We should be grateful

  1. It is truly amazing that there is an observable universe at all with the laws of gravity, physics and chemistry as they are. We should be grateful for this — without it, we would not exist.
  2. However the universe began, it is truly amazing that untold generations of novae, supernovae, and planetary nebulae have successively enriched the interstellar medium enough for our own extraordinary solar system came into existence with lots of higher-atomic-number elements. We should be grateful for this — without it, we would not exist.
  3. It is also truly amazing that this little planet of ours survived aeons of bombardments by other planetary bodies, enriched by a stabilizing Moon and a good bit of water and enough carbon to enable carbon-based life forms to arise and evolve. We should be grateful for this — without it, we would not exist. Note: no other planet has been discovered that appears to be habitable.
  4. It is truly amazing that our species has evolved in such a way that we cooperate better than any other species (except the social insects) and we teach each other skills; so much so that in the past few centuries we have figured out large parts of the puzzles of matter, life, and the universe. Unfortunately, we are also really, really good at organizing ourselves into corporations, ruling classes, tribes, nations and armies that fight each other, oppress and exploit the majority, and do an amazing job of destroying the very fabric of life.
  5. I am very, very grateful for all of these wonderful forces that brought us into being. Who or what (being or forces) brought us all into existence is a mystery we will never, ever figure out. If you want to call it “God”, go right ahead, but don’t pretend this god has anything to do with any of the fairy tales recorded in any “holy book”.
  6. The only part of this planet that is habitable is extremely tiny. If you try to climb a mountain 4 miles (6 km) above sea level, you will die — unless you bring special, expensive equipment like bottled oxygen. Our very deepest mines (in South Africa), dug at enormous expense to mine gold, are so hot at those levels that you will die down there without special equipment. Also, you can’t dive more than a a few meters into the sea without special training and equipment. Ccompare that few miles of possible vertical travel to the diameter of the Earth (~8000 miles) and you will find that human life without amazing protective bubbles is as thick as a sheet of paper glued to a basketball. And we are screwing it up quickly.
  7. If there are other planets out there that are as lucky as Earth, they are SSOOOO far away that there is no conceivable way to get there except in science fiction (ie fairy tales).
  8. Let us stop oppressing and murdering each other, and stop destroying the only known habitable planet in the entire universe.

Exponential Growth and Earth Hour

Because of the problem of nearly exponential growth, I wager that making a complete genealogical chart for any one person for say 5 generations forward and back, including in-laws and cousins, is a challenging mathematical-logical conundrum that is unsolvable on any single piece of paper. John once pointed out to me that the cousins and in-laws that really start accumulating very, very rapidly. Also: “most genealogy models show one to have more potential ancestors than human beings to have ever lived” if you go back far enough. ( see https://math.stackexchange.com/questions/3677238/exponential-growth-and-decay-model-for-human-genealogy-common-ancestor 

By coincidence, some of my students are studying exponential growth at the moment, and I will endeavor to create a problem for them on this. The cousins and in-laws are the tricky part. A logistic curve makes more sense. https://xaktly.com/LogisticFunctions.html

No wonder that  numerous purpose-built software apps  have been rolled out over the years to handle the genealogical problem. I’ve not sunk time into learning SQL or any other relational databases, but I’m glad there are people like Ellen who for whatever reason desire to do so!

My bottom line is that all of humans are cousins or brothers or sisters or whatever. We are all one family. Some of our ancestors have done wonderful things, others have been monsters, and we should try not to emulate the monsters but learn from the good that our foremothers and forefathers have done. We only have one planet.  I’m an amateur astronomer, and I’ve looked through scopes and everything I see out there is more inhospitable than anybody’s imagined Hell. While we can probably not wipe out all of life on earth even if we tried our very, very worst, we seem to have acquired the power to make it into a place that nobody would *want* to live. Let’s not go that way!

Evidence shows that climate cycles are kind of fragile, and that seeming stasis for thousands or millions of years can change, and has changed, in mere decades or even overnight! (qv Chixclub). And we as a species are doing an excellent job of wiping out the best parts of our planet – generally for huge private profits for a relative few, who offered steady employment for a somewhat larger number of others who actually did the dirty and dangerous work of destruction — often despite objections from folks who foresaw dangers – and to the detriment of the rest of humanity and all life on earth.

A reminder of the things that humans have completely or almost wiped out over the past two centuries:

* a large fraction of all the jungles and forests

* many of the animals we see in zoos (rhinos, tigers, elephants, pandas)

* the innumerable cod, whales, certain oysters, buffalo, passenger pigeons, certain frogs, American chestnuts, elms, and ash; brazil trees, many mangroves and coral reefs, many insects, and more. 

* and yet we keeping on burning fossil fuels and chopping down forests for pasture or plantations as if it won’t make any difference. 

It won’t help things for one branch of the human family to try to wipe out another branch — the wars devastate things even more. If we dig up and burn and cut down and pollute everything and make this world uninhabitable, there is no other place to go, despite what certain ‘visionaries’ might claim.

We have won some battles against this in the past. My own parents took us kids on a lot of canoe trips here in the MD-DC-VA area back in the 1950s and 1960s, and I have continued that into the 2020a. I recall that in the old days, quite often there would be huge piles of soap suds below certain rapids on certain streams. This nasty effect was from the (a) the particular types of detergents that were legal to use back then and (b) the general lack of effective sewage treatment. Laws were passed forbidding those types of detergents, and lots of sewage treatment plants got built. Result? Problem solved! At least here in the US.

Other countries with corrupt governments, not so much. My friends from India and China say the air pollution there is unbelievably bad, and the water pollution is even worse.

Another problem that has been pretty much solved, world wide**: Freon and the ozone hole. It was a surprise to many that refrigerants and cans of spray paint or deodorant held a chemical that ended up wiping out the ozone layer that protects the earth from most of the dangerous UV rays. But it was shown, scientifically, to be the case; individuals and scientists made their case; and governments around the world stopped manufacturers from using the bad stuff and use other stuff instead, and they did! The ozone hole is now steadily shrinking, and air conditioners of today are both quieter and more efficient than those of yesteryear. 

So victories are possible.

My little campaign right now involves light pollution. Along with other members of the DC Chapter of the International Dark-Sky Association, we are trying to get individuals and businesses and institutions to shut off all non-essential lighting for one hour here in DC, from 8:30 to 9:30 pm on March 25 (next month) as part of Earth Hour.

Why bother?

First of all, light pollution is indeed a problem. Only a very small fraction of the people of the world can go out their front door on a clear night and see the same Milky Way that **all** of our ancestors could see if you go back 200 years. Join One Of The World’s Largest Movements for Nature | Earth Hour 2022 It’s not nice to live in a prison yard where the lights are on, real bright, all night. Plus, all those lights have really, really bad impacts on human health and on migrating birds, and all the nocturnal insects. (When was the last time you had to clean off a windshield full of insects, or seen a cloud of them around a street light? In fact, careful surveys of insect populations show that the number and mass of them are plummeting everywhere they have been measured over the a period of decades. No insects, then no food. Our nice little planet was formed in indescribably violent cycles of events (supernovae and such, repeated at somewhat random intervals over the past 13 or 14 billion years) that astronomers are just now figuring out. It is an awful shame that just as we are beginning to understand how the universe has evolved, most humans no longer see any part of it except for our tiny little planet, the Sun, and the Moon. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2023/02/01/cut-light-pollution-health/ ) And it’s getting exponentially worse every year. https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.adf4952#:~:text=Analysis%20of%20data%20from%20the,in%20less%20than%208%20years.

Join One Of The World’s Largest Movements for Nature | Earth Hour 2022 Thank you for taking part in Earth Hour 2022! Let’s keep the momentum going ’til Earth Hour 2023 next year – 25 …

We know that this one hour of relative dimming won’t in itself change much. But if we can organize this, then we can do more – for example, figure out how to properly shield all those street lights, porch lights, and so on; to fix their emission spectrum away from the blue end; and to have them turn off when nobody’s around. While still enabling people to get around safely and to be safe at night.

So if you know anybody who is in charge of lighting up a flag pole, a monument, a playing field, or advertising messages, see if you can persuade them to join this little movement, and to turn off all non-essential lighting that is visible from the outside. For just one hour: 8:30 to 9:30 pm, Saturday, March 25, 2023.

See if you can get building managers to turn off all those office lights as well for that hour.

If you are at home, turn off your porch light. If you need the lights on inside your home or work place during that time, then consider pulling the curtains.

Guy Brandenburg, 


Trump Administration Opposes Actual Science, Because That Would Cost Money to the 0.001% and Instead Help Ordinary People and the Planet

I predict that history will judge that this Administration is by far the worst that the American people ever elected. Yes, worse than Bush2, Harding, or Buchanan.

Unless future history is written by flunkies hired by Jerry Fallwell or the Koch brothers.

God forbid! (If there is one; if God actually exists, all the evidence shows that he/it/it/she/they is/are incompetent, when you think of all the mass murderers, swindlers, and dictators who have lived to a ripe old age surrounded in luxury, while millions if not billions of people suffer in unimaginable squalor in slums, favelas, tent cities, or refugee camps, while we simultaneously wipe out all the big land- and sea-dwelling mammals and pollute the air, land, and oceans for posterity with poisons, plastics, and poop.)

One piece of evidence comes from this rather long article in the New York Times which points out how much they have been either attacking science directly or simply ignoring it: science advisory positions that have existed since World War Two aren’t filled, science advisory panels to government agencies are ignored or eliminated, scientific data is ignored or denied, and instead, polluters who used to be regulated and fined by agencies are instead put in charge of them.

Here is the link.

And, yes, this is new. There are many things for which you can find fault with previous American administrations, including Obama (who was worse on education even than GWBush, and we know that all American governments lie constantly [eg Gulf of Tonkin Incident, The Sinking of the Maine, Iraq’s nonexistent Weapons of Mass Destruction, etc, etc), but actively fighting science was never one of them.

#45 is even going to try to ‘negotiate’ next week with North Korea without having actual advisors on nuclear weapons. What could possibly go wrong with that?

It’s really scary.

Trump, Finance, and Outsourcing

I listened to Trump talking about the Chinese and Mexicans ‘stealing our jobs’. In fact, it’s American companies who shed American jobs either by automating the production (so that 1 worker today can do about the same amount of work as 10 workers back when I had summer jobs in factories making automobile parts and clamps and such, 40 or 50 years ago) or else by closing the entire American branch of the firm down and selling off all its assets and machines and renegotiating for suppliers of its raw materials and for customers, and generally stiffing the workers who had oftentimes accumulated a promise to some sort of a pension and life long health care plan after working a set number of years. So after working in a factory or mine for their entire able-bodied adult life, they end up with almost nothing.
(Trump would have a bit more credibility on this topic if he hadn’t for years had almost all of his branded products made in China, Vietnam, Mexico and so on. ‘Makes him smart’ to do an end-run around American wages, worker protections, and taxes. While he complains to American supporters about other corporations like Ford and Caterpillar doing exactly the same thing.)
When I went to school and worked for about 6-7 years in NH, MA, NY and VT during my ‘teens and 20’s, I knew older workers (like at my college) who lost had lost multiple fingers in the textile mills — which had already closed because the corporate heads were chasing cheaper labor in the American South. The janitor in my college dorm was a really nice older fellow. I think he still had a majority of his fingers, but I vividly remember that he was unable to go up a flight of stairs without immediately sitting down for 10 minutes at an oxygen tank, because he had contracted ‘white lung’ from years working around whirring machinery and breathing hot, moist air filled with cotton dust. [The hot, moist air and high levels of cotton dust made for better production levels and thus, higher profits for the company, workers’ long-term health be damned.] Despite his advanced age, he clearly still needed to work at the College because his Social Security and whatever pension he may or may not have had wasn’t enough.] He had an oxygen tank on the second and third floors of our dorm, IIRC.
Extremely highly-skilled tool and die workers in Springfield, VT, which was once the very center of precision machine manufacturing of the United States, have seen the entire industry in that so-called ‘precision valley’ get shipped overseas. All of those factories are now empty shells, it’s true.
I talked to coal miners in West Virginia in the 1970s and 1980s who were similarly scarred for life by black lung disease; they were upset 35 years ago that their lifetime health care plans would be taken away or dramatically reduced.
But it’s not immigrant workers who sneak across our borders with secret plans to remoove all those machines in the dead of night, with the open or hush-hush agreements of state and local and federal governments, banks & other financial institutions, lawyers, and other companies that supply them with spare parts, raw materials, and markets. It’s not illegal aliens doing this. It’s sleaze bag financiers and businessmen like Donald Trump, Goldman Sachs, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, the Walton family, and the Koch brothers who do this. Not desperate workers looking for a life but who can’t afford the fees, bribes, lawyers and connections needed to get official, legitimate, visas and green cards.
In fact, one can make the argument that it’s the Walton family itself that has nearly single-handedly made China the manufacturing center of the entire world. David Stockman among many others has shown that Walmart’s relentless pressure to reduce prices forced American companies to lay off almost all of their American workers and to outsource production to countries where workers are killed by goons and their bodies bnurned or fed to crocodiles if they try to organize unions (as opposed to simply being fired, bankrupted and disgraced, which is the American way) to try to get better than starvation wages, some personal privacy and respect, shorter hours, and safer working conditions. So that’s why if you visit places like Rochester, Phoenixville, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Springfield (VT), Detroit, or Indianapolis you won’t see the factories that gave employment to (and also maimed and wore out) millions of American workers. We also don’t have the smog or severe air and water pollution of yesteryear. The heavily-polluting coke mills of Gary or Weirton WV are (I think?) all closed too, thanks both to EPA rules and the impersonal dictates of the ‘invisible hand’ and the Walton family fortune.
But all is not so wonderful in China (or India, Thailand or Vietnam) for those peasants-turned-factory workers who are no longer spending their lives hoeing rice, millet, or sorghum but instead making toys, clothing, textiles, electronics, cars, and anything else for 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, all $100/month (Vietnam) see this for US, Germany, China comparisons
For one thing, the air pollution in India and China reminds me of the similar and famous problems of London or Pittsburgh back in the 1950’s (see London 1953 and Beijing 60 years later, below)
London during the Great Smog  
In addition, China is itself in a completely unsustainable bubble, where the financiers and Party heads command enormous empty modern cities to be built in the middle of nowhere, in which nobody works or lives except for a few security guards and custodians, and there are no open businesses or shops – as a way of making jobs, but nobody appears to be able to afford to buy the apartments and condos there. I don’t pretend to understand how that makes any sense, nor do I comprehend, high finance, but some people say they do, and their predictions for the Chinese economy make for pretty alarming reading.
And of course, the fact that nearly all Trump products are made overseas is a pretty good indication that he’s just pandering to an easily-fooled section of the electorate. It’s divide-and-rule: make American workers (who have been screwed by the 1/10 of 1% who rule this country) hate and blame workers overseas, especially if them furriners come here looking to make a better life and don’t have the right papers or might have some funny ideas or aren’t Baptists or Methodists …
Published in: on September 29, 2016 at 11:48 am  Leave a Comment  
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