Thursday, December 31, 2015

Coloradans Plan New Initiatives Against the Frackers In 2016

Coloradans gather for protest outside court house in Denver two weeks ago.

As the year ends Coloradans in many communities are pleased that the frackers have had to back off a bit from ruining their communities - because of the existing oil glut and banks being unwilling to lend any more $$$ for these operations. But many are by no means satisfied as the frackers continue unimpeded in many places, especially in Weld and Adams Counties.

Now in the works for next year are more actions in the form of ballot initiatives after the last ones were scrapped back in 2014 at the behest of Boulder Dem Rep. Jared Polis who had originally pushed them. Many feel he was pressured to sell out or politically threatened if he didn't cooperate. Many citizens have been stewing ever since as the frackers have made many neighborhoods almost unlivable, e.g. in Thornton where several weeks ago over 100 citizens gathered to protest what was happening to their air, surroundings and water.

As Tara Trujillo, an outraged resident of Hunters Glen in Thornton put it:

"Don't let this industrial pornography invade every neighborhood!"

In the wake of all that, a Boulder County-based citizens group opposed to fracking has filed a package of ballot initiatives that would circumvent  the "compromise" sought by Gov. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder. Recall that compromise was a joke. According to  Denver Post report back on Aug. 8, 2014:

"A 20 - person commission was announced Monday as part of a compromise to keep two oil and gas oriented initiatives from the fall ballot."

And what, pray tell, would  we see from this commission?

"The commission will have 6 months to make recommendations to the legislature which will then consider further legislation."

The "further legislation" was basically to do nothing and allow fracking to continue as it has been. All you need to know is that the two largest fracking companies - from Texas- cheered wildly at the news. To make a long story short, our frack-friendly Gov. Hickenlooper according to the Post,  "practiced shuttle diplomacy" until he got all the participants on board as well as PR firms   - to be able to sell this sham to the public. After all, following all the hoopla of the ballot initiatives you had to toss supporters some kind of bone when the measures were removed. (It helped of course that the state Dept. Of Natural Resources houses the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission - which is the industry 'pet' group designed to run interference on fracktivists )

In the wake of that fiasco, Karen Dike, one of the lead proponents of the (then)  fracking amendments, said of the Hickenlooper-Polis deal:

"The compromise did nothing to protect local communities."

Even Polis said after the task force report was released,

 "Unfortunately, the oil and gas industry proved they weren't interested in a compromise or solving the problem."

Now, the Coloradans Resisting Extreme Energy Development   has taken up the battle again. They submitted paperwork for 11 potential ballot questions to provide mandatory setbacks for wells from homes and schools, more local control on drilling decisions or an outright ban on the process of hydraulic fracturing.  Eight of the 11 are variations of proposals for mandatory setbacks.

Each of the constitutional amendments would need signatures from 98,492 registered Colorado voters to get on November's ballot. A review-and-comment hearing on the language of the ballot questions is set for at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 5 in Room 109 at the Capitol.  Tricia Olson, CREED's executive director, said in a statement.

"If the state will not adequately protect Coloradans and communities, then we, the people of Colorado, must do it, and that requires a change to Colorado law. Our beautiful state should not be overwhelmed by wells, pads and other industrial oil and gas operations plunked down next to neighborhoods and schools."

Of course, the front groups shilling for the oil industry in the state are nearly apoplectic at the possibility of having to fight citizens all over again. Protecting Colorado's Environment, Economy, and Energy Independence, a group that supports energy development and  any opposing ballot measures, saw the potential amendments as devastating.

Spokeswoman Karen Crummy (note the name!), said in a statement:

"These measures are so radical they would kill jobs, ignore established laws, devastate Colorado's economy and create a patchwork of rules and regulations throughout the state,"

Which, of course, is kind of hilarious given it's the state itself that has engendered patchwork opposition because of putting up absurd laws to prevent citizens anywhere from even having moratoriums on fracking (as Longmont tried a couple years back)

Then you had Dan Haley, CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, an oil and gas trade group, squawking:

"It's no surprise the ghosts of Christmas past have returned and are trying again to take the state backward,"

Well, uh yeah, Dan, if it means being able to breathe fresh air again, not have your water turn piss yellow when you turn on the tap, and your kids not break out in rashes every few days! Damn straight we want 'backward' - to health, green environs and no more looking out to see wells and pollutants all around.

This battle isn't over by a long ways and Coloradans will be following it closely over this new year, given the next frack well that gets drilled may very well be right near their own homes!

See also:

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Texas' 'Open Carry' Law - As Dangerous As It Is Dumb

Imagine looking out your window one afternoon and seeing a guy lumbering down the sidewalk, rifle in hand, and kids playing barely 50 yards ahead. What do you do? Dismiss it as 'no worry' or call 911? In the days before gun laws became loose no one judged normal would be carrying a rifle down a sidewalk out in the open. And you'd call the cops in a heartbeat. Now, bad guys as well as good can carry weapons in the open in some states, so you can't tell who's who.

In Colorado Springs back in October - according to audio recordings released by the Colorado Springs Police Dept., a woman called in to report a man walking with a rifle. The dispatcher then informed the woman she needn't worry since Colorado is an "open carry" state- meaning anyone, terrorist, nut, or good guy can be walking along carrying a weapon.  The dispatcher then designated the call as one that didn't involve an 'imminent threat'.

Alas, the dispatcher was wrong, dead wrong. Shortly afterward the rifle carrier shot and killed three people before dying in a shootout with the police. One of those shot was a young guy just going out on his bike on a Saturday morning. The rifle carrier simply took aim as the bicyclist rode by and blew his head off.

Now, another right wing -leaning state with a majority Republican legislature has passed its own open carry law to much consternation, according to a WSJ article from two days ago ('Texas Tackles Open Carry', p. A3). According to the piece:

"As of October there were 922, 197 active licenses to carry concealed weapons in Texas, now a separate license won't  be required for open carry. Under the law guns will still be banned in some places including: courthouses, businesses and sporting events."

Supporters of the law, like 'Open Carry' (a TX gun group), are ecstatic because now those who like to pack large caliber heat, like .44 Magnums, "don't have to worry about how to conceal their large weapons". Hell, it will be just like the old days of Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid.

The Texas law enforcement establishment isn't exactly enthused by this new law either. Houston Police Chief, Charles McClelland - quoted in the article - asked:

"When my officers are responding to situations or disturbances where a gun is involved, how are they supposed to know who the good guy is or the bad guy is if both have guns?"

Good point! Before it was usually the bad guys with the guns so the cops arriving on the scene could easily blow them away if they didn't comply. Now, the signal is confused by "good guys" having their own guns and being able to openly display them. What's wrong with this picture? Everything! The time it takes the cops to sort out the situation could mean a lot of lives lost, since as Chief McClelland observed it could be terrorism or a mass shooting such as occurred at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic.

As he put it, there has to be "heightened concern" for a potentially dangerous combination.

Nor is Chief McClelland an oddity or exception. Many law enforcement officers worry that allowing people to openly carry firearms will put police officers at greater risk. Obviously, if guns are more easily accessible, there will be a greater probability of pulling them out in the heat of the moment - say an argument where one might normally use fists - to settle things.  In a survey in February last year before the law as passed, 75 percent of Texas police chiefs responding said they were opposed to open carry (according to the Texas Police Chiefs Association)

Meanwhile, for all the venues where guns aren't banned outright, decisions have to be made and different groups informed.  Thus, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Dallas has decided to ban openly carrying citizens in its 75 North Texas churches. (Explaining the restrictions as required by state law for places of worship).

But in another case,  the First Baptist Church in Arlington will allow its congregants to come in armed. According to Senior Pastor Dennis Wiles:

"We decided it was best to allow responsible people to do this if they choose."

Fine, but how do you decide who is "responsible"? Or do you just assume they are and then rue the outcome when a supposedly ok seeming guy (like Dylan Roof) opens fire and kills nine.

Other places aren't so quick on the trigger to allow presumed "responsible" patrons to just come in. The Tex-Mex chain Gringo's with 14 restaurants  - mainly in Houston - won't allow openly carrying customers. According to Gringo's counsel Al Flores (ibid.):

"We just felt that knowing our customers, allowing someone to walk in openly carrying a weapon, it would make them feel a little uncomfortable".

How about a lot uncomfortable, to the point of serious indigestion, not knowing whether one of these fine,  upstanding citizens may suddenly turn into a raging lunatic and open fire on a midday dining  crowd. Or...he or she isn't a terrorist (maybe domestic) using open carry as a perfect foil to do a mass  murder.

Bottom line, all these open carry laws carry gun rights too damned far. This isn't the Wild West anymore and we shouldn't expect every single gun aficionado to emulate Bat Masterson,

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Government and Industry Finally Get Serious About Solar Shocks

The CME captured by the Solar Dynamics and Heliospheric Observatory in February 2013 (from

In previous posts I've written on the dangers from coronal mass ejections (CMEs) such as captured by the Solar Dynamics and Heliospheric Observatory (see graphic)  as it shot away from the Sun at 800 km/s nearly 3 years ago. The initial prediction was that the bulk of the ejected mass would sail over the Earth’s north pole and it did.. However, even a glancing blow would possibly have meant one or more power grids knocked out such as occurred in Quebec in 1989 after a giant solar flare.

CMEs are definitely not to be treated lightly. Powerful CMEs of such magnitude that they merit the name "Carrington events" and originate at the solar central meridian (relative to Earth observers) are events we wish to avoid.

The "ultimate" CME then is that which smacks us broadside, knocking down power grids like tenpins, and - even if not engendering a situation like that depicted in the new series 'Revolution' - at least coming close, for maybe a few days or a week. Hence, it is of interest to attempt to forecast these plasma monsters.

To that end, it is equally important to minimize the havoc that could be unleashed by CMEs, say by disrupting critical technology on which we all depend, say GPS locations and also electric power (In 1989, the electricity to 6 million Canadians was knocked out for over 9 hours owing to a Carrington event from a powerful solar flare)

It was therefore gratifying in the extreme to read that on October 29, the Obama administration had made space weather a priority.  As White House Science Advisor John Holdren said before releasing the relevant documents to the forum:

"We absolutely need to ensure our nation is appropriately prepared to respond and eocver from space weather events".

How serious might this be, so we get a framework? A take from a University of Colorado astrophysicist sheds a good deal of insight, as reported after a near CME hit in 2012:

"It’s believed a direct CME hit would have the potential to wipe out communication networks, GPS and electrical grids to cause widespread blackout.......Just 10 minutes without electricity, Internet or communication across the globe is a scary thought, and the effects of this event could last years. It would be chaos and disaster on an epic scale."

This is probably not an exaggeration. Thus it was good to read in the latest issue of Eos Earth & Space Science News (p. 4) that the White House is getting serious about these events. Their strategy, which you can read about here:

calls for improving efforts to protect against and mitigate space weather risks, improving the fundamental understanding of space weather, and increasing the accuracy, reliability and timeliness of space weather observations and forecasts.

Let's bear in mind the last is an especially formidable task which yours truly and hundreds of other solar and space physicists had worked on for decades. To give you some idea, a theoretical, quantitative strategy would revolve around obtaining the rate of increase of the poloidal magnetic flux associated with a specific flux rope (e.g. that shows kink or other instability) e.g.

dΦp(t )/dt

Then, for a predictive basis one would require the related function be adjusted for each potential CME (dependent on its current heliographic location) that best fits the total observed data. This function would normally be given in terms of the electromotive force associated with the active region so that:

E(t ) ≡ −(1/c)dΦp(t )/dt

Where the preceding would constitute a forecast from the theory for each CME trajectory.  This would be called a "theoretical forecast" say compared to an empirical forecast, i.e. based on fluctuating microwave bursts. (Rodney V. Souza in 2003 found that microwave fluctuating bursts (fluctuating at seconds intervals) preceded a given CME by 5-15 mins.)

Given the inherent difficulty with both, the short time for responding in the case of empirical forecasts, and the general observational difficulties to nail the theoretical, it is good that at least an "action plan" is being prepared. Readers can see more of this at:

As one participant in the forum (Katherine Sullivan from NOAA) aptly put it:

"Although we have a lot to learn about the physics and phenomenology of space weather, there is no uncertainty about society's vulnerability to these storms".

The academic, commercial and governmental sectors all agree that we have a "golden opportunity" for collaboration "to improve resilience to space weather events" - but it remains to be seen how seriously that commitment applies.

Right now there exists the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) satellite which can measure the intensity and magnetic orientation of any CME that sweeps by it. The problem is that ACE is nearly on its last legs and a replacement monitor is needed.

Fortuitously, a fully -ready space craft that can undertake ACE's duties exists. The problem? This Deep Space Climate Observatory (or DSCOVR) sits mothballed in storage at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt,  Maryland. It sits idle because the Obama administration's $47.3 million budget request to refurbish and launch DSCOVR has been rejected by the Republican-controlled House since last year.

A first step then is to get this replacement craft into position to help us to at least gauge the orientation from which the next CME comes. .

Monday, December 28, 2015

What's With Pluto's Smaller, Rapidly Spinning Moons?

Image from an animation showing Pluto and its relatively large moon Charon near the center  of the Pluto system, with the smaller, rapidly rotating moons further out - spinning as they orbit the larger bodies.

There is a problem, a big one, with Pluto's outer moons. Like disobedient children these four small moons are apparently rotating at inexplicably high rates defying the gravitational influence expected from their mother planet, and its larger moon companion, Charon.

These four moons, Styx, Nix, Kerberos and Hydra (in order of proximity to Pluto) all spin much faster than the 20 to 38 Earth days the moons take to orbit the Pluto-Charon system, as planetary astronomers recently reported. Kerberos spins the slowest, once every 5.33 Earth days, whereas Hydra rotates once every 10 hours and 19 minutes.

Make no mistake these are fast rotations for moons, which usually keep one face pointed at their central planet (synchronous rotation), rotating just once per orbit of that planet. Earth's Moon, for example, rotates once every 27 days 8 hours, the time it takes to orbit our planet once. Charon also plays by the rules, rotating once per Plutonian orbit. But the four small moons are renegades by comparison.

According to Mark Showalter of the NASA New Horizons mission put it this way (Eos Earth & Space Science News, Dec. 15, p. 3):

"These Pluto moons are essentially spinning tops and that radically changes the way we understand how they operate. This is unlike anything we've seen elsewhere in the solar system. No one has ever seen a moon, like Hydra, that rotates 89 times during a single orbit."

Recall last July, the New Horizons mission carried out the first flyby of Pluto. The analysis of images recorded by the spacecraft in the weeks leading up to the flyby led to the discovery of the moons surprising rotation rates.  This was unveiled November 9th at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society's Division of Planetary Sciences.

Showalter said these fast spin rates are so surprising because even if the moons originated as rapid rotators, the push and pull of the gravitational tides of Pluto and Charon ought to have slowed down that motion. So the question becomes: Why didn't they?

As Showalter put it (ibid):

"It's as if the moons just picked some random rate of rotation and Pluto and Charon have no part in any of that."

One explanation offered is that the gravitational tides of Pluto and Charon worked against each other, thus leaving the moons to maintain a high spin.

Among the category of so-called "regular moons", i.e. those that form as a result of collision between a planet and another body  - say large asteroid - Hydra ranks as the ninth fastest rotator.

Because all the moons in question are tiny - ranging from ten to a few tens of kilometers across, any collision with a large impactor could easily have imparted a lot of angular momentum to the objects.

Interestingly prior to the flyby and analysis of the moons, the leading theory was that they rotated chaotically, varying their spin rate and tumbling as they orbited Pluto and Charon. This work was published by Showalter and Douglas Hamilton of the University of Maryland in the June 4 issue of Nature.  Interested readers can read more about that study here:

The theory - perhaps more a hypothesis - held up fairly well until last July when New Horizon detected brightness variations showing clear signs of periodicity. These revealed the four small moons were not so much tumbling as spinning in a regular fashion - just much faster than anyone expected. The images also revealed that Nix is rotating backward compared to the rest of the Pluto system - and also on its side.

More interesting findings from this system are sure to come.

To see the model animation from which the graphic displayed at the top came, go to:

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Skeptics Society Still Tilting At JFK Conspiracy "Windmills"

Image result for brane space, Skeptics Society
You have to hand it to Skeptics Society Wunderkind,  Michael Shermer, who just can't let go of the JFK assassination conspiracy. Rather than sticking to the Loch Ness Monster, Biblical myths, Big Foot and UN black helicopter - "New World Order" fluff, he insists on venturing into the political conspiracy with the most heft.  Of course, when one indiscriminately plays with fire - as Tom Hanks found out, e.g.

One will get metaphorically burned, usually via his own arrogance. Recall, for reference, I  noted last year (Nov. 27 post) how  I warned the Skeptics bunch 22 years ago (in a letter published in their journal) of venturing in to hyper-skepticism .  I warned that this could backfire and was counterproductive. This was after the Skeptics journal took some initial critical shots at the claim for conspiracy in the Kennedy assassination - revealing like so many others before and since that they hadn't done their homework.

They managed to control themselves and steer clear of the topic for a while - but evidently have recently plumbed it once more, probably having run out of criticism to mount against the usual paranormal topics, like ESP, telekinetic spoon bending, alien abductions and the like.

But again, it's a bad idea to try to take on that event if you haven't done the necessary spade work, including plumbing the file documents released since the JFK Records Act. Thereby, skeptical critics are repeatedly broken on the 'wheel' of the JFK assassination because they treat it frivolously - without the respect it is due  - more often conflating it with nonsense pseudo conspiracies  or  relying on sources that have now been thoroughly discredited, such as Gerald Posner, see e.g.

And Vince Bugliosi:

See e.g.

The latest item from the Skeptics Society - received in the mail yesterday - is a pamphlet entitled 'The Top Ten Weirdest Things Countdown' and wouldn't you know that Number 5 would be the "JFK Conspiracy".

And we see right away in Shermer's intro, that he cites Bugliosi's cinderblock book, and Posner's nonsense. This is just in case his little spiel "doesn't do it for you".

Let's consider his points to see why none of what he writes supports his case and "the mother of all conspiracies" (but which is essentially solved) ought to shut him up once and for all.

1) The "big deal" made about Oswald's Book Depository job and being planted there by the conspirators - namely the national security state, including CIA. This was not any "coincidence" as Shermer tries to make it out to be

I've already been through this multiple times but here we go again. Like other WC hacks, Shermer leaves out any mention of Ruth Paine not informing Lee of a better job offer- which has been documented via files accessed by James Douglass (author of 'JFK and the Unspeakable'). the actual background on Paine had to await release of lots more files after the JFK Records Act.  Paine testified before the WC that Lee left his keys, and other possessions as he left for work on the fateful day. All of which are lies.

Ruth Paine herself was a deceitful, untrustworthy witness who never truthfully acknowledged, either before the Warren Commission or a later New Orleans Grand Jury, that her sister (Sylvia Hyde Hoke) in fact worked for the CIA - while her husband's (Michael's) mother, Ruth Forbes Paine Young, was connected to Allen Dulles (the former CIA Chief) who JFK fired after the Bay of Pigs. (James Douglass, 2008, JFK and the Unspeakable, Orbis Books, p. 169)

Let us also recall that Dulles was appointed by LBJ as one of the Warren Commissioners. Does anyone else find that ironic? The very guy JFK mistrusted and butted heads with would sit on the "blue ribbon" (sic) commission investigating his death?

Paine, who Warrenites seem to hold up as some kind of unquestioned paragon or model citizen, also never acknowledged in any of her testimony that she withheld from Lee the news of a better paying job offer made on Oct. 15, 1963. This came by way of phone call to the Paine Residence from Robert Adams of the Texas Employment Commission. According to the documented materials presented by author James Douglass (op. cit., p. 171):

"Adams spoke with someone at the Paines' number about his being prepared to give Oswald referral for permanent employment as a baggage handler at Trans Texas Airways for a salary $100 a month higher than that offered by the Book Depository's temporary job".

Adams then left a message with whoever took his call for Lee to contact him about the job, but this was never done. Adams tried to phone Oswald the next day, and was told he "wasn't here". Why? Why wasn't the better paying job information passed on to Oswald? Given Paine's background, and her connections to CIA people like her sister and Allen Dulles, the obvious reason is to put the patsy in place. Had Ruth Paine given the info to Lee to enable him to take the better paying job, there was no way the architects' plan could have succeeded. They could never have been assured that the one they were preparing for patsyhood would be at the place needed to take the fall.

Her refusal to give that alternative job information to Oswald therefore makes her at least an accomplice to the set up in the minds of most serious researchers like Douglass, and myself.

(2) "Oswald's Carcano bolt action rifle with his fingerprints on it was found on the sixth floor of the Book Depository where he was employed. His sniper's nest , built out of boxes, also had fingerprints on it."

Facts: As Carl Oglesby, a member of the Assassination Information Bureau and author of 'JFK - The Facts and the Theories' (1992) has noted, there is absolutely NO chain of credible evidence that connects any of those fingerprints to Oswald. Sebastian Latona, a fingerprint expert at the FBI laboratory, examined the rifle and the photographs, but concluded that no identifiable prints were present (Warren Commission Hearings, vol.4, p.21). The rifle was returned by the FBI to the Dallas police on 24 November. In the minds of many researchers, it is therefore plausible that any prints of probative value subsequently found were in fact removed from Oswald while he was dead, at the morgue, and transferred to the rifle. Oglesby noting the limited chain of evidence for prints, accepts this as well, in addition to expressing a distinct distrust of the Dallas PD (also shared by former Justice Dept. agent Walt Brown in his chapter 'Blue Death' in 'Treachery in Dallas')

In addition, No fingerprints were found on any of the three empty bullet shells found in the TSBD, or on the intact bullet. Nor were any prints found on the rifle clip that held the intact bullet and into which the shells must have been loaded by hand (Warren Commission Hearings, vol.4, pp.253, 258–60).  Even if Oswald had taken the precaution of wiping his prints off the rifle, it is doubtful that he'd have done the same for the clip or the bullets. This is the same man the Warrenites believe was careless and stupid enough to purchase a mail order rifle that was traceable when he could have simply bought the weapon at a local gun store with no paper trail. It doesn't add up!

Other problems: As Oglesby (op. cit. p. 96) points out: The WC claim that Oswald left the rifle in a Dallas gunshop to be sighted several weeks before the assassination to have the sight mounted can't be valid because the WC also insists he was in Mexico City. How could he be two places at once?

The rifle was purchased in the name of 'Alex Hidell' "whom Oswald supposedly pretended to be"  but "the only source for the Hidell information was the Dallas police who can't be relied on in this matter".  Oglesby goes on to note (ibid.) that: "Even one of the Commission's members, Burt W. Griffin, has discredited the role of the Dallas police in that investigation, telling reporter Robert Kaiser in 1975: 'I never thought the Dallas police were telling us the entire truth. Neither was the FBI".

The last was most salient in respect of Oswald's contacts with James P. Hosty, the likely agent who had Oswald purchase the mail order rifle as part of a gun running investigation. But Hoover shut this entire angle down, committed as he was to the lone gunman myth.

Latona maintained any prints found on the cartons were too old (3 days or more) to link to Oswald so had little or no probative value as the WC claimed. In addition the prints of many other workers were also on the cartons.

Lastly, paraffin tests disclosed no residue of gun powder on Oswald's face or hands.

(3) "Three bullet casings found on the Book Depository floor match what 81 percent of Dealey Plaza witnesses reported hearing: three shots."

Facts:  Left out by Shermer is the fact that " two -thirds (67 percent) of the ninety original witnesses the Warren Commission asked said that the shots had come from the grassy knoll" ('JFK - The Facts and the Theories', p. 94)

So we have kind of a mighty divergence here. Since, if most witnesses heard shots from the grassy knoll  there had to have been a lot more than three shots. Again also, since there is NO chain of credible evidence connecting Oswald to the casings or the rifle found  at the Book Depository, neither proves Oswald fired from there- or fired at all. Further, Ogelsby himself suspects they were planted compliments of the Dallas PD. They were already under pressure (from the Warrenites, and no doubt, LBJ) to seal the deal on the lone assassin bunkum, so why not? LBJ also had the Dallas cops in his pocket, especially after ascending to power as commander in chief.    All of this is further supported by former Justice Dept. agent Walt Brown in his chapter 'Blue Death' in Treachery in Dallas.

Acoustics tests conducted by the HSCA show there were no less than four shots fired that day with two of the shots coming within 1.6 seconds of each other, too close for the purported Mannlicher-Carcano rifle which had a bolt action recylcing time of 2. 33 seconds.  This was what led the HSCA to find for a 96 percent probable conspiracy - which Shermer doesn't reference at all. It's as if he regards the Warren Commission as the last word. (Despite it being a complete confection of LBJ.) Clearly, Shermer and his Skeptic Society cohort never even read the Report of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, or the Conclusion which informed the reader that a conspiracy had been determined.

Methinks then that Shermer and his Skeptics need to get with the program, adopt the finding of the only official governmental investigation and cease the jihad against conspiracy in the JFK case. 

Let me further add that a full six shot sequence has also been indicated by many experts (e.g. Robert Groden) as follows:

Shot 1 (miss) at Z150-52: Shows crowd reactions at missing frames (155-56), JFK reacts too

Shot 2 (throat shot): at Z-207; JFK reacts by Z220. (This had also been identified as a separate ENTRY wound by Parkland dr Malcolm Perry) e.g.

Shot 3  Connally shot(1st time), at 236-7, note his rotation motion, dropping of right shoulder. However, he still holds his Stetson so his wrist still not hit.

Shot 4  (fatal head shot), at Z312-13

Shot 5  Connally shot(2nd time) in wrist and thigh, at Z328 (approx.)

Shot 6  Tague sprayed with pavement (could be simultaneous with #5)

 (The JFK neck shot and Connally's shot are  separated by barely 29 frames, or about 1.6 seconds. This means that two rifles would have been needed.)

The Ramsey Panel analysis was alleged to have  'refuted' the original Weiss -Barger study, but in fact only showed that the Weiss group had omitted some considerations. The Ramsey analysis certainly does not 'nullify' the Weiss/Barger analysis since up to now it has not been  reproduced, so cannot be accepted as a bona fide scientific conclusion.

Most importantly, the three- shot fable peddled by Shermer and assorted WC hacks is disproven by the 2001 paper ('Echo Correlation Analysis and the Acoustic Evidence in the Kennedy Assassination Revisited' ) of D.B. Thomas appearing in the journal Science and Justice. Vol. 41, p. 21, 2001.   The impulses are shown below, with the four highest amplitude peaks associated with rifle muzzle blasts (an association I will justify subsequently):
Thomas treated both the test evidence and actual data from the original date. He also used re- test evidence obtained in August, 1978 when a test shot was fired in Dallas’ Dealey Plaza to provide a fiducial mark for the putative Grassy Knoll shot – such that it could be compared with the impulse record obtained on Nov. 22, 1963 (also showing how this mark lined up to events recorded on the Zapruder film.) Thus, the test evidence (mainly in terms of echoes and echo delay times received via an echogram from a test shot (See Fig. 1) is essentially used to confirm the microphone recording & positions for the shots made on the actual date, by resort to microphones placed at the same (or approximately so) locations.  The geometry for Thomas' echo correlation analysis is shown below:
No automatic alt text available.

 The hypergeometric p-function was used for differing weighting factor distribution sets, H{M..N, n, i} to assess significance or likelihood of occurrence. It's based on the no. of echo  'windows'  M,  with each spanning 190msec (total time)  at 2msec width per window and n for assigned impulses in the evidence pattern, with 'i' the "coincident impulses" or those matching the original (11/22/63)evidence and the test result. The question was whether a succession of first impulses of given amplitude could be manifesting a signal or was merely random noise. Thomas found that for a given configuration for 2 motorcycles at designated locations, 1 for (GK) shooter location and one for alignment of muzzle blasts with one pair of echoes, the p -value is 0.000012 or about 1 in 100,000 against the null hypothesis, i.e. that the impulses were from random noise. An alternative way to put this is that the odds are 100,000 to 1 in favor of the impulses comprising actual rifle shots.

For the test shot, using Thomas' sonar model and the muzzle velocity for a Norma 6.5mm Mannlicher-Carcano (which is very doubtful that the GK shooter used), one arrives at a 171 msec time for the shock wave to take the defined path to the microphone, from a distance of 28.3m. One must add the time taken for the putative bullet to travel the distance to the time for the shock wave. In this case: 126 msec + 45 msec. The first parameter is relatively fixed since the distance from bullet to test microphone is fixed at 44.2m and the speed of sound defined for the sonar model was 350 m/s.

The second component will alter depending on the muzzle velocity. A German Mauser, with muzzle velocity not much greater than 760 m/s will have its bullet traverse the 28.3 m distance in 37 msec, so that the time will now be: 126 msec + 37 msec or 163 msec, which is some 8 msec shorter. If the rifle used is now a Remington Fireball with muzzle velocity 825 m/s then the total time becomes: t1 + t2 = 126 msec + 34 msec = 160 msec, or 3 msec shorter still.

In the “analytically determined” schema (e.g. actual data obtained on 11/22/63), all the above values change slightly. For example, the distance to Kennedy (from the GK shooter) becomes 30.5 m, and the speed of sound is 342 m/s given the air temperature was 18  C (64.4 F)  at the time of the assassination. The distance from the (GK) assassin to the nearest motorcycle was 67 m leading to the muzzle blast arriving at the motorcycle some Delta t = [67m/ 342 m/s] = 196 msec, after the shot. When air resistance is corrected for by + 11.5% (from the shooter location) the muzzle velocity resulting becomes 748 m/s (using a starting assumed bullet speed of 672 m/s). Because of a shooter “location uncertainty” of +/- 1.5 m (A<-> A') the muzzle velocity uncertainty is at least +/- 32m/s, so one is left with a range of: 748 +/- 32 m/s. Assuming Thomas’ parameters are correct, then this excludes a Remington Fireball as a possible candidate weapon, but it does permit either a German Mauser or a .30-30 Winchester.

The bottom line is that Thomas' investigation soundly reconfirmed the original acoustic tests and that the kill shot came from the grassy knoll.

(4) "Tests with Oswald's rifle found that three shots are possible in the amount of time Oswald had to shoot."

This is total balderdash and Shermer ought to be ashamed of himself. In fact, the tests came no where close to replicating the alleged shots made by Oswald. To recap, by the end of the WC test trials, the Master Marksmen had each fired two series of three shots each (18 rounds in all) at 3 stationary targets placed at distances of 175’, 240’ and 265’ (the last coming nearest to the distance from the Texas School Book Depository to the head shot). Even Chief Simmons admitted that the targets were not placed where they ought to have been to emulate conditions on November 22, 1963.

Just one of the three expert riflemen was able to get off three shots in under 5.6 seconds – the designated time interval for total shots declared by the Warren Commission. And most to the point: none of the total 18 shots fired struck the targets in the head or the neck. In other words, from a technical standpoint of duplicating Oswald’s alleged shots- this trio of experts failed. Another key aspect: for the duration of the 18 rounds, two of the “master” riflemen were unable to reload and fire at the stationary target as rapidly as Oswald purportedly did for the moving limo.

(5) "The Carcano was the same rifle Oswald purchased  by mail order in March, 1963".

This was squashed by former British Intelligence officer Col. John Hughes-Wilson  who observes (p. 187, 'JFK - An American Coup  d 'Etat')  that the weapon supposedly used by Oswald was "40 inches long, weighed 8 pounds and purchased from Klein's Sporting Goods in Chicago". But....the Mannlicher-Carcano actually advertised in the magazine (from which Oswald allegedly ordered) was "a different model completely, a 36-inch, 5.5. pound carbine model".  This again supports the argument that Oswald was told to order the Mannlicher-Carcano as part of an FBI gun running investigation. We also know the FBI in New Orleans had access to Oswald's P.O. Box. So it would have been relatively easy to frame him, again in conjunction with the fake Mexico City cables crafted by David Atlee Phillips, as the "lone assassin".  The security state and its allies wanted to ensure the media would bite on this specious evidence, and they did.

Thus, the purchase of said rifle, just like the infamous back yard photos - which I already showed were faked, see e.g.

 - were all part of the Oswald frame job, enabling the actual mechanics to get away scot free..

(6) "Coworkers saw Oswald on the Sixth floor of the Depository shortly before JFK's motorcsade arrived"

More nonsense.  And we have author James Douglass (op. cit.)to thank profusely for going into this in detail with his own research. Douglass writes, for example (p. 284) that "co-worker and witness Carol Arnold saw Oswald in the SECOND floor lunchroom between 12:15 p.m. and 12:25 p.m. when the Warren Commission had him on the sixth floor at that time preparing to shoot President Kennedy".

In addition, Douglass' research discloses (pp. 285-86) Oswald was in fact the man in the doorway of the Book Depository as seen in the Altgens photograph, and not Billy Lovelady as the WC claimed. (Many in the JFK research community still regard this as a "myth" but they need to read Douglass' work on it.)  And logically,  it'd be far easier for Lee to get to that TSBD doorway by 12:28 p.m. or so from the 2nd floor-  in time to see JFK's motorcade pass - than to rush four floors up to grab a defective weapon and fire 3 shots by 12: 31. As Douglass writes (ibid.):

"The Warren Report's reprinted version of the photo is a travesty of Altgens' work as a professional photographer. What the Report presents to the public is a reduced, cropped, indistinct printing of an FBI copy of a magazine copy of the original crystal clear picture. In this smaller, muddied FBI/Warren Commission print, the man in the doorway is impossible to identify. By deliberately using a smaller fourth generation print, the government made the image of the man too tiny and blurred to be recognizable".

Bur, of course we've seen this chicanery of images in WC exhibits elsewhere including the FPCC handbills (pointed out by John Newman in 'Oswald and the CIA') and also in the photo outside of Gen. Edwin Walker's home of a '57 Chevy supposedly used by Oswald - but with the license plate scratched out.

Thanks to Douglass (p. 286) there was uncovered another "little known film taken in front of the Book Depository immediately after the assassination". This was used by author Harold Weisberg in his book, 'Whitewash II'  to identify the distinctive pattern of the shirt worn by the man in question, including that it "had several buttons missing".  This shirt "matched exactly the shirt worn by Oswald after his arrest." (Which interested readers can see for themselves in assorted film archives from the date.)

Moreover, Oswald's shirt can also be compared with Billy Lovelady's which - as historian David R. Wrone (ibid.) noted, "is distinctly different".

Douglass did one better, and interviewed Oswald's roommate James Antony Botelho (from his time at the Santa Ana, CA Marine base in 1959)  who said that by looking closely at the Altgens photo - even in its 4th generation form, he could tell the man in the photo was Oswald. He told Douglass that Oswald "had a habit of pulling the collar of his T-shirt down and stretching it out of shape."  He noted "the T-shirt collar of the man in the doorway looked the exact same way."

Thus, even though the face could not be clearly seen, the distorted shape of the T-shirt gave away the identity to Botelho.  In addition (ibid.):,

"Whereas Oswald and the man in the doorway had the upper halves of their outer shirts unbuttoned, exposing t-shirts with identical pulled down collars, Lovelady had his outer shirt buttoned all the way up to the collar, covering his t-shirt."

Douglass concluded: "Based on clothing alone it was clear Lovelady could not have been the man in the pbotograph presented to the public."

WHY be there to see JFK passing by as opposed to the sixth floor readying a defunct rifle? Because (p. 331) :"Oswald told his wife Marina, as she revealed later (1993 interview with Tom Brokaw), that he 'liked and approved of the President and believed that for the United States in 1963, John F. Kennedy was the best President this country could hope to have."

In effect, Shermer's take and spin - like the Warrenites  - is pure propaganda and bunkum. Lee Oswald was not the crazed commie fanatic that the WC and its flunkies claim murdered Kennedy but a long time admirer who actually listened to his speeches, and checked out library books (William Manchester's 'Portrait of a President' and 'Profiles in Courage' from New Orleans Public Library - as its records show-  cited by Douglass on p. 330)

(7)  "Oswald left, picked up his pistol...shot officer J.D. Tippet....then ducked into a nearby movie theater and entered without paying. He pulled out his revolver and attempted to shoot an officer with his revolver but the gun failed and he said 'Well, it is all over now"

Pure hogwash as both Oglesby and Douglass note. First, as Douglass points out (p. 291), the concession stand operator (Warren 'Butch' Burroughs)  at the Texas Theater observed that Oswald entered the theater between 1:00 p.m. and 1: 07 p.m. "several minutes before Officer Tippet was slain seven blocks away. If true, this would eliminate Oswald as a candidate for Tippet's murder."

Indeed, he'd have to have covered seven blocks or nearly 0.6 of a mile in 3 minutes or less, making him one of the fastest men who ever lived. Indeed, Burroughs was adamant he sold popcorn to Oswald at precisely 1:15 p.m. "information that the Warren Commission did not solicit from his testimony".  But why be surprised, since the whole artifice of this Whitewash commission was based on cherry -picking what they wanted to solidify the lone gunman case against Lee. As Douglass observes (ibid.):

"When Oswald bought his popcorn at 1:15 p.m. this was exactly the same time the Warren Report said Officer Tippet was being shot to death"

So never mind being one of the fastest men on Earth, Oswald had to be capable of bilocation too!  There's a real paranormal phenomenon for Shermer and the Skeptic Society to sink their teeth into!

But if rationality prevails, it had to have been another shooter that took down Tippet and that's where the actual evidence points. Officer Gerald Hill had custody of the .38 supposedly found on Oswald. Hill testified to the Warren Commission that he'd found six live rounds in the chamber and two empty cartridges  (that came from an automatic weapon) at the murder scene. (Revolvers don't discharge shells after firing) but the WC dismissed his account because, well, they'd lose their "Oswald the killer" tale otherwise.

Given Oswald failed a paraffin test for nitrate residue, and given the preceding account, the evidence indicates Oswald never fired a gun that day, period. Full stop. 

Under furious pressure from authorities, most of the original  Tippet killing witnesses subsequently changed their testimony to saying the killer "looked like Oswald." What they were threatened with we don't know, but it's interesting that a number of other  witnesses who came forward that day (e.g. Julia Ann Mercer, Lee Bowers, S.M. Holland et al) were threatened or cajoled into conformity if they insisted anyone but Oswald was the perp - whether in the assassination or the Tippet killing.

Two witnesses never did alter their words: Jack Tatum and Aquilla Clemmons, mainly because the WC never called them or took statements. But Tatum later testified to the HSCA  and Clemmons related to researcher Mark Lane (in the documentary 'Rush to Judgment')  that the killer was clearly a heavy set white male

Given Oswald had to have been at the Texas Theater buying his popcorn - unless one subscribes to bilocation, this means Oswald had nothing to do with the Tippet killing.

Now, since Shermer mentions the Texas Theater incident too, let's delve into that. Douglass (p. 292) makes it known that the Dallas cops approached Oswald (in his seat) "almost as if they were provoking the suspected police killer to break away from his seat ..which would have given Tippet's enraged fellow officers an excuse to kill him".

But Oswald did no such thing. Nor did he attempt to fire any shots as Shermer babbles. Lee clearly and obviously knew by now he'd been set up as the patsy and the last thing he wanted to do was make these Dallas cops his judge, jury and executioners. No, he wanted to have his trial and his say, and how and why he'd been set up.

So, rather than mindlessly react he expressly said:  "I am not resisting arrest! Police brutality!"  He never said  "It's all over now" - those words were put into his mouth by the WC's cavalcade of faux witness puppets and liars.

Douglass' most trenchant observation is perhaps this one, on the whole basis for Lee's being used as the patsy (p. 364) because he exposed the earlier plot in Chicago on Nov. 2, 1963:

"If Oswald was the same 'Lee' who called in and saved Kennedy and (Thomas Arthur) Vallee in Chicago then Oswald had risked becoming what he in fact became, the ultimate scapegoat in Dallas, where there was no one to save Kennedy and himself. "

Shermer and his Skeptic Society buddies might do well to ponder those words, and the evidence against their baloney, as opposed to resurrecting it again.

See also this excellent lecture by Prof. David R. Wrone:

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Warmest Xmas Ever In East: But Don't Celebrate!

Well, would you celebrate the birth of a three-headed infant? I don't think so! You'd understand instinctively it's unnatural. Humans do not have 3-headed babies, it's a simple statement of fact. Hence, something serious must be wrong with this picture. In like manner, people shouldn't be celebrating a 66F Christmas Day in New York, or a 70 F Christmas Eve. Because in meteorological terms such temperatures in December for eastern cities are just as unnatural as 3-headed babies. But to hear and see some people, it's a "gift".


In fact would you regard it as a gift when the next El Nino erupts and you have temperatures of 90- 95 F on Christmas Day? Don't believe it can happen? Think again! Also, that such high temperature conditions will one day become permanent through the entire year - not just the odd time or during a heat wave or a few summer months.

Many people - such as the guy on an NBC segment two days ago who exclaimed "This is nuts!" - want to believe this is just an aberration, an unusually warm but annoying few days in one warmish December. But I have news for them: it's just the beginning of ever escalating temperature aberrations including intense heat waves which will also see "cool" temperatures at night barely different from daytime highs. Get braced for an accelerated period of global warming! Welcome to the pre-runaway greenhouse effect phase!

Oh, for sure, the meteorologists  (like NBC's Al Roker, a global warming skeptic) will point to large high pressure domes over the nation's midsection or 'deformed' jet streams and expatiate on  how long they may last. The impression given here is of a transitory meteorological phenomenon which has little or no connection to climate science. So we just need to expect in coming years that the jet stream will float high over Canada making conditions unbearably hot by keeping the jet stream away and hot air flooding in from the south.

But these guys never touch on the whys and wherefores! Well, Geophysicist and climate scientist S. George Philander did more than 17 years ago in a small but hot-button piece in Eos: Transactions of the American Geophysical Union (March 31, 1998):Who is El Nino?’

Philander argued that El Nino and its sister cyclic counterpart 'La Nina' are not merely the yin and yangs of a meteorological cycle (La Nina from current forecasts is due to ramp up the end of next year) but actually offshoots of climate change in terms of their expected future behavior. Thus, as more CO2 is pumped into the atmosphere (as indicated by the Keeling curve - which shows CO2 injection has exceeded the absorption capacity of the oceans), El Nino will ramp up leading to blistering hot and dry conditions, even as La Nina continues her antics bringing cooler spells and precip. However, unmentioned is the game changer of altered albedo.

For reference, the heating effects are largely tied to increases in ocean temperatures for El Nino. For the past several months these temperatures have reached 3.6F higher than normal. In its early stages EL Nino had already spun off environmental havoc including "red tides" - from a certain species of algae, as well as rendering a species of crab inedible that usually thrives in the sea waters off southern California. This effect has been combined with unusual jet stream flows this December to effectively turn the nation schizoid - with we in the West having the usual normal cold temperature (it is 18F now as I write this) while those in the eastern U.S. bask in unusually warm temperatures with amped up warm, moist air entering from the Gulf.

To grasp this, try to think of what happens when you open the door of your fridge and allow it to defrost. Over a rather brief time interval all your ice melts (de-frosting) and the fridge (if left open)  will reach thermal equilibrium with the room temperature. At this point no ice remains at all, and meanwhile your electric bill will soar. In a similar way, the Arctic is defrosting (and to a lesser extent the Antarctic) and this is encapsulated in the lower diagram.

The defrosting of the Arctic arises from the melting of its polar ice and sea ice, as well as large glaciers and that includes much of the land mass of Greenland. The situation worsens as temperatures (from higher CO2 levels) lead to earlier and earlier melting, analogous to leaving the fridge door open longer and longer. Surface temperatures last summer ranged up to 3 Celsius higher than average and generated a much earlier melting.

When snow melts, grains tend to cluster in a process called 'constructive metamorphism. This reduces the albedo or reflectivity of the surface - leading to increased absorption of solar radiation. Meanwhile, bare ice is much less reflective than snow, absorbing even more solar radiation and further speeding any melting. (In the diagram, the red arrows indicate incoming radiation and the blue arrows indicate radiation reflected back into space. Percentages give the amounts of reflected incoming solar radiation).

All this - combined with an intense El Nino - paved the way for the abnormal temperatures we're seeing now in the eastern U.S.  The other aspect to bear in mind, as Philander noted, is that the El Ninos in the future -fed by global warming - will steadily increase in intensity. The EL Nino -La Nnia oscillation itself will keep going until the first 'year of no seasons' predicted by David Suzuki as long ago as 1991.  He estimated in his book, 'It's A Matter of Survival' (1991), that the first year of no season would occur in 2040. But given the pace of warming has ramped up to the point a 2C target threshold is now mostly regarded as a pipedream (given no serious carbon emissions cuts) we will likely see that first year of no seasons as early as 2030.

As a recent TIME report noted (Dec. 28, p. 18):

"A 3.5 C temperature rise would occur even if all (200) nations meet initial pledges to reduce carbon emissions.  This would still submerge coastal cities and drive over half of species to extinction."

It would also make life so horrific for humans, they will wish for extinction. Think of 6-8 month heat waves lasting even through supposed 'cold' months and temperatures hitting 95F- 100 F regularly - even in December. Think of it happening not just in the U.S. but globally.  And think of power grids mostly being down because they are unable to meet the vastly enhanced power demands, say for air conditioning.

The other factor that's enabled a more rapid heating from global warming, is the reduction of global dimming. The effect was first spotted by Gerry Stanhill, an English scientist working in Israel. Stanhill called the phenomenon 'global dimming', but his research, published in 2001, met with a skeptical response from other climate scientists. It wasn't until several years later that his conclusions were confirmed by Australian scientists using a completely different method to estimate solar radiation, that climate scientists at last woke up to the reality of global dimming.

Dimming appears to be caused by air pollution. This visible air pollution reflects sunlight back into space, preventing it reaching the surface. But the pollution also changes the optical properties of clouds. Because the particles seed the formation of water droplets, polluted clouds contain a larger number of droplets than unpolluted clouds. Recent research shows that this makes them more reflective than they would otherwise be, enhancing albedo and hence offsetting the lowered albedo from Arctic melting.

Stanhill and others estimated that global dimming masked up to one third of global warming for the past twenty -five years. Now that masking is at an end, and we are seeing mean global temperatures ramp up yearly.

We are headed for very "interesting" times indeed, mostly brought about because we paid too much attention to the climate change skeptics and their hacks in the media for too long. Now the planet inherited by our younger generations will likely not be worth living on. But perhaps they will be able to find a new one, based on a working interstellar drive.  If they settle such a world, hopefully they  won't end up trashing it for profit and expedience like their ancestors did to Earth.

One can always hope!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Economists: Xmas Gift Giving Is "Wasteful" and "Inefficient"

Image result for scroogenomics
The Economists who've given us such things as the Pareto distribution, and tax cuts for the wealthy being more valuable than Social Security for the aged, have come in with a new twist: Christmas gifts are useless, wasteful and inefficient.

In yesterday's WSJ (p. A1, A8), we learn of one former Yale University economics specialist (Joel Waldfogel) who wrote a 1993 paper, 'The Deadweight Loss of Christmas', who actually calculated Yuletide waste by asking 86 students to assess the cost of presents they received, arriving at an average of $438. He then asked them how much they'd be willing to spend for the same gifts they got. The answer was an average of $313.  In other words, the recipients valued the actual gifts received at 71.5 cents on the dollar relative to what they'd have paid.

The prof concluded:

"Gifts leave the recipient worse off than if she had made her own consumption choice with an equal amount of cash"

The WSJ notes that "since then economists have enriched the Grinch school of economics."

Well, why be surprised? Remember this is the same lot that has argued that spending by the wealthiest is more "Pareto efficient" than spent say by an elderly guy on Social Security. Also, health dollars spent by the richest are more valuable than those spent by the hoi polloi, say on colonoscopies. In the same way, Pareto efficiency declares it  makes more sense to just give the unwealthy person say $134 NOT to visit the doctor and consume medical time and resources. Those resources are better left to the rich who can afford to pay the reservation price.   This is just the maximum price a person is willing to pay. Clearly these Xmas gift experiments disclose  the recipients are not prepared to pay the reservation price for the gifts received.

To fix ideas, a 2009 Journal of SocioEconomics paper actually measured the worth of gifts from books (which recipients valued at 74 % of the amount spent)  to footwear (92 % of amount spent) and kitchen gadgets (77 %).  Based on this the paper's authors concluded:

"We find  no evidence of significant welfare gains in any gift category. Hence, gifts represent a market failure"

But perhaps these geniuses were too focused on the recipients' assessments. We already know from elementary consumer psychology (see Benjamin Barber's book, 'Consumed' ) that economists have observed when people get things gratis they tend to undervalue them. (One reason why, when homeless are given new abodes to live in - say in Denver - they have to have jobs soon after moving in, to be able to keep paying rent)

Experiments conducted in the past have almost always shown that recipients undervalue social benefits, say even Medicare drugs or medical visits - mainly because they are getting them free or at vastly reduced cost to themselves. It turns out if they have to pay more for them - not outlandishly more,  obviously - they are more judicious in their uses or needs. This can well explain why Medicare is often overused by seniors, because they are getting "freebies" and hence tend to devalue the actual costs - which they'd see first hand if they had to pay themselves.

If people tend to undervalue social benefits perceived as "free", then it is logical to expect they'd do the same thing with Christmas gifts.

Again, please note this is not to necessarily make seniors pay much more (many of us already are, as we see premiums rise each year for Medicare supplements) but only make recipients more aware of the actual monetary value of the benefits.

I got a 'grade A' perception of the value of Medicare benefits after my (prostate) cancer treatment in 2012. While I had to pay some $1,300 that was vastly less than the total value (nearly $50,000 including labs, anesthesia, implant surgery, brachytherapy, CT scans and hospital stay until recovery)  Since then, I've been far more judicious in the use of medical services, and only reluctantly went to the orthopedic surgeon after fracturing a big toe.

I suspect a similar dynamic operates with these economic assessments of gift giving. Because the gifts are free and only assessed from the recipients' side, their value is bound to be lowballed, just as Medicare beneficiaries lowball the value of their medical benefits.

Indeed, one economist  - Sun Wong Sohn  - quoted in the WSJ piece, doesn't buy the economic inefficiency critique of Xmas gifts.  According to him:

"I don't think we should be analyzing this as an economic subject. We're talking about fun, holiday spirit".

Which is one way of looking at it. But still,  IF one did examine it from an economic perspective I believe the basis discussed above warrants consideration: that recipients will always tend to underestimate the value of gifts.

Not disconnected to this is the case of the numerous charity "free gifts" sent out yearly around this time. Already, I've received in the mail a calculator, a pen set, a pair of thermal gloves and numerous note pads, address labels and even calendars.

Whether I give a donation in return depends on a number of factors, including: the efficiency of the charity (how much is actually used for the defined purpose as opposed to purchasing these gifts, or administration) and how many other similar gifts I have received. I will always lowball the value of the latter, especially calendars - since given the oversupply of these freebies - the value is minimal. Hence, at the most I will acknowledge receipt with a $1 donation, especially if it's a charity I've never given to before.

In all such donations I've never given remotely what the items - e.g. pen set, gloves - might really be worth. Again, they gave it to me  "free" so I do not place as much value on the item as they might expect in donation - especially if it's a charity trying for the first time to 'lure' me in based on guilt. Their problem is I have no problem accepting all these gifts guilt- free and not giving a dime. They instigated the gift to me, I do not necessarily feel compelled to give a donation back of any value to reciprocate, particularly if I've never donated to that organization before.. That's life.

This also shows the tactic of many charities to send out "free gifts" to increase charitable donations from the recipients can often backfire.  They make the mistake of assuming everyone will react the same  way - feeling guilty at getting but not giving - but they don't.

Thus, just as one economist cited by the Journal agrees Xmas gift giving can be "wasteful" so also charities' tactical gift giving can be, if it doesn't translate into the donation benefit. (One analysis by givewell,org determined one charity - which shall go unnamed- spent 58 percent of its proceeds on 'gifts' to entice new donations. This is the epitome of a terribly inefficient charity)

Prof. Waldfogel, meanwhile, hasn't backed off from his assessment that gift giving is a losing proposition. The gift givers are"losers", and so are the recipients (since they will always undervalue the gifts). This - he estimates - will translate into a huge waste this Christmas when Americans are estimated to shell out about $830 each for gifts.

Waldfogel has published his take in his book: 'Scroogenomics - Why You Shouldn't Buy Presents for the Holidays'.  Interestingly "his phone rings every December with requests to explain his thesis"

Here's an easy explanation:

As long as people undervalue gifts or other freebies there is no point giving them if economic "efficiency" is the standard for giving.

If it isn't then people shouldn't be bothered. Heck, in the WSJ survey of the economists 51 of 54 admitted they 'broke down' and bought gifts for loved ones. The other three who at first declined to respond later admitted the same thing.

Who'd have thought?

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Planning To Give A Drone Gift? Know The Registration Rules!

A typical drone gift - just bear in mind if it's more than a half pound it needs to be registered.

It's now Christmas Eve and many people are still scrambling for gifts to loved ones. One of the "toys" pumped by the media heads is the drone, such as in the graphic above. Some media outfits are projecting up to 3 million of these gizmos will be sold, but one questions whether all the drone gift recipients are aware of the new registration rules.

These rules were unveiled last Monday, according to the Wall Street Journal ('New Rules for Drone Owners') just in time for Xmas gift givers to know what's required before they purchase the product, which will generally weigh in at more than a half pound (the rules won't apply to the palm-sized drones).

For the heavier (1/2 lb or more) gizmos:

"Drone owners will need to register on a government website and receive a unique use number that they must attach or write on any drones they own."

In this way, any drones involved in collisions (including with homes or aircraft), or other nefarious uses (e.g. spying on a neighbor) can be traced back to the offending owner.

The WSJ piece goes on:

"Users who purchased a drone before Dec. 21st, when the rules take effect, will have until Feb. 19 to register. Drones purchased after Dec. 21st must be registered before the first flight . The cost of each registration is $5 but regulators are waiving that fee for the first 30 days."

The article goes on to note that "registration is the latest step in the drone industry's transition from a hobbyist community to  mass -market commercial industry."

Also, regulators - including at the FAA - want to signal to drone users that their machines are more than toys and misuse could have drastic consequences. We've already noted 241 near collisions with commercial aircraft from December, 2013 to September, 2015 (ibid.), as well as the recent drone crash near a skier in Europe -missing him by a few feet.  All the incidents in concert point to the need to regulate these damn things and that includes the ability to trace them back to users/owners.

As Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told reporters (ibid.):

"Registration will enforce the need to operate unmanned craft safely."

Of course, there's been some backlash from hobbyist interests who still haven't processed their little "toys" can pose lethal threats. (Just one 3 lb. drone getting sucked into a jet engine might bring it down).

The Academy of Model Aeronautics, a model aircraft bunch, has said the requirement to register "violates a 2012 law that largely prohibits the FAA from regulating recreational drones". (Ibid.)

Recall this was the original bastardized law passed by congressional whores . The story about the law appeared originally in The Wall Street Journal  ('U.S. Skies Could See More Drones', p. A7) and came as a shocker of sorts. First, because it disclosed yet another federal agency (FAA) held hostage by congressional rats and the corporatist-industrial complex  - attempting to find new avenues for drone production since the occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan were ending. And second, because it disclosed the extent of secrecy surrounding  corporate-benefiting information.

The piece also noted that some $63 billion had been spent over four years in the lobbying and rewriting phases.  It predicted that U.S. skies would be inundated with "tens of thousands" of unmanned drones sharing airspace with commercial planes - and this despite overworked air traffic controllers, as gauged by nearly 300 near misses per year. .

Certainly the commercial pilots themselves weren't too enthused. As the WSJ article observed:

"Barely hours after the 374-page bill became public pilot union officials urged a more deliberate approach. Lee Moak, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, which represents 53,000 pilots across North America, said his organization remains worried about safety issues such as training and certification of those unmanned aircraft."

The article continued by noting that: "Safety experts also have raised questions about the ability of sensors aboard unmanned aircraft to properly detect a nearby plane, and to assure immediate action to avoid a midair collision".

Medea Benjamin also highlighted the same pernicious corporate lobby and congressional origin of this drone legislation:

 "They’ve been able to write the drone legislation and get their lackeys in Congress to push it through and get the president to sign it. But they are going to have to work harder and harder as we ramp up our efforts to educate the public.”

All of which means the Academy of Model Aeronautics has no legit leg to stand on given the FAA must watch out for the safety of ALL air passengers and cannot allow itself to be trumped by commercial bullshit or greed.

Thus, as the current WSJ article put it (ibid.):

"The FAA said it can require registration under existing aircraft registration laws, meaning failure to register a drone technically carries the same penalties as failing to register a commercial aircraft including fines up to $250,000 and a prison term of three years."

All of which is totally justified given as the WSJ wrote, that in 28 of the 241 near misses, "pilots had to maneuver to avoid collision with the drone".

So the braying backlashers need to put  sock in it and cooperate.

As Task Force member Brandon Torres Declet put it (ibid.):

"The drone industry is becoming more like manned aviation every day and we have to come to terms with the fact that the FAA is going to continue to put additional rules and regulations in place".

Drone gift buyers and the users in whose hands they will end up, need to process this new reality and cooperate as opposed to becoming scofflaws.