phrase, 'Free Breakfast...too.'
Apparently, our bold new mayor, following in the footsteps of our bold  but not-quite-so-new-anymore president (TANSTAAFC - "There ain't no such thing as a free colonoscopy"), is beginning to lead us along the path from the  humdrum dreariness of the past, 'Live Free or Die,' into the glorious future of, 'Live FOR Free or Die.'
Hopefully, it won't instead be the path that leads to, "Buddy, can you spare a dime?"  The two can sometimes look surprisingly alike.  

Monday, June 23, 2014

Don't Go Near The Water


     "What's all this fuss about the oceans becoming more 'Hasidic'? I know lots of Hasidim and they're very fine people."
        "Emily."
        "And they're also very modest. When they go swimming, they always wear those long bathing suits that go all the way from their ankles to their neck."
        "Emily."
        "And besides, the oceans belong to everyone and if the Hasidim want to swim in the oceans, well, what business it that of..."
        "Emily!"
        "What?"
        "Not 'Hasidic,' Emily. 'acidic.' The oceans are becoming more acidic because when carbon dioxide dissolves in the ocean, it combines with water molecules, hydrogen ions are generated, and the ocean becomes more acidic."
        "Oh. Never mind."
                                                              ***
        So, is this really a serious problem or, like Emily Litella, should we just...'never mind?' Here's what you missed that day you were absent from Science class,  
        The pH of a liquid tells us how acidic it is. Pure water has a pH of 7 and is neutral. Liquids with pH lower than 7 are acids and greater than 7, bases or alkaline.
        Since the start of the industrial revolution 200 years ago, the pH of the oceans has declined from 8.2 to 8.1 so that it would actually be more correct to say that the oceans are becoming more 'neutral', i.e. less alkaline, than to say that they're becoming more 'acidic'.  But 'neutral oceans' just won't get those juices flowing the way 'acidic' ones will,
        "Psst! Think someone is trying to snooker us with all this stuff? More taxes? More grants? More loan guarantees? Help out the Green People a little? Maybe we should ask to see their emails. Oh, all the hard drives fell into the ocean and got eaten by sharks? Well, it could happen."
         By the way, nobody believes that the oceans will ever become real 'acids' like vats of sulfuric acid in those old Bela Lugosi movies where everything goes up in bubbles and smoke. Go for a risk-free swim anytime and, "if you like your bathing suit, you can keep your bathing suit. Period."

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Is Carbon Dioxide Getting A Bad Rap?


        Maybe you've seen The Graph, the one with the two wavy lines, one for carbon dioxide and the other for temperature, and have also heard...The Speech,
        "Look at this. Anybody except a Republican can see that carbon dioxide always increases when earth's temperature increases and, if we don't do something soon, we're...cooked! Only question is, boiled, baked, or fried?" 
        Well, while it's true that carbon dioxide and temperature have fluctuated   together for millions (billions?) of years, take a closer look at that graph and you'll notice something that scientists, but apparently not former Vice Presidents, have known for years, i.e. temperature goes up before carbon dioxide increases.
        But how can carbon dioxide cause global warming if the warming comes first, before the carbon dioxide increases? The most widely accepted scientific explanation for all this is that,
        Earth's climate has always fluctuated between ice ages and warming periods due to 'natural causes', i.e. changes in earth's orbit around the sun, changes in the way the earth tilts toward or away from the sun while it's orbiting, changes in solar activity...in other words, anything that can't be controlled by Exxon-Mobile.
        As the planet warms, the oceans also warm and carbon dioxide comes out of solution (the oceans contain 50 times more carbon dioxide than the atmosphere). This additional carbon dioxide then enters the atmosphere where it absorbs energy from the sun which it then radiates down onto the earth's surface. It's how 'greenhouse gases' work.
        In other words, carbon dioxide didn't 'cause' all that warming over the past  4.5 billion years. It just 'amplified' the warming that was already going on. When the planet cools, the same thing happens but...in reverse.
        "But this time, things are different. We're burning lots of fossil fuels which is adding even more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere which is adding to global warming and making the seas rise even faster. We're all going to die!"
        Whew! Maybe time to take a deep breath and chill (ha, ha) a little.
        While it's true that burning fossil fuels has added some carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and that this may very well be causing some warming and increase in sea levels, the important question is, how much? And is it 'dangerous' or, as some have suggested, might it even be a good thing if it prevents, or at least delays, another ice age? Or is it maybe just..... inconsequential?  
        Anyway, over the past 130 years, the planet's temperature has gone up, ready?... less than one degree, 0.8 degrees Celsius to be exact. And during the last 15 of these years, we've had no surface warming to speak of at all. A 'pause' in the warming, an end to the warming, or maybe even the beginning of a new ice age? No way to know until we can look back on these years someday and see what actually happened.
         And the seas? Over the past 130 years, the seas rose...eight inches. Looks like we're not going to have to swim to work for at least a little while longer.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Who Are The 'Deniers?'


       "Orville, Wilbur, what am I holding in my hand?"
       "A butter knife, Ma."
       "Right. Now, watch what happens when I drop it....Clang!...Did you see what happened when I dropped the butter knife, the heavier-than-air butter knife?
       Did it fly? Did it go flying around the room singing, 'Fly Me To The Moon?'
       No! It didn't fly because it's heavier than air. And if something is heavier than air it can't fly. Everybody knows that, everybody except you two. Couple of damn...deniers!"
                                                 ***
        And, before the Wright brothers, there was the 'denier' Copernicus. When anybody who was anybody 'knew' that the Sun revolved around the Earth, Copernicus said it was the other way around...and he was right.
        And when Lister showed that the almost 50% surgical mortality of the day was due to preventable infections, how many decades was it before surgeons stopped sharpening their scalpels on their boots and began washing their hands and wearing rubber gloves? They all 'knew' that the germ theory was nonsense. Why listen to some upstart....denier?!
        And schizophrenia is caused by 'poor parenting.' (It isn't.)
        And stomach ulcers are caused by 'stress.' (Uh-uh, a bacteria, H. Pylori.)
        And, until 1973, homosexuality was a 'mental illness' (try passing a background check for a gun permit with that one) and, in boys at least, was caused by a domineering mother,
        "Oh, doctor, my poor little Ru Paul. And it's all my fault."
        "Yes it is, Mrs. Cohen. But cheer up. At least you'll have someone to give your old clothes to. You know what your husband's things look like by the time he's ready to get rid of them. Men!"
        And now it's climate change...or is that global warming or global cooling or global drying or global wetting? Whatever...It's bad and it's our fault. All the experts agree. So don't be a damn...'denier.' Please, just shut up!!!
        Well, science doesn't advance by getting the 'deniers' to 'just shut up'. Never. Not ever. Science advances by theories and experiments to prove or disprove the theories and by more experiments to challenge or confirm those experiments and so on. 
        And, most importantly, science advances by asking questions. Always questions. Questions, questions, and more questions. And it's the 'deniers' who  are the ones asking the questions....and making the butter knives fly.
       Condescendingly mocking 'deniers'  as 'flat earthers' is not science. It's anti-science. We  shouldn't do that, not even if 'we' is the President of the United States.
        "The case is never closed." - Albert Einstein

Saturday, May 17, 2014

'Brown' at 60

60 years after 'Brown' and we now have a president who sends his own children to private school while blocking every attempt to use vouchers to give poor kids an equally good private school education...and all while going on about the unfairness of 'income inequality' which, of course, leads to 'opportunity inequality.' ("It's not fair. It's not right.")
 
What a fine sense of humor our hope and changey president has.  Did everyone get the joke? Is anybody laughing?
 
Maybe call the next voucher bill the "Go To School With Malia and Sasha Act." Might be a little tougher to veto that one.