Sunday, May 31, 2015

No, There'll Be No "Blood Moon Apocalypse " In September!


"Blood Moon" visible in Barbados last April.

During a lecture I gave on lunar eclipses in 1975, several attendees - on seeing a slide image of the Moon at the total phase- expressed concern. "Did this bloody Moon not portend the last days or an apocalypse? Was it not one of the signs and wonders written about in the good Book? Should we not begin to prepare ourselves for the end?"

To all of these questions, and to the astonishment of the questioners, I answered a firm 'No'. The phenomenon was a totally natural event that occurred at least twice a year- due to an alignment of Earth, Moon and Sun and had no supernatural overtones. Nor should one extrapolate such overtones.   To grasp more clearly what is going on I show a sketch below of the lunar eclipse situation:

Note the alignment (top) fixes the Sun at one end and the Moon at the other with Earth in between. The light  from the Sun - on intersecting the Earth -  produces a smaller, darker umbra and a lighter outer shadow cone called the penumbra.  If the lunar transit is such that the Moon (as seen from Earth ) only passes through the penumbra, we have a partial lunar eclipse.

If, on the other hand, the Moon passes through the darker umbra, we have a total lunar eclipse and what is called a "blood Moon" because the luanr surface appears reddish or ochre on account of being seen through the Earth's atmosphere. Thus, we observe the Moon as seen in the photo.  A special case for attention is the lunar tetrad. This marks a consecutive sequence of four lunar eclipses, spaced s ix months apart. (The most recent blood Moon occurred in April ).

As may be inferred from the diagrams, on account of the Earth casting a much larger shadow than the Moon (say when there are solar eclipses) the duration of lunar eclipses is longer, including the total phase. An entire lunar eclipse can last for hours as opposed to minutes for the solar eclipse.

Having now dispensed with the notion there is anything supernatural regarding blood Moons and lunar eclipses, it is somewhat astonishing to note that here in the year 2015, there is a United States congressman who actually believes that a so-called blood Moon prophecy determines the fate of the Middle East as well as the fate of the world, of all of us. .

Says Rep. Jody Hice of Georgia:
Blood moons have preceded world-changing, shaking-type events,”

WHICH ones? He doesn't say but never mind,  This balderdash is gaining surprising traction in conservative media, and is being adopted as legitimate by prominent figures, including Hice in Congress and the Family Research Council, the powerful social conservative lobbying group in Washington.

Ironically, as these yahoos are getting all worked up over blood Moons, we are facing a genuine catastrophe as now the pace of global warming appears on track for a 4C rise in global mean temperatures and even a 6C.  People in TX may not think their 34 trillion tons of rain pouring down causing flooding the past week has  anything to do with climate change - but they'd do well to rethink that. Anyone who's taken basic basics knows that a hotter atmosphere  (because of greenhouse gases like CO2) absorbs more moisture - and this can be triggered to pour down when that warmer, moister air encounters much colder air - as has been spinning off the Rockies the past couple weeks (seeing our night temperatures sometimes diving to 32 F or less)

It's true that singleton events or even temporary phases of weather do not "prove" global warming, but we are talking about a trend of  climate that has appreciably warmed the atmosphere over years enabling it to hold more water. More water, means more rain - depending on when and how it is triggered, whether in the NE or SW.

Anyway, we also know that mega-pastor John Hagee, the leading purveyor of blood Moon prophecy talk, is powerful in Washington, and able to command the attendance of influential conservative politicians to his events. According to Hagee here’s how the prophecy is supposed to shake out:

It was “discovered” that blood Moon tetrads  that coincide with traditional Jewish feasts and holidays announce world-historical moments for Jews; and because the fate of the Jewish people determines the fate of humanity, according to fundamentalist Christians, each of these revelations signals the approach of the End Times.

Thus, a blood Moon tetrad coinciding with Jewish holidays in 1493 is said to have marked the expulsion of the Jews from Spain and the European discovery of America. Another in 1948-49 signaled God’s pleasure with the founding of the state of Israel; and the next, in 1967-68, coincided with the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War, which allowed Israel to acquire Arab territory, much of which it still maintains. The occupied territory is considered prophetically necessary and in accord with Scripture by many conservative Christians.

But all of that was merely a prelude to the tetrad currently underway. The third blood Moon fell in April, and the final prophetic moon will occur in late September. This tetrad, according to the prophecy, signals the beginning of the end of the world. (Though strangely, we've yet to hear a peep from Hagee or anyone else in his camp of where the "AntiChrist" may be hanging out - and bear in mind there's supposed to be a 7-year reign before everything comes to perdition in the "Tribulation"

Ah - but WAIT! Earlier prophet and bloviator Hal Lindsey in his book 'The Late, Great Planet Earth', already forecast that was all to unfold in 1988 (using 'one generation' = 40 years, marked from the birth of the Jewish state in 1948.)  But a funny thing happened in 1988, nothing!

Never mind! The current crop of bumpkins is forecasting that the  apocalypse is coming this September. So it’s crunch time in the land of the apocalyptic crazies. All hands on deck! This is not a drill. As a heads up. on May 14, a large banner atop World Net Daily, the popular conservative Christian website, advertised its “exclusive” report on the four-month “countdown” to the “Biblical day of reckoning.”

In addition, in order to pump up the expectation and fear, a movie about the prophecy was released last month in theaters, and pastor John Hagee’s bestselling book about blood moons spent months on Amazon’s top 100 books list.  (I suspect it will meet the same eventual fate as Lindsey's effort.)

The impending doom even compelled Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of Rev. Billy Graham, to issue a call for a seven-day “mayday” prayer offensive, to appeal to God, with this warning to motivate:
Institutions will collapse. Banks will close. The Stock Market will plunge. Planes will fall out of the sky. Cars will crash on the road. Government in America at every level will disintegrate. Families will be torn apart. In the unprecedented turmoil, our nation will be vulnerable for our enemies to seize the moment and attack us. There will be mass chaos, confusion, fear, grief, despair, anger, threats, danger… judgment.

The Family Research Council urged its flock to heed Lotz’s call. And note: The FRC is not some ramshackle backwoods chapel filled with snake handlers; the well-heeled D.C. lobbying group’s “Values Voter Summit” in late summer will be a who’s who of conservatism, with Rush Limbaugh, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Sean Hannity and a host of others expected to speak at the conference.

Again, all this huff and puff is going on while the actual, impending threat to humanity, global warming, is considered a “hoax,” a whole cloth invention by pointy-headed liberals and scientists,  Meanwhile the color of the moon and the spotty wisdom of goat herders from 3,000 years ago is stitched together into some kind of astro-hermeneutics, used to determine whether or not October happens.

John Hagee again:
When you take scientific fact and historical fact and line it up exactly with prophetic fact and they all are in perfect agreement, now is time to put doubt aside and to believe that God is trying to communicate to us in a very special way…and something is about to change.
The problem for Hagee and his Hag-ee-ites is that you can't use scientific facts to cook up codswallop.You cannot use science, in other words, to carry grist to the fantasy and superstition mill. If Hagee and his lot had any sense at all they'd instead be doing all they can to make sure that the 6C increase mark for warming isn't reached. If it is, they will have a real apocalypse to fret over - and alas, no one coming to "save" them. 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Is Proton Beam Therapy Worth It?

Comparing degrees of localization of proton beam therapy with other treatment  modalities, in terms of dose v,  tissue depth. 'SOBP' denotes 'spread out Bragg peak' - or the collation of several such peaks via different beams, for different depths. Red line denotes depth dose plot of x-ray beam..

The Wall Street Journal article 'Making A Case for Proton-Beam Therapy', to treat cancer - actually posed an interesting conundrum. On the one hand "six new proton beam centers are set to start delivering state of the art radiation to cancer patients around the country by y ear's end" - with no fewer than ten additional centers expected by 2018 bringing the total to 30.

On the other hand, these centers are "entering an uncertain market" since the therapy still "lacks evidence that it is better than traditional radiation despite costing significantly more".   Indeed, as the WSJ piece notes, Aetna and United Health Group, Inc. have stopped covering it for prostate cancer, "once seen as a main source of patients".

I also (briefly) considered getting proton beam therapy when my prostate cancer was diagnosed back in July, 2012.  However, my wife (a former radiotherapy software specialist) convinced me that high dose rate brachytherapy - which her company specialized in - was the better option.  Plus,  she knew the best center in the nation to get it: the Helen Diller Cancer Center at University of California - San Francisco and had worked with the world-famous oncologists there .  She was  also  skeptical proton beam centers existed that could give 100 percent assurance and confidence that through all the 30 or so days of treatment one would not see a "geographical miss". That is, the proton beam hitting a critical region like the bladder or lower bowel instead of the cancer, putting an  unwanted micro-hole in either..

For those not aware,  proton beam treatment is a form of external beam therapy in which positively charged particles (protons) are accelerated to 60 percent of the speed of light, or 180,000 kilometers per second. They are constrained to form a powerful beam that can be programmed to deposit most of its energy directly into a target tumor - say in the prostate gland - minimizing radiation exposure to surrounding healthy tissues (say bladder and lower bowel in the case of prostate tumors)

While the therapy - according to existing evidence - isn't necessarily "better" than traditional radiation treatments, the proponents (which include now the top ten cancer treatment centers)  insist it can reduce many harmful side effects, especially for localized cancers.  As the WSJ noted:

"The benefits are undisputed for rare pediatric brain cancers, adult eye tumors and cancers at the base of the skull."

But for prostate cancer the jury is still out, and certainly the benefits of the radiation treatment I received have to be considered at least as good and much more cost effective. (I was in the treatment center for one day, and received one high dose of 1930 cGy via Iridium 192 needles introduced in situ, see e.g.

While the advocates for  proton beam therapy brag of its accuracy - assuming it's done in the right hands- my own therapy relied on a specialized inverse planning, or "IPSA" software, see e.g.

For which testing of the algorithm at multiple sites disclosed  automatic protection for critical organs  achieved by generating contour solutions that cleared a 3D "tunnel" around the urethra and rectum (for example)  to spare them from the maximum delivered dose.
The worst side effects for me were in the immediate three or four month aftermath and included frequent urge to urinate and some burning upon urination. Also burning accompanying sexual activity. (Only a bit later I learned I could control the burning effects by taking one cranberry sofgel a day)

Medicare covered almost 95% of the total treatment costs, which - if I'd  had Paul Ryan's stingy "premium support" (voucher)  plan - would have likely bankrupted us - given it would only cover $10k or so a year.

It should also be known, as the WSJ notes, that Medicare also covers proton beam therapy  "at about $1,100 per treatment session" . Nonetheless,

"several major insurers stopped after a 2012 study found it has no long term added benefit. "

Originally, as the WSJ notes,  men with prostate cancer had made up 70 percent of patients at some proton centers, and that is now 50 percent.  

Meanwhile, the manufacturers themselves are designing more compact machines as opposed to the Hitachi machine - nearly the length of two thirds of a football field. But smaller is no guarantee of success and as the Journal piece pointed out, ProTom International Inc.  - maker of compact systems- already had to file for bankruptcy protection.

My advice to anyone considering this option is to look into it carefully, also consider that a simpler, less complex system might actually be better for your cancer treatment needs!

Friday, May 29, 2015

New Model For Black Hole Accretion: Beautiful - But Is It Real?

Though a certain minority of physicists-astrophysicists (such as Lawrence Krauss) continues to believe black holes are some kind of myth or abstract confection with no grounding in reality, most of us don't buy that. Indeed, if it were true, we'd never see the frequency of papers on black holes published in reputable journals including the Astrophysical Journal, Nature, and Science.

Over the years the dynamics of the black hole as part of a binary system have been especially well investigated given that such pairing is the only way we can detect their presence. Usually, this is by the x-radiation give off in the process of "accretion" or layers of the companion star being pulled off and into the black hole with the friction unleashing the x-rays.

The Schwarzschild radius  provides the theoretical basis for the formation of most supermassive black holes and is given by:

R(s) = 2GM/ 2

Where c is the speed of light, M is the gravitating or collapsed mass, and G the Newtonian gravitational constant. Thus, the value R(s) denotes the radius of the putative black hole given the mass M as the source. By way of insight, for the Sun R(s) would be about 3 km, but of course this is purely a theoretical limit given our star is simply not massive enough to collapse down to that size!  Not so for truly massive supergiants in the 10- 20 solar mass range, and further the super black hole at the center of our galaxy with 9.7 billion times the mass of the Sun.

Fig 2:Showing 3 different numerical  modelings-simulations.

In a recent numerical simulation study published in Science, (Vol. 345, p. 1330), the authors consider a scenario (depicted in Fig. 1) in which a low mass Population III remnant black hole (BH) remains embedded in a nuclear star cluster fed by cold gas flows and under the right conditions has the potential to grow rapidly. The simulation, model is beautiful and self-consistent but the question remains whether it is real, that is, has a correspondent system in physical reality. (I am writing not just about the black hole but the aggregate system).

In the model, the stars and the gas are "virialized" in the cluster potential - see e.g.

So that basically the binding energy of the star cluster (E(s):

E(s) =  K  + W  = W/2 = -K

Thus, the total energy of the  star cluster E(S) is equal to half the gravitational potential energy (e.g. W/2)

The black hole is initially a "test particle" in equipartition with the stars. Then gas within the accretion (capture) radius of the BH

r a   = [2 c 2 /  c' 2  +   v 2  ] r g

is dynamically bound to it. (Note: the gravitational radius  r g  =  2 R(s) the Schwarzschild radius)  Note also that c' is the gas sound speed, i.e. in the cold flow far from the BH - and is a measure of the star cluster's gravitational potential.  Meanwhile, v is the BH velocity relative to the gas.  The authors point out that "prompt accretion requires gas to flow from a   into the black hole on a specific trajectory with low angular momentum j =  4   c.  and through the innermost stable periapse distance  r p, "    They note it is this angular momentum barrier not the Eddington limit (for which outward gas pressure balances gravity) that is the main obstacle to super-exponential growth.

Other points noted:

- The BH is more massive than a cluster star so that  v 2  <  c' 2  (The accretion flow is quasi-spherical)

- In the idealized case (flow radial and adiabatic) the Bondi solution is assumed such that:

MB   = [ π  / Ö2 ]  ( a 2 )  c'

(With adiabatic index   g  = 4/3  assumed)

- The stronger than linear dependence of the accretion rate on the BH mass leads to a solution that diverges supra-exponentially.

Focusing now on Fig. 1, the graphic shows dense cold gas (green) flowing to the center (X) of the stellar cluster (light blue region) of total mass:

o  = No   o  +  Mg

And radius  R c  which contains  Ns  stars (yellow circles) of mass M  with velocity v, and gas of mass   Mg.

The gas is nearly pressure supported and close to the virial temperature, which from the previous link to my post on the virial theorem would be found from:  E(S) = - 3/2 [ g  - 1] U  where the internal energy U = f(T). A stellar black hole (BH) which is accreting from its capture radius (dark blue circle) is initially in a dissipation equilibrium with the stars and is scattered by them (black dashed line) over the distance: D (red circle).

Figure 2 summarizes the results of three different numerical simulations including a Monte Carlo run. Note that the vertical axis gives the angular momentum ratio   j a  / j iso    ie. in terms of gas captured by the BH, as a function (abscissa) of the BH mass and the corresponding time ratio t/ t' for Bondi accretion.   The authors note that the initial stages of BH growth is computed in the "ballistic wind accretion limit:  using an angular momentum capture efficiency of  h = 1/3 (red line).validated against results from a Monte Carlo integration over the exact capture cross section (tiny blue circles along the analytic  h = 1/3 red graph.

Note that  j  falls to zero at o  = 20 solar masses (where the density and velocity gradients cancel each other). The vertical line displayed at M eq  = 25 solar masses marks the transition to a dynamical regime where two -body relaxation can no longer establish equipartition of energy between the BH and stars.


Examining the authors' model and their inputs as well as the model parameters (Table,  p. 1331) it appears they have a brilliant simulation for a rapidly growing black hole in a star cluster with particular dynamical properties in relation to it. I also, in 1977, believed I had a brilliant model for Epsilon Aurigae - to account for its binary eclipse phase-  until actual observations revealed I was wrong.  But this is the problem inherent in all numerical models. You carefully design them and they can entertain and inform...only up to the point that actual observations can confirm them.

I have no issues with the authors' modeling and simulations but I would like to see some kind of validation - preferably using a 'real world' system that displays similar properties to what the authors show in their Table.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Errrr.....NO One Is Taking Joan Walsh Literally!

Joan Walsh used a reductio ad absurdum ploy to show how bad SNAP limits COULD  become if abominations like Brownback's KS limits on SNAP purchases were accepted. 

Evidently, the blogger who took issue with my take on poverty in Colorado and food stamps, seems to believe I took Joan Walsh's words literally as opposed to a metaphor of  (extreme) reference for what Repukes are trying to do in states like Brownback's Kansas. So let me clear the air here once and for all.

When I gave Joan's quote from a piece:

if you’re in Wisconsin, and relying on food stamps, remember that Republicans don’t want you to have ketchup on your hamburger.They’d probably rather you didn’t have a hamburger at all, but Wisconsin farmers and ranchers have clout, and so proposed cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program made room for Wisconsin products. But they still don’t want you to have “crab, lobster, shrimp, or any other shellfish.” Or ketchup. Or spaghetti sauce. Really.

I (and she) intended it as a reductio ad absurdum illustration of how bad it MIGHTget if bully programs like those Brownback has tried to implement in KS aren't halted or demolished. To remind readers, this was in reference to Brownback's ill -conceived notion of  limiting what Kansas food stamp-welfare recipients can purchase using their benefits. That included, but was not limited to, some minor pleasures, such as KFC chicken, Snickers bars, giant bags of M&Ms, or even playing an arcade game or two, buying a lotto ticket or paying to go for a freakin' swim.

Joan's point and mine then, is that if a brain dead scalawag like Brownback can get away with this shit in Kansas, what's to stop another state  from preventing or limiting people from buying food perks with their SNAP or welfare money - things that make burgers taste better like ketchup (catsup) or sauce for spaghetti, or hot sauce for rice, or bbcue sauce for spare ribs - oh wait, I forgot they mustn't eat ribs either!  Poor folk gotta stick to rice, oats, and such with no flavor.

Oh, and god forbid they try lobster thermidor or go to Red Lobster for unlimited shrimp. You see what I mean?   Thus, if one accepts Brownback's stupid limits one could see the pukes going even further to deprive SNAP folks of the good things of life. And my point was - as well as Joan's -, they SHOULD be able to enjoy those damned things even if receiving gov't benefits! (Certainly up to the limits they can afford, so if they have $22 left on the last day of the benefits month they ought to be able to get a bucket of KFC chicken - OR a few Five Guys burgers! It's not the state gov't job to wag fingers and say "Oh no!" for fuck's sake.)

The reasons were made clear in and excellent WaPo piece ('What Kansas Gets Wrong with Welfare Decision')  by Emily Badger but perhaps my blogger critic did't get them or didn't want to. To re-reference the point of the piece, Badger flayed the "logic" behind the Brownback bunkum noting,  "the decision is problematic in at least three really big ways" . This was after already skewering  the underlying  canard that it provides  "protection for the taxpayer who shouldn't be asked to help people who squander gov't money on 'vices'".

Ms. Badger's three arguments again:

1) Economic: There's virtually no evidence that the poor actually spend their money in the rash ways advertised by Brownback.  The poor are actually much more savvy about how they spend their money because they have much less of it - as Gweneth Paltrow learned when she tried the "SNAP Challenge" and gave up after 4 days. (She'd already exceeded the $29/ week  limit.)

2) Moral principle of equivalence:  She observes: "We don't require Pell Grant recipients to prove they are pursuing a degree that will get them a real job as opposed to say philosophy or English Lit. We don't require wealthy families who cash in on the home interest deduction to prove they're not using their homes as brothels."   In other words, the strings we attach to gov't aid are uniquely for the poor - as if being poor itself is somehow immoral-  requiring criminal monitoring- like for a felon wearing an ankle bracelet.

3) Prejudicial perceptions:  In many ways the lack of application of a moral principle of equivalence (2) arises because Americans who receive other government benefits fail to see they are also in the recipient class. They don't recognize that, like the poor, they are also getting something from the government and hence - at taxpayer expense.  The issue, again, isn't the specific benefit form - whether Medicare, VA benefits, or Social Security - but that ALL come at taxpayer expense!

But this is covered up in two ways: (i) the belief that their benefits are different because they are "special" or "earned" so can't be classed with SNAP or welfare, and (ii) their benefits are always "submerged" (hidden or more concealed) than compared with a SNAP recipient who must actually produce a special card (see image) at the grocer's so is immediately recognized as "on welfare".  Thus, the SNAP card inadvertently becomes a "badge" of shame that enables other gov't beneficiaries to instantly make judgments.

Political scientist Suzanne Mettler, cited by Ms. Badger, calls the judgmental gov't  beneficiaries part of the "submerged benefits state". This means their own benefits are more "out of sight, out of mind". Thus a SNAP card and a welfare check are "incredibly visible ...while tuition tax breaks and Medicare are not".   This submerged state, then,  is evidence of a basic and pervasive double standard.

It is time we remove that damnable double standard which was the actual thrust of Walsh's reductio ad absurdum. In other words, irrespective of the gov't benefits received (VA,Social Security disability, Social Security proper, SNAP) we let recipients spend them any damned way they wish up to the practical limits they can afford  - without, for example, resorting to theft or shop lifting to satisfy them. (I.e. once your monthly benefit is exhausted,  that's it - THEN you pinch pennies and maybe settle for rice instead of KFC chicken or Five Guys burgers)

Is that point clear enough? I hope so!

Why Oil Spills, Leaks Are Not Ending Anytime Soon

Owner to check ruptured pipeline’s integrity at four other spots
Cleaning up the Santa Barbara oil spill. Feds have now issued a cleanup order to the company.

The horrendous images of sea birds and seals gooed up with black oil on the California coast near Santa Barbara may cause many to want to lose their lunch - and with good reason. This recent underground pipeline failure caused up to 105,000 gallons of crude to spill into one of the most picturesque beaches of the coast and has threatened many species of aquatic animal.  No cause has yet been determined though the spill is among the largest in the U.S. over the past few decades.

The oil covered sand and rocks with a tar-like goo and a fifth of the crude reached the Pacific Ocean turning it into a brackish scene no normal person would stick even a toe into, e.g.
Santa Barbara oil spill

But if you believe such leaks or spills can be stopped anytime soon, you are dreaming. The reason is that neither the oil industry or the government seems willing to invest the billions needed to bring the aging pipeline and delivery infrastructure up to scratch. As a point of reference, nearly two -thirds of all the leaks since 2009 have been linked to the corrosion of the material - as well as welding and equipment failures. These are problems associated with older pipelines - though they can occur in newer ones as well. The so-called failure rate can in fact depend on a number of factors.

The potential for massive failures and leaks also inheres in the fracking infrastructure now operating across dozens of states. In the documentary 'Gasland II'.  Tony Ingraffea, a Cornell Professor of geological engineering.  explained clearly and with easily understood diagrams, how cement can fail and methane can migrate into ground water owing to failure in fracking pipes..  Referencing one of the pipes, Ingraffea sketched the interior cement annulus of 1 -inch which is the sole barrier between the fracking contaminants and the water supply. As he observed, "what you don't want is for that cement to fail".

"Failure" includes: corrosion, crumbling, or disappearing entirely as a barrier over time. If that happens, then "what's down there" (i.e. the contaminants) can get into the annulus. For effect, Ingraffea then rubbed out the chalk barrier representing the cement in the annulus,  and indicated an arrow moving into it from outside. To quote. Ingraffea:

"So now shallow gas goes into the open annulus, pressurizes the annulus, and the gas migrates into an underground source of drinking water."

Once this happens, other frack contaminants can also migrate into the water, such as benzene, toluene and dozens of  other cancer causing chemicals.

In the case of fracking,  Ingraffea noted that the cement failure phenomena he illustrated was "very well known and at least as long as we've been drilling wells and casing them".  He added that in his view there were only "three things that are certain: death, taxes, and fracture".  In the latter case, he explained that among the thousands of gas wells including those offshore, there is a probability that 1 in 20 will immediately show a failure (opening between the well casing and rock), and that meant methane migration. It also meant anything else stored in the rock, including salts, heavy metals, other deleterious things now have a pathway.

That is, 5 percent of all wells will be affected rapidly and woe betide any home owners in their vicinity. Ingraffea invoked the 100,000 odd wells in PA alone, noting that failure rate meant  5,000 wells immediately failed in Pennsylvania alone. That translates to 5,000 methane migrations into the ground water and ruination of citizens' lives. Just one well going bad means one aquifer will be polluted, such as in Dimock. PA

Even the companies don't deny the disastrous leaks and assorted documents Josh Fox obtained show that. For example, in one document, from Southwestern Energy, a diagram clearly showed that the gas well had a cement barrier with a casing that prevented gases from migrating upwards. But this wasn't a Powerpoint poster about drilling wells but rather about how cement and casings fail and allow methane gas and other substances to migrate into aquifers.

Another document from Schlumberger, showed that cement failure occured at alarming rates - as depicted in one of their graphs showing 'fraction of wells affected by cement failure' vs. the well age in years.  The graph depicted a failure fraction of 40 percent after only 12 years, and a failure fraction of 50 percent after 30 years.  That meant if 1.5 million new wells are added in the U.S. by 2025 as projected, 750,000 will leak after thirty years. If 180,000 are added to PA, that means 90,000 will leak after 30 years.
Crude oil pipelines fare no better and leaks can often spring from human error - such as a backhoe striking a pipeline in a vulnerable place, as well as natural disasters (e.g. earthquakes) and welding failures. When we visited the Alaska pipeline in March, 2005,

We were informed by our guide that repairs were already underway to several sections they believed wouldn't be able to withstand even a minor (Richter 4.0) earthquake.

In the case of the pipeline causing the Santa Barbara spill, Plains All American Pipeline LP- the company which operates the pipeline and its subsidiaries, have reported 223 accidents since 2006 which have resulted in a total of 864,300 gallons of spilled oil, hazardous liquids with damages payouts topping $32 million. (With 25 enforcement regulations by federal regulators)

In 76 percent of the incidents corrosion was determined to be the major cause. Meanwhile, failures in materials, welds, and other equipment were cited more than 80 times.  The company and its affiliates have the fifth highest number of significant pipeline accidents since 2006.

Last Friday, Plains All American Pipeline insisted it "spent $300 million last year on maintenance and integrity".

Bit what they haven't said, and no other pipeline company likely will (whether for crude transport or fracking) is that the more pipelines generated the greater the incidence of failures. In a world of limited resources the maintenance costs will always exceed benefits beyond a certain level. The question is what is that level? If the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) gets passed there will be no limit on the demand for additional fracking infrastructure and crude pipelines in the U.S. - to meet global demand. There may then be such a frequency of spills, leakage that no amount of maintenance will contain them - or fed enforcement regulations.

Bottom line, if the oil industry continues to get its way - especially with indiscriminate fracking as well as drilling in the Arctic - look for a very bleak, and blackish oil spill future!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Right Wingers Still Don't Get It On Hunger And Food Stamps

In Joan Walsh's piece cited at the end of my May 26 post, she wrote:

if you’re in Wisconsin, and relying on food stamps, remember that Republicans don’t want you to have ketchup on your hamburger. They’d probably rather you didn’t have a hamburger at all, but Wisconsin farmers and ranchers have clout, and so proposed cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program made room for Wisconsin products. But they still don’t want you to have “crab, lobster, shrimp, or any other shellfish.” Or ketchup. Or spaghetti sauce. Really.

This is the point the Right wingers continually dodge and evade.  They don't want the poorest, no matter their station, background or jobs (e.g. "tattoo artist") to have any comfort (or comfort food) whatsoever unless they're living in a low public services state (like AL or MS) and working their hands to the bone. It doesn't matter if they can't get enough benefits - tough shit - then they ought to move - say from a place like So. Colorado. Meanwhile, they are ok with the lazy rich getting anything they want out of the rest of our hides - using tax dodges, "trusts",  or whatever rentier gambits they can think of to avoid paying their fair share.

Another blogger believed he was very smart pulling up my earlier blog and questioning the image authenticity for a child I claimed to be in the throes of hunger. He said it was a "medical condition". But psychologists and health specialists will tell you that there is very little difference in a child's expression when in the maw of a developmental disability and the extreme anguish suffered in hunger and deprivation. Can he prove the child was not at some point in a similar state due to hunger? No he cannot. The blogger also questioned the circumstances pertaining to the image of Mashel McDonald making oats. He interrogated the setting and specifically pursued the background (D. Post) story to learn her dad was a tattoo artist that moved to Colo. to obtain "marijuana" for his sick child. But so what? This is irrelevant and a red herring. Many parents are now moving to this state precisely for this same reason and I wrote about this earlier, e.g.

In most cases the MJ actually pursued is CBD or Cannabidiol,  the MJ-derived substance referred to  as 'Charlotte's Web'.  While CBD has been described as a "strain of marijuana" the fact is, it is not. According to MJ researcher Joel Stanley.

Its importance lay in treating assorted developmental disabilities, including Dravet syndrome, a form of epilepsy. SO why do the right wingers drag this stuff in, including that Pop may be using a bit of weed to calm his nerves too - after all he has to be worried about his sick child? Because it fits in with their noisome template portraying all the welfare or food stamp recipients as being either forlorn losers, slackers, alkies or druggies. In other words, to use Joan Walsh's term - to reduce all these people to "garbage"! But the fact of the matter is that MOST are working poor.

Never mind! Because anyone who's working poor disrupts the Right's druggie-loser caricature, so they don't wish to go there. Better to keep the drugged out, obese (from overeating) and alcoholic tripe going to push the narrative that these people don't deserve any more than they're getting and likely not even that! (Btw, $880 a month for disability in Colorado is not a lot! )

The other lame case made, despite over 300,000 poor families in Colorado - which I guess the blogger expects all to simply pack up and move to MS - is:'Why are they living in a state with high living costs?' But if we all thought that way, I guess we'd all move to Mississippi!  Hell, it's cheaper! The reasons not to are as diverse as there are problems endured by the resident families,  including: our state has more public services available along with the assistance to help people seek them out (my niece used to work for such a public service), our state has better education facilities including for bilingual kids, and our state has better medical facilities, free clinics for the poor.

So again, we have a red herring, a distraction. Besides, if cannabidol can provide relief for a kid's tics and seizures why not live here, where at least the caretakers aren't going to be busted as they would in AL or MS? 

The notion of  just packing up and moving to a "cheaper state" and lower living costs is also absurd on its face. For one thing the thousands of currently struggling Denver workers and families didn't START out living in expensive surroundings!  No , they began in affordable neighborhoods, but could not have foreseen how the fracking boom would lead to thousands moving to Denver and environs every year - buying up homes, renting apartments - and driving up costs. Or, the many rich "amenity migrants" moving here buying up second homes - driving home prices into the stratosphere.

Having already purchased homes, and having jobs - why would they now just move to a cheaper state with no assurance they can get the same work?  Also, where is there any assurance that some form of gentrification won't also occur in these cheap states and drive up home, rental prices? There isn't any! In fact, any movers could be going from the "frying pan into the fire"- especially if it's much more difficult to get benefits! Sure it would be easier for those in apts. and I already noted how many - owing to a state law - had their leases revoked because of "refurbishments".  But again, who is to provide support for these people - many of them seniors in their 70s, and 80s?

It is very easy to proffer "solutions" shot from the hip but more difficult to get at the underlying systemic problems that spawn poverty. Sadly, however, this is the biggest and hardest fact the RIght tries to avoid:: that poverty is a systemic result of irresponsible capitalism and not the fault of the poor (which marks the fundamental attribution error - blaming oneself instead of the fucked up society)

As I noted in a previous blog post on this issue:

ALL citizens are entitled to pursue happiness whether they are poor or rich!  To limit their pursuit using artificial laws is against the Constitution!

Thus, even SNAP recipients must be enabled to pursue happiness even on a limited scale - and this must be defended as their RIGHT under the ninth amendment. That means they ought to be able -  bogus state law or no - to enjoy a bit of luxury when they need to and if they have enough left
 from taking care of immediate needs to afford it.

They damned sure ought to be able to buy catsup if they want, or candy bars, ice cream or even fried chicken - to spice up their lives - and hell, smoke a little MJ now and then without the pseudo-moral scolds like Sam Brownback having a shit fit and wagging fingers. If we don't wag fingers at the parasitical rich why do we do it at the poor? Well, because we see the poor as powerless, while the rich can maybe give us some goodies. Thus, in our skewed and warped vision the rich become celebrities while the poor are downgraded to garbage.

We'd gladly kiss the rump of Donald Trump if he'd comp us a room and a meal at one of his hotels, but we'd spit on a poor, homeless man because well...."He's too lazy to work".  In such a warped vision it's easy to forget the words of Yeshua: "Whatever thou doest for the least of my brethren that you do unto me".

Note the key words: LEAST of my brethren, not greatest, or richest.

Poverty is not chosen! This is the biggest lie circulated by the Right's poltroons in the GOP - most of whom would happily lick the boots of the Koch brothers, or Sheldon Adelson - in order to get some extra campaign largesse.

I don't expect the likes of these charlatans to change stripes, but I do expect people, ordinary citizens, to have some modicum of compassion on those struggling without attacking them for their benefits - or proclaiming they don't deserve them because they may be a tad overweight, tattoo artists - or god forbid - smoke an MJ weed or two using their benefits $$.

Sheesh! How about we go after the REAL parasites, the rich?

Stanislav Petrov: The 2nd Man To Save The World

Most Americans who've had a proper introduction to recent American History are aware of how JFK pretty well saved the world (much of it) back in October, 1962 at the peak  of the Cuban Missile Crisis. As we know, Kennedy rejected the Joint Chiefs pressure to bomb and invade Cuba in favor of a naval blockade. Just as well, since as his former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara observed (in his documentary 'The Fog of War') Castro would have launched over 100 armed ballistic missiles had that happened.

McNamara learned of this while on a conference visit to Havana in 1992, commemorating the 30th anniversary of the crisis. McNamara had asked Fidel what he would have done had the U.S. invaded Cuba. Castro didn't hesitate, informing him that over 100 armed (with single megaton warhead) missiles would have been sent flying.

Flabbergasted, McNamara pressed him: "You really would have destroyed your country?" and Fidel replied, "Yes, and you would have too in a similar situation!"

Echoing the 'better dead than Red' meme entrenched in Americans at the time.

How close we came to nuclear war at the time was well documented in the excellent book of the tape transcripts: T'he Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis’, by Ernest R. May and Philip K. Zelikow (1997, President and Fellows of Harvard College).

Therein , on p. 347, for ’10:00 A.M. Oct. 24” one finds:

At the time the quarantine became effective, the Strategic Air Command moved from the general Defense Condition 3 to Defense Condition 2, the level just below general war. In addition to ICBMs and submarine-based ballistic missiles, every available bomber – more than 1,400 aircraft- went on alert. Scores of bombers, each loaded with several nuclear weapons and carrying folders for pre-assigned targets in the Soviet Union, were kept continuously in the air around the clock with shifts- refueled by aerial tankers, taking turns hovering over Northern Canada and the Mediterranean Sea. The Soviet government was presumed to be aware of these developments.”

On p. 183 one beholds Gen. Curtis  LeMay saying that "We have got to do more than take out the missiles" and he demands a massive air strike as well.  Here's how that would have played out: At the first hint of U.S. attack planes picked up on Cuban radar most or all of the 100-odd Soviet IRBMs would have been launched. The targets would mainly have been U.S. east coast cities: Miami, Baltimore, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, but a number of the missiles would have struck interior cities including Cleveland, Detroit, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Chicago and possibly Milwaukee.

Even as those missiles were in flight, the Kennedy White House would have been forced to go to Defcon 1, or full war condition, even as the Soviets - also now acknowledging what was happening (realizing Cuba's missile launch would make them a target), launched their own missiles. In the space of about 30 minutes, as McNamara pointed out, some 7,500 missiles would have been in the air headed for targets in the USA and USSR.  Since most warheads at that time were in the 1-10 megaton range, the full nuclear exchange - lasting maybe an hour would have resulted in possibly 300 million dead and massive clouds of radiation polluting the rest of the planet via the trades and other winds.

The world escaped at least partial obliteration, thanks to Kennedy's use of reason over reaction.

Flash forward now to September 26, 1983.   A Soviet satellite detects five U.S. ICBMS heading toward the USSR.  This detection immediately causes alarms to sound at the Soviet Central Command in Oko with backlit screens flashing LAUNCH!    Standard operating procedure at the time dictated that the command be followed with a full scale missile launch - including all 3,000 or so Soviet ICBMs - all armed with multi-megaton warheads.

But something didn't seem right to Stanislav Petrov, lieutenant colonel of the Soviet Air Defence Forces.  Why only five ICBMs? Surely if the Americans had really planned a pre-emptive nuclear attack they'd have thrown their whole arsenal at the USSR.  

Using his reason, like Kennedy did 20 years earlier, Petrov declared the system's indication a false alarm. Subsequent investigation showed that he was right: no missiles were approaching and the computer detection system was malfunctioning.  According to the Wikipedia account:

"It was subsequently determined that the false alarm had been created by a rare alignment of sunlight on high-altitude clouds and the satellites' Molniya orbits, an error later corrected by cross-referencing a geostationary satellite."

Alignment of a satellite with sunlight on high altitude clouds nearly led to a full retaliatory response from the Russians and likely nuclear war? Yes, indeed, and the near breakdown showed a nascent weakness in the Soviet early warning system and also raised concern about the U.S. system too - also based on hair trigger alarms.

While there remains debate on the role Petrov actually played in the events that day, just as there remains debate on Kennedy's role, all generally agree that his voice of doubt- and reasoning -  was enough to leverage restraint.  Analogous to how Kennedy's doubt that an invasion was the answer in 1962 leveraged a restraint on precipitous action that might have led to a major nuclear exchange.

We have had then two men saving the world at different times. The question is: Will a third person come to the rescue with the next geopolitical or  technical snafu? Or will our luck have run out?