Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Near Total Wipeout--The Permian Exintiction Event

 ...And how it is something we should worry about now.

There is something to be said for those that can live in a state of blissful ignorance. That type of mindset sure makes existence in a world where change that is barely distinguishable from chaos a lot simpler.  It is actually a monumental effort to wake every morning and believe the world is a static place and that your position in it is ordained by God himself. Excuse me if I sound more than a little flippant, it’s just that such an attitude courses through the veins of all true American patriots these days and they generally call such a mindset “American Exceptionalism.” While there are several different facets to American Exceptionalism, the one I want to bring attention to is the idea that our hyper-consumerist lifestyle based of the widespread use of fossil fuels could actually cause the extinction of all life on Earth.  

That is an extreme claim to be sure. But hold on and hear me out if you can set aside your arthritic state of mind for a few minutes. Yes, I’m going to mention that we have been spewing carbon into the atmosphere since the start of the Industrial Revolution due to the burning of various type of fossil fuels but my story actually begins 250 million years ago during the onset of the Permian Mass Extinction.

The “Great Dying”, as some in the scientific community call the Permian Mass Extinction resulted in the death of ninety-five percent of all life on the planet at that time, both terrestrial species and those living in the ocean. For years the natural assumption was that the Great Dying was caused by an asteroid or comet impacting the Earth, however given the size and speed of the resulting global extinction event no crater of sufficient size was ever found to corroborate what was known. There is still a possibility that an extraterrestrial impactor was part of the overall global disaster but another, even greater source was the trigger event.

The Siberian Traps is a large region of volcanic rock that was the site of one of the most massive eruptions in the history of the world and it just happens to span the Permian-Triassic boundary. The event, attributed to a plume of lava rising up from the mantle eventually covered seven million square kilometers, over twice the size of Western Europe, and released untold trillions of tons of carbon dioxide into that prehistoric atmosphere. Yes, the initial result was a global cooling but that came from the dust released from the eruptions. Once the dust settled back on land and the oceans all that carbon dioxide was still in the atmosphere, along with the sheer heat from the still raging volcanic events in the Siberian Traps brought on a massive increase in global temperatures due to the greenhouse effect.

With the death of most plant life, due to the preliminary global cooling from the volcanic dust there was nothing to absorb all that excess carbon dioxide. That was bad, but the worst had not even begun to happen and that was the melting of frozen methane that had been trapped in tundra and at the bottom of the ocean.

Current models suggest all it took was a six-degree increase in global temperature to initiate the massive release of frozen methane. It wasn’t long before a feedback loop was created where the release of methane increased temperatures even more, which in turn thawed out even more of the stuff and that raised temperatures again.

The increased carbon dioxide levels during the onset of the Permian Mass Extinction caused the oceans to acidify, which was bad enough. But things went from bad to worse when the frozen methane at the bottom of the ocean was released further altering the natural chemical makeup of the marine environment. This nightmare was not yet over, methane is a super-greenhouse gas and its release into the atmosphere more than doubled the average global temperature at that time.

Now the usual question from the misguided masses that have their heads stuck up their butts is how does all this really ancient history affect me? I’m glad you asked good sir ore madam.

Globally the burning of fossil fuels has already increased CO2 levels to over 400 parts per million. That is an increase that dwarfs all previous natural events, even that of the Siberian Traps. Many simply do not want to comprehend these facts but there is simply no precedent for what we are doing to the atmosphere. The World Bank itself, in no way a fuzzy, bleeding heart tree hugger group has warned that unless the burning of fossil fuels is curtailed the world will see a five-degree increase in global temperatures. The best data we have strongly suggested that the massive thawing and release of frozen methane can start with a six degree increase. This is where your average American, awash in the belief of his or her own magnificence should take note that there is now evidence that methane thawing and release might have already started. 

Now, with the help of satellite imagery, researchers have located four additional craters--and they believe there may be dozens more in the region. That has them calling for an urgent investigation to protect residents living in the area.
"I am sure that there are more craters on Yamal, we just need to search for them... I suppose there could be 20 to 30 craters more," Prof. Vasily Bogoyavlensky, a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and deputy director of the Moscow-based Oil and Gas Research Institute, told The Siberian Times. "It is important not to scare people, but to understand that it is a very serious problem and we must research this." 

Here is a video that gives much better information: 

Also see:

How global warming could turn Siberia into a giant crater Time Bomb

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Southern Workplace Politics

 (Author's note: This is a true story, Names have been changed or simply gone unsaid. I have added a diagram of an electric motor at the bottom to help show what in the hell I am talking about.)

The conversation in the winding room of the electric motor repair shop I worked had ranged that morning from a discussion on whether the reining country music diva, Shania Twain, was actually too sexy for the Nashville crowd to the possibility that Jesus might not take the saved up to Heaven until after the Antichrist took control of the world. This being the late-90's the assumed Antichrist by those interested in the subject, generally conservative Southerners, was thought to be either Bill Clinton or his wife Hillary.

On the first topic Jenna, the senior winding room worker, who could actually count the thin copper wires going into each slot of the empty stator and talk, believed that yes, Shania showed just a little too much skin in her videos while on the second topic knew for a fact that the Antichrist was the pope. Jenna emphasized her certainty by telling Sammy, the other worker besides myself in the winding room, it was all written down clear as day in the book of Revelations although she never mentioned exactly what chapter or verse.

“But Jenna,” Sammy exclaimed, “doesn't the Bible say the Antichrist would arise from a poor family? My Uncle Travis was a pastor and he always said the Antichrist would come suddenly out of nowhere, that sound an awful lot like Bill Clinton to me.”

Sammy could be best described as a hulking, corn-fed redneck of the highest order whose chief accomplishment in life, besides earning a GED, was that unlike some of his closest friends, he had at that date in his life only spent a total of thirty days in jail. Sammy's best friend hadn't been so lucky, he was in a federal prison doing twenty to life for manslaughter over an incident that occurred when the two were out partying one night. Sammy was a lot of things, a number of them bad, but he was overly friendly and naturally gregarious to a fault and would normally run off at the mouth on every subject, including ones that shouldn't be discussed in mixed company. The fact that he refused to say anything about the night his best friend got in trouble was something immediately noticed by everyone he worked around. The unspoken assumption was that Sammy's best friend had taken the fall because he had three small children.

“See Sammy, it has to be the pope because he has all that money hidden away in the Vatican and Switzerland. Not only that, he has an army of Jesuit priests that will give up their lives the second he commands. When you think about it for a few minutes it makes perfect sense.” Jenna responded in a matter-of-fact manner that was enough to quell any further discussion from Sammy.

All during this discussion, I was the proverbial fly on the wall, mainly because Jenna didn't like me. While being a self-professed expert on all things connected to the Biblical end times, Jenna was in actuality probably the best electric motor technician in the state of South Carolina and ruled the winding room like an insane queen whose authority on any subject should never be questioned.

Electric motors are ubiquitous in industrial processing and manufacturing and like anything else they eventually wear out and break down, sometimes going up in a shower of sparks and smoke. Once that happens electric motors are stripped down and cleaned and then people like Jenna go through the tedious and time-consuming process of rewinding the things. Depending on the size of the motor it can literally take thousands of feet of expensive extremely thin copper wire carefully wrapped into loops, then painstakingly inserted into the empty slots lining the underside of the cylinder-like stator, the main part of an electric motor. One miscount of the proper number of loops, a wire damaged during rebuild, or bad connection and the newly refurbished motor could burn up again during testing before it ever made it back to a factory floor.

Jenna did her job extremely well and took an instant disliking to anyone brought into the winding room she didn't approve of first. And since the shop foreman, not Jenna, wanted to see how I did at rewinding a motor, all her disdain was showering down on me like a spring rain. You couldn't fault Jenna for being particular, she was a divorced, middle-aged woman without any real education who had found a well-paying job and would do anything to protect it.

“Who do you think is the Antichrist, Brian?” Sammy asked me as I struggled to insert a loop of new winding in the stator I was trying to rebuild.

“Beats the hell out of me,” I said, “that stuff is beyond me.” I hoped my neutral answer leaning heavily towards ignorance on the subject would allow me to return to my fly on the wall status. I'll admit that during those years my political opinions leaned to the right but even then I didn't care for those who paraded their religion in public like someone would do a thoroughbred horse or dog. However, my attempt to stay neutral didn't work.

“Well Brian,” Jenna said in a clearly exasperated manner, “someone with a young son really should have an opinion on the subject. Jesus is coming back soon and those who aren't right by him will have to suffer the consequences.”

I didn't appreciate getting dragged into other peoples conversation, especially one dealing with religion, but the only thing for me to do was ignore Jenna's comment as if I hadn't heard a word she said and continue my work. I did glance up a few minutes later and catch her staring at me with a look of utter contempt. But eventually her and Sammy settled upon another subject of discussion and for the most part forgot I was in the room. Namely, which NASCAR racer was the best of his group and who would more than likely take home the championship cup that year.

By the end of that day I was completed the process of inserting all the copper wire loops into the stator and then soldering the connections together. All that was left was dipping the stator into a huge vat of a lacquer-like substance, to protect all the wiring, then placing it inside an industrial-sized oven to dry overnight.

The next morning I pulled my creation out of the oven feeling curiously like the fictional Dr, Frankenstein. In a properly rewound stator all the loops of copper wires should lay down on each other in an organized manner looking like fallen dominoes. The copper wire loops in my stator looked like a bird's nest built by an extremely farsighted crow. So you can imagine my trepidation as the shop foreman ran my stator through a couple of static tests to see if any of the copper wires were undamaged and my connections were strong. Much to surprise of everyone in hearing distance, including myself, all the results were good.

After that I cleaned out the excess lacquer, then slide the rotor into the stator ignoring Sammy's sexual sound effects emphasizing the clear sexual innuendo of that phase of the rebuilding. After I installed the bearings and the end bell covers the moment of truth had arrived, it was time to hook my rebuilt motor to the testing platform and run some electricity through it.

As the electrical leads running from the test stand to my motor were hooked up most of the people in the shop gather to see what might happen. This included Jenna, who is smiling at me much in the same way you would while watching a Willie E. Coyote cartoon right before one of the inventions he built to capture the Roadrunner blew up in his face. It is a smile made up of a mild evil expectation of something bad about to happen offset by the assumption that whatever the outcome the results will be exceedingly funny. Standing beside her are the two guys who work in the warehouse. They are both humorless drones who talk of nothing but their high school football careers until even the most sympathetic person would run away from them in disgust telling the two to get a life. Despite their high school sports predilection and Jenna's own interests being light-years apart they are workplace allies.

The shop foremen unceremoniously applies power to my creation with the anticlimactic result of the motor's shaft spinning up to a little under two-thousand RPM's and continuing with its engineered business oblivious to everything else in the universe. I'm not out of the woods yet, the motor needs to run for about two to three minutes just to make sure there is not some flaw that will manifest itself with a display of smoke and sparks. I have a surreal moment looking at the people around me, some almost holding their breath, waiting to catch some drama in an otherwise boring day.

No such luck, my motor makes the required three minute run without an issue and after the shop foreman kills the power the shaft quietly spins down to a stop. “Paint her up and complete the paperwork Brian, and I'll call the owner and tell him it's ready.” The foreman says before walking off to another task.

About an hour later I walk back into the winding room to do the paperwork. Sammy and Jenna are back at it discussing some new existential philosophical subject.

“I really don't know why you would wash bath towels if you hang them up properly to dry after each use.” Jenna says to Sammy while opening up a bucket filled with copper wire. “It probably has something to do with detergent companies wanting people to wash everything so they with buy more of their stuff.”

“Yeah,” Sammy says, “I'm not sure why my wife freaked out. It sure would save on the laundry bill if we just hung up towels instead of washing them with the other clothes.”

“You're both kidding right?” I say feeling a little cocky while looking straight at Jenna. Who in turn gives me this angry stare. “You don't know that every time you use a towel it grabs a hold of millions of skin cells that your body sheds. Bacteria and fungus eat the skin cells and start to grow on the damp cloth causing them to eventually stink.”

I'll give Jenna credit, she may have believed the pope was the Antichrist and that all things Catholic were based in evil but from the look on her face it was clear that the wheels in her head were clearly turning. You'd have to know an opinionated Southerner to understand that logic and reason have little to no connection what they believe to be true. Once a typical Southerner stakes out an opinion on a subject it is truly doubtful that Jesus Christ himself could change that person's mind.

“Yeah, that makes sense,” she eventually said before going all embarrassingly quiet. Even Sammy registered the change in Jenna's mood and started quietly snickering to himself. Not wanting to press the advantage, I finished my work and got the hell out of there.

My successful audition in rebuilding an electric motor did not get me the promotion to the winding room. My efforts were like a situation comedy pilot episode that the audience found funny but the network honchos didn't pick up for the fall television season. So I returned to the shop floor and continued with tearing down worn out electric motors and diagnosing whether or not it was worth rebuilding, refurnishing, or just trashing them.

About six months later I left that job, and in doing so I lost all contact with everyone there. Years later I did run into Sammy at a local park. After having five kids, Sammy jokingly confided in me, he and his wife eventually figured out that having unprotected sex greatly increases the likelihood of getting pregnant. He also made a truly gratuitous joke about his vasectomy that even now causes me to cringe in pain, just thinking about the procedure.

As we talked, Sammy updated me on the various others who worked at the motor repair shop. Most everyone's situation was the same except for Jenna. It turns out that sometime after I left she meet, fell in love, and eventually married what Sammy described as a really nice guy. The thing that made me laugh so hard I had tears running down my face was the fact that Jenna's new husband is a devoted and strict Catholic. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Resolution Dysfunction

It was last New Year's Eve and I was on the couch watching all the cool people on television frolicking like a bunch of wild and carefree bunnies in heat. Despite a still lingering urge, a vestigial leftover from my younger years akin to the human appendix, to go out and emulate such behavior, I was actually pretty content to stay at home and watch the year of our Lord 2014 die the death it so richly deserved.

While nothing disastrous occurred, it was nonetheless one of those years that was spoiled, like someone suffering from gangrene, from an overabundance of personal disappointments and failed assumptions. I can't overstate my animosity towards 2014. It dragged on like a relative who had come to dinner and stayed even after you had handed them their coat, changed into your pajamas, and even stood in the living room brushing your teeth and looking at your watch as they continued rattle on to your wife about some arcane family history. So you can imagine my delight as some metrosexual dude whose name I can't recall suffering through the cold winds of New York started counting down the seconds until the giant ball dropped.

“Die you sorry bastard!” I screamed as the cherub-faced 2015 rushed in to dance on the bones of the year it had just replaced. In hindsight I really shouldn't have screamed, I startled my sleeping wife who then knocked over her half-empty wine grass. It was red wine, the cheap stuff whose stain will not only never come out of the carpet but probably has now seeped down to the floor like alien blood and will percolate back up and be visible whenever we get around to replacing the threadbare stuff we walk on now.

As the minutes of the new year ticked by a strange sense of optimism began to permeate through my being. It was 2015 dammit, and while the previous year sucked from a thousand separate irritating paper cuts I was going to make 2015 better no matter what it took. So you might be able to guess what I did next, I wrote up a list of New Year Resolutions.

The first was to walk at least three times a week. The next thing on the list was to find the formula for an “idiot proof” gelatin-based concoction I saw on the internet once that would allow me to start vegetable seeds far earlier this year. I already have a plant grow light—don't ask. The no fail seed starter stuff and the industrial strength grow light—again, don't ask-- allowed me to wallow in a newly revived optimism figuring it would be easy to set up an indoor garden. Thirdly I was going to get out more, while the Greater Columbia area is far from a hub of interesting cultural activities that don't include attending one of its many, many mega-churches there had to be something of value I could find. My final item, beside several admittedly bizarre and personal resolutions I'll keep to myself--they involve my wife and a can of whipped cream--revolve around me getting serious about my writing.

While the year is still young things haven't been going so good. In reverse order, after producing a fiction post that was halfway decent whatever creative muse I possess has left me for another guy, or woman. I currently have four short stories sitting on my hard drive that have died on the vine. That in itself is nothing unusual, since I started blogging I've probably sentenced a couple of hundred characters to hard drive purgatory, or even worse, deletion oblivion. I think the main reason my muse abandoned me is that work has become a pain again, while third-shift offers up some real advantages when I come home in the morning all I want to do is vegetate in front of the television.

As for cultural activities, after reviewing the local papers I have rediscovered the reason why I became a homebody. Because of fatherly duties, unavoidable household chores, and job demands there is next to no activities in the area that I would be interested in participating. Plenty of mud bog rallies, numerous hunt and gun clubs, and getting close to Jesus(republican type) but nothing that appealed to my interests. Because I work third-shift every activity that I did have an interest in was usually scheduled too late at night to be practical. Sorry if I'm whining, remember my muse is now living in sin with some other person.

Weirdly, or may not, the “idiot proof” gelatin-based seed starter concoction was an immediate and epic failure. Not only did the seeds not even begin to germinate they just laid in the cloudy jelly-like substance with the stubbornness of a petulant child determined to hold his or her breath until the turned blue. In fact, the seeds did turn blue, which defies everything I had read about the idiot proof gelatin stuff I used or the seeds themselves. Needless to say I fired off a sternly worded email to the person who came up the seed starter gelatin recipe saying that in fact it was not idiot proof and I could prove it!

The one item on my New Years Resolution list that was at least partially successful was my plan of walking three days a week. In actuality I had started walking way back in June and along with cutting nearly all sodas lost twenty to twenty-five pounds. Then disaster hit in November, my birthday, which meant a required cake. After that was Thanksgiving with all the cookies, cakes, donuts, and other assorted foods. Then came Christmas which was more of the same. And given my delicate psychological nature having suffered through 2014 I was vulnerable to their siren call of fatty comfort and sugary oblivion.

Now with this new year the failure to get back with my walking has strictly been a lack of motivation. Plus for the last couple of weeks its just been too damn cold. And yes, I have regained most of the weight I had lost during the summer months. I do have an absolutely brilliant plan to get back into the swing of walking but all things considered I may just fallback and regroup for 2016.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Societal Death Wish

People are stupid, yes it is an unforgivable cliche but the truth is often ugly and resistant to efforts to make it pretty or acceptable. Even worse, the overarching stupidity that is running rampant through our culture does not know any societal, economic, national, religious, or political bounds. About the only thing that makes it all understandable is that only rarely is the human animal able to rise above his or her baser instincts. Despite our accomplishments as a species our vaulted intelligence is only a thin veneer that can quickly vanish like a wisp of smoke, usually when we need it the most.

Some aspects of our stupidity does defy any real logic. Case in point is how the clearly proven science of vaccinations to prevent disease has come under attack by a collection of semi-literate individuals who run around spouting outright lies and half truths. It is almost as if the usual level of human stupidity is actually hiding what amounts to a secret desire to commit collective suicide.

I am writing specifically about the current measles outbreak that started in California at Disneyland and has now spread to dozens of states and moved into Mexico. The root cause for this outbreak can be traced back to certain no talent celebrities and pseudo-authorities who babble on about how vaccinations are far worse than the diseases they are suppose to prevent. While others equally irrational will mouth off about how the big drug companies are just using everyone as unpaid guinea pigs. Like I said, these uninformed and dangerous beliefs cross all boundaries creating some truly bizarre bedfellows.

However, I observed this strange behavior on a more personal level back in 2009. It was during the mild H1N1 flu pandemic and I was sitting in the conference room at work listening to my day shift coworkers discuss the usual issues that affect them when the subject of the annual flu shots came up. While the shots were not mandatory, management had strongly urged everyone get the them as a preventive measure. It seemed reasonable to me and when my time came I would head up to the employee health clinic and do what I believe is my duty. You know, the ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure.

That particular year though there was a strong anti-government bias manifesting itself through the country. Case in point for this attitude was one of my coworkers in that meeting who I will call “Wilson.” Yes, the person who I am about to describe leaned heavily to the right of American politics but all you have to do is search the internet for a few short minutes to find plenty of loony liberals who essentially believed the same thing.

Wilson's problem with flu shots was that he didn't want the government telling him what to put in his body. In other words, he was exercising what he thought was his god-given American rights in refusing to have the vaccinations. I have encountered a few others whose opposition to vaccinations comes from a belief that the serums used are toxic and cause autism. As far as the opinion held by Wilson, a change in the occupant in the White House could go far to alter his attitude. But for the people who believe vaccinations are worse than what they are supposed to prevent no amount of clear and legitimate data saying that they are safe and have no connection with any other condition will convince them.

On the surface this is just another example at the woefully inadequate education system in the United States. But if you dig just a little deeper it also shows a degree of arrogance that is positively astounding in its scope. Yes, people on the left and right distrust government, and in some cases those fears are justified, but what I can't wrap my head around is the blatant ignorance.

Namely that if enough people are vaccinated against illnesses like the flu or measles when someone carrying one of those diseases is introduced into a population there is a buffer that either stops the spread cold or slows it enough to allow health officials to control the outbreak. This in turn protects individuals with legitimate health concerns that prevent them from receiving the vaccinations, namely those suffering from compromised immune systems. It is readily apparent from the Disneyland outbreak, and California's allowance of people to op-out of measles vaccinations, that just a few unprotected people can cause a cascade effect spreading a contagious illness like proverbial wildfire.

So if basic science education and commonsense are disregarded by those with an aversion to vaccinations that leave history to call out their stupid behavior. You only have to look at the 1918 Flu Pandemic that killed between three to six percent of the ENTIRE world population at the time leading some to call it “the greatest medical holocaust in history.” But this clear lesson from history runs up against the usual ignorance of the subject and the sensationalism that accompanied the very mild 2009 flu pandemic.

About the only thing that I can fallback on to explain the prevalent behavior these days is a quote from Aldous Huxley: “That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.” The problem here is that with easy global travel and porous national borders any contagious and deadly illness will run rampant through the world. Epidemiologists will tell you the world is due for another deadly pandemic on the scale of the 1918 flu outbreak. The clear irrational stupidity of our age is that even with illnesses we can control we seem intent on letting them run wild as well.