One of my job responsibilities is to educate new hires on reactive hazards and the basics of electrostatic discharge safety in the chemical manufacturing environment. The attendees are usually new plant operators with the occasional analytical chemist also in attendance. The educational background for the operators is nearly always a high school diploma with work experience of widely varying duration in non-chemical industries. Since we are far from the regional chemical manufacturing centers in the USA, we rarely encounter applicants from our industrial sector. Commonly the analysts arrive with a BA/BS in chemistry, biochemistry, or even biology sometime in the past.

In their 1 to 2 weeks of introductory training I’m given 1 hour for each of the 2 topics- barely enough time to wedge in important vocabulary let alone develop a command of, well, anything. My approach is to first talk about the difference between hazard and danger with some folksy examples. Then I introduce the general concept of stability using examples boxes on a rising incline. From there, we talk about stability as related to variously truncated inverted conical objects. The notion of instability, meta-stability, and stability are teased out of examples of the tipsiness of inverted cones leading to a change of state under the influence of external forces. This is very concrete and primes the mind to begin to grapple with the abstract notion of substances undergoing change depending on the precariousness of their initial state or the intensity of external influence.

Synthetic chemistry is very much about the careful manipulation of instability in order to produce the sort of change that is desired. Highly stable materials, i.e. sand, are not desirable in a chemical synthesis minimally because they are resistant to alteration. Many reaction steps may be performed and much cost incurred in order to produce features (functional groups) that are sufficiently unstable to undergo the series of desired connections.

After all of the above, the remainder of the hour is spent talking about chemical hazards and how some of them may be passivated by paying attention to the fire triangle. Also the matter of chemical compatibility is introduced as well as the existence of various categories of substances with examples. Of course, this means nothing to them. It’s just a bunch of new words arranged in unfamiliar ways. I’m quite well aware of this, but the purpose is to prime the pump so that when they hear these solvent names and words like acidic, caustic, basic, pH, quench, etc., then can begin the long process of connecting the dots to produce a better picture of their workspace.

The topic of ESD – electrostatic discharge – has its own peculiar challenges. First of all, static charge is invisible, pervasive, and unless you have direct measurements, provides hazards of an unknown risk. To understand ESD hazards, the learner should be exposed to the units describing static charge. These include the Coulomb (C), the volt (Joules/C), the Joule (J), area charge density (µC/m^2), power (Watts = J/sec), the Ohm (Ω = V/A) and the Siemens (S = 1/Ω), and the Ampere (A = C/sec).

Herein lies the real point of this essay. In teaching ESD safety for 4-5 years, I have met perhaps 2 attendees (engineers) out of many dozens who recall having taken coursework relating to basic electricity. I always begin the seminar by taking a poll on who has heard of Ohm’s Law. In reality, I don’t expect electrical proficiency from folks who have not worked in an electrical field. What surprises me is that so few can recall having heard of Ohm’s Law. How is it that we are letting so many people graduate from high school without some course work introducing the very basics of electricity?? This related to one of the most pervasive and influential technologies in our time. I think this is a stunning oversight.

“A’hem, cough cough,” you sputter, “but surely …” –short pause for effect- “… students who have taken high school physics have had instruction in electricity,” you reply with obvious incredulity.

If you had said this you’d be correct. But the educational profile of many factory workers doesn’t seem to include many people who have, in our experience, taken physics in high school. Those from the electrical trades tend not to show up from the temp agency for screening.

So let me end this by asking the mandarins of our school districts why we let students not college bound  graduate without some background in the basics of electricity or electronics? To repeat, this is a stunning oversight, given the extensive use of electrical functions and objects in our lives.




Some questions regarding the internet and the problem of hacking.

I wonder to what extent hacking problems via the internet could be suppressed if we had a bit less connectivity or a bit less compatibility? Who decreed that critical systems like the power grid or banking or corporate enterprise systems be connected and compatible in a way that can be entered from outside? Why not trade in some convenience for greater security? Another approach would be to have intranet systems that are incompatible with internet protocols. Who is calling the shots here? Cisco? Microsoft? Fresh MBA’s wanting to implement the latest thinking from B-School?

A separate, air-gapped and incompatible system for intranet use in key infrastructure might be quite effective in blocking access to control systems from the outside. An electronically isolated conventional internet system would allow the public or vendor access to a store front site.

I’m sure there is ways a clever intruder who can cause some kind of trouble in this scenario, such as the intrusion of Stuxnet into the Iranian nuclear processing facility. So you epoxy the USB ports shut or remove the CD/DVD drives on as many computers as possible. Supervised data transfer could occur via numbered CD disc drives issued to employees temporarily for security. Again, cash in some flexibility for security.

But the basic question remains: Why should there be internet access to system wide locations. Who says it should be this way? Some IT/MBA enthusiast drunk on the idea of IoT?  C’mon. Why?

The local school board has recently voted to spend $482,000 to purchase iPads for a high school. “If we don’t do this now, and are already behind, we will get swamped. Instead of buying for a grade level or a school, it’s going to have to be for every kid in the district,” stated the board president. Chiming in was the superintendent who said “It’s not the wave of the future, it’s here now,” Mr. XYZ said. “It’s about the digital world we’re in more than it is about the device. We just have a device now that allows us to do that. The struggle now is getting everyone up to speed.”

There is utterly nothing novel or surprising about these sentiments among educators. The eternally open door to the brave new world beckons educators to outfit their classrooms with the latest and greatest. This is a healthy and vital impulse that I hope we all value.

From where I sit as a 59 year old industrial chemist, the image of new iPads holding a key to mending our educational woes seems like only the latest false prophet to pass our way.  Am I just grumpy or quietly jealous of the lucky young pups getting their iPads? Well, I am prone to grumpiness. Jealous of the students? No. I have declined the issuance of an iPad at work.

I think part of what we see is FOMO: Fear-Of-Missing-Out. To be sure, iPads or other brands are popular for a reason. They’re a wonderful tool for finding information about nearly anything and they are just plain fun to monkey with. So, as a resource to students, the iPad will obviously provide an ever widening portal to the world’s treasure of information. For this it has merit.

Two things can happen to those who frequent cyberspace. First, we find information through the use of search terms that lead us to a great many sources to choose from. But which are the most credible sources? Are they out dated?  Eventually, if civilization holds up long enough, we’ll relearn the importance of rigor in publishing. Secondly, and critically, when we find some information will we understand it? Searching and finding is not equivalent to substantive understanding.

A psych prof once related to me that true learning requires struggle. In my experience I have found this to be a fairly accurate truism. In my college teaching years I always conveyed to students that part of the secret to success in chemistry was to read the text several times and strive to understand the reasoning in the example problems.  Just as importantly, always do the assigned problems. Freshman chemistry is heavily weighted in quantitative concepts and math problems. In fact, freshman chemistry can often morph into a math class for many students.

Being an organikker I taught sophomore organic chemistry. Chemistry is highly vertical meaning that successive course work depends on content from previous classes. Organic chemistry is a bit different in that much of it is qualitative and heavily weighted with new vocabulary and the symbolic language of reaction mechanisms. I used to say that sophomore organic was the year of 10,000 structures. An important part of learning organic is the rote mechanical-tactile brain activity of drawing structures by hand. We chemists are just crazy about structures. Drawing pictures helps to seal the connection between vocabulary and structure. Being asked to draw structures correctly and adding functional groups forces one to associate symbols with composition and vocabulary, but also to acknowledge the 3-D aspects of molecules. Like freshman chemistry, organic requires a good bit of struggle.

In the past I was involved in public outreach with the science of astronomy. Having racked up many seasons of observing and studying the topic I was conversant enough to give star talks and usher visitors for a chance to peer through the 18 inch Cassegrain in the dome. I did this for some years but finally tired of it. What wore me out was that the public rarely had more than superficial interest in the topic. They were just happy to see the moon. It was infotainment and I had been an infotainer. What I finally realized was that to truly appreciate the wonder of astronomy and the mechanisms that grind the universe forward, a visitor would have to sit down and grapple with a lot of physics and new phenomena. A person has to be willing to commit to some struggle to gain the wonderful insights. My hard won knowledge offered to visitors just washed over them for the most part. It was a show and I was a performer.

So let me close the loop by connecting struggle with educational technology. It is my fervent hope that curriculum does not confuse learning to operate a device as evidence of subject knowledge. Most devices are designed to be easy to learn. What is crucial in K-12 education is that a groundwork of basic facts and knowledge of systems and processes are absorbed by students. A basic knowledge of geography facts, government facts, history facts, math facts, grammar and vocabulary facts, sciency facts, etc. are still necessary to have to build upon in the future. Any notion that facts can be left by the wayside in favor knowing where to look for them is a tragic mistake. Eventually people have to draw upon facts to properly search Google. After all, facts have names and to dig deeper into a topic, the user must supply the right search terms. The wrong synonym in a given search may not take the searcher to what they are looking for. Facts in your brain are still very necessary.


The portentous return of American protestant evangelical politics on the coattails of the Trump win has certainly been startling to me at least. As if to underscore this return is the announcement that the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) will take on the case No. 16-111 Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd., et al., v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, et al. Petitioners.

According to the petition for a Writ of Certiorari, at issue is the following:

Whether applying Colorado’s public accommodations law to compel Phillips to create expression that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage violates the Free Speech or Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment

I for one sympathize with both parties. I would like to think that as a business man I had some control in the business arrangements I enter into. On the other hand, it seems quite reasonable that an order for a wedding cake should not be complicated by the theology of the baker. I gather that the sign over the door did not say “Bakery for Observant Christians Only”.

Having been in sales, I know there are a hundred ways to purposely kill a sale without it descending into a fight or bad feelings. A sky high price, a ridiculously long delivery time, kitchen remodeling, a diseased baker, etc. Ok, so it is a lie. It happens.

From my purchasing experience I know it is possible for a careful buyer to disclose as little information as possible so as not to cue a vendor to raise the price or decline to make an offer. The couple in question could have discretely asked for a cake without giving away their relationship or could have sent in a proxy. The figurine of a gay couple on top of the cake could have been purchased separately and set in place at a different location. Alternatively, the gay couple could have simply found another baker willing to do the job, say in Boulder to the north.

Yes, yes, yes. I know. Neither side should have to use subterfuge to complete this simple transaction. And neither side, in principle, should have to fear the consequences of their core values. But for crying out loud, this is Colorado Springs. A more conservative Christian enclave would be hard to find. The city is full of conservative retired military and a number of fundamentalist Christianist organization headquarters like Focus on the Family among others. But what are you going to do? Fight to the death everyone you find disagreeable? Does everything have to be consecrated to God? Crimony! Can’t there be secular activities like putting a lug nut on a bolt or buying baked goods?

If SCOTUS rules against Colorado’s public accommodations law to compel the petitioner to create expression that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage, then they will have set back the cause of LGBTQ rights, possibly for generations. Likewise, a ruling for the respondent might do similar damage for the conservative cause. Both sides could live with some ambiguity in this matter.

The notion that baking a cake for a gay couple somehow validates LGBTQ values seems to be a bit of a stretch. It seems to me that a conception of a God who would see the act of baking this cake with so negative a view as to impose an existential threat to the baker’s eternal salvation is to conjure up a very strange picture of the deity. If a human were to wield this kind of existential threat to the baker, that human might be regarded as psychopathic.

In my view, American evangelical Christianists have constructed a model of God in the image of a very cranky, peevish male human. A God who set the galaxies spinning, ignited our sun, breathed life into inanimate earth, and accounts for every flea riding the tail feathers of every bird would certainly have the insight and fatherly patience to see this gay Wedding Cake matter as a tempest in a teapot. Yes? Maybe? But perhaps that is me constructing God in the image of a mensch.

I like that- God as a mensch.




The short video above is of LLNL atmospheric test shot Turk in Operation Teapot in 1955 at the Nevada Test Site. The test was of the primary for the XW-27D thermonuclear weapon, giving a 43 kt yield.

What struck me about the footage was that it captured detail of the expanding fireball as it contacted the ground. Turk was a tower shot with the explosive sitting at 150 m above the ground. As the roughly spherical fireball expanded, jets of roiling material protrude radially from the growing incandescent ball. In particular a conical extension of incandescent material protrudes from and is overtaken by the expanding fireball.

A commenter below offered what seems to me a quite plausible explanation of the conical “jet” observed in the footage. It is a cable from the tower caught in the act of cooking off into plasma from the much faster radiant energy.

Addendum 6/28/17. Thanks to a link supplied by commenter K, we find there is a name for this phenomenon- it is called the “rope trick”. See this link for more information.

What seems to have gotten lost in the public acrimony over anthropogenic global warming is the disposition and fate of the overall web of life- the biosphere. We hear bits and pieces about the bleaching of reefs, endangered apex predators, and the loss of Amazon rain forest. These are important of course, but they are components of the entire biosphere.

Recently the Whanganui River in New Zealand has been granted the same rights as a human being. Likewise, the government of India has granted legal rights to the Ganges and the Yamuna Rivers. According to an article in The Guardian, this new legal status in India will allow the ” … courts broader scope for intervention in the river’s management.” It remains to be seen how the new status will affect the current practice of discharging raw sewage and industrial waste in to the rivers.

Naturally, this assignment of legal status to rivers is an anathema to right-thinking capitalists or political parties. After all, to the capitalist what is the countryside but a map of interlocking private properties of which on the surface, crops are grown and subdivisions are built. And what is the ground beneath our feet but a cache of mineral resources to “recover” and soil to be farmed to exhaustion as we please.

The concept of private property is sacrosanct in the capitalist countries. Western cultures have evolved very elaborate rules and customs around ownership. Briefly, to own something is to have the exclusive right to use and enjoy an object, land, or intellectual property. The firmament supporting this custom is the existence of an accepted codex of practices and statutes backed by the authority of the state. The thing to note is that ownership relies on cooperation, volunteered or enforced. Ownership is not based on physics. It is a concept that exists only to the extent that there is broad agreement that it not be violated.

In exchange for living in a stable society with career opportunities and lifestyle options, those of us not born into wealth are disinclined to rob or attack those with large fortunes. That is part of civilization. But here is a question. What if an egalitarian and wealthy nation, where comfort and safety is at least possible through hard and steady work, becomes unavailable through machinations by undisclosed self-interested parties?  Like boiling the frog, a slow transition from better times to poorer times may happen without panic and civil unrest.

What happens when well educated young people graduate from college having completed a course of studies also taken by their parents and they find that the career paradigm has changed. In fact, the system of paying for career skills and credentials has changed dramatically in since the 1970’s. Today much more of the cost of higher education has been shifted to the student and family. At one time higher education was viewed as something the state substantially supported. Over time, through competition for students, schools have upgraded their facilities and have added premium offerings in terms of programs staff, and facilities. It is a kind of creeping featurism that organizations are prone to.

If clear thinking citizens are alarmed about this but cannot get the attention of political figures, what are they to do? The indebtedness of college graduates has become a serious threat to their futures. This is a serious societal issue that is not self-healing. How much restraint and respect for the system and the people behind the curtain who run it are they entitled to? I’m beginning to believe that civil disobedience or the threat of it is all we have left.

What has happened more than once in history is that an uprising occurs when an underclass or other aggrieved or marauding groups decide that they will no longer abide by the agreements supporting the ownership of property. One element of the French Revolution giving rise to the overthrow of Louis VXI was that the French aristocracy and clergy were not paying taxes to the King. The state was going bankrupt and food was in short supply.

The Earth-Moon oasis as viewed from Saturn.  Image Credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Desperate people did what desperate people will do- they revolted. Heads actually rolled and the establishment fell. The question for the USA, by analogy, is this: what is the limit of tolerance to income inequality and decreasing spending power that the 98 or 99 % of the US population are willing to withstand? As the middle class continues to collapse and wealth continues to accumulate in the hands of a small number of groups, at what point is revolution the only option? Add to this the increasingly remote and inaccessible legislative and executive bodies and you have an established oligarchy or plutocracy that finds itself in a defensive posture.

Are baby boomers an aberration?

Perhaps the post WWII American middle class expansion is the exception to the rule? Maybe great wealth inequality is the natural condition absent something like the baby boom after WWII. I would offer that one of the conditions that was different about the US baby boom period is that the transition from 1930’s technology to 1950’s technology resulting from the war was exceptionally rich in new industrial goods. This period saw the birth of the nuclear industry including power, weapons, materials, mining, propulsion and medicine. Advancements in aviation and aerospace grew dramatically through the war and has kept going to the present day. The invention of the transistor and the television became huge economic drivers as well.

It is good practice to return to fundamentals now and again. The earth is an oasis of life on a wet rock in the vast vacuum of space. Presently, it is the only habitable spot for as far as anyone can see in any direction. We living things are stuck here with nowhere else to go. Plants, animals, insects, birds, and microbes are born, live, and die here. Who is to say that one or other living species should be forced into extinction? Who are humans to thoughtlessly poison or crowd out other living things?

Unfortunately, our species has evolved stories whose passages claim that we have dominion over the earth and its living things. Taken literally this doctrine has given license to ignore the rights of all the other living things. We could sit back and allow habitats to collapse, fresh water supplies to become polluted and scarce, populations to rise, and mindless consumption of resources to accelerate. Or not.

Think about how people perceive the world around them. The atmosphere looks infinite when you direct your gaze upwards. No upper boundary can be viewed. But it is a fact that the 500 millibar level (1/2 atmospheric pressure) of the atmosphere is at 18,000 feet (+/- a bit) in altitude above sea level.  At this altitude, approximately half of the molecules in the atmosphere are at 18,000 ft or below. This altitude is only 2000 ft below the summit of Denali in Alaska. Certainly nowhere near infinity.

Given the reality of the limited depth of half of our atmosphere, anthropogenic warming might seem a little less implausible. Now add to the picture the world-wide loss of land habitat through development, depletion of the fisheries, the recent sharp decline in insect populations, agricultural monoculture, desertification, etc. While people are preoccupied with belligerent politics, exponential economic development, and just their own lives, the biosphere is continually loosing vitality.

These deleterious human-induced trends will eventually self-correct through wars, famine, epidemics, and other unthinkable events. The question is then, what does it take to arrest a slide into a more cruel and uncivilized world?

We can begin by reminding people that a few decades ago a there was a social movement in the US that recognized the merits of resource conservation. Reduced consumption is the only way that we can maintain our advanced civilization in the face of rising global population. More at a later date




I have to wonder what kind of internal monologue runs through the heads of Trump supporters these days. Here are some fictional quotes based on what I’ve heard-

Virginia, 52 y, Kearney, NE: “I know he has some problems, but he is shaking up Washington. Give him time to catch his stride.”

Ben, 73 y, Henderson, NV:  “Don’t care what he does long as he puts that dishonest Hill’ry in jail where she belongs.”

Arlene, 68 y, Webster City, IA: “I wish’d Ted Cruz was president … ”

Sheree, 31 y, Livonia, MI: ” No real choice but to vote for Trump.”

Lenny, 47, Russellville, AL: ” … shee-yit, cain’t believe Dale Junior is gonna retire …”

Boyce, 77 y, Rock Hill, SC: ” Billionaire oughta be able ta run th’ country. Heck-fire, O-bama did it, sorta.”

Cassie, 48 y, Sheboygan, WI: “… can’t get over my husband votin’ for that disgusting SOB…”

Allen, 56 y, Fargo, ND: ” Trump said he’s gonna put us back to work. Gotta keep drillin’. Oil is what keeps this country runnin’.”

Emma, 39 y, Abilene, TX: “Pastor said to vote for Trump. We’re prayin’ he’ll pull through these rough patches of fake news.”

You really can’t tell what Trump people are now thinking about this real-estate-billionaire-as-president debacle being broadcast 24/7. Our better angels might have whispered a soothing assurance that there would be widespread wailing and parades of contrition by now. But no, it’s not happening. In my experience the great masses of Trump believers have either clammed up or express no misgivings. A very strange picture against the backdrop of blatant bad behavior on a daily basis.

Seems obvious as hell that an autocratic hand-waving “Chairman of the Board” approach to executive governance is not going to work. Obvious to everyone but the Trump fans. Why would folks think that a business management template could be applied to the government? Government as we know it is not a profit oriented endeavor. It is a not-for-profit enterprise serving the many needs of society. The word ‘democracy’ has been used to describe the American system, although oligarchy, plutocracy, corporatist, and the like have gain favor in recent years.

A business organization is not a democratic structure. It is autocratic by nature. There is no freedom of speech in business. Due process is sketchy. No bill of rights in regard to your career path. It is very Darwinian and anti-democratic, yet Americans have adapted to the many small dictatorships that govern up our working lives.

It is a curious thing to see flag-waving conservative evangelicals embracing capitalism and American corporatism when it is so antithetical to the common though childish narrative of American virtues of egalitarianism and freedom.

The notion that governments can and should be operated as a businesslike organization is a utopian fantasy. It is preached by wealthy neoliberals who seek to absorb land and natural resources (i.e., control) which are now in the public domain. It’s reminiscent of the Oklahoma land rush, except that few of us are invited. An example of the neoliberal players would be the Koch brothers, among others, who are steeped in some variant of the Austrian school of economics mixed with John Birch Society ‘nuance’. The goal of these devotees is to deconstruct the present government to a greatly diminished level that will then guide the privatization of the public domain, meaning public lands, public schools, and the mineral wealth of the continent. Remember the words of Grover Norquist: “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”  Norquist got a lot of publicity from this statement. Unfortunately it shows an incredible ignorance of history.

“Government exists to protect us from each other. Where government has gone beyond its limits is in deciding to protect us from ourselves.”  Ronald Reagan

I think Reagan was right in his comment about protecting us from each other. However, I think that the next sentence is dead wrong. As a precocious species we continue to accelerate the depletion of resources and the injection of waste onto our small planet. We are tipping the balance of the biosphere in measureable ways. Mankind is lurching forward in a way that is not sustainable and will eventually end in social collapse as resource scarcity triggers international conflict.

If we were limited to spears and stone axes, large scale conflict might be recoverable. But something terrible lurks in the background. A handful of nations, several with serious disputes, have a large number of nuclear weapons waiting 24/7 for instructions. No nuclear armed country facing certain doom by invasion or destruction will perish with its nuclear arsenal sitting in storage. It is imperative that the knowledge and responsibility for restraint and wise stewardship of our nuclear heritage be passed with fidelity down through the generations to come. We really do need to protect us from ourselves.


The recent news footage out of Syria showing victims of a chemical attack is haunting. When I first saw it I couldn’t quite comprehend what I was looking at. But after a minute of increasing discomfort I began to grasp the horror of the situation. Victims lying on the ground in puddles of water or in the midst of being flushed with a stream of water, gasping for air and limbs quivering in wide-eyed disbelief and fear of what they were experiencing. Others were unconscious or dead. Rescuers were moving around the victims not knowing what to do beyond rinsing off the bodies. Those handling the water, I’m sure, were grateful to be giving some kind of aid no matter how small.

It is interesting to see how people, myself included, react to this kind of news. I mean, this shouldn’t be happening. After all, the world has international conventions and treaties banning the use of chemical and biological agents in warfare. Humanity has gone to some length to bar the use of war shots designed to release toxic gas or aerosols over anyone anywhere.

When we shudder and express sincere horror at the barbarity of a chemical attack on civilians, along what track is our thinking guided? What kind of decision process might lead us to believe that a sarin attack is a higher level of depravity than a bomb blast? Could it be true that people who release chemical agents are actually guilty of a higher crime than those who send bombs in the direction of a civilian neighborhood or even just 50 caliber bullets?

Explosives are chemicals that unleash kinetic and thermal violence for a few seconds per explosion. Nerve agents move like the wind, breathing lethal aerosols or gas as they flow and leaving who knows how much contaminated … everything … and for how long. Bombs can be aimed, a gas cloud not so much. Bomb violence is much more common than death by acetylcholinesterase inhibition, yet our attention is always drawn to chemical violence.

We have an industry called show business that exploits bomb violence in its entertainment products. And we the viewing audience have become desensitized to the horrific effects of explosions by sheer repetition of highly staged portrayals. Perhaps it is the very novelty of a chemical attack that captures our attention. If you survive a bomb blast, there is a chance that you can be sewn back together again. If you receive an exposure to sarin, well, what do you do to stop the inhibition of an enzyme? Find a dose of atropine if possible from someone who knows it’s in stock somewhere.

The acceptance of explosives but not chemical agents as legitimate weapons of war is at best a false dichotomy. But, we are a world of men and women and weaponized conflict. If a ban on chemical and biological weapons can be negotiated faster than a ban on the use of explosives, then we take what we can get. But let us not get desensitized to high explosives and the horrific tragedies they produce.

Oh, one pet peeve. They’re not ‘explosive devices”, they are bombs. The former may infer skillful and clinical dispassion. The latter suggests dumb, blunt force. The latter seems more to the point.

Dear Rep. Lamar Smith,

Yer a smart feller there, Lamar. Ya have a BA from Yale and that JD from SMU. Ya passed the bar exam and started private practice in San Antone. In 11 years ya worked yer way up ta national ‘lected office.  It’s an accomplishment no matter how’ya look at it. And that America Invents Act piled on some mighty fine improvements ta the patentin’ process. That was good work there boy.

As chair of the House Committee on Science, Space and Tech-nology, ya been perty skeptical ’bout them snooty climate science boys with their jar-gon and their uppity attitudes actin’ all high’n mighty-like ’bout climate n’such. A good ole’ boy from the Hill Country ought ta be able to pick up on that fancy c’mputer modelin’, right?

I think that ya ought ta throw some of yer many talents inta climate modelin’ yerself. You’d be doin’ the scientific folks a favor. You’d roll up yer sleeves an’ dig in ta clean’n up that po-litically correct climate data. Darn tootin’ you would. I’m sure the folks at NOAA would give ya a desk er somethin’ ta do yer cipherin’.

Give it some thought, Lamar. Shouldn’t take more’n a few Saturday afternoons ta make a big dent innit. Don’tcha think? Keep yer head on a swivel.

Th’ Gausslin’


(Texican language services provided by Elroy)





A lot of science is about trying to find the best questions. Because the best questions can lead us to better answers. So, in the spirit of better questions here goes.

By loosening environmental regulations aimed at pollution prevention or remediation, the mandarins reporting to POTUS 45 have apparently made the calculation decided that some resulting uptick in pollution is justified by the jobs created thereby.

Question 1: For any given relaxation in regulations that result in an adverse biological, chemical or physical insult to the environment, what is the limit of tolerable adverse effect?

Question 2: How will the upper limit of acceptable environmental insult be determined?

Question 3: Will the upper limit of acceptable environmental insult be determined before or after the beginning of the adverse effect?

For a given situation there should be some ratio of jobs to acceptable environmental damage.

Example: By relaxing the rules on the release of coal mining waste into a river, X jobs are created and, as a result, Y households are denied potable drinking water. What is an acceptable ratio of X to Y?

Those are enough questions for now. Discuss amongst yourselves.


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