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Sunday, April 01, 2012

  0 comments

JOHNSON / WIENER 2012

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 1, 2012

Wiener announces bid for the

Libertarian Party’s Vice-Presidential Nomination

As a member in good standing of the Libertarian Party since 1972, Daniel Wiener today announced his willingness to be drafted as the Libertarian Party’s 2012 Vice-Presidential nominee. Prior to his current service on the Libertarian National Committee, Wiener’s personal profile included stretches as Newsletter Editor, Executive Committee member, Judicial Committee Chairman, Secretary, Treasurer, Vice-Chairman, and Chairman of the Libertarian Party of California. At California’s 1980 convention he was officially elected as the party’s Elder Statesman, at the then-unusually-young age of only 31, and has maintained that exalted position ever since.

Wiener brings a wealth of unconventional wisdom, if not monetary assets, to the perennially-underappreciated position of Vice-Presidential Candidate. Together with expected LP Presidential nominee Gary Johnson, the Johnson/Wiener 2012 combination will make an extremely potent team, disseminating the Libertarian message that government must stop screwing with the country’s economy, and that it is time to infuse the body politic with a rebirth of liberty for future generations.

A More Seductive Philosophy

Americans have become accustomed to an Executive Branch which can’t perform. The federal government suffers from massive electoral dysfunction. The Constitution is being raped by both Democrat and Republican hot heads, while the passive voters are encouraged to just lay back and enjoy it. Attempts to warn the public are quickly aborted by the syphilantic news media.

Wiener firmly believes that a seductive approach will lead to a much better out come than trying to force our Libertarian ideas upon unresponsive voters who are in political withdrawal.

Ending Taxpayer Defilement

After his designation as the LP’s Vice-Presidential standard bearer, the major element of Wiener’s policy thrust will be his Fully-Refundable Tax Proposal. Banged out as a prophylactic measure to enhance the productive members of society, this plan will refund all compulsory taxes paid by U.S. taxpayers in the form of newly-issued 60-year Treasury bonds. These “Longevity Bonds” will have a guaranteed yield equal to twice the interest rate of 30-year bonds, payable when the instruments reach maturity.

Longevity Bonds offer the vision of a distant future in which taxpayers will no longer be emasculated by the depredations of Leviathan Government. But what if taxpayers can’t keep going long enough to achieve that desired climax? Longevity Bonds will be fully transferable and procurable on the secondary financial markets (albeit with the potentiality that, due to their rather queer nature, they might trade at a discount to their face value). How will the United States Treasury afford to cover the bonds at maturity? Current extrapolations of computer trends suggest that Artificial Intelligences (AI’s) will vastly exceed human intelligence levels by that time, allowing us to postpone the solution to this seemingly-intractable problem until AI’s have attained the capacity to deal with it. As a backup measure, in case a solution has not yet been conceived, Longevity Bonds will contain a provision allowing them to be rolled over for additional 60-year periods, but each time at an augmented interest rate.

Longevity Bonds are merely one example of the out-of-the-box thinking which distinguishes Wiener from other more “kosher” Vice-Presidential aspirants. That’s why so many long-time Libertarians have complimented Wiener on his outstanding virtues:

  • David Nolan [co-founder of the Libertarian Party] – “When it comes to delivering the goods, Wiener’s pen is mightier than any sword.”

  • Dr. John Hospers [first Libertarian Party Presidential candidate] – “Wiener worked long hours on my behalf when I ran for President. His campaign skills are hard to beat.”

  • Aaron Starr [Libertarian activist and Excel savant] – “Johnson and Wiener, those two don’t dick around!”

  • Sandi Webb [former Simi Valley Councilmember] – “For Dan to become Vice-President would be just one more of his many crowning achievements, which I personally find to be extremely satisfying.”

Wiener’s pole numbers continue to rise, so join in the excitement! For further information or to make a large campaign contribution, contact JohnsonWiener2012@LibertarianParty.Info.

– 69 –








Tuesday, August 16, 2011

  0 comments

Speculations on the 2012 Election

If there's a strong anti-incumbent sentiment in 2012 it's quite possible that Republicans could lose the House but gain the Senate and Presidency. There are a lot of marginal seats in the House which went Republican during the 2010 wave, and it wouldn't be hard for some of those to switch back. Whereas Democrats in the Senate have a lot more seats to defend than Republicans, and it's generally acknowledged that Republicans are highly likely to gain control of the Senate in 2012, albeit probably not by a filibuster-proof margin.

My current prediction is that Rick Perry will be the next President of the United States. The case for that is pretty straightforward: He is the odds-on favorite to win the Republican nomination (39% to Romney's 30.1% on Intrade), and for good reason. The two main things Republican primary voters are looking for is a solid conservative candidate and an electable candidate, and he fits the bill exactly. Now of course it's possible that Obama may tank so badly by next year that a fried potato could beat him, but Republicans will be looking for someone who can actually win, not just rely on Obama to lose.

  • Michelle Bachmann is a conservative favorite, but she has no executive experience and only four years in the House; she'll be seen as unelectable. Her campaign is about building up her name recognition for the future. Now having said that, it's almost exactly analogous to Barack Obama's situation in 2007. He had no executive experience and only four years in the Senate, and initially he was running to build up his name recognition for the future. He surprised everyone (probably including himself) by catching fire and winning the Democratic nomination in a year which highly favored the Democrats, especially against a weak Republican candidate. So Bachmann can't be entirely ruled out. But the bad taste left in people's mouths by Obama's lack of executive experience will work against her.
  • Sarah Palin has an intense core following but even many of her supporters doubt her electability after the past savaging she has endured. She at least has a modicum of executive experience, but quiting in the middle of her term is a huge negative. She's a charismatic speaker, so also cannot be entirely ruled out. But at this point I doubt that she'll even get into the race.
  • Ron Paul has an intense core following, but little chance of expanding beyond his libertarian base. If he ever got seriously close to the nomination, establishment Republicans would do whatever it took to prevent that from happening. Perhaps the Libertarian Party can persuade him to run again as our candidate. Ditto with Gary Johnson.
  • Pawlenty has dropped out, and a bunch of other candidates (Bolton, Cain, Gingrich, Giuliani, Huntsman, Johnson, McCotter, Santorum) are in the polling noise with no hope of going anywhere.
  • That leaves Mitt Romney, who's electable but not conservative enough. "Romneycare" from when he was governor of Massachusetts will hurt him in the primaries (although not in New Hampshire), along with several of his other positions. He's got lots of money, but a somewhat bland personality and a very cautious campaign style. I don't think his Mormonism is a big factor, at least no more than JFK's Catholicism was. Republican might pick Romney as their safe choice if they had no better option available.
  • Rick Perry will be seen as both conservative and electable. He's never lost an election, and he's been governor of a very large state for eleven years so he has ample executive experience. He can point to a track record of economic growth, job increases, restrained taxes, and reduced government regulations to improve the business climate. Unless he makes a major blunder (unlikely, since he's known as a savvy and effective campaigner) he should win the Republican nomination.
As far as the general election is concerned, it's shaping up as a referendum on Obama (as most contests with an incumbent are). The overarching issues will be unemployment, the economic depression, the federal deficit, and Obamacare. Perry will be able to credibly attack Obama on all these issue, while Obama will be reduced to counterattacking Perry over his Bush-sounding Texas twang and his C and D grades in college. Intrade lists Obama's re-election chances at 52.2%, but that factors in all of the remaining uncertainty about who will get the Republican nomination. Once the primaries get underway and the Republican field narrows down to Romney and Perry, I expect Obama's re-election odds to drop correspondingly.

My guess is that Perry will choose Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels as his VP candidate. That will strengthen him in the midwest, and put the focus of the campaign purely on executive competence and economic recovery. There's also some chance that Perry could choose Marco Rubio as VP, to solidify Florida and make inroads into the Hispanic vote nationwide, but Rubio's lack of experience is a drawback.








Saturday, April 17, 2010

  2 comments

Greening the Bowels of the Earth

Doesn't it just make you want to exclaim "Oh Shit!" whenever you think of all those bath tissues spiraling down the toilets of the world, billions of times every day? Year after year, trillions of little squares of paper are casually flushed away. How wasteful! How harmful to the environment! Why doesn't somebody do something about it?

Well, now somebody has, as shown by the sign in this photograph. I took it yesterday while shopping at Costco, which is audaciously selling "Recycled Bath Tissue" in large packages of 32 rolls each for $13.99.

And let me tell you, it was not easy taking that picture with my cell phone camera. I had to climb on the pallet and reach way up over the stack of as-yet-unsold products to get the shot. Sure, I could have waited a few weeks in hopes that the stack would diminish in height, but I wanted to get the news out to the world as quickly as possible. After all, can there be any environmentally-conscious person who does not want to use recycled bath tissues? No! There cannot!

And how do I know this? Through process of elimination.








Sunday, May 03, 2009

  0 comments

UPDATE (8/19/2009): Well, so much for that idea...

What About Brett?

Now that Brett Favre has asked for and received his unconditional release from the Jets, all the speculation seems to be about the likelihood that he'll sign on with the Minnesota Vikings. Supposedly Brett is so angry with Green Bay Packers' General Manager Ted Thompson that he'll do anything to get revenge, even to the extent of joining the Packers' bitter rival. He wants to prove that Thompson done him wrong by not begging him to keep playing in 2008, and then not begging him to come back in 2008 after he'd retired.

It's a good theory, and it could easily turn out to be true. But I have a different idea which I'll toss out.

I think Brett Favre wants to be in a position to return to the Packers in the (not improbable) event that quaterback Aaron Rodgers is injured. That's why he demanded his unconditional release from the Jets.

The biggest question mark about Aaron Rodgers is his durability. He had serious problems in 2007, and even though he played all the games in 2008 he was hampered by a shoulder injury for many of them. It would not be at all surprising if something were to happen to him in 2009. And the Packers' backup quarterbacks are first-year players who did nothing to distinguish themselves in 2008. If they had to take over for Rodgers for any significant length of time, the 2009 season would be a disaster.

Think about it. Going to the Vikings would require Brett to spend a lot of time in training camp and summer workouts, learning a new system and watching tons of tape and familiarizing himself with the Vikings players. He hates that kind of grunge work. He just went through it a year ago with the Jets, and I doubt that he's looking forward to doing it a second time.

Wouldn't it be so much better to wait for Rodgers to suffer a major injury, perhaps about mid-season when the Packers were leading the division with a 6-2 record, and then come charging to the rescue like a knight on his white horse? The Packers fans would cheer their hero and welcome him home with open arms and forget about the previous year's messy divorce which tarnished his reputation and legacy. Ted Thompson would have to get down on his knees and apologize to Brett and plead for his return (which I think Ted would do, because he has fewer ego problems and just wants a winning team).

Best of all, Brett would face no learning curve. He already knows the plays and the terminology and the players and the coaches, which haven't changed since he left. He knows where Donald Driver and Greg Jennings are going to be when he throws the ball. Brett could walk on the field and pick up right where he left off. Maybe he'd be a little rusty at first, but he'd also be fresh for the second half of the season.

What a storybook ending, if Brett Favre were to save the season and return the Packers to the Superbowl and then win a victory there. What a great last hurrah!

That would erase the memory of his overtime interception which kept the Packers out of the 2007 Superbowl. That would cement his reputation as one of the greatest quarterbacks who ever played the game. That would earn him undying adoration from all Green Bay Packers fans. That would avoid all the enmity which would result from his defection to the evil Vikings.

And that would be Brett's best possible "I told you so" to Ted Thompson.








Thursday, August 16, 2007

  3 comments

"Feel Good" Gun Control Measures

[The Simi Valley City Council recently passed an ordinance requiring the reporting of Lost and Stolen Firearms. I objected unsuccessfully, by speaking at both Council meetings at which it was considered, and sending the following email to all the Council Members explaining why the arguments in favor of it made no sense.]
I would like to urge you to reconsider the Lost & Stolen Firearms ordinance when it comes up for its Second Reading. Logically, I believe this ordinance will have no positive effects and some negative effects. I’ve analyzed all of the possible cases below to demonstrate this result.

The main argument in favor of the ordinance, as expressed in the staff report and in newspaper reports, is that it would help discourage “straw purchases” and subsequent use of firearms in crimes. How can this be, when the ordinance deals only with the reporting of lost or stolen guns, and says nothing about illegally transferring guns?

As nearly as I can tell, the purported connection to illegal transfers and crime usage goes something like this: Guns may be used to commit crimes, or else they me be stolen or sold or given away to ineligible individuals who then use the guns to commit crimes. When the guns are traced back to the original owners, those owners often claim that they had nothing to do with the crimes because the guns had previously been lost or stolen (but never reported as such). By requiring a report, we take away that excuse/subterfuge.

But this is a non sequitur. Consider each of the following possible cases:

• Case 1. Gun is lost or stolen; never found nor recovered; never identified as being used in a crime; owner fails to report. In this case the owner has technically violated the ordinance, but nobody ever knows and no harm results, so the owner is never cited and the ordinance has no effect.

• Case 2. Gun is lost or stolen; owner reports it but doesn’t know serial number or other identifying details. If the gun is never found nor recovered, and never identified as being used in a crime, this is functionally equivalent to Case 1 above and the ordinance has no effect. If the gun is found or recovered or used in a crime but can’t be matched up with the owner due to the lack of identifying information, the ordinance has no effect.

• Case 3. Gun is lost or stolen; owner reports it and provides serial number or other identifying details. If the gun is never found nor recovered, and never identified as being used in a crime, this is functionally equivalent to Case 1 above and the ordinance has no effect. If the gun is found or recovered (either from the thief or from a criminal who used it to commit a crime) the owner may eventually get the gun back. That’s a good reason to VOLUNTARILY report a lost or stolen firearm with identifying details. But failure to report is its own punishment, since then the owner doesn’t get the gun back. Why is it a benefit to the gun owner to add a further punishment via this ordinance? This case represents more intrusive nanny-government: Requiring people to do things “for their own good” instead of allowing them to make their own decisions and bear the consequences of their un-coerced actions.

• Case 4. Gun is illegally sold or given away to an ineligible person, but gun is not subsequently discovered in the possession of that person or used in a crime. Since the gun was not lost or stolen, it did not have to be reported as such; hence this ordinance does not come into play at all.

• Case 5. Gun is illegally sold or given away to an ineligible person, and is either discovered in the possession of that person (in itself a crime) or is used in a crime.

• Sub-Case 5(a). Gun cannot be traced back to the original owner. Since the gun was not lost or stolen, it did not have to be reported as such; hence this ordinance does not come into play at all.

• Sub-Case 5(b). Gun is traced back to the original owner, but the owner does not claim that the gun was lost or stolen. Since the gun was not lost or stolen, it did not have to be reported as such; hence this ordinance does not come into play at all.

• Sub-Case 5(c). Gun is traced back to the original owner, and the owner tries to avoid blame by falsely claiming that the gun was lost or stolen within the past 3 days. Whether or not the owner is believed, this does not violate the ordinance, so the ordinance has no effect.

• Sub-Case 5(d). Gun is traced back to the original owner, and the owner tries to avoid blame by falsely claiming that the gun was lost or stolen more than 5 years before the ordinance was enacted. Whether or not the owner is believed, this does not violate the ordinance, so the ordinance has no effect.

• Sub-Case 5(e). Gun is traced back to the original owner, and the owner tries to avoid blame by falsely claiming that the gun was lost or stolen more than 3 days ago but less than 5 years before the ordinance was enacted. If the owner is believed, this would violate the ordinance and be punishable as a misdemeanor, but it would avoid the more severe penalties for either illegally transferring a firearm or being complicit in the criminal use of a firearm. If the owner is not believed, and is successfully prosecuted for illegally selling or giving away a gun to an ineligible person and possibly being complicit in its criminal use, then by definition the gun was not lost or stolen, and the owner cannot be prosecuted under this ordinance for failing to report it as lost or stolen. Either way the ordinance has no deterrent effect.

• Case 6. The owner commits a crime with a gun and tries to get rid of the gun. The gun is later found and linked to the owner, but he falsely claims it was lost or stolen (more than 3 days ago) but never reported as such. This is functionally equivalent to Sub-Case 5(e) above, and again the ordinance has no deterrent effect.

• Case 7. In anticipation of either committing a crime with a gun, or illegally selling or giving away a gun which might later be found in the possession of an ineligible person or used in a crime, the owner reports to the police that his firearm was either lost or stolen. This provides some modest level of deniability that the owner was complicit in a crime. As such, the ordinance provides a benefit to criminals and has a negative effect on public safety.

Case 7 is even more harmful than it appears at first glance. Suppose, for example, that a person of doubtful character who has had a few past brushes with the law was to walk into a police station today and report that his (legally-owned) gun had just been lost or stolen. Then a few weeks later that gun turned up during the investigation of a crime in which the owner was a suspect. The owner’s prior out-of-character police report might be viewed with considerable skepticism by a jury. But if an ordinance was enacted which REQUIRED such reports, his rationale for doing so would be a lot more persuasive.

I think I’ve covered all of the possible cases. In reviewing them, there is no instance in which this ordinance will have any positive benefit or deterrent effect with respect to public safety, and it does not even apply for many of the cases which have been touted as justification for its enactment. If anything, this ordinance will provide a slight benefit to criminals by giving them a reasonable-sounding excuse to report their guns as lost or stolen ahead of a crime.

Please vote against this measure.

[Streaming video of the July 23, 2007 City Council meeting which first passed the ordinance, and the August 13, 2007 meeting which passed it on the Second Reading, are available at the City of Simi Valley's website. Just scroll down and click on the video links for the meetings. For the July 23rd meeting, you can jump to Item 7B to see the public comments and Council deliberation and vote. For the August 13th meeting, the public comments came at Item 2A and the Council deliberation and vote were at Item 6B.]








Monday, June 11, 2007

  3 comments

Global Warming Skepticism

I followed a link from Tim Blair to a "Denialism" blog which purports to debunk criticisms of Global Warming (mostly by labeling critics as "denialists" whose arguments therefore need not actually be refuted). The Denialism blog posting soon accumulated a couple of hundred very heated pro and con comments. So I decided to throw in my two cents worth, but inflation hit me hard. After my comment grew to over two thousand words, I decided to post it here as well:

After scanning through these many comments, it appears that there are at least a few intelligent and reasonable posters on both sides to leaven the numerous vitriolic attackers and counter-attackers. I’m therefore moved to lay out my own reasons for being a global warming skeptic. I’m certainly not an expert on climatology, but I’ve read a number of articles and I consider myself an educated layman (I’m an electronic engineer with a Bachelor’s degree from M.I.T. and a Master’s degree from U.S.C.). So here goes:

1. Extracting information from noisy data. Temperatures differ widely geographically and over short periods of time. Daily, weekly, and yearly variations dwarf the one or several degree changes which global warming models predict over a period of decades or a century. There are also much longer-term variations in the earth’s temperature, with periodicities of centuries or tens of thousands of years, as demonstrated by various proxy evidence and obvious macro events such as past ice ages.

It is difficult to extract information which proves the existence of recent anthropogenic temperature changes from all those short- and long-term variations, particularly when reasonably high-quality temperature measurements covering most of the globe have only become available in the last few decades. And it is only anthropogenic changes which matter in this discussion. If we were in the midst of a purely natural trend which would add perhaps 1 to 5 degrees to average global temperatures over the next century, my reaction would be “so what”? Life on this planet, and human life in particular, has survived such changes in the past, and we easily handle much greater variations on a scale of months and years, so we’ll deal with similar natural variations in the future.

Medium- and long-term natural temperature variations will always exist, so at most there might be an anthropogenic component which makes up some portion of future trends. Only if that anthropogenic component is significant and growing will it matter. In my profession I specifically deal with the problem of extracting meaningful data from noisy measurements, albeit on time-scales which are at least ten orders of magnitude faster than climate change. (For what it’s worth, I also deal with the obverse problem of creating better random noise. I have a patent, 6130755, which reduces the low-frequency components of pseudo random number generators so as to limit excursions from the ideal random behavior.) Based purely on past temperature variations and the relatively short span of high-quality measurements, it is not possible to prove that a significant anthropogenic component exists, at least up to the present time.

Of course Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) theorists do not rely merely on extrapolating from past data. They postulate a physical mechanism, a greenhouse effect caused by elevated CO2 levels, which will result in significant future anthropogenic temperature increases. But the earth’s climate is an enormously complex, non-linear system with lots of feedback loops. Our climate models (and the computing power to run them) are still rather limited. The proof that elevated CO2 will indeed result in significant global warming involves specific predictions and verification derived from future data collected over the next several decades or centuries. It cannot come merely from the data collected to date.

Some AGW theorists may object that we can’t afford to wait that long. But that is a political objection, not a scientific objection. It may be unfortunate if irreversible ill effects occur before enough data can be collected to confirm the theory, but that doesn’t alter the fact that that amount of time is still necessary. Climate changes happen over relatively long time scales; that’s just reality.

2. Slow AGW isn’t a big danger. It’s not enough to prove that medium- or long-term temperature rises contain a significant anthropogenic component if the effect is limited to one or several degrees over a century. The big danger, if there really is one, would come from a runaway effect in which temperatures would suddenly and rapidly rise following some irreversible tipping point, leading to the destruction of civilization or even human life. This requires extrapolating an exponential temperature increase from past data even though we are currently below the knee of the curve. But the data is way too sparse and noisy to reliably do that; it could just as easily fit any number of other lines or curves.

Alternately one could argue that the physical mechanism is so well established and understood that (even absent past corroborating evidence) rising CO2 levels will produce an exponential increase with high probability. But that would be a very strong claim, and not one which I hear coming even from scientists who are strong advocates of AGW. They may sometimes speculate on that possibility, and worry about the consequences, but they do not formally assert it as part of their theories. Instead they confine themselves to the much milder temperature predictions emanating from their global warming models.

Without an imminent irreversible tipping point, the debate over AGW loses its urgency. We have time to make predictions, collect data, improve our models, and ponder the best corrective actions to take (if any).

Still, some AGW advocates resort to a form of Pascal’s Wager: Even if the chance of catastrophe is only one in (fill in the blank), isn’t it better to take action now rather than wait till it’s too late? Well, no, that depends very heavily on the (fill in the blank) value. Maybe, if the chance of thermal runaway is 1 in 10, it is necessary to take precautionary action now. Maybe not, if the chance is 1 in 1,000 or 1 in 1,000,000. After all, human resources are limited and there are all kinds of low-probability risks. We can’t protect against everything.

A good example is the threat of a civilization-destroying meteor strike. The generic odds of it occurring in any given year are perhaps one in ten million or less, based on what we now deduce about the history of our planet. So do we spend trillions of dollars on a crash project to construct meteor defenses? Failure to do so could lead to our destruction if we get really unlucky during the next few years. But we have to assess that risk and weight it against other dangers and opportunities in deciding how to prioritize and allocate resources. The same applies to the risk of runaway global warming.

3. Many AGW advocates try to tailor the evidence to fit a preconceived political agenda. The alarmist rhetoric coming from the Al Gore types and a lot of environmentalists appears fixated on enacting a specific policy prescription (reduction in CO2 levels through massive government controls and restrictions on economic activities) and then work backwards to justify that policy by agglomerating every possible argument they can think of no matter how nebulous. Perhaps that’s not your impression, but it certainly is my impression and the impression of many others. It makes me very suspicious of the conclusion when I see the extreme efforts being made to promote it.

Unfortunately, web sites such as the Denialism blog contribute to the perception, as they appear to be efforts to shut off open debate by applying derogatory labels to those who question the evidence and reasoning leading to the preconceived policy goal. Perhaps that’s not entirely fair to the authors of this site, or other respectable scientists who consider the evidence for AGW to be conclusive. But the science is being tarnished by the demagoguery of those who are using AGW to advance their own agendas.

My advice would be to stick to the evidence and stick to the science. Labeling doubters as “denialists” is not going to convince anyone of the validity of the theory, and will more likely have the perverse effect of raising additional doubts about the robustness of the theory when subjected to criticism.

If the science is good, it will win out in the end. Evolution wins out over creationism because evolution works; its explanatory power informs all modern biological advancements. Similarly, the HIV virus theory works; it results in cocktails of anti-viral drugs which keep people alive. The same attitude should apply to AGW; if correct, it will result in accurate and testable predictions and explanations of climate changes. Why get bent out of shape over the doubters? Let them be wrong or remain ignorant. Who cares, unless of course the real objective is political policy rather than achieving scientific validity.

4. The policy proposals are at variance with the purported problem. If I was convinced that AGW was a serious problem, my normal reaction as an engineer would be to look for the most innovative and cost-effective geoengineering methods of solving the problem. Placing restrictions on the release of CO2 into the atmosphere would be way down on my list, since the sources of CO2 are so pervasive and diffuse and often result from processes which carry many other benefits. Possible solutions to global warming include seeding the oceans with iron dust to stimulate CO2-absorbing plankton; modifying surface albedo to reduce light absorption; putting parasols in orbit; adjusting the exhaust of jet airliners to leave dust or sulfur in the upper atmosphere to increase cloud formation, etc.

Perhaps none of these ideas will work, or else they might have drawbacks which make them unsuitable. The best solutions may still be waiting to be invented. But they all offer greater hope than the solution du jour of adopting the Kyoto treaty so as to ever-so-slightly reduce CO2 emissions (or just reduce the rate of growth of emissions). Anyone who is seriously concerned about AGW should be urgently searching for a technological solution. Anyone who is frightened about the prospect of a near-term thermal runaway effect should be desperately searching for a technological solution, since that would be the only realistic route to preventing it.

Carbon offsets are actually a good idea, despite the hypocrisy of some of the politicians who utilize them and despite the sleazy similarity to the selling of religious indulgences to expiate sins. Carbon offsets provide a competitive market mechanism whereby various approaches to ameliorating CO2 levels can be financed and tested. The comparative lack of interest in technological solutions compared to government controls on CO2 emissions reinforces my opinion that the issue is being driven by a political agenda rather than by science.

5. If AGW is a serious problem, economic growth and exponential technological advancement is the best solution. Not only do I doubt the urgency of the problem (see point # 2 above), if it even is a problem (see point # 1 above), but I doubt the need to find an immediate solution. Science and technology are advancing at exponential rates, as is most evident by the improvements in computer processing power but is also showing up in many other fields. If we are not facing an irreversible disaster within the next thirty years, why not just wait fifteen or twenty years to try to solve the problem? By that time computer power will have advanced a thousand-fold, and our engineering capabilities and resources will be vastly greater than they are at present. What today constitutes an enormous technological challenge or an impossibly expensive engineering task might be simple and relatively inexpensive two decades from now.

Our civilization will also be far wealthier then, making even expensive engineering tasks easier to bear, if economic growth is not artificially constricted by short-sighted limits on CO2 emissions and other regulatory restrictions.

Going back to the analogy of a civilization-destroying meteor strike, suppose we detected a sizable comet which was projected to directly impact the earth in five years and wipe out life on our planet. Surely it would be worth spending trillions of dollars in an emergency program to deflect the comet. We have the technology, albeit crude and incredibly expensive (especially on a highly-compressed schedule) to achieve that goal.

Now suppose we detected that same comet and projected that it would impact the earth in thirty years. Would it make sense to spend the same trillions of dollars on the same emergency compressed-schedule? Surely not. It would make much more sense to leisurely study the problem, use improved computer modeling over the next couple of decades to determine the simplest and most cost-effective method of perturbing the comet, and develop the space infrastructure and advanced propulsion technologies which would allow us to achieve the goal.

Putting it another way, advances in technology are already rounding the knee of the exponential growth curve, thereby far exceeding even the most pessimistic forecasts for exponential thermal runaway. For anyone who doubts that exponential advances in technology will continue, I recommend Ray Kurzweil’s book The Singularity Is Near. If we do nothing now, and Anthropogenic Global Warming turns out to be a real danger, we’ll still have the time and ability to fix it before it can manifest itself as a disaster.

I think I’ve written enough for now. I originally intended this to be a fairly short comment. Somewhere along the line I totally lost control, and it exploded into a two thousand-plus word monster. I’ll be posting a version of it on my rarely-updated blog (http://wienerlog.blogspot.com) simply because I hate to waste all this writing.








Sunday, February 25, 2007

  2 comments

[The Guatemala sinkhole and the Academy Awards hoopla over Al Gore's global warming "documentary" got me thinking again about disaster movies. Back in late 2005, after watching the first half of the made-for-CBS disaster flick "Category 7: The End of the World", I realized that there was obviously an unlimited market for this genre. If this kind of stuff can get on TV and even win Academy Awards, why shouldn't I claim a piece of the action?
So I wrote up a treatment, and it's been gathering dust on my hard drive ever since. For lack of anything better to do, I'm posting it here. Surely there must be some agents and studios out there who will take the initiative to seek me out and offer me a six or seven figure deal...]
Sigalert 9: The Ultimate Traffic Jam

The setting is Southern California, where Marcia Prescott is the newly appointed director of CalTrans with responsibility for all the freeways in the state. Marcia is a divorcee with a seventeen-year-old daughter Mandy. Her former husband is Alexander Skeffington, Jr., heir to the Skeffington fortune and Skeffington Motors, the world’s largest auto manufacturing conglomerate which is run by his father Alex Skeffington, Sr.

However, unbeknownst to anyone but Marcia, Mandy’s real father was Jack Hathaway, Marcia’s lover in college. Jack is now a fully-tenured Professor of Environmentalism at the University of California’s Sedona campus, and the world’s foremost expert on mass transportation. Jack is also the principle author of an $83 billion bond measure that will be voted on at a special election the following day.

The bonds would finance a revolutionary high-speed monorail system down the centers of California’s freeways, which would ultimately make individual automobiles obsolete. The monorail cars would travel at speeds of up to 350 mph and use a computerized multiple-hub-and-spoke model to get people to their destinations in one-third of the time that congested freeways require. The monorails would be run by superconducting power lines from giant solar cell arrays out in the desert, and hence would be non-polluting and would help prevent global warming.

Unfortunately the bond measure appears headed for defeat, with public opinion surveys showing it down by 35 percentage points, because Alexander Skeffington has poured a quarter of a billion dollars into a vicious campaign against it and against Professor Hathaway. Skeffington rightly fears that this monorail system will become a model for the entire nation and will destroy his auto company and his fortune if it succeeds. Skeffington’s corporate goons have been roughing up idealistic students in order to break up their rallies in support of the bond measure.

Recently Professor Hathaway has been having an affair with Rosanne Conchita, a fiery and charismatic Chicano union organizer who is passionately fighting for mass transportation for her people. At the moment their relationship is extremely rocky because Hathaway is uncomfortable with her radical tactics to counter Skeffington and his thugs. Rosanne leads a splinter group of enraged students who are willing to do whatever it takes to make sure the monorail project succeeds.

When Professor Hathaway debates on behalf of the bond measure, he often uses the example of frogs who will jump out of a pot of boiling water but who will allow themselves to be cooked if the water temperature is slowly increased. He says that’s what’s happening with our transportation. Motorists don’t notice that traffic just keeps getting more congested and slower year after year, until in just a few more years we will reach total gridlock and nothing will move.

Rosanne has decided that the voters need to be tossed into the boiling water. Her clandestine group of activists intends to conduct a non-violent protest in which they will simultaneously shut down the entire freeway system as a demonstration of where California is headed if voters don’t approve the bond. They will do this by having nine teams choke off nine strategic freeway locations which will paralyze all traffic. Each team will consist of four to six drivers and cars. Each team will line up their cars next to each other across all the lanes of a freeway in one direction, and then slow their cars down in tandem until they bring traffic to a halt. Then they’ll get out of their cars and dump numerous buckets of nails onto the empty freeway in front of them, and run off to waiting getaway cars on side streets. It will take days to clean all the nails off the freeways and get vehicles moving again.

The day they have selected for action is one of the worst traffic days of the year. It is also the day that world leaders will be secretly converging on Los Angeles for a summit conference. A new treaty to end global warming has been hammered out behind the scenes for the last several months, but it must be finalized and it is still very fragile. Any advanced publicity is likely to scuttle it. So the leaders of every country are arriving incognito at Southern California’s five major airports, and they’ll be driving in darkened limousines to an undisclosed meeting location in downtown Los Angeles.

[skip to middle of movie]

Mandy’s boyfriend is one of the freeway shutdown conspirators, and he has accidentally let slip hints of the plot. Mandy logs into his computer while he’s going to the bathroom and finds complete plans. She barely escapes discovery, and then tries desperately to call her mother who is unable to answer her cell phone because of the crisis. Then Mandy goes to the police, but they are too busy with other things and refuse to listen to a teenager with a nutty story. Finally Mandy steals her boyfriend’s motorcycle and takes off on a harrowing high speed ride to reach her mother, weaving around the stalled traffic and leaping obstacles as she goes.

Marcia Prescott is in the CalTrans emergency command center staring at the 30-foot-high traffic map display, which is turning red all over along with numerous warning triangles. Every once in a while, amidst the frantic hubbub, someone will shout something like “We’ve just lost the Hollywood Freeway” or “We’re up to six Sigalerts! We’ve never had this many Sigalerts at one time. We don’t have the resources to handle it. Violence could break out at any second.” The President calls Marcia to demand that she do whatever it takes to get the world’s leaders to the summit meeting by 6 pm; the fate of the entire planet hangs in the balance.

Interspersed are scenes of angry horn-tooting motorists who are stopped dead on the freeways. Some are locking their cars and walking away. All the cell phone lines are jammed. Fistfights break out, and rocks are thrown through windshields. Dozens of traffic-reporting helicopters circle overhead above every blockage. Two of them collide because the famous arrogant pilot of one has been drinking, but the other helicopter pilot, Ace Hogan, is miraculously able to land safely with nobody injured even though his helicopter’s entire tail assembly has been shattered.

Meanwhile we’re also following the personal travails of Susie Prescott, Marcia’s younger sister, who has gone into premature labor and is trying to rush to a hospital but is caught in the mammoth traffic jam.

[skip to climax of movie]

Max Goldberg is an eccentric Professor of Advanced Physics at UC Sedona, and is Jack Hathaway’s best friend. Max has been developing a “focused magnetic beam device” which can selectively attract specific metal objects. Max’s goal is to be able to target metal guns of all types. Giant versions of his device could then be placed in orbit around the earth and used to extract all the world’s firearms, thus leading to universal disarmament and peace in our time.

Naturally the U.S. military thinks this is a terrible idea and has refused to fund Max’s research. His lab has repeatedly been broken into and his equipment smashed. But he has nevertheless constructed a dozen working prototypes that he has managed to target at steel-jacketed bullets. It’s a relatively trivial matter to reconfigure his device to target the millions of nails which have been splashed across the freeways.

When the Air Force refuses to cooperate in using Max’s device, Jack Hathaway and Marcia Prescott decide to bypass official channels and rush the prototypes to the fleet of radio and TV traffic-reporting helicopters, which then are able to clear the nails from each roadblock in a matter of minutes. Motorists join together to lift up the blocking cars and carry them to the side of the road, and traffic begins to flow again. One by one the red indicator lights on the 30-foot freeway traffic map display begin turning green. The limousines carrying the world’s leaders are finally able to get to the summit meeting just minutes before the 6 pm deadline and sign the agreement to save the world. They then issue a unanimous statement endorsing mass transit as an essential component of reversing global warming, and urge the voters of California to approve the monorail bonds.

On election night the bond measure is a squeaker which finally passes by a single vote – the absentee ballot that Susie inserted into the mailbox in front of the hospital before letting herself be taken to the emergency room. Of course Susie's newborn daughter survived and is healthy. The Governor severely scolds Rosanne and her band of idealistic students for causing a colossal 9-Sigalert traffic jam, but then issues pardons to them all because he understands that they were just doing what they though was right and that in the end it all worked out for the best.

Alexander Skeffington, Jr. is arrested based on the video tape recording that Ace Hogan made (before his crash-landing) of Alexander shouting at his goons to attack the student activists. Jack Hathaway and Marcia Prescott get back together, and Jack learns that Mandy is his daughter and he resolves to try to make up for all the lost years.

The fading shot is of the freeways returning to normal, as seen from Ace Hogan’s circling traffic helicopter (with the tail assembly duct-taped back into place). The view then pulls back higher and higher until it’s the whole world as observed from outer space. The scene holds steady for a few seconds, as first one and then more and more satellites start whizzing by underneath until we’re left with a giant traffic jam in orbit.

The End








Thursday, October 27, 2005

  0 comments

Harriet Meirs: Another scalp for the blogosphere

Yeah, I know, that’s probably an impolite way of putting it. But it’s nevertheless true. The blog echo chamber has resonated once again, and this time shattered a Supreme Court nomination.

It used to be that a powerful, well-connected person could say an idiotic thing or make a stupid mistake and still get away with it: Either no one would hear about it, or it would be covered up, or it would be spun away. Those days are gone. The old Main Stream Media has lost its grip, and the new media of the Internet is taking over.

Blogs pulled down Trent Lott from his perch as Republican Senate Majority Leader when he praised the 1948 Presidential candidacy of segregationist Strom Thurmond. Blogs vastly amplified (and encouraged funding for) the story of the Swift Boat Veterans, which fatally wounded John Kerry’s Presidential bid. Blogs torpedoed CBS News icon Dan Rather by revealing the 60 Minutes documents about Bush’s National Guard service to be crude forgeries.

Now President Bush has direct experienced the power of the blogs. What in the past would have been a few miffed voices crying in the wilderness instead turned into a huge interlinked outpouring of outrage. Blogs could investigate, analyze, comment on, and communicate every scrap of negative information about Meirs far faster than the White House could try to spin it in a positive light. Momentum against the Meirs nomination just kept building, and her chances of confirmation grew more and more hopeless.

I considered the Meirs nomination a terrible mistake right from the start. For example, here’s a comment I made on Instapundit:

One of the brighter spots of Bush's Presidency has been the high quality of individuals he has nominated to the federal courts. It comported with his promises while running for office, and was undoubtedly a decisive consideration for a significant number of voters.

Bush's nomination of John Roberts, a man of obvious intellect and experience and competence, further solidified my impression that Bush had established a very high standard for filling judicial vacancies. He sought the best nominees possible, confident that their qualities would make it difficult for the Senate to refuse to confirm them. And if the Senate nevertheless refused, the American people would hold Senators responsible, as they did in 2002 and 2004.

We neither need nor want the Supreme Court to be a super-legislative body consisting of nine life-time members accountable to no one. I just want the Supreme Court to fairly and objectively interpret the law and abide by the clear words of the Constitution. If a Justice truly acts as an "umpire", and truly applies the Constitution as it is written and was intended without inventing meanings which aren't in it, then I am happy. Because I'm confident that an honest and intellectually-competent Justice will in most cases arrive at the correct conclusion.

That's what makes the Harriet Meirs appointment so disappointing. In one stroke Bush has obliterated his prior record of seeking excellence. He has applied a "result-oriented" standard rather than a quality standard. He has validated the viewpoint that the Supreme Court is indeed a super-legislature, and that the only thing that matters is whether a Justice will "vote right".

This is why the Senate should reject the Meirs nomination. The damage to Bush has already been done; no one will ever again believe that his only concern is with quality and that his only desire is to choose the best person possible. But by rejecting Meirs' nomination, we can at least retain the ideal of a Supreme Court as an objective arbiter rather than a politicized legislature. Bush will be under enormous pressure to replace a rejected Meirs with a top-notch individual whose qualifications are beyond reproach.

If ever there was an occasion for the Senate to fulfill its Constitutional function of filtering out bad Presidential appointments, this is it.

Posted by: Daniel Wiener at October 10, 2005 10:20 PM

Without blogs, I fear that Harriet Meirs might have ultimately been confirmed. With blogs, she didn’t stand a chance.

And as with any political clash, there were winners and losers among bloggers and pundits (with the latter being elevated in importance by the blog links they received). Charles Krauthammer gets major credit for articulating the face-saving excuse for withdrawing the nomination which the White House ended up using. The Wall Street Journal’s John Fund, with his inside sources and series of well-researched reports, owned much of this story. David Frum rallied opposition with a petition and a website, based on his personal knowledge of Harriet Meirs.

And the big loser was Hugh Hewitt, who went to the mat for Bush’s nominee primarily on the basis of Republican solidarity. Right up until the bitter end Hewitt professed to be absolutely certain that the nomination would not be withdrawn because Bush would not cave in to the pressure. And hence Republicans and conservatives should accept the fait accompli and rally behind the President rather than risk splintering the party and losing elections in 2006 and 2008. And this was coming from the author of Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That’s Changing Your World in which he explained the rapidly growing power of blogs!

Now we wait and hope that Meirs’ replacement will be a person of quality and competence and sound judicial philosophy that we need on the Supreme Court. If not, the blogosphere will be here with enhanced reputation and power to fill the “watchdog” role which the Old Media used to rhetorically aspire to.








Tuesday, September 27, 2005

  28 comments

Hurricanes, Space Elevators, Solar Arrays, and Supercomputers

(A modest proposal for killing Hurricanes in their infancy using advanced technology)

There have been lots of blue-sky ideas floated over the years for diverting or destroying hurricanes. Most such plans are quickly refuted, since the energies expended by Mother Nature tend to dwarf anything at the disposal of human beings. Even nuclear explosions are weak in comparison, and the side-effects of nukes are unacceptable.

Unabashed by others’ failures, I’d like to toss my own original idea up in the air and see if it orbits.

Well, actually it turns out that only part of my idea is original (very few ideas are). As I researched this, I ran across an article titled Controlling Hurricanes by Ross N. Hoffman in the October 2004 issue of Scientific American. In it he also suggests that hurricanes could be diverted by carefully perturbing their chaotic behavior with the aid of sophisticated computer models. And among the possible levers he proposes for such perturbation is the use of earth-orbiting solar power stations beaming down microwave energy at portions of hurricanes.

I would take this a couple of steps further. In addition to the possibility of solar power stations converting sunlight to beamed microwave energy, we might be able to construct giant solar mirrors hundreds of miles in area to focus sunlight onto portions of tropical storms while they are still forming. Cyclonic storms have a complex and dynamic structure, and interferring with that structure at key points may be sufficient to interrupt their development and cause them to dissipate.

Roughly 80 tropical storms develop every year, but only a few turn into massive and destructive hurricanes. The energies involved in a new tropical storm are orders of magnitude less than a fully-developed hurricane, and hence are much more amenable to human-scale intervention.

But is there any practical way to build the enormous space structures which would be required to collect and focus enough energy? This is where space elevators come in. As carbon nanotube material technology advances, we stand on the verge of cheap space lift capability if we are willing to invest a few tens of billions of dollars in the necessary infrastructure. Not only would solar mirrors and power stations become economically feasible, but so would a greatly expanded network of sophisticated satellites capable of gathering huge volumes of data on tropical storms using many frequency bands and advanced instrumentation.

Tying this all together would be a network of supercomputers running predictive modeling programs. Moore’s Law continues to provide exponential increases in computer power, which will allow us to process the vast amount of satellite data and provide real-time feedback for storm perturbation efforts.

I discussed this with my brother, who is a physics professor specializing in chaos theory. He refused to express a professional opinion of the idea (although he did demand a cut of the profits), but he pointed out that controlling chaotic systems requires a great amount of experimentation and refinement of non-linear mathematical models. It seems to me this is precisely what we would be able to do. We could experiment with focusing energy within the structures of early-stage storms, observe the effects, and continue refining our models until we were confident of being able to dissipate or redirect the storms.

With numerous observation satellites in orbit we could detect tropical storms in their formative hours, and with multiple mirrors and/or microwave-beaming stations in space we could disrupt several storms simultaneously. Once the infrastructure is in place, the marginal cost for killing each budding hurricane is minimal. The potential savings in lives and monetary damage would vastly exceed the cost of building space elevators and boosting these assets into orbit.

Up until now, communications satellites of all types have been the “killer app” for orbital space launches. They’ve been the one unquestionable commercial success. Nothing else has come along to justify the near-term high cost of exploring space.

Hurricanes are the “killer app” for space elevators and cheap space travel.

Avoiding one Katrina would pay for all the space elevators and solar mirrors and power satellites we could ever want. With the objective of preventing hurricane damage, it would become financially worthwhile for a consortium of insurance companies to finance the needed infrastructure. Their investment would ultimately be hugely profitable even without the hurricane aspect, but this is the shareholder justification hook which insurance companies can hang their raincoats on.

How about if we set ourselves the goal of eliminating all destructive hurricanes within the next ten years?








Tuesday, August 02, 2005

  0 comments

Immortality Problem?

In response to my previous post "Should humans be allowed to live forever?" I received an email from someone named Adam which packed a lot of assertions into one paragraph, and I thought I'd respond to them:

Even if they find a way to allow humans to live forever on the cellular level, that would not stop people from dieing by other factors such as disease, accidents, etc. Therefor living forever is impossible.

Of course humans will still face the risk of dying from accidents or deliberate violence, but I see no fundamental barrier to eliminating disease and aging as biological science advances. "Forever" is a fairly long time, and the probability of living that long is low (although perhaps not zero) even if we were to reduce the chance of death in any particular year to an extremely small number.

But the phrase is only used metaphorically. The real question is whether human lifespans can be doubled, tripled, or extended by orders of magnitude over their current maximums. That would be a good intermediate goal for anyone preferring immortality. "Forever" can wait. Time enough to worry about that in another century or two.

Also I would think that any technology/medication/whatever to allow one to live longer than 100 years would cost so much money at first that only the rich and famous would be able to get the treatment. I want to see how well the general public reacts to that thought. Why should the wealthy live longer than the poor or even middle class? This would cause an uproar with possibly even mass murders out of pure jealousy and other such reasons.
I suppose that could be true if we're talking about a magic anti-aging pill which had to be taken every day and cost $5,000 a dose and hence was only available to the wealthy elite. But there's no reason to expect anti-aging therapies to follow such a trajectory. It's far more likely that treatments will be developed piecemeal to address different portions of the aging puzzle, and it will take awhile to verify that they even work. The early beneficiaries will likely be subjects in double-blind test protocols, just as they currently are with new drugs developed to treat diseases.

Will an anti-aging drug be expensive? Probably initially, just the way an anti-AIDS drug is. It requires a huge R&D effort and a huge investment to get past the regulatory barriers, so the sales price is set high to recover that investment (along with all the failed efforts) and still make a profit. But people are willing to pay that price, since they consider it better than the alternative of dying. In a few years patents expire, generics come on the market, and newer competitive drugs all drive the price down. Health insurance spreads the cost, and often governments step in to subsidize the cost.

How will the general public react? Probably with glee and public pressure to speed up the development of better therapies, not with pure jealousy and mass murder. Remember, for most people there is no immediate urgency. For most people aging is not a critical disease like cancer which can kill you in a matter of months. Most people anticipate many years of continued life, and will be quite content to wait until the bugs are thoroughly worked out of anti-aging therapies.

Now think about other countries reactions if the USA develops this first, and people all across America start using it. This is completely against so many religions, that I believe this would cause a substantial increase in terrorist activities, thereby resulting in even more loss of life.
Ah, the old "heckler's veto" argument: We better not allow something because it would incite violent opposition. Terrorism is our fault because the USA exports lewd movies and magazines and allows women to go half-naked and promotes religious tolerance and doesn't stone homosexuals and tempts young people with a materialistic, capitalistic secular lifestyle, etc. Now terrorism will be our fault because we're developing ways to let people live forever (oops, make that live indefinitely long without aging).

Yeah, there are a lot of religions which won't like the idea of halting the aging process. Most religions revolve heavily around the theme of comforting the dying and the ones they leave behind with the promise of eternal life everlasting in heaven. They won't be thrilled with the competition from eternal life here on earth (or other planets). I suspect that most religions will find ways to adapt, or else they'll find they have a dwindling number of adherents. But they won't be able to stop future medical advances, anymore than they've been able to stop past medical advances. The vast majority of people prefer to live.

Dr. Nuland does not have to do anything to prevent people from living forever, the people of the world, including uncontrolled factors would do the work for him. Humans living forever will never work even if we find out how to allow it.

Gosh, then there's no problem, is there? Dr. Nuland and Adam and anyone else who is frightened or repelled by the prospect of eliminating aging can just stop worrying about it, because it won't happen. We're wasting our time arguing.

But what if Dr. Nuland and Adam and others are wrong, and it begins to look like it will happen? What will they do to try to prevent it? If it's the equivalent of the end of the world, as Dr. Nuland thinks, is there anything they would not do to prevent it?

That is the fundamental question which none of the critics of anti-aging research are willing to address.










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