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President 45 has chosen a cabinet, with senate confirmation, that outwardly seems chosen specifically to deconstruct the large scale structure of the federal government. This has come out in the open by admission from the likes of Steve Bannon, but serious dialog about the consequences of this has only just started.

If you step back a bit and think about what role the federal government has had in modern US culture, you might realize that the federal governmental superstructure has provided a framework and a shelter for many things citizens and businesses have come to rely on.

Some science oriented services the federal government has provided-

  • Funds for industrial expansion in 2 world wars
  • DARPA, which funds for the development of advanced military hardware, including aviation, communications, orbital platforms, electronics, robotics, computer technology, and more. All of this has spillover benefits to the nation at large.
  • A military establishment that countless young men and women joined that helped them build a career for life after enlistment
  • The GI bill post WWII credited with aiding the formation of the American middle class
  • The FAA regulates the operation of a large scale civilian aviation system, including organizing the airways, aviation safety, air traffic control
  • NIST, which provides for common weights and measures as well as the definition and standardization of many other units of measure for science and industry
  • CDC, which monitors and aids in the identification and containment of diseases
  • NOAA, which provides a large array of satellites and computer capacity for weather forecasting
  • EPA, that agency much maligned by pollution-generating industry, is charged with oversight of surface waters of all kinds as well as the purity of the air we breath.
  • The NIH which serves as an effective national resource for the advancement of medicine in research and in practice
  • The NSF has for many years funded basic scientific research, and in doing so provided many generations of scientists and engineers for industry and academics
  • NTSB is charged with investigating transportation accidents and promoting transportation safety
  • you get the picture …

I am not entirely sure what the slogan “Make America Great Again” really means. It is a brilliant piece of propaganda in the sense that it stirs the emotions of voters, but cannot be pinned down to any one meaning. The image of greatness is in the eye of the beholder.

When I think of this greatness business, my mind naturally goes to the source of our vast science and engineering prowess. The US evolved a unique and effective system of research and development.  The American university/government R&D machine has over many years provided breakthroughs in technology, but also it provides a constant supply of valuable scientific and engineering talent for any and all who need it.

Another benefit of our scientific establishment is the treasure trove of knowledge it leaves behind for posterity. Working in an R&D heavy manufacturing environment, I have at my finger tips the largest collection of international scientific references in the world. This is the CAS registry at the Chemical Abstracts Service and it is in fact national treasure.

I use this resource almost daily to uncover known technology and substances dating back to the late 19th century. A great resource to have because in business, you can’t afford to reinvent the wheel. And a lot of wheels have already been invented. Highly detailed information can be retrieved to provide the knowhow to solve problems encountered in industrial R&D today. Information that is in the public domain. Even better, because of the practice of peer-review, the information usually can be considered highly reliable.

Our government/university R&D complex is the goose that laid the golden egg. It is part of the engine of ingenuity that drives our economy.

Industry benefits from tremendously from a constant supply of talented engineering and scientific talent graduation from the best university research establishment in the world. It is this way in large part because of financial input from federal government funding agencies. Yes, there are monies available from private organizations. But I don’t think it compares in magnitude and breadth to funding from DoE, NSF, NIH, etc.

When I see that the present crew of republican elected officials and their appointees gunning for the large scale teardown of government agencies and reductions in force, I am naturally worried about the future of our education and R&D apparatus. I have trouble believing that the present congressional majority and the White House have the knowledge and intellectual bandwidth to comprehend the consequences of their actions.

This whole deconstruction of the federal government in favor of state control has the smell of a return to confederacy. Ask yourself how a confederate states of America would function when challenged by China or Russia militarily. How would the disunity by strong state control of resources respond in the case of an incremental land grab like the Russian takeover of Crimea. What if China takes over Taiwan and threatens hegemony of the Pacific?

The present political regime in DC threatens to do great harm to a civilization that used to be the envy of the world. Opportunity, wide open spaces, modernity were an attribute of a productive, unified nation. Do a majority of the citizens want what amounts to the libertarian dream of personal responsibility in the form of isolated bubbles of humanity? Does every aspect of our lives have to be a potential profit center for someone? Competition thrives with individual choice. But civilization requires cooperation. I vote for civilization.

 

 

I have concluded that we are witnessing in the political sphere today the wholesale deconstruction of our national public spaces and civic institutions by elected officials responsive to influences substantially unknown. And unknown by design. The last few decades have seen erosion of public support of public education, both emotional and financial. Plainly, conservative media have been gradually beating down public support by sheer repetition of slogans and falsehoods. Legislatures have withdrawn funding or applied unfunded mandates to public schools to the effect that when they fail to meet absurd goals, they congratulate themselves on their prescience. The claim that they want more accountability from teachers is a thinly vailed attempt to disband teachers unions. Teachers, being optimists and educated, are frequently of liberal disposition.  This is the application of propaganda and it works. Republicans are good at it because they know how to apply sustained fear in the hearts of voters too preoccupied in their own lives to research issues. The right owns the left side of several population bell curves and are advantaged by it greatly.

An AG from Oklahoma will soon be administrator of the EPA. For decades Republicans and conservative media have chanted the same message that regulations are bad with the subtext that they are inherently bad. They are bad for business and inhibit job creation they say. If discharging persistent pollutants into the air or waterways is bad for business, then tough shit. We do not need that kind of business.

Not a peep is uttered on the events that lead to the rule making by the agency. I lay this omission squarely on corporate media. Water pollution doesn’t make good television. Apparently even the success stories of agencies like EPA do not make compelling television. If you want to see a world unimpeded by environmental protection, go visit some of the industrial districts in China, Southeast Asia, or India. Tell me how the free market is working there. China by the way has gotten religion on environmental protection due to decades of rampant pollution.

 

Chaffetz withdraws bill, slinks back into hole

 

Representative Jason Chaffetz [R-UT-3] has introduced H.R. 621 which aims to direct the sale of 3.3 million acres of federal public land in the west. The bill is titled “H.R.621 – Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act of 2017”.  Below is a copy of the bill.

115th CONGRESS
1st Session

H. R. 621

To direct the Secretary of the Interior to sell certain Federal lands in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming, previously identified as suitable for disposal, and for other purposes.


IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
January 24, 2017

Mr. Chaffetz introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on Natural Resources

A BILL To direct the Secretary of the Interior to sell certain Federal lands in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming, previously identified as suitable for disposal, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. Sale of certain Federal lands previously identified as suitable for disposal.

 (a) Short title.—This Act may be cited as the “Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act of 2017”.

(b) Competitive sale of lands.—The Secretary shall offer the identified Federal lands for disposal by competitive sale for not less than fair market value as determined by an independent appraiser.

(c) Existing rights.—The sale of identified Federal lands under this section shall be subject to valid existing rights.

(d) Proceeds of sale of lands.—All net proceeds from the sale of identified Federal lands under this section shall be deposited directly into the Treasury for reduction of the public debt.

(e) Report.—Not later than 4 years after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall submit to the Committee on Natural Resources of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources of the Senate—

(1) a list of any identified Federal lands that have not been sold under subsection (b) and the reasons such lands were not sold; and

(2) an update of the report submitted to Congress by the Secretary on May 27, 1997, pursuant to section 390(g) of the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 (Public Law 104–127; 110 Stat. 1024), including a current inventory of the Federal lands under the administrative jurisdiction of the Secretary that are suitable for disposal.

(f) Definitions.—In this section:

(1) IDENTIFIED FEDERAL LANDS.—The term “identified Federal lands” means the parcels of Federal land under the administrative jurisdiction of the Secretary that were identified as suitable for disposal in the report submitted to Congress by the Secretary on May 27, 1997, pursuant to section 390(g) of the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 (Public Law 104–127; 110 Stat. 1024), except the following:

(A) Lands not identified for disposal in the applicable land use plan.

(B) Lands subject to a Recreation and Public Purpose conveyance application.

(C) Lands identified for State selection.

(D) Lands identified for Indian tribe allotments.

(E) Lands identified for local government use.

(2) SECRETARY.—The term “Secretary” means the Secretary of the Interior.

SEC. 2. Clarification regarding State laws.

Nothing in this Act shall affect the implementation of State laws, including State enabling Acts.

Suddenly we have a bill seeking to sell federal land “suitable for disposal, and for other purposes“.  I’ll add four comments:

1) federal land is public land, and not just for taxpayers, but all citizens,

2) the word “disposal” is a rhetorical kicker that is suggestive of salvage, and

3) the phrase and for other purposes is far too vague.

4) there is no language barring sale to foreign interests.

This bill is too shadowy and too soon. Citizens should have a chance to see for themselves what kind of land this is. We need transparency and some idea of who could buy and what is likely to happen to these lands. But more importantly, there should be some deliberation on the matter of what responsibility we have to future generations to maintain wild spaces for their use. Our public spaces in America set us apart from other nations who, because of their long and complex histories, were unable to plan for public spaces.

Do you really believe that you’ll be better off when this land is snatched up by monied interests?

A parting thought. Much of the land now occupied in the west was settled by homesteaders who developed the land and made a living from it. Why can’t that happen today? This land formed a basis for the inheritance of wealth for future generations. Did Mr. Chaffetz even consider this? Doubtful.

You may know that after an Amazon transaction you will eventually receive a notice requesting an evaluation of the quality of product and delivery. In the 5-star rating system the top three ratings are Fair, Good, and Excellent. What you don’t know is what constitutes “Excellent or Good” service. What if your order shows up on time and is undamaged? Does that deserve high praise? I’ll answer that. The delivery of a product on time and in spec, even a day or two early, is within the range of ordinary or expected. It does not qualify as excellent or even good.

Conversely, a selection of “Fair” seems unfair to a vendor. If a common parcel delivery to a customer did not also deliver giggling delight, but rather an “OK, here it is”, maybe the customer would be inclined to give a mid-range rating accurately reflecting the absence of glee. Fair is death by faint praise.

What they are missing is an answer indicating that the product and delivery was “as expected” or, “nominal”.  Excellent or Good imply some sort of action above and beyond a baseline value.

Amazon is smart to collect ranking data on their vendors. It keeps them edgy and sharp. I get that.

An Excellent rating should result from service leaving the customer standing there with their pants around their ankles and a goofy grin on their face. That would rank as Excellent in my book!

But I would offer that another purpose is to condition customers into believing that ordinary products and deliveries from Amazon constitute some kind of premium service. Early on, maybe. But now it is normal. It’s just an ordinary transaction worthy of, at most, a wink and a nod.

More than a few people in my meager sphere of coworkers, family, and acquaintances are of a decidedly conservative bent and apparently bathe in the fetid wellspring of the Fox network for their daily ablutions. I recognize this because more than a few use substantially the same phraseology as they express the similar contentions on politics or of some duplicitous liberal miscreant. Most are admitted non-sciency folk and have heard that the current dust-up about AGW, Anthropogenic Global Warming, derives from assertions of a self-serving conspiracy by unscrupulous scientists angling for grants or in service of some deeper, darker purpose.

Like many people I’m trying to follow and comprehend the topic of climate change and AGW. Having taken no more than an undergraduate semester of meteorology and oceanography as well as flight training, I can grasp basic concepts and use some of the vocabulary in a sentence. So, when I’m asked for my opinion I usually just shrug my shoulders and offer a scenario for consideration.

Forget CO2 for a minute. What happens to surface water if the atmosphere and oceans get a bit warmer? It’s safe to say that, generally, there will be more moisture entering the air. It’s a fact that water vapor is a greenhouse gas. Water vapor absorbs infrared energy from the sun. Any influence that manages to cause the atmosphere to hold more water is an influence that will cause the atmosphere to capture more thermal energy and result in warming. Being more buoyant that dry air, moist air can convect to produce clouds.

The change from liquid water to gas is an endothermic process. Energy is absorbed to produce water vapor from surface water. During cloud formation, upwelling air naturally cools and condenses to aerosols and droplets. These may freeze to ice and liberate the latent heat of fusion. This is an exothermic process, liberating latent heat which warms the air causing further convection. So, a parcel of moist air convecting upwards will result in an inrushing of surface air which is drawn upwards to sustain a column of rising moist air. The early cloud building phase of a thunderstorm (cumulonimbus) is characterized by strong updrafts from convection.

So, one might expect storm behavior to change as the relative humidity increases. As the average air temperature rises, the higher latitudes (north and south) might be expected to see some change as well.

In the northern hemisphere one of those changes could be the melting of higher latitude snowpack and glacial ice. Ice and snow pack consists of fresh water. Fresh water is less dense than salty ocean water. As fresh surface water runs onto briny oceanic water, it will tend to stratify according to density with lower density, less briny water tending towards the surface.

The thermohaline circulation, also referred to the Atlantic conveyor, is responsible for the gulf stream current that flows in a northeasterly direction along the Atlantic coast of North America and into the north Atlantic. This current is responsible for delivery of relatively warm water to the north Atlantic. These warm waters are partially responsible for the temperate climate of the UK and northern Europe. One of the most important concepts of climate science is that one cannot separate the oceans from climate. Due to the considerable heat capacity and latent heats of water (relative to air), the oceans are a substantial reservoir of energy capacity in direct thermal contact with the atmosphere.

The gulf stream’s arrival to the cooler north Atlantic where the water increases its salinity and density due to low temperature and evaporation to form a region of sinking water that forms a subsurface current. This current circulates to the Pacific and Indian oceans and eventually back to the north Atlantic in a loop of circulating water. For the north Atlantic, this loop is at the surface and transfers heat back to the north Atlantic in the form of warm surface gulf current water.

The gulf stream submerges between the coast of Norway and Greenland. In doing so, warm water is transferred to the north Atlantic. Should Greenland undergo a sudden warming with subsequent release of melted fresh water, it would be expected that the process of sinking of briny surface water would be suppressed due to the presence of less dense surface melt water from Greenland. The effect would be to suppress the potential energy of descending cold briny water feeding the Atlantic conveyor as well as oxygen transport to the ocean depths. Upwelling water from the deep transports vital minerals to support the food chain. The loss of this upwelling will have a distinct affect on the fisheries.

If it transpires that the loss of heat transport to the north Atlantic results in a general cooling of that body of water to form ice, how is the overall heat balance of the earth affected? Could it trigger another ice age?

The point of this is to offer that a rise in air temperature can lead to consequences that are not intuitively obvious. Talking about global warming should not end with just “warming”. The ramp up to global warming is a disturbance that may have surprising results.

In the past I have written posts on the adventure of having two stage 4 cancers and the journey down the rabbit hole one takes as treatment goes forward. Three years ago I had surgery, radiation and cis-platin for throat cancer. Three years later my throat or oropharyngeal cancer is undetectable. Of course, this is good news.  What remains of the experience are the lasting effects of intense radiation exposure in and around the target volume. I developed the normal array of after effects: stunted salivary glands resulting in chronic dry-mouth; periodontal disease and the loss of a few teeth; a substantial loss and distortion of the sense of taste; inadequate thyroid function requiring medication; difficulty in swallowing dry foods; radiation scarring on the neck; and lymphedema where 33 lymph nodes were removed from my neck. I’ve adapted and manage quite nicely to plod down the timeline much as before.

My situation with the stage 4 prostate cancer (Gleason 8) is stable. One of the treatments for prostate cancer is chemical castration. Since testosterone has the effect of accelerating the growth and spread of prostate cancer cells, the commercial drug Lupron is used to down regulate the production of testosterone. Loss of body hair and muscle mass as well as the onset of hot flashes were some of the highlights of my experience. A substantial nulling out of the sex drive happens as well.  Effectively I spent about two years as a eunuch.

It’s been nearly a year since the Lupron injections have stopped. I’m getting a more strength and some body hair is returning. I’ll leave it at that. The radiation treatment was intense in the target zone, but largely without significant discomfort overall. The tricky part of external radiation treatment of the prostate is it’s proximity to the bladder and the bowel. Fortunately, modern IMRT equipment is capable of modulating the x-ray beam intensity as well as shaping the beam with a multileaf tungsten collimator as it rotates around the patient.

After 11 months since the last Lupron shot, my PSA has increased only slightly from being non-detectable.  The return of testosterone after having it shut down for 2 years is a weird experience for a fella. But weirdness is normal in the world of cancer treatment.

Now we’ll pivot to a different topic.

A delicate parting thought for friends and family of those with cancer. Invariably a well intentioned friend or family member will say that their thoughts and prayers are with you or that a prayer group is holding you in the light. Another expression of sympathy might be that there is a reason for everything and that God has a plan for all of us, and as the story goes, our lives have purpose after all. Such sincere well wishes are expressed with the best of intentions, but for myself and other non-theistic people it rings hollow and offers little consolation. A prolonged and agonizing illness is part of some plan? Seriously? If a person set forth such a plan we would rightly consider this foul individual a psychopath worthy of punishment.

People express these sentiments when presented with an existential conflict- it is when the need to connect their belief system with reality the observable world is confronted with the paradox of the divine sanctioning of pain, suffering and untimely death. The need is met by the supposition that there must be divine purpose rather than the unthinkable alternative of the illness happening in the stark emptiness of a godless universe. If such a universe existed, what possible purpose could there be in existence? Well, yada yada. I’ll take this topic up in a later post.

Here is an alternative for your non-believing friends and family. Consider renewing and expressing gratitude for their love and friendship. Confess what the person means to you and commiserate with their condition. Let your emotions flow. Hold their hand. A bit of listening goes a long way too. Mirth is always welcome- the regaling of past exploits, funny stories or people, jokes or the sharing of what experiences you have in common. A light heart and cheerful smile is always welcome in sickness and in health.

 

The US Chemical Safety Board has approved and released the final report on the Macondo /Deepwater Horizon  blowout and explosion of 4/20/10 in the Gulf of Mexico. The report is in two volumes and does include an animation of the sequence of events. I have found the CSB animations to be particularly helpful in understanding the key features revealed by their investigations.

The CSB recently released their final report on the ammonium nitrate fire and explosion in West, Texas on 4/17/13. A few months after the release of the final report the ATF announced a reward of up to $50,000 for information leading to the arrest of person or persons responsible for the industrial fire and explosion that killed 15 people.

If the forensic aspects of industrial accidents is of interest to you, I’d recommend having a look at the CSB website. Knowledge of various initiation and propagation modes in past industrial accidents is useful for those of us trying to prevent initiating events on our own sites.

Here are three items on my wish list for the future. There are more but this is enough for today.

  • The nomination of Donald Trump as Republican candidate for president in 2016. This political intestinal disease needs to run its course. Hell, let him win in 2016. Why? Given that a win means the electoral system has spoken, the GOP will have to reconcile this unforeseen event to the rest of the electorate and to the Citizen’s United beneficiaries who were accordingly disappointed. Perhaps there will be leadership purges at both the RNC and DNC. Even more fantastical would be a rethinking of what the parties stand for. But … nah. It won’t happen.
  • Fewer movies about Nazis. It is a tired and tiresome meme. Move on.
  • I’d like to see the Rupert Murdoch empire taken to task over their FCC broadcast licenses. Recalling that the public airwaves are just that, I’d like to hear them explain how his use of broadcast spectrum really merits the public trust. The same goes for other news outlets and cable providers. But before Murdoch croaks, I’d like to see him squirm.

<< cue theme song>>

 

Lamentations on Chemistry

Never one to allow reason to interfere with sentimentality, my blackened heart is softened somewhat by the recent shipment of Lipton Tea bags delivered to Th’ Gaussling from an online admirer via the US Postal Service. 

The tea in this gift shall be symbolically applied to the local waterway, but not before being used to formulate some refreshing iced beverage via aqueous extraction.  A vessel filled with aqueous goodness (OPE-Our Pure Essence) will be charged with the anthocyanin and alkaloid laden forest litter for extended exposure to solar radiation. Brownian motion will be relied upon to disperse the colloidal value away from the biomass.

Once so processed, the fortifying beverage will be passed through a pair of kidneys as a symbol of my dark contempt for the IRS. This nephro-raffinate will be discharged into the municipal fluid collection system for a kind of Nicene rectification that will provide further philosophical processing of the…

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The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has publically expressed dismay and disappointment in a letter to Tesoro Corporation in San Antonio, TX. It is in regard the apparent unwillingness of the company to allow CSB investigators to come on site and continue with the investigation of an industrial accident or, if you prefer, incident. Apparently two workers were splashed with sulfuric acid and had to be choppered out for treatment.

From what I gather from the CSB letter, Tesoro doesn’t believe that the incident rises to the level of seriousness to justify a CSB investigation. That is my own interpretation.

At first blush it would seem that Tesoro has a point. While it is something that OSHA would cover, does it really necessitate attention by the CSB? By itself it seems questionable. But when you consider that Tesoro had an 7-fatality explosion and fire at its Anacortes refinery in April of 2010, perhaps the scrutiny seems less unreasonable.

The refinery explosion was determined to result from high temperature hydrogen attack within a 40 year old shell and tube heat exchanger. Catastrophic structural failure on startup after a scheduled tube cleaning resulted in an explosion and fire with immediate and delayed fatalities.

It seems to me that the failure of a high temperature heat exchanger after 40 years of service handling hydrogen and naphtha has more to do management policy on equipment service life than anything else. This speaks to prudent administrative and engineering controls on plant safety. A shell and tube heat exchanger has no moving parts to fail. It just sits motionless doing it’s function. There are no failing parts to replace other than leaky tubes and valves. Perhaps no one considered that the inherent nature of the gas and thermal cycling was deleterious to the integrity of the metal shell? Perhaps there was no enthusiasm to define official hours of operating life. Plant managers are always under pressure to minimize operating costs. This is especially true of plants producing high volume low margin commodities.

But here is the rub. Everything has a failure rate. This is especially critical for equipment under high temperature and pressure. The first layer of administrative control is for management to make allowances for materials in extreme environments. Anacortes is not the only recent incident where component failure has occurred in equipment performing under demanding conditions. Before the engineers can make equipment specifications for this, management has to conform to the notion that some parts of a plant should have better definition on service life. They should demand it of their design people and support engineering when the time comes to replace a component.

If the CSB believes that a company has weak administrative controls that influence plant safety, then I think they should investigate.

In the news there are reports of pending action by the US in Syria. Maybe I have a blind spot. Maybe there is some fundamental principle I am missing here. But how is it that a mass killing by gas elicits a response from the US when a larger mass killing by bullets and high explosives does not? Where are sympathetic Arabs in the region? How are they exempt from delivering bombardment as justice for the dead?

Obviously, gas attacks lie across a firebreak of some kind. What is the Syrian death toll now- 90,000 + by bullets and bombs? And that does not trigger international action? Apparently, grisliness is not a deciding factor.

This isn’t about justice at all. It is a smack down on setting a precedent with NBC warfare- nuclear, biological, and chemical. It is a genie we cannot allow out of the bottle … in the land of the genie.

So, here is the scenario-  the US will begin a strike at 3 am with cruise missiles to soften up the target area and air defenses. Stealth fighters will fly in to attack everything that flies. Penetrator missiles will demolish air, missile, and command and control bases. But what to do about the nerve gas armaments? Are they bombed or isolated? Who recovers them right after the attack? Al Qaeda? Let’s hope not.

This whole thing is a troubling moral discontinuity. By policy we watch many tens of thousands murdered by bullets and high explosives, but act on policy that triggers when gas is used. There may not be an answer, but there certainly is a smell. The smell of death.

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