Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Can A Spider Bite Be THIS Bad?

Here in Colorado Springs we have two species of venomous spider: the Black Widow (a nest of which just had to be cleaned out- obliterated yesterday along with a wasp nest under our front step) and the Brown Recluse.  The latter little bastards' infamous reputations arrive by virtue of their bites - which release a particularly toxic flesh -eating venom.
A Brown Recluse Spider
On the two occasions I've been confronted by the little beasties - in our family room - I have not hesitated to smash them up and rapidly dispose of them. Wifey is highly grateful because in general I like to keep spiders around as useful contributors to keeping the real pests (e.g. ants, small beetles etc.) at bay. I tell her they fit in the ecological niche here, but she always responds "It's my house not theirs!" Ah well.

Anyway, imagine a poor London barrister on a flight who gets bitten by one of the little bastards. Well this is exactly what happened to Jonathon Hogg, 40, who said he felt a "small, sharp pain" while on a Qatar Airways flight from Doha.

Within hours, and after alighting from the plane he was in hospital with a pustulating wound that looked more like it came from a zombie bite - lacerated, blown out periphery and plenty of pus oozing on the inner part. Those with strong stomachs can see the wound at the bottom of this link with the full story.

Needless to say, the sight of that suppurating wound has given me a whole new respect for the Brown Recluse. Now, before I put on a slipper, I check it two or three times to make sure no unwanted 'passengers' are around!

On the depressing side, as climate change intensifies, the geographical expanse of these vermin is likely to increase.


Obama -ites Need to Grow Up And Work With Putin - Not Against Him!

"Jeebus, do I really got to shake this thug's hand! Drat!"

The news in The Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal is that the meeting of Obama with Vladimir Putin Monday did not go well. This was regarding what to do about the nest of terrorist vipers (ISIS or ISIL)  breeding in Syria and undermining that nation, creating havoc and causing millions to flee. (As a reality check, let's also bear in mind nearly 60 percent of the fleeing Syrian refugees are Assad supporters.).

According to the WSJ's account (Monday, A1):

"President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin clashed publicly over how to resolve the conflict in Syria, in a showdown in front of the rest of the world's leaders that added uncertainty to the burgeoning crisis in the Middle East"


"The U.S. and Russian leaders traded barbs in dueling speeches to the United Nations General Assembly then later clinked champagne glasses at a luncheon."

Left unsaid is that Mr. Putin had by far the more powerful "ammo" packed into his speech, compared to Obama. This was in respect to his mention that the Pentagon had admitted $500m in weapons and equipment had been handed over to Al Qaeda by U.S.-backed Syrian rebels. See e.g.

This could no doubt also have fallen into the hands of ISIS. The point is, it means the Obama plan to somehow create a Syrian opposition "counter force" to Bashar al Assad is a failure. It can't work and won't work.  Like it or not, Assad's gov't is the one with UN representation and is the legitimate one.

Putin also made it clear to Obama and the U.S. that Russia has a vested interest in fighting ISIS too, given "2,000 Russians have left for Syria to join ISIS" and he told Charlie Rose in a powerful interview on '60 Minutes' that he'd prefer to fight them in Syria.  As one administration official put it regarding the meeting between Obama and Putin:

"This was not a situation where either of them was seeking to score points".

Which is good, because it must be 'all hands on deck' to fight the ISIS vermin. Of course, the WSJ's editorial minions screeched their usual hysteria about Putin seeking to form a coalition against the Islamic State (which is a damned GOOD idea) but which they portray on "Russian and Iranian terms" adding "which means supporting Bashar al Assad's regime against all opponents".

So? What is the alternative? There is none! The real threat (as disclosed in the previous link) is sending lethal weapons to the jihadis in Syria seeking to overthrow Assad- only to have them fall into the hands of ISIS and al Qaeda..  Hence, this misbegotten U.S. mission as Putin notes, must end and all the anti-ISIS forces must get on the same page. ISIS must be eliminated first - THEN we can talk about replacing Assad in the future in an electoral transition.

Meanwhile this morning, the Saudi Prime Minister-  in an interview with Nora O'Donnell on CBS-  was outraged...outraged, that the Russians were entering the Syrian fray. Yet this mealy-mouthed wimp,  presiding over a backward nation that still delivers 1,000 lashes to females who violate their primitive laws,  had no answers himself. Other than to suggest the existing coalition of ten nations had to work harder so why didn't the Russians just join them? Well, mayhap because the Russians also see the need for more than remote air strikes.  In addition, these Saudi rats (from which the 9/11 hijackers hailed) haven't delivered a dime for the refugee camps or taken any of them in - so fuck their 'holier than thou', officious attitude. The only reason the U.S. remains chummy with their lot of regressive slime is because it still needs Saudi light sweet crude to deliver the energy 'bang' the degraded fracked crap (kerogen)  can't.

 Any sober realist will assure you there's not even a semi-legit alternative to take the place of Assad now which could also provide stable governance. (And we saw how it played out in Iraq when a Shia U.S. puppet gov't was put in charge - directly paving the way for the spawning of the Sunni ISIS.)  To believe so, as Obama and his bud David Cameron appear to, is to be drinking the Neolib dreamer kool aid. For more on this please do read the FT article below (sign up for the free limited access if you have to!):

See also:


Presidents Obama and Putin both made their respective cases before the United Nations General Assembly at its annual meeting. Obama’s speech was an apologia for imperialism and American aggressions. He repeated the lies which no one except uninformed Americans believe....

The world ought to fear pax Americana, not a Russian military presence in Syria. There cannot be true peace and stability unless nations and peoples are left to their own devices. The helping hand of United States democracy is anything but. It is a recipe for disaster and requires forceful opposition. If Russia can be a reliable counterforce the whole world will benefit, even if Barack Obama frowns before the cameras.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

George Will - The One with "Fact Free Flamboyance"

Some would say WaPo columnist George Will is a media tool. Maybe, but let us at least concede that he is a knot head.  I already illustrated this in one extensive post I wrote concerning his claim of a "global warming pause", e.g. 

In a recent diatribe('Francis' Fact-free Flamboyance'. Washington Post, Sept. 18) Will writes:

"Supporters of Francis have bought newspaper and broadcast advertisements to disseminate some of his woolly sentiments that have the intellectual tone of fortune cookies. One example: “People occasionally forgive, but nature never does.” The Vatican’s majesty does not disguise the vacuity of this. Is Francis intimating that environmental damage is irreversible? He neglects what technology has accomplished regarding London’s air (see Page 1 of Dickens’s “Bleak House”) and other matters.  "

Is he serious? The "vacuity"? Is Will unable to process pastoral language and translate it into plain English? The Pope clearly meant that in many cases, as in the damage done via global warming - because of the specific parameters (e.g. CO2 molecules with a lifetime of 100 years and large forcing component) there is no means of dialing it back.  We are being confronted by an ultimate entropic process especially if the Earth is subjected to a continuous positive feedback cycle involving a lowered albedo (reflectance of solar energy).  Sure technology has accomplished a lot, no one denies that and the reduction of smog in places like LA is an example, but in global warming we are dealing with an entirely different 'critter' and no techno-fixes will easily remedy it, see e.g.

Will, undeterred and high on his pompous horse goes on:

In his June encyclical and elsewhere, Francis lectures about our responsibilities, but neglects the duty to be as intelligent as one can be. This man who says “the Church does not presume to settle scientific questions” proceeds as though everything about which he declaims is settled, from imperiled plankton to air conditioning being among humanity’s “harmful habits.”  The church that thought it was settled science that Galileo was heretical should be attentive to all evidence.  Francis deplores “compulsive consumerism,” a sin to which the 1.3 billion persons without even electricity can only aspire.

Newsflash, Georgie! The Pope has been attentive to "all evidence" and the preponderance of it discloses we are deep in the midst of global warming driven by increasing CO2 concentrations. Of interest is the paper: 'New Study for Climate Modeling, Analyses and Scenarios' appearing in Eos Transactions of the AGU, Vol. 90, No. 21, 26 May, 2009, page 181). The paper references the new European ENSEMBLES project - which is the first international multiclimate model intercomparison. The intercomparison model, which incorporates ocean warming and CO2 outgassing, shows a peak in the CO2 equivalent concentration in the atmosphere of ~ 535 parts per million by 2045, before eventually stabilizing at around 450 ppm during the 22nd century.

Alarmingly, the former figure is perilously close to the threshold concentration (~ 600 ppm) believed necessary to trigger the runaway greenhouse effect. All the climate models employed in the ENSEMBLES study were improved or extended models from the IPCC sets. A good proxy indicator of the problem is seen in the data for increasing sea ice melt (EOS, Vol. 90, No. 37, 15 September, 2009, p. 322). This graph is shown at the top, as extracted from that paper. The enhanced sea ice melt can be directly traced to warmer ocean temperatures and preceding higher CO2 concentrations.

As for the effects of air conditioning I have already covered that, showing you are as ignorant as you are impetuous, e.g.

Will then blabs, or queries:  And the Earth is becoming “an immense pile of filth”?
Errr... have you seen the vast fracking fields from the air? Have you seen the excavated landscapes where massive giga-tons of soil have had to be extracted for fracking,  leaving giant open scars on the land? E.g.

Then don't talk shit, Georgie Porgy!

Oh, have you also seen the giant waste pits of cast off detritus in nations around the world?  (Including mammoth landfills over flowing with cast off baby diapers, e.g. Pampers, loaded with baby shit).

Will continues:

Matt Ridley, author of “The Rational Optimist,” notes that coal supplanting wood fuel reversed deforestation, and that “fertilizer manufactured with gas halved the amount of land needed to produce a given amount of food.” The capitalist commerce that Francis disdains is the reason the portion of the planet’s population living in “absolute poverty” ($1.25 a day) declined from 53 percent to 17 percent in three decades after 1981.

So then it's okay to reap higher (slightly) living standards at the expense of all the humans depending on the planet? When coal is one of the primary agents driving global warming and leading us to the runaway greenhouse effect? In other words, it's okay to get a slightly better life at the edges now - thanks to coal and fertilizer that releases methane- but don't cry when the human family roasts in super greenhouse heat. This is almost like the arguments of the GMO-ers, patting themselves on the back that GMO foods are the answer to feeding the hungry masses: "Hey, don't knock it! The poor folks get their food and they can worry about stomach and liver tumors, and Alzheimer's disease later!"

And then there's this bit of fossil fuelers' propaganda:

Even in low-income countries, writes economist Indur Goklany, life expectancy increased from between 25 to 30 years in 1900 to 62 years today. Sixty-three percent of fibers are synthetic and derived from fossil fuels; of the rest, 79 percent come from cotton, which requires synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. “Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides derived from fossil fuels,” he says, “are responsible for at least 60 percent of today’s global food supply.” Without fossil fuels, he says, global cropland would have to increase at least 150 percent — equal to the combined land areas of South America and the European Union — to meet current food demands.

The truth? The biggest scarcity now is water to not only drink but grow crops. Much of the water loss arises from prolonged drought associated with climate change. The real problem then is just that the human population growing in excess of the planet to support it. One of the best indicators for this is provided by the Global Footpoint Network, at:

According to this site, we currently need not one but one and one half EARTHS to sustain our current rate of consumption. This means it requires on average 1.5 years for the Earth to regenerate the resources humanity uses in one year.

As for the use of nitrogen fertilizers in soils, they are in fact degrading soil quality and hence food output. Those like Will can learn more here:

Will again:

Francis grew up around the rancid political culture of Peronist populism, the sterile redistributionism that has reduced his Argentina from the world’s 14th highest per-capita gross domestic product in 1900 to 63rd today. Francis’s agenda for the planet — “global regulatory norms” — would globalize Argentina’s downward mobility.

Sorry, response disqualified on the basis of Will using his own inherently prejudiced right wing positions to attempt to negate those of Francis.

The imperturbable Georgie strikes again:

As the world spurns his church’s teachings about abortion, contraception, divorce, same-sex marriage and other matters, Francis jauntily makes his church congruent with the secular religion of “sustainability.” Because this is hostile to growth, it fits Francis’s seeming sympathy for medieval stasis, when his church ruled the roost, economic growth was essentially nonexistent and life expectancy was around 30.

Funny, I thought Will supported all those church teaching positions he lists as "world spurning" - based on his prior conservative Post columns. (e.g. See his diatribes against Planned Parenthood, and Barbara Boxer on abortion). So what's he grousing about now?  You can't on the one hand invoke conservative moral positions "many reject" (but YOU believe in)  then on the other use that as a basis to attack the Pope, criticizing his challenge to the unsustainable growth models advocated by capitalists!

Also, it's a gross error to argue that merely because one doesn't jump on the all possible growth bandwagon one is in favor of a "Medieval" world with life expectancy of 30 years. That is rubbish. The truth is that a sustainable growth pattern is possible and has been articulated by eco-economist Herman Daly.

In 1999, in a sterling paper delivered at Trinity College in Ireland, Daly's topic was Uneconomic Growth: in theory and in fact.

Focusing on the U.S., he laid out the work of Nordhaus and Tobin which seemed to suggest that as long ago as the late 1960’s the welfare costs of growth had exceeded the marginal benefit. He also proposed that the use GDP as a measure of economic benefit and progress was not efficient and so suggested the use of the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW).

Daly criticized the fact that when it comes to "counting all the beans in the United States the only cookbook that matters is the Gross Domestic Product or GDP". If the Gross Domestic Product is going up, people say the economy is growing. And if the GDP is falling, they say we're in a recession.

The GDP is supposed to measure the total production and consumption of goods and services in the United States. But the numbers that make up the Gross Domestic Product by and large only capture the monetary transactions we can put a dollar value on. Almost everything else is left out. And that's why some economists have a problem with this influential accounting system.

Ignoring these "externalities" leads us into a fool's paradise where we come to believe things are much better than the GDP numbers show.

For example:

We see the "unemployment rate" declining, but forget that this may well be due to more unemployed dropped from the BLS stats after 6 months.

We look at utility bills, but don't recognize that unlisted in them is the damage to our water, forests, air etc. Those externalities again. How much of a cost to put on forests (which absorb CO2), or clean air? Who knows, but some guestimate is needed.

We look at nursing homes and the number there, and those paid to care for them. But we blithely ignore the more than 12 million people that are cared for by their own families, without remuneration!

We behold productivity increasing but don't realize that has nada to do with work, or labor - but rather corporations reducing their costs (increasing "efficiency") by moving jobs to cheaper places offshore, like Bangalore.

We focus on tax cuts at the "growth end" but forget that there has never been any proof that tax cuts cause job growth. And even if they did, the degenerate effects are ignored - e.g. continued collapse of the infrastructure because no tax dollars are going to maintain it.

When all our water mains have burst, along with the sewer lines, and bridges -roads collapse, will the public works effort finally get onto the GDP radar? Doubtful!

All of these factors can skew the GDP to artificially higher values, once ignored.

Daly noted that the concept of the GDP was developed to help steer the US economy out of the Great Depression, and through World War Two. It was for another time and place, and is no longer relevant to this time and place. It needs to be dunned and ditched in favor of the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare.  The problem at root is the concept of “growth” is bogus on its face. Only a congenital moron would continue to pander to unchecked growth in a finite, zero-sum environment or planet – in which wealth created by extracting resources necessarily impoverishes the remaining resource base.

How hard can this be to grasp?

Will one more time - unable to surrender his fact free flamboyance:

The saint who is Francis’s namesake supposedly lived in sweet harmony with nature. For most of mankind, however, nature has been, and remains, scarcity, disease and natural — note the adjective — disasters. Our flourishing requires affordable, abundant energy for the production of everything from food to pharmaceuticals. Poverty has probably decreased more in the past two centuries than in the preceding three millennia because of industrialization powered by fossil fuels. Only economic growth has ever produced broad amelioration of poverty, and since growth began in the late 18th century, it has depended on such fuels.

The problem is that first, our planet is not infinite so cannot support the unending growth capitalists and Will fantasize can occur- or needs. Second, we simply cannot excavate ALL the petroleum in the ground to support such growth - or partial major growth. In this last respect there are two numbers that bear special significance as noted by climate scientist Bill McKibben ( UTNE Reader, Jan-Feb, 2014, p. 18):

- 565 gigatons or 565 thousand million tons

- 2, 795 gigatons

The first number represents the peak of humanity's usable carbon budget. It's the most carbon we can afford to pour into the atmosphere without triggering the 2 C temperature increase.  (Note: most experts believe this has already been exceeded and we are well on our way to a 4C increase with all that implies, see e.g.

The second number is perhaps the most worrisome of all and the one that instills fear into most who know what the future portends if we don't stop our reckless foolishness -including the fracking craze. It represents the total stored reserves of carbon held by coal, gas and oil companies. It was first highlighted and brought to global attention by the Carbon Tracker Initiative - a group of London financial analysts and environmentalists.  It is what the fossil fuel industry plans to exploit in the future by its whole spectrum of methods, whether deep sea drilling, oil shale fracking or natural gas fracking.

It is, in other words, five times more carbon than will already blow a gasket in our world and send it toward runaway greenhouse perdition. Can you picture this scene unfolding everywhere and never ending?:
Tim Holmes

In other words, as the UTNE piece observes:

"Burning those fossil fuels we would enter a world of science fiction dystopia: a rise in sea levels not seen in human history, species extinction, droughts, super storms, heat waves from hell....and consequences you cannot imagine".

Is George Will an unreconstructed  dolt and a knot head? You better believe it!

Monday, September 28, 2015

"Super Blood Moon" Provided A Fantastic Sight

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The Super Blood Moon as it appeared to us Sunday night at roughly 8:35 p.m. local time.

It isn't very often that two separate astronomical events occur in conjunction as they did Sunday night. That is,  the coincidence of a maximal area Moon (30 % larger than normal) along with a total lunar eclipse. The maximal area Moon is also called a "super Moon" because of the enhanced diameter and occurs because the Moon is at the point of its orbit called perigee - or the closest point to Earth.

The total lunar eclipse, meanwhile, occurs when the Moon passes completely  through the Earth shadow when Sun, Earth and Moon are in alignment. as depicted below:

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Note the alignment (top) fixes the Sun at one end (left) 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 lunar 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 we took.

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.

Janice and I were fortunate that the weather was terrific and the sky perfectly clear when we went out at about 8:05 p.m. I had my binoculars (7 x 35mm) and Janice used a digital camera mounted on a tripod to take the photo. We took a series of about 8 photos, and decided the one displayed here had the best resolution.

Of course, though the sight may have even inspired fear in some - there were no supernatural associations to be extrapolated. It was a purely natural event that occurs every 2-3 decades. In cade you missed this one, you won't see another until 2033.

The Problems With Vienna, Austria

After leaving Budapest by dodging the migrant crush that closed Keleti rail station, see e.g.

Our next stop was Vienna, Austria - soon also to be a primary destination of migrants after Angela Merkel welcomed them to come to Germany three weeks ago. Our problem with Vienna was two fold: First, we were only there for 5 days (actually 4 1/2 taking into account a day trip to Bratislava) and so how could we maximize our time? Second, the costs, in juxtaposition to Budapest were shocking.

In Budapest one could get a fairly good meal (grilled pork steak, roast potatoes, salad) for maybe the equivalent of $13 U.S. In Vienna, just one evening's dining of beet soup, bread, and apple strudel dessert came to over 42 euro or nearly $44 U.S. We were wondering how we'd get through our time without going broke!

As far as maximizing our time, we decided that it would be madness to try to "do Vienna" in the limited time as some delirious Americans often try, and instead narrowed our targets on what we both really wanted. Eventually we came to agree on: going to the National Library, going to the Museum of Natural History, and going to Schloss Schonbrunn - both to look around this spectacular place, and to attend an evening dinner and concert. (We also briefly considered going to the Sigmund Freud Museum & Archives, but decided that would be taking on too much   - and besides, Janice wasn't as interested in the origins of Freudian psychology.)

Our aims were arguably limited, but also focused, so they wouldn't wear us out, and that included not putting excessive strains on my injured right foot. (Which slowed my pace considerably).

As for food, we soon discovered a place (Mueller-Beisl) not far from our hotel, that offered reasonably good value for the money.

Shown below are images from our various Vienna  forays.
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Inside the entrance to the National Library.
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Outside the Museum of Natural History.
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Exhibit inside the Museum of Natural History
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Grounds of Schonbrunn Palace where we attended a concert.
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Yours truly outside Schloss Schonbrunn.

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End of the concert scene at Schonbrunn.

In the end we could make no claim that we saw even a small fraction of what there was to see, and as a hotel assistant pointed out, we'd "probably need at least two weeks to do Vienna justice". But in the short time we had, and our proximity to the Old Town and "Museum Square"  we felt we did all we could.

The high point was perhaps the dinner and Mozart concert at Schonbrunn castle. The setting was splendid, the dinner superb (although they charged $4 each for water) and the concert one of the best we've attended. The problem with the Museum of Natural History was that while its exhibits were world class we had to be very selective in order to efficiently navigate such an expansive bldg. with thousands of exhibits (the lapidary exhibits alone comprised three rooms with thousands of rocks, ores, etc.) in the single day we had.

One of the oddest aspects of Vienna, as well as the other places we visited,  was the nonchalant way the mail was treated. When I went to mail postcards in Budapest, for example, I was asked by two Hungarians (of whom I'd asked directions to the P.O. since the hotel didn't mail any): 'Why bother when you can just send email with images?". Well, because postcards bear the stamps of the place!  Interestingly, the post office was right next door to our Vienna hotel and I posted them on the Monday after we arrived, Sept. 7th.

Following on from this, I've since learned only 2 of the 8 or so total postcards we sent had been received up to Friday last week, and they were mailed that same Monday.  This makes me wonder when the ones mailed from Prague will arrive.