Thursday, August 31, 2017

Activist Ralph Nader Gives Politicians Advice Post Hurricane Harvey

In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, which has wreaked havoc on Texas and is moving through Louisiana, the time for recovery is in order.  Which entails a massive undertaking on part of many agencies from the top -- Federal -- down to the local -- city - first responders.  Current estimates for restoration of housing and businesses to normalcy are pegged at around $180 billion dollars.  WOW!  Additionally, the time has come for a certain amount of 'introspection' on our nation and goals heading forward into the future.  Activist Ralph Nader has offered advice to politicians which is worth reading and thinking about.  Without further ado, the letter is shown below:

Hovering Hurricane Harvey, loaded and reloading with trillions of gallons of water raining down on the greater Houston region—ironically the hub of the petroleum refining industry—is an unfolding, off the charts tragedy for millions of people. Many of those most affected are minorities and low-income families with no homes, health care or jobs to look forward to once the waters recede.
Will this tragedy teach us the lessons that so many politicians and impulsive voters have been denying for so long?
The first lesson is that America must come home: we must end the Empire of Militarism and of playing the role of policeman of the planet. Both of these habitual roles are backfiring and depleting trillions of taxpayer dollars that could be better used toward rebuilding our country’s infrastructure, strengthening our catastrophe-response networks and preparing for the coming megastorms like Hurricane Harvey. A projected trillion dollars being spent by Obama, and now Trump, just to upgrade nuclear weapons will only spur another arms race with Russia and China. This money could be more productively spent protecting Americans from immediate threats, such as natural disasters from man-made climate change.
Politicians must stop overstuffing a bloated military budget and leaving our country fiscally unprepared to handle mass epidemics and mass megastorms. In short, will they stop leaving our country defenseless against the prospects of huge levels of mortality and morbidity?
Second, Congressional and White House deniers of man-made climate disruption must renounce their dogmatic ignorance and confront the reality in the scientific warnings about the accelerating wrath of a provoked natural world.
Last month, I asked Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe—who has called climate change a “hoax”—what level of evidence would change his mind about climate change. He has not replied yet. But that is the question that should be asked of all Trumpsters, including the voters who share their disregard: Just what series of climate events  – what piles of scientific measurements and documentations now in the Arctic, the Andes, Antarctica, Greenland, the Maldives, etc. – could change their minds?
Third, our elected officials must accept that continuing to waste trillions of dollars on corporate subsidies, bailouts, giveaways and lack of enforcement of costly crime—crony capitalism—further weakens our country’s capacity to foresee and forestall omnicidal disasters.
Enough, also, of the Congressional Republicans starving the IRS budget so it cannot collect more of the many billions of dollars in uncollected global corporate taxes. These Republicans don’t seem to connect the size of deficits, which they detest, with uncollected tax revenue, now estimated by the IRS to exceed $350 billion a year.
Maybe someone should finally write a book entitled “Listen, Voters.” It could start by asking why enough voters keep electing politicians, who sweet talk them, only hook up with corporations and an ideology of corporatism that adversely affects the very voters who put them into office, along with many other Americans. If these voters, who so often vote against their own interests, do a little homework before Election Day, they can easily separate the fakers and the sell outs from the real candidates, who may not have silver tongues and corporate backing, but have a consistent record of being on the side of the people.
Voters need to be more demanding if they are to break the chains of a rigged electoral system that deprives them of choice, of voice and, most importantly, of the sovereign power they possess in our Constitution.
The August 29, 2017 Washington Post paused from its extensive coverage of the destruction in Houston to laud the “Flood of Courage” in its lead editorial. It wrote of the “massive – and inspiring – volunteer rescue response…With nothing more than their own courage, good people ventured into the rushing gullies and culverts, risking their lives to save others in the unrelenting rain.”
While Trump tweets and hopefully reconsiders his earlier cruel budget cuts for FEMA and other life-saving federal agencies – such as the Centers for Disease Control and the EPA – the people are swinging into action on the ground. May they swing into wise and just action in the next elections – both as new candidates and, high horizon, informed voters. For there is a much better America to be had.

Regardless of your political leaning, the country needs to  move forward and repair itself.  Furthermore, the USA needs to decide where we stand in the future of a changing energy landscape.  And last but not least, regardless of whether you believe that climate change is real, a push for more science research along with new technology to guard against more extreme weather fluctuations needs to be implemented immediately.

The world is changing and where are we as a nation in this changing world?

Each of us need to think about the question above along with the concerns of Ralph Nader in the excerpt above.  Next is to follow up with letters and calls to elected officials (politicians) to voice opinions on which way an official should vote on a particular measure is critical.  Each of us need to play a greater role in the political future of the United States of America.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Hurricane Harvey Drops Enough Rain On Houston To Fill 560 Dallas Cowboy Stadiums

Hurricane Harvey has wreaked havoc on certain parts of Texas over the past few days.  Winds up to 125 miles per hour have ripped through the south east coast of Texas.  Reports have started to surface Sunday with average rain fall in Houston of around 40 inches of rain.  One such report is from the Associated Press shown below:

Average rainfall totals will end up around 40 inches (1 meter) for Houston, weather service meteorologist Patrick Burke said.

Furthermore, reports over the weekend have predicted that in certain parts could reach up to 50 inches of rain.  Along with the torrential rain and wind come damage which will take years to repair.  Here is another excerpt describing the extent of the damage:

The director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Brock Long, predicted that the aftermath of the storm would require FEMA’s involvement for years.
“This disaster’s going to be a landmark event,” Long said.
Rescuers had to give top priority to life-and-death situations, leaving many affected families to fend for themselves. And several hospitals in the Houston area were evacuated due to the rising waters.
Tom Bartlett and Steven Craig pulled a rowboat on a rope through chest-deep water for a mile to rescue Bartlett’s mother from her home in west Houston. It took them 45 minutes to reach the house. Inside, the water was halfway up the walls.
Marie Bartlett, 88, waited in her bedroom upstairs.
“When I was younger, I used to wish I had a daughter, but I have the best son in the world,” she said. “In my 40 years here, I’ve never seen the water this high.”
It was not clear how many people were plucked from the floodwaters. Up to 1,200 people had to be rescued in Galveston County alone, said Mark Henry, the county judge, the county’s top administrative post.
Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center was quickly opened as a shelter. It was also used as a shelter for Katrina refugees in 2005.

Here are a few pictures to convey the description in the excerpt above:

In order to understand the extent of the disaster, an exercise in dimensional analysis might shed more light on the seriousness of the storm that has caused irreparable (in some cases) damage to parts of Texas.  As stated in the article, Hurricane Harvey has dropped an enormous amount of rain -- enough to fill 560 Dallas Cowboy Stadiums.

Below, I show how to carry out the brief analysis of converting inches of rainfall into the number of stadiums which could be filled.

How Big Is The Dallas Cowboy Stadium?

How do viewers and readers understand the amount of rain that has been dropped over the weekend on the Houston area by Hurricane Harvey?  In order to comprehend the magnitude of the rainfall, a metric is needed.  A metric is a physical object with dimensions which can be used to compare an unknown quantity.  The current example is the total amount of rainfall (unknown quantity - volume).  Carrying out the analysis will shed light into this disaster that has left so many homeless along with the incomprehensible loss of life which is the result of Hurricane Harvey.

To start the brief analysis of rainfall that hit the Houston area over the weekend, the area in square miles needs to be known.  Of course, the following steps will be carried out to arrive at a final answer of the number of Dallas Cowboys Stadiums which could be filled with the total quantity of rainfall:

1) Determine the volume of the Dallas Cowboys Stadium

2) Determine the area of Houston

3) Convert from units of square miles to square feet

4) Determine the height of rainfall on Houston

5) Convert dimension of rainfall from units of inches to feet

6) Calculate total volume of rainfall

7) Calculate the number of stadiums which would be filed by rainfall

In order to understand the volume of rainfall that has fallen of Hurricane Harvey, a metric needs to be used to cast the volume of rainfall into perspective.  I have stated already that the metric which will be used is the Dallas Cowboys Stadium shown below:

With a visual of a cross-section of the Dallas Cowboys Stadium shown below:

Source: ArchDaily

In a previous post, the volume of the Dallas Cowboys Stadium was used as a metric and therefore known to be 104 million cubic feet (interior space).  Given that volume expressed in cubic feet, all numbers which will be used to compare quantities will need to be expressed in similar units of cubic feet.  Below, all dimensions of volume -- area and height -- will be expressed in units of feet.

The second step is to determine the total area of the city of Houston which can be accomplished by a search in Google.  Enter the following query: Houston in square miles?  The following result is shown below:

With the area of Houston known, the next step is to convert from units of square miles to square feet.  Remember, in order to determine the volume, each dimension of the quantity of volume -- in this case -- area and height -- need to be expressed in units of feet.  Therefore in order to convert from units of square miles to square feet, a conversion factor needs to be obtained.

To find the unit conversion factor, the following statement is typed into Google:  How many square feet are in a square mile? The result is shown below:

Now that the unit conversion factor is known, the mathematical conversion is straightforward and shown below:

The quantity above is the area of Houston expressed in units of square feet.  In order to obtain a total volume, two parameters need to be known -- area and height.  Above, the area of Houston is 17.5 billion square feet.  According to the news excerpt above, the average rainfall was 40 inches across Houston.  For the purpose of simplicity, the average rainfall will be used across the entire 627 square mile area.  Even though, in parts of Houston, as much as 5 feet (60 inches) of rain were seen while other parts received around 16 inches thus far.

In order to calculate the total volume of rain, the remaining quantity or parameter needed to complete the calculation is the height of rainfall.  According to the news, an average of 40 inches fell on Houston over the weekend.  The proper units needed are cubic feet to complete a comparison of unknown quantities.  Therefore, a unit conversion is needed to convert from units of inches to feet as shown below:

Below is an expression to determine the total volume of rainfall on Houston over the weekend.  Notice that two parameters are needed which can be obtained from above -- Area and Height.

To calculate the total volume of rain, the values from above are plugged into the expression above for volume as shown below:

The total volume of rain which fell on Houston from Hurricane Harvey with an average height of 40 inches is 58.3 billion cubic feet of rain.  Wow!  But how does a reader understand the magnitude of 58.3 billion cubic feet of rain?  As mentioned above, the Dallas Cowboys Stadium was going to be used as a metric.  The interior space of the Dallas Cowboys Stadium is 104 million cubic feet.  In order to obtain the number of Stadiums which could be filled with 58.3 billion cubic feet, a simple division is required as shown below:

WOW!!!!   Now, that is an enormous amount of rain.  And as mentioned above, certain parts received as much as 5 feet (height) of rain.  This would make the number of Dallas Cowboy Stadiums increase.


When a reader or viewer look at two dimensional pictures from the news or online of the massive damage which Hurricane Harvey imparted on Texas, the magnitude is incomprehensible.  Using an analysis can shed light on the disaster.  Of course, nothing is more compelling than being present in the disaster.  The unfortunate damage and loss of life that resulted from Hurricane Harvey is truly astonishing and devastating.  Performing dimensional analysis can help give us perspective to the damage caused by the rain which fell over the weekend.

Now that the damage is done, the repair process is beginning to get underway.  The above analysis can also shed light on the construction process of repairing Houston after the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.  A few readers might disagree with my assessment of understanding.  I would argue that the next time a reader steps into a Stadium, he/she imagines that 560 of these (or even more) were filled and poured onto Houston.  That will drive home the devastation caused by the massive amount of water.  Not to mention the winds which reached up to 125 miles per hour.  Our hearts go out to Texas.  We are with you and watching during this time of recovery.

Friday, August 25, 2017

President Trump Is Repairing National Infrastructure While Ignoring Weather Patterns

For a business owner who has property (A golf course) which is flush with the ocean in Scotland, the potential threat posed by rising sea levels should be a concern for the future.  Recently, I received a daily e-mail from 'Politico Energy' containing the following excerpt which should be surprising to any future (and present) beachside property owners:

ANOTHER ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW PUSH THUDS: Before he veered off-message by arguing there were "very fine" people among the neo-Nazis and KKK members in Charlottesville, President Donald Trump actually signed an executive order Tuesday that aims to hit a two-year goal for completing federal environmental permitting for infrastructure projects by designating a lead federal agency for each major project. "It's going to be a very streamlined process," he said at a Trump Tower press conference. "And, by the way, if it doesn't meet environmental safeguards, we're not going to approve it." The order tasks the White House Council on Environmental Quality (still without a nominee to lead it) with developing a government-wide action plan to speed environmental permitting reviews and with sorting out any disputes between agencies.
Most controversial among the order's provisions was the revocation of an Obama-era flood standard requiring new federally funded projects be built to withstand the stronger storms likely fueled by climate change - a move that earned broad condemnation. R.J. Lehmann, a senior fellow with the conservative R St. Institute, called the revocation "shortsighted and ill-considered." Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo , whose South Florida district sees frequent flooding, called Trump's decision "irresponsible and it will lead to taxpayer dollars being wasted on projects that may not be built to endure the flooding we are already seeing and know is only going to get worse." And Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said axing the standard was "actively wasting taxpayer dollars, endangering schools and hospitals, and threatening the lives of people around the country for no other reason than his apparent contempt for the public."
Supporters of Trump's reversal of the Obama-era initiative were limited mainly to home builders and some Republicans in Congress. "President Trump made the correct decision to repeal this onerous regulation that was written to make a political statement on climate change rather than for practicality," Louisiana Rep. Ralph Abraham , whose state has been ravaged by more frequent flooding, said in a statement. And National Association of Home Builders Chairman Granger MacDonald praised Trump's action to kill the standard that would "needlessly hurt housing affordability" and said it would "provide much-needed regulatory relief for the housing community and help American home buyers."
What about infrastructure? Trump attempted to call attention to his $1 trillion initiative to rebuild the nation's roads, tunnels and bridges - but provided hardly any detail about what that forthcoming proposal may actually contain, Pro Transportation's Lauren Gardner reports. National Economic Council Chairman Gary Cohn said the White House continued to hope action on infrastructure would come this year but told reporters it would "come on the heels of taxes," another complex issue without a firm proposal ready for congressional consideration.

As you might have already guessed, the person described in the first sentence with a business (a golf course) that is flush with the ocean in Scotland is none other than the leader of the free-world -- President Trump.  Yes, and the excerpt was taken from my daily e-mail briefing from 'Politico Energy'.   The current administration believes that climate change is not man-made and is not real.  Furthermore, that investment into the research behind or the aftermath effects should be disregarded and under funded (or not funded at all).

This rhetoric from the Trump administration comes despite a report prepared by the National Academy of Sciences (along with 12 other agencies) on Climate Change which has been released to the current administration for editing and clarity.  Which means that President Trump can take from the report language and twist it to his advantage.  Senator Dianne Feinstein (California) recently released a statement regarding the release of the report and climate change shown below:

Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today issued the following statement in response to a draft report on climate change produced by 13 federal agencies:
“This report leaves no doubt that climate change is real, it’s man-made and is already having a profound effect on the United States. The president shouldn’t ignore or try to censor the scientific conclusions of 13 federal agencies. Instead, he has a responsibility to listen to the scientists, learn how climate change is threatening our country and work with us to find achievable solutions.
“The draft report, which hasn’t yet been edited by the political leadership of the administration, warns that ‘human activities are now the dominant cause of the observed changes in climate.’
“The draft report documents that temperatures in the United States have already risen by about 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1901, will increase by at least 2.5 degrees in the next few decades and could rise 8.7 degrees by late century if we don’t cut our greenhouse gas emissions.
“Similarly, sea levels have risen about 8 to 9 inches since 1880, are expected to rise another 6 to 14 inches by 2050 and could potentially rise more than 8 feet by the end of the century if polar ice sheets destabilize.
“In the western United States, the report warns of chronic drought by the end of this century due to reduced snowpack. At the same time, increased evaporation may strengthen sudden storms that cause severe floods. The anticipated effects on weather, agriculture, infrastructure and the oceans cannot be ignored.
“Up to this point, this administration has rejected the fact that human activity is driving climate change. This willful ignorance has made it almost impossible to address the risks highlighted in this report. Burying this report and refusing to act on its conclusions would be a dereliction of duty.”

Wow.  Amazing right?  Earlier in the week, when I was adding the content to this post (the excerpts), I was unaware that a Hurricane was about to visit the U.S. -- Hurricane Harvey.  Here is an excerpt from the 'Politico Energy' today regarding the potential impact of the incoming Hurricane to the southern coastal cities of the United States:

HARVEY MESSES WITH TEXAS: Hurricane Harvey is closing in on the Texas coast, with the bullseye painted right on Corpus Christi. The storm will be the first to hit the Texas coast since the Category 4 Hurricane Ike slammed into Houston in September 2008. Harvey looks likely to reach at least Category 3 by the time it makes landfall early Saturday, according to forecasts. It has already caused BP, Exxon Mobil, Anadarko and other oil companies to evacuate their deepwater rigs. BSEE estimated the shutdowns took 10 percent of the Gulf of Mexico's oil production offline as of mid-day on Thursday, and that number is only likely to be higher when the agency's next bulletin comes out later today. Harvey will also throw a wrench into U.S. oil exports, much of which leaves the country via Corpus.
Harvey could prove to be the first big test of FEMA's new head, Brock Long, who won Senate confirmation in June. FEMA set up an Incident Support Base at near Seguin, Texas, complete with supplies, a spokeswoman said, but so far there have been no requests for support.
Bolstering the case for the Ike Dike? The petrochemical and refining operations around Galveston and the Houston Ship Channel aren't expected to be at the epicenter of this storm, as of Thursday's forecast, but emergency planners there have been worrying ever since Hurricane Ike inflicted $29.5 billion in damages and killed 74 people in 2008. Texas politicians and business leaders have been pushing the idea of a massive seawall to protect Galveston and Houston, and in April asked President Donald Trump for $15 billion for the project. Hurricane Harvey could help them continue to make the case as they fight for federal funding. But environmental groups are wary of the effort, dubbed the "Ike Dike," arguing it could hugely alter the salinity patterns and block key fish species in Galveston Bay, where millions of dollars, including money related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, have been spent on environmental restoration.
What about New Orleans? A dozen years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city, the Big Easy may not be prepared to handle heavy rains this time around with three of five turbines that power drainage pumps for the low-lying city not working, the New Orleans Advocate reports. In addition, 15 of the city's 120 water pumps are offline as the city braces for between five and 10 inches of rain.
Reupping: How bad can it get for Houston? This bad.

The excerpt above is outlining the last category 3 hurricane which hit in 2008.  Here is a link to an infographic and interactive map which shows the amount of rain dropped in the storms path in 2008 over Houston (Texas).  If Hurricane Harvey does as much damage to the southern coastal cities, President Trump will be challenged to keep his promises to build infrastructure which is resilient and long lasting.  This might be President Trump's first major test from a natural disaster.

Regardless of whether the Trump administration believes that climate change is real (and man-made) or not, storms like Hurricane Harvey will only reinforce that his misinformed understanding of weather patterns will have 'real-world' adverse impacts on infrastructure in the area.  In a previous post, I showed that at least congress (even Republicans) believe that climate change is real.  The only remaining group of citizens are the supporters of the Trump administration who choose to ignore the realities.  Luckily (and unfortunately) events such as Hurricane Harvey will drive home the reality that the weather patterns are changing as a result of climate change.

Furthermore, that the United States should get ahead of the problem instead of playing catch up.  Currently, we are headed in the direction of lagging behind the edge (of research) to stay ahead of the growing problem.  Hopefully, the damage done by Hurricane Harvey is minimal and we can change the course to stay ahead of the curve.  In the next post, I will perform dimensional analysis of the expected amount of rainfall to the coastal cities in Texas to drive home the enormous threats to our country.

Monday, August 21, 2017

If Technology Fails, Use Basic Math Skills - Count Manually!!

Technology has inevitably been inserted to nearly all aspects of our lives today.  First and foremost, the use of computerized cash registers have been around for a few decades now.  Trying to remember cash registers which operated without a digital display might be nearly impossible.  The generation which might be able to do so has been replaced with a new generation who depend on technology to a large degree. The dependence on new technology is starting to 'show signs' of the effect of converting from our analog counterparts.  Below is an example that I recently experienced the effect of technology in a transaction at a donut shop.

Can I please buy a Pastry?

The other day, I was visiting a newly opened 'donut' shop in my neighborhood.  For those who are unfamiliar with what a 'donut' is -- a 'doughnut' is a pastry circular in shape and typically with a 'hole' in the center of it.  A picture is shown below:

Source: Evan-Amos 

Anyways, a new donut shop opened recently and I decided to go and check out the selection and service.  When I arrived at the shop, I immediately jumped into line to order.  Here is a dialog below of the interaction with the cashier that day:

Cashier: Hello...Welcome to Dunkin Donuts, how can I help you?

Mike: Hello, can I please get a Bavarian creme donut and a large coffee?

Cashier: Is that going to it for you today?

Mike: Yes, please.

Cashier: The total is going to be $4.68

I reach into my pocket and pull out a $20.00 bill and hand the bill to her.  She stalls and looks down.  Then looks up at me with a confused (semi-panicked) look on her face as she holds the $20 bill:

Cashier: "Umm....Ok, I am going to need my phone ... or a calculator.  I typed into the cash register $5 for the amount tendered (given to her)."

Cashier:"Can I get a piece of paper?" (to a co-worker as she walks by)

Cashier: "I am going to need to calculate the change."

At this point, I realized that she expected me to give her a $5 bill rather than a $20 bill.  Furthermore, she was struggling to determine the correct change.  The amount displayed on the cash register was the following:

Change: $ 0.32
Amount: $5.00

At this point, I realized that I was in 'real-time' experiencing the downfall of technology for the modern generation.  Furthermore, I was witnessing an anxiety attack with the only solution in sight to be the comfort of a digital device -- which is worrisome.  Below, I show the "old fashioned" way of making change without the use of an electronic device along with "old fashioned" breathing to relieve the anxiety brought on by such a mistake.

Look At The Digital Display

The (old fashioned) method of making change when the incorrect amount tendered was given was simply to look at the display.  I gave the cashier a $20 bill.  The display had the correct change for a $5 bill. The following steps could have been taken to achieve the correct change:

Step 1: Open the cash register and pull out the $0.32  to make $5.

Step 2: Take out a $10 bill and a $5 bill to combine with the $ 0.32 to make the change of $15.32 -- totaling $20.00

Easy enough right?  Alternatively, knowing the total $4.68 -- start by counting up to 100 to make the change for $0.68 to make a $1.  Then, count to $20.00 using either three $5 bills or a single $5 bill and a single $10 as advised above.  There is not need to panic in this situation.  Just use your basic mathematical skills taught in elementary school.  The larger issue in the following situation is understanding how stress and anxiety play into our natural dependence on digital devices.

Don't Let Anxiety/Stress Hinder Your Basic Skills!

Over the past few years, with the rise of the digital landscape becoming increasingly dominant in our lifestyles, we are becoming dependent on these various devices throughout our day.  The problem is becoming widespread enough that the life coaching industry experts are suggesting setting down our devices an hour before bedtime to reduce damage done by the 'blue screen'.  Evidently, engaging with a device before bed has been shown to degrade the quality and quantity of sleep.  Although, no credible scientific study has shown such a trend - yet.

Additionally, experts suggest trying to avoid checking e-mails or engaging with our devices upon awakening.  Both this act and engaging with our devices before bedtime increases our dependence on the device.  Have you ever woken up and wondered where your cell phone is?  Or woken up and immediately reached for a device and felt reassured?  Maybe this is going to far at the moment, but watch your behavior in the future.

The cashier at Dunkin Donuts appeared to suffer from stress and anxiety the moment she was confronted with the reality that she typed in the wrong amount into the cash register.  Maybe she assumed that I would hand her a $5 bill.  Which might be based on the frequency of this denomination handed to her when a customer pays with cash.  Regardless, she had a slight panic attack.  And her solution to the panic attack was to resort to a digital device rather than basic mathematical skills.  I find this very interesting.  Anxiety is real and all of us have varying degrees of it in any given situation.  That is not the issue.

The issue at the donut shop was that instead of slowing down and talking herself through the situation while breathing, she thought that a digital device would more easily solve her immediate problem and her anxiety.  She could have set the $20 bill down on the register and then breathed and started counting up to $20.  In the process, she would have solved two issues at once - anxiety and the sale.  Instead, she chose what felt natural to her - to search for a digital device to solve her issues.


One major downfall of the emergence of new technology is the liability that each of us will become dependent upon the use at critical times.  This may lead to an increase in anxiety and stress levels among us.  When was the last time you had to commit a phone number to memory?  We have become increasingly reliant on these devices.  There is no doubt that the rise of technology has called for transformations in the educational landscape too.  Although, all is not lost with respect to basic skills - math, writing, reading, etc.

Technology may help us tremendously on a day to day basis.  But remember, when the device runs out of energy, or the operator enters the wrong value (such as in a cash register), the responsibility is returned to our basic skill set of logic and reasoning.  That does not mean that anxiety should be present when technology fails.  We need to return to the belief in our basic skill set we learn in K-12 from time to time.

In closing, I will admit that I have typed all my notes at work and have barely written a note in months.  As a result, my handwriting is terrible.  I noticed this the other day while writing a note to my wife.  I decided to take action and start a journal to remind myself (or retrain) to return to those skills which are basic to me.  Until next time, I hope that each of you think about returning to those basic skills which are overshadowed by an App or other features on a digital device.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

How Is Our Environment (Climate, etc.) Becoming Politicized?

There are a 'few bad apples' in every basket one might say regarding any group of people.  This seems to be true of our current administration under President Trump.  Right about now, you may be asking the following question:

Mike, why are you going after President Trump and his administration over their positions on funding basic research and climate science?

To start to answer the question, I offer you the first few paragraphs which arrived in my 'inbox' on Monday morning from 'Politico Energy' shown below:

A NEW CA-vs.-EPA SHOWDOWN: California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is the latest Democratic official from the Golden State to take on EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt - this time with a public records lawsuit alleging he has failed to promptly hand over documents related to his ethics arrangements. Becerra filed the suit Friday, Pro's Alex Guillén reports . Pruitt, a prolific litigant challenging the Obama-era EPA, has agreed to stay away from lawsuits over the various rules he challenged in court, such as the Clean Power Plan or Waters of the U.S., although he says he is not barred from working to roll back the rules themselves. Becerra asked for documents outlining Pruitt's "compliance with federal ethics regulations and obligations" as well as agency "policies and procedures for determining who (if anyone) can assume the powers of the Administrator if he is recused or disqualified from participating in a matter."
EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said agency staff had reached out twice to Becerra's office to say they were working on a response. "It's unfortunate that California is suing the Agency, draining resources that could be better spent protecting human health and the environment - rather than working with EPA's career staff, as they can gather all the information requested," she said in a statement.
A few hours after Becerra filed his suit, the New York Times dropped a big report documenting limits on access to EPA - for both the public, press and even agency staff. Citing interviews with 20 current and former staffers, the Times reported that EPA employees now must leave their cellphones before meeting with Pruitt and must have an escort to see the administrator, who is accompanied by his armed security staff even at agency headquarters. ("None of this is true," Bowman told the Times. "It's all rumors.")
Pruitt's tactics aren't just controversial at agency headquarters. He's frequently met with tightly-screened industry groups and opted for interviews with friendly media figures. It was three such closed events in North Dakota that earned Pruitt a rebuke from Republican Sen. John Hoeven. "I think (meetings) should be open," he said, according to The Bismarck Tribune. "I guess I saw no reason not to have it open," he said.
But Pruitt isn't shifting approaches either. He leaned into a brewing controversy over a major federal climate change report blaming human activity for climate change, promising he and his staff would gauge the "accuracy" of its findings. It's a bizarre promise, Pro's Emily Holden reports , given Pruitt's concern over so-called politicization of science and the fact the report has already undergone "rigorous" peer-review by a 14-person committee at the National Academies with 132 pages of suggestions from the reviewers already incorporated into the final version. "It's a much more extensive process than a usual peer review, which does not typically come out as a paperback book," said Bob Kopp, a lead report author and climate scientist at Rutgers University.
The administrator also dismissed the discussion over the role of human activity in climate change during a Texas radio show last week as "political" and a "wedge issue." "Why aren't we celebrating what we're achieving with respect to CO2 ... why do we continue to engage in this political football?" he said. Multiple science organizations have sought meetings with Pruitt to discuss why he doesn't acknowledge the scientific consensus that human activity is driving climate change.

In a daily e-mail from 'Politico Energy' I might find the daily briefings/meetings which are being held on capitol hill with links.  Additionally, a few controversial items that are being entertained by congress to pay attention to.  Lately though, I find that these e-mails are filled with a common theme regarding decisions being made at the federal agency level:

The Trump Administration has filled or not filled top federal agency positions with 'non-scientist' and has disregarded science altogether.

The above realization is absolutely astounding to say the least.  I am amazed that the position of 'Office of Science and Technology' still has no director.  I would at least expect President Trump to fill the position with someone with a science background.  The filled position does not in any way mean that the advice will be listened to by the President himself.

On the other hand, you have the Environmental Protection Agency filled with a director whose previous job it was to sue the EPA?  How does that work out?

The President is authorized to nominate any one person who he/she feels is fit to fill the position of the Environmental Protection Agency.  Furthermore, the position does not necessarily need to be filled with a person whose background involved a career in science.  Although, one would expect the director of the EPA to maintain an 'open mind' when entertaining problems and solutions.  Keeping an 'open mind' does not mean ignoring scientific data.

Recently, congress sent Director Scott Pruitt a request for information regarding a 'climate change' debate which he wants to hold in the future.  Congress has an issue (and rightly so) with Scott Pruitt's lack of understanding of the proven scientific data.  Just before the letter was sent, congress recently debated the incorporation of words like 'climate change' or 'climate science' into the budget books of the Department of Defense.  Luckily, congress was level headed and rejected the motion to remove any language associated with climate change.  The result of which could have been catastrophic in future funding toward a sustainable future.


Time and time again, over the last 7 months, the current administration is determined to undermine credible (and peer-reviewed) data which supports the emerging effects of climate change.  In the excerpts above (specifically excerpt 2), an EPA spokesperson Bowman suggests that the current lawsuit is using up critical funds which typically is spent on resources to protect our nations infrastructure.  From what has been reported, the funds were never going to be spent on protecting the nation's water and environmental issues.  The money would be spent on legal battles trying to reverse the much needed forward momentum which President Obama has made over the last 8 years.

Here is a thought to leave you with.  I was listening to a podcast recently where an oil executive was interviewed about his position on the laws enacted in the last 8 years under the Obama administration.  Specifically, about the transition of changing coal and power plants to emit 'cleaner' emissions -- i.e. scrubbing technology.  The executive was rather annoyed with the current administrations (Trump administration) effort to tie up the courts with trying to reverse the "Clean Power Plan."  This surprised me to say the least.  The reason why the executive was annoyed with the legal battle which was ensuing was because the executive's company had already spent a few million dollars on changing the plant to emit 'cleaner emissions'.  Now, with the possibility of winning a legal battle under the "Clean Power Plan" these plants would not have to change.  Who cares?

The situation described with the legal battle on behalf of the Trump administration really did not matter.  The oil executive stated that the changes are already instated and why would he change the plant configuration from 'clean emissions' back to 'dirty emissions'.  Doing so would make little sense at all.  This story seems to resonate with power plants which have already transitioned over the last few years toward emitting 'cleaner emissions.'  Basically, the measures which President Trump is claiming to help industries are making little gain for them.

What we are left with is the current situation in the Trump administration.  One where the absence of science (and reason) is replaced with politics.  Politics which make little sense.  The story of the environmental changes on behalf of the oil executive above illustrate this point.  Which leaves the component of 'politics' clearly in play in the current situation.  There is a bipartisan effort to help the Trump administration understand that scientific data supports that 'climate change' is real and needs to be dealt with.  How to do so correctly heading into the future remains to be decided upon.  Currently, there is momentum toward a better future.  The change has already occurred -- toward a greener/sustainable future.  We should continue this forward momentum.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Universities Are Jumping On Board With States To Pick Up Paris Climate Slack

In a recent blog post, I mentioned that there was outrage at President Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord.  Specifically, the response from various governors was to pick up the slack left behind by the President in his decision.  I showed the agreement to bring to light what exactly such an agreement would look like.  In the current blog post, I ran across an e-mail from my university which stated that 109 other universities are willing to ensure that change is still in a positive direction.  Below is the letter stating the case.

Universities Join The Pack

Here is the letter from the website 'Second Nature' and signed by various leaders (Governors, Mayors, College and University leaders) regarding their undeterred commitment to meet the goals outlined by the Paris Agreement:

We Are Still In
Open letter to the international community and parties to the Paris Agreement from U.S.state, local, and business leaders
We, the undersigned mayors, governors, college and university leaders, investors and businesses are joining forces for the first time to declare that we will continue to support climate action to meet the Paris Agreement.
In December 2015 in Paris, world leaders signed the first global commitment to fight climate change. The landmark agreement succeeded where past attempts failed because it allowed each country to set its own emission reduction targets and adopt its own strategies for reaching them.
In addition, nations – inspired by the actions of local and regional governments, along with businesses – came to recognize that fighting climate change brings significant economic and public health benefits.
The Trump administration’s announcement undermines a key pillar in the fight against climate change and damages the world’s ability to avoid the most dangerous and costly effects of climate change. Importantly, it is also out of step with what is happening in the United States.
In the U.S., it is local and state governments, along with businesses, that are primarily responsible for the dramatic decrease in greenhouse gas emissions in recent years. Actions by each group will multiply and accelerate in the years ahead, no matter what policies Washington may adopt.
In the absence of leadership from Washington, states, cities, colleges and universities and businesses representing a sizeable percentage of the U.S. economy will pursue ambitious climate goals, working together to take forceful action and to ensure that the U.S. remains a global leader in reducing emissions.
It is imperative that the world know that in the U.S., the actors that will provide the leadership necessary to meet our Paris commitment are found in city halls, state capitals, colleges and universities, investors and businesses. Together, we will remain actively engaged with the international community as part of the global effort to hold warming to well below 2°C and to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy that will benefit our security, prosperity, and health.

Letters such as the one above have been emerging over the last few months since President Trump announced his desire to withdrawal the United States from the Paris Agreement.  We should not be surprised at letters of support, but should still welcome them as a sign of undeterred support given the science is real regarding climate change and the need to move toward a more sustainable future.

Earlier in the year, just after the inauguration of President Trump, there was news that he would seek to withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.  He came into office with a desire to rid federal agencies of the words "climate change" and "climate science" along with drastically censoring the access to scientific research results which are funded by tax-payer money (yes, you are paying for research and are restricted from seeing the results -- which is wrong).

This news led to a series of letters from scientists in the academic arena regarding the President's opposition to climate change.  First, university officials wrote the President a letter (230 university officials).  Second, in an article, the same university officials were quoted on the adverse impact that opposing climate change could have on their university and the world at large.  The letters and public comments seem not to deter President Trump on his position regarding the validity of climate change.

As a result, the closer the G7 talks approached in Taormino, large corporations started to be concerned that there was a large possibility of losing out on trillions of dollars worth of investment with the United States withdrawing from the Paris Accord.  I wrote a blog which contained two letters from gigantic corporations (Apple, Microsoft, Google, General Mills, BP, Shell, etc.) to encourage President Trump to stay in the Paris Agreement.  This letter along with others went unnoticed (it seemed) since there was no real effect -- especially regarding restoring America to the great place in the past.  One would think that investing in 'green' / 'sustainable' energy would be attractive -- seeing how other countries and businesses are offering trillions of dollars in investment opportunities.  Guess not?

Quickly after the G7 talks, a video surfaced in which President Jeane-Claude Juncker of the European Commission said that President Trump did not really understand the way that these negotiations really worked (no surprise there).  I included the video in a blog post which can be found here.  Before that video surfaced here in the United States, I should highlight the outrage of the world at President Trump withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement.  First, the citizens of the U.S. were outraged as noted in the following blog post.  Second,

Furthermore, with just under a month remaining until world leaders would gather at the G20 in Hamburg (Germany) to discuss world issues - one of which would be the Paris Agreement.  One was left to ask - what good could come out of the Hamburg G20 summit with the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement?  Frankly, not much without leadership from our President with an open ear regarding the world and the future direction of the majority of the world represented by their respective leaders.  A sad situation existed to say the least.

Looking Toward The Future?

Over the last six months, the leadership (President and Congress) has been headed toward reversing every environmental step forward accomplished by the previous administration.  This in of itself is astounding.  Congress has managed to pass the "HONEST Act" which makes the incorporation of scientific data more difficult due to privacy laws.  A real "Dishonest Act" as it should be known.  The President has taken us down a road headed for the past (60 years ago) when regulations were not put in place to protect the citizens and the environment in which we live.  But all is not lost.

In the last few months, Congress has stepped up and made a couple of stances on "climate science" which are notable.  Recently, while trimming down President Trump's outrageous budget for the fiscal year, cuts were being made to basic science.  Amazingly enough, there was a bipartisan defense of basic research (thank goodness).  On top of that amazing defense to save basic research funding, a republican senator tried to rid the Department of Defense of the words "climate change" to defund any such research in support of the atmosphere (in general).  I wrote a blog post regarding the amazing stance that republicans took to "shoot down" their colleague in order to keep these words in the official documents -- meaning that republicans do believe in Climate Change -- Thank goodness.  Funding is a different issue.  For the time being, I can live with this.

Heading into the future, the responsibility lies on each of us to write our respective elected representatives and express concern regarding voting positions taken when crucial issues (i.e. our environment) emerge.  Keep speaking out on important issues which could adversely impact not just you or me but the world in general.  After all, the planet is shared by all of us.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Future Outlook By New York Times Columnist Thomas Friedman

With all of the events that have transpired over the last seven months in the world, one cannot help but wonder what will happen next?

Where are we headed as a nation (USA)?

Where is the world headed without the USA?

These are logical questions which do not have any immediate answers.  Although, reporters whose job is to predict based on prior reporting have a reasonable outlook -- some of the time.  At the very least, there is no harm done in entertaining questions and concerns raised by the front line reporters whose job is to keep us informed on such matters.

The other day, I ran across an article by Thomas Friedman of "The New York Times" titled "Climate Shifts Aren’t Limited to the Weather" in which he proposes that the word climate is not just limited to the scope of the weather and science -- which is huge to begin with.  Other contributors (some which operate behind the scenes) are extremely important and should be incorporated into our thinking about the future.  Here are two excerpts to think about:

Here is what I mean: We are in the middle of a change in the climate of the climate. We are going from “later” to “now.” In the past you could fix any climate/environmental problem later or now. But today later is officially over. Later will be too late. At some point, the deforestation of the Amazon is not reversible.
We are the middle of a change in the “climate” of globalization. We are going from an interconnected world to an interdependent one, and in such a world your friends can hurt you faster than your enemies: Think what happens if Mexico’s economy fails. And your rivals’ falling becomes more dangerous than your rivals’ rising: We will be hurt a lot more by China’s economy tanking than its putting tanks on islands in the South China Sea.
And lastly we’re in the middle of a change in the “climate” of technology. We’re moving into a world where machines and software can analyze (see patterns that were always hidden before); optimize (tell a plane which altitude to fly each mile to get the best fuel efficiency); prophesize (tell you when your elevator will break and fix it before it does); customize (tailor any product or service for you alone) and digitize and automate just about any job. This is transforming every industry.

The above shifts in "climate" are extremely important to consider in theory.  In practice and implementation, how do these shifts in "climate" appear in governing and technological development?  For China, Thomas Friedman states:

Which brings me to China. China takes governing seriously — in a cruel way and in an impressive way. Its leaders wake up every morning and ask themselves two questions. First, how do we stay in power? Their answer, which I find reprehensible, is: We’ll use technology to repress our people. I think in the long run depriving China’s people of freedom, a basic human right, will undermine their ability to realize their full potential.
But it has worked better than expected, up to now, because China’s leaders are just as focused on asking a second question: What world are we living in? Which leads to: What are the biggest forces shaping this world? And what kind of national strategy do we need so our people can get the most out of these forces and cushion the worst?
They know we’re in the midst of these three climate changes and have formulated a strategy — “Made in China 2025” — to thrive within it. It’s a plan for building the infrastructure, investments, education and regulations that will enable Chinese companies to lead in supercomputing, new materials, computer-controlled machine tools, industrial robotics, space and aviation equipment — including drones — clean cars, clean energy, biomedicine and next-gen medical devices.

The above are pretty typical of China given its history.  The overarching principle is domination through intimidation throughout history.  Although, China has been creeping up and starting to lead in developing clean energy (mass production) -- which I will write about soon -- based on a documentary.

Where does this leave America?

According to the article above, the following course is stated which seems likely given the events of the past few months:

By contrast, Trump hasn’t even named a science adviser. He pulled out of the Paris climate accord without any input from scientists, and he proposed a budget for fiscal 2018 that eliminated the Department of Energy’s innovation lab (the “Advanced Research Projects Agency — Energy”) and slashed funding for all of our key national science and medical labs, which provide the basic research for the very next-gen technologies in which China is now massively investing.
He’s spending the money instead on a wall against Mexico. Is there anything more stupid?
And then you watch the health care debate. And then you realize that in addition to the executive branch, one of our two parties has gone nuts. For seven years the G.O.P. made replacing Obamacare, which needs improving, its top goal, and when it finally controlled all the levers of power, it was clear that it had done no homework on a better plan or built any intraparty consensus for it. It was all a fraud.

One could argue that the content above is from a so-called "fake news" source as a small base of this country likes to call the New York Times.  I choose to be open minded about the inputs from a variety of sources online.  I admit that I have a subscription to the New York Times which I receive daily -- as a disclaimer.  Nevertheless, the questions and comments regarding differing definitions of "climate" are valid and should be entertained by citizens of the world.

Take a minute or two and ponder the events that have transpired over the last 7 months and think about (from your perspective) where the world is going.  How far off are you from Thomas Friedman?  Are you in sync with him as I tend to be?  Regardless, he raises legitimate concerns about the future that each of us should start to educate ourselves on for future decisions which cross our paths.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Risks To The World By Activist Ralph Nader

Lately, with the world moving forward and the United States in a "holding pattern" with regard to creating useful legislation, I have been wondering what dangers this "stagnation" might lead to.  After completing and election cycle last year to elect President Trump along with the first 7 months in office completed, surely, the world must have thought that much more would have  been accomplished in terms of the economy and national security along with health care.  As it stands, we are still facing the same dangers which are compounding as time moves forward.

Every few days, I receive updates from various news sources and activists like Ralph Nader.  I enjoy receiving his updates simply due to the wonderful work which he has accomplished over the years.  Many of US citizens feel somewhat "helpless" or "unimportant" in dedicating time toward promoting change on the planet that is meaningful for not just the current situation, but the future outlook too.  I try to read as widely as possible to gain insight into many perspectives.  Perspectives offered by Ralph Nader fit in nicely with my doubt about the world and progress in it moving forward.  I have offered "his call to action" in a previous post on this site.  In the current post, I include a few "risks" to the world outlined by him which are good food for thought to consider as we move forward as a nation.  Understanding the threats that loom over this nation can help us start to promote change within and around the world.

Without further ado, here are a few risks that are looming to the world from Activist Ralph Nader shown below:

Here are some warnings about rising and looming risks.

1) The opioid epidemic is here now, and poised to become further exacerbated. It is the US’s deadliest drug overdose crisis ever, taking over 1000 lives a week. Even that figure is underestimated, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). These fatalities, many of them affecting people in the prime of their life, stem from legally prescribed drugs taken to relieve chronic pain. Tragically ironic!
Congress is figuring out how to budget for many billions of dollars to combat this toll – much greater than the deaths by traffic crashes or AIDS. Republican and Democratic state officials are suing the drug companies for excessive, misleading promotion for profit. Still, the awful toll keeps rising.

2) Cyberattacks and cyberwarfare are increasingly becoming a facet of daily life. Although IBM and other firms are trying to develop more effective defenses, the current scale of cyberattacks is “crazy”, according to specialist Christopher Ahlberg. As he said in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, “If you told anybody 10 years ago about what’s going on now, they wouldn’t believe it.”

Negotiations are not even underway for a cyberwarfare treaty among nations. The sheer scale and horrific implications of this weaponry seems to induce societies to bury their heads in the sand. Former ABC TV host of Nightline, Ted Koppel, discusses this emerging threat in his recent, acclaimed book, “Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared”:

“Imagine a blackout lasting not days but weeks or months. There would be no running water, no sewage, no electric heat, refrigeration, or light. Food and medical supplies would dwindle. Banks would not function. The devices we rely on would go dark. The fact is, one well-placed attack on the electrical grid could cripple much of our infrastructure. Leaders across government, industry and the military know this…yet there is no national plan for the aftermath.”

Former Secretary of Defense and CIA Director, Leon Panetta, says Koppel’s book is “an important wake-up call for America.” Yet neither he nor the enormous military-industrial complex, of which he remains a supportive part, are doing much of anything about this doomsday threat to national security. The big manufacturers are too busy demanding ever more taxpayer money for additional nukes, aircraft carriers, submarines, fighter planes, missiles and other weaponry of an increasingly bygone age.

3) “The World is Not Ready for the Next Pandemic,” headlined a recent Time Magazine article. The authors note that the “US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks H7N9 as the flu strain with the greatest potential to cause a pandemic – an infectious disease outbreak that goes global.” They predict the disease could claim "tens of millions" of lives.
In between his Twitter-tantrums, President Trump approved an insanely myopic proposed budget cut of over $1 billion in the CDC’s programs used to predict and combat rising pandemics from China, African countries and elsewhere. Fortunately cooler heads may prevail in Congress, backed by some private foundations.

The number of new diseases per decade, Time reports, has increased nearly fourfold over the past 60 years. Antibiotics are being overridden by adaptive mutations of bacteria. Dr. Trevor Mundel of the Gates Foundation, asserts, “There’s just no incentive for any company to make pandemic vaccines to store on shelves.” That profit-driven rejection is exactly why government must act to produce the drugs, as the Department of Defense it has successfully done with new anti-malaria drugs in the seventies and eighties.

University of Minnesota Professor Michael Osterholm, one of the nation’s leading experts on infectious diseases, warns that for all our world-class scientists and high-tech isolation units, the US health care system is not ready for the stresses of a major pandemic. Not even close.

4) It isn’t just Elon Musk, founder of the Tesla company, who is warning that the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is “the greatest risk we face as a civilization.” In 2015, hundreds of other scientists, like renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, and technologists, like Steve Wozniak, signed a public letter that was a one day story, instead of an alarmed world turning it into a galvanizing event. Professor Hawking warns us: “Success in creating Artificial Intelligence would be the biggest event in human history. Unfortunately, it might also be the last, unless we learn how to avoid the risks. In the near term, world militaries are considering autonomous-weapon systems that can choose and eliminate targets.” We humans, Hawking adds, “are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superseded by AI” In short, the robots race out of control, become self-actuating and are not held back by any moral boundaries. 

From Lincoln to Einstein, we have been counseled that new situations require new thinking. A massive reversal of our world’s priorities toward reverence for life and posterity, toward diplomacy and waging peace, toward legal and ethical frameworks for exploding science and technology (including biotechnology and nanotechology) must receive our focus, from families nurturing their children to the philosophers, ethical specialists, engineers and scientists pausing from their exponential discoveries to ponder the serious adverse consequences of their creations.

Our present educational systems – from Harvard Law School, MIT to K-12 – are not rising to these occasions for survival. Our mass media, wallowing in trivia, entertainment, advertisements and political insults, is not holding the politicians accountable to serious levels of public trust and societal safety. Time for new movements awakening our best angels to foresee and forestall. Do any potential leaders at all levels want to be first responders?

The stated 4 risks above are nothing new.  Over the last few years, we have dealt with risks to various populations which required intervention on behalf of the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control.  Remember the Ebola virus?  How about the looming Zika virus still being examined across the United States?  Both of these potentially lethal viruses require extensive investigation which comes from funding out of Washington D.C.  With a supposed reduction cut by the Trump Administration, how does the nation stand to overcome a serious outbreak in the near future?

Cybersecurity has been a hot topic item with the ongoing Saga of the Russian investigation into the Trump Administration.  This only serves to highlight the potential threat the nation might face in the near future.  Already, news accounts emerge daily detailing small and non-lethal cybersecurity attacks on various businesses around the US.  Not enough reporting is done on this important issue.

Last but not least, addiction is an enormous problem here in the United States.  Not to mention other countries.  Although, if we focus (which we should for the moment) on the opioid crisis among other addictive substances, there is plenty of room for improvement.  The amount of growth in terms of solutions and jobs to conquer this crippling crisis is enormous, but requires action on all fronts.  Law enforcement must weigh in on what is happening in the "field".  Physicians must weigh in on the occurrences seen in the medical community.  Substance recovery groups can also offer information (data) which remain anonymous but can help guide the politicians into searching for a solution.

And finally, family members can reach out and provide indirect testimony of problems as they occur to there elected officials (through written letters or emails) to inform them on a "constituent" level.  Combined efforts of successful reporting and programs which are successful is a first major step toward overcoming this epidemic.


These are issues which impact us all.  Whether that impact is felt daily or monthly or yearly depends on a number of factors.  I have written about my involvement in alcoholics anonymous briefly on this site.  I have been in recovery for over 4 years now and have a completely different (better) life.  Although, part of the growth process of returning to a normal state of mind is accepting that there is a problem.  Followed by action to improve and fix the source of the issue.  The principles laid down in the program (treatment programs like A.A.) could be used to solve the pressing problems listed above.

I can only imagine how more powerful addictive drugs like the opioid class of drugs must be to overcome.  My hat is off to those who seek treatment and family members who are honest about issues affecting the family as a whole.  Too often, as citizens, we get caught up on big ticket news items like cybersecurity or ebola or zika virus and search to see what we can do to help.  At the same time, we could be dealing with other local risks that impact our community and start moving toward a solution.  With our help, politicians are given more time to seek solutions to larger 'big ticket' items like cybersecurity and Artificial Intelligence.  The risks laid out by Ralph Nader impact us all at some level.  Like I mentioned above, understanding the risks listed above is the first step in searching for a long term viable solution.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Who Is In Charge Of The Department Of Energy?

President Trump's appointee for the secretary of energy is truth telling to say the least.  His pedigree speaks volumes to the course that our nation is headed down toward the ever changing demands of the world with regard to the energy landscape.  Below is a brief exploration of how he achieved the status of Secretary of Energy and how potentially dangerous this might be for the United States of America's energy future.

Secretary's Stance on Climate Change?

As a Secretary of Energy, one would hope that the appointee would have knowledge about the department which he is heading.

Furthermore, I receive the "tip sheets" from the news site "Politico" daily which have summaries of the daily political events occurring in Washington D.C. in the Capitol daily.  Here is the summary I received nearly a month ago in an e-mail:

PERRY V. CLIMATE SCIENCE: Energy Secretary Rick Perry has set himself up for a fierce grilling before a House Appropriations subcommittee today after he said Monday - contrary to the overwhelming scientific consensus - that he doesn't think carbon dioxide emissions from human activity are the main driver of climate change. Greens quickly pounced, with the Sierra Club saying that "Rick Perry's outrageous comments are the latest indication that this administration will do everything in its power to put polluter profits ahead of science and public health." Remember EPA Scott Pruitt faced weeks of criticism and a scientific integrity probe when he made similar remarks about CO2 on the same show, CNBC's "Squawk Box." Following his comments, Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer sent Perry a host of educational materials outlining the basic established science of climate change.

This is both Perry's first public appearance on Capitol Hill since his nomination hearing in January as well as the first hearing in 2017 of Rep. Mike Simpson 's energy spending subcommittee, so there's plenty to discuss. Simpson doesn't support a lot of the deep cuts Trump's 2018 budget suggests for DOE, but he has also said that the proposal is "Mulvaney's budget" rather than a document with buy-in from the Cabinet secretaries so don't expect him to call on Perry to defend the funding decisions made by the White House. Democrats, on the other hand, will likely needle Perry over funding cuts for renewable energy programs, climate-related work and the elimination of ARPA-E. There aren't any big climate hawks on the panel but issues further afield, like Perry's comments Monday that carbon dioxide emissions aren't the primary "control knob" of climate change, are almost certain to squeeze their way into the discussion. The hearing starts at 1 p.m. in Rayburn 2359.

To hear the entire hearing, click here to access the webcast of the hearing which around 2 1/2 hours in length.  Here is the video below:

On that particular day on Capitol Hill, Secretary of Defense did reasonably well in the 'House of Representatives' by giving vague answers.  Which is to say, he states that money will be diverted and moved around to satisfy deficits and budget cuts.  Furthermore, Secretary Perry assures representatives that money does arise which will cover the deficits.  Overall, his performance was accepted as satisfactory at the time to the representatives of the house.

Whereas, in the senate, Secretary Perry did not fare so well.  Here are two clips below which show how the Secretary performs under pressure with respect to funding.  The first video is an interaction between Senator Al Franken and Secretary Perry on the validity of 'climate change':

Wow.  Next, a video of the interaction between Secretary Perry and Senator Angus King finally shows the secretary's behavior when called out on the absurdity of the budget funding in President Trump's bill:


Over the last 3 months, Secretary Rick Perry has evolved to narrow down the mission of the Department of Energy.  He believes as stated in the hearing above that the mission of the Department of Energy is:

"the core mission is to promote innovation and technology..."

Fair enough.  How that will be achieved with the significant funding reductions proposed by the Trump administration remains to be seen.  The hearing in the 'House of Representatives' revealed that major reductions are proposed from the Trump administration in order to reduce the cost burden on the government.  What is disappointing (of many points) is that important agencies like ARPA-E are being proposed for massive cuts (greater than 75% reductions) - near shut down reductions - which is very problematic.  In the hearing, Secretary Perry stated that 'fundamental research' is vital to the mission of the Department of Energy.

What About ARPA-E?

Before concluding the blog post, the issue of closing or defunding ARPA-E should be briefly expanded upon.  The agency 'ARPA-E' stands for "Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy" and is introduced on 'Wikipedia' as:

ARPA-E, or Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy is a United States government agency tasked with promoting and funding research and development of advanced energy technologies. It is modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Pretty detailed right?  Lets look to the introduction to the 'Wikipedia' page for the parent project agency "Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency" shown below:

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is an agency of the U.S. Department of Defense responsible for the development of emerging technologies for use by the military.
Originally known as the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), the agency was created in February 1958 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in response to the Soviet launching of Sputnik 1 in 1957. Since its inception, the agency’s mission is ensuring that the United States avoids further technological surprise.[3] By collaborating with academic, industry, and government partners, DARPA formulates and executes research and development projects to expand the frontiers of technology and science, often beyond immediate U.S. military requirements.[3]
DARPA-funded projects have provided significant technologies that influenced many non-military fields, such as computer networking and the basis for the modern Internet, and graphical user interfaces in information technology.
DARPA is independent of other military research and development and reports directly to senior Department of Defense management. DARPA has about 240 employees, of whom approximately 15 are in management, and close to 140 are technical staff.

Again, the introduction of the two agencies is limited in its scope.  Here is an excerpt from an article titled "The Energy Department is reportedly denying funds for already-approved grants" stating the reductions and the significance of ARPA-E:

Brad Townsend, associate director for energy innovation at the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Energy Project, told ThinkProgress that it’s not uncommon for DOE or other federal agencies to reevaluate programs when they come in, especially when the government is operating under a continuing resolution like it is now for fiscal year 2017.
“FY’17 funds being withheld is less than ideal but doesn’t raise any flags for me,” Townsend said. “What concerns me more is if you look at some of the FOAs [funding opportunity announcements] for FY’16 programs, there are funding announcements that have yet to be made and are already overdue… Those are dollars that have been appropriated and have to be spent.”
ARPA-E was a bipartisan initiative modeled on the Department of Defense’s Department of Advanced Research Agency. The agency was designed to focus on helping the United States gain a competitive advantage in science and technology and look at ways to develop technologies that would provide economic, security, and environmental benefits.
The agency is focused on “high-impact, high-risk and high-reward” projects, Townsend noted, and he agreed with the former program director that these are areas in which the private sector likely would not invest. For example, researchers for a group called Makani Power created a wind turbine project, funded by ARPA-E, that sends airborne kite-like wind turbines high into the air where they harness a more consistent and powerful wind source than earthbound wind turbines. Makani Power designed the drone kites to automatically take off and adjust themselves to the windstream to maximize energy production.
ARPA-E awarded Makani Power a $3 million grant in 2009 for the project. In 2013, Google X, the search engine company’s research and investment arm, acquired Makani Power, turning the research project into a success story for ARPA-E.

The government should make cuts where possible.  What is not clear in the current budget proposal is where the increase in funding for the 'Department of Defense' will go to?  Agencies like ARPA-E and DARPA are research arms for the Department of Defense.  Is it the desire of the Trump administration to outsource to industry all of the research for the United States?  According to the proposals and testimony of Secretary Rick Perry, that appears to be the case.

Why is this problematic?

Research conducted by grants to universities from agencies like ARPA-E and DARPA advance knowledge which may or may not contribute to a marketable item down the line (in the future).  That is not to say that the research is worthless or not worthy of funding.  I can speak from experience during my graduate education.

I was working off of a grant funded by DARPA to explore the area of Quantum Information Processing or Quantum Computation (i.e. Quantum Computing).  The field of my research is chemistry.  I am a physical chemist.  Although, I build electrical circuits (NMR probes) to further the study of molecular systems via Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy.  Without going into laborious detail regarding my project, the money (from a grant) for research actually resulted in improvements to the broad field of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy in general.  Why is this important?

Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy is the predecessor behind 'Magnetic Resonance Imaging' -- meaning -- improvements to one field could potentially result in improvements to the other.  MRI technology needs to be pushed forward - just ask anyone who has had an MRI taken lately in the hospital.


Secretary Rick Perry might turn out to be a good Energy Secretary in the end.  Recent announcements in the news suggest that President Trump might move him to the Department of Homeland Security to deal with our borders.  This is a typical example of the lack of experience that is required to run the Department of Energy.  Moving politicians around to head departments with which they have no experience is not fair to the Department of Energy and the United States citizens in general.  We (USA citizens) expect to have leaders who have a vision which involves pushing technology further to create a better world.

By the sound of the answers above, leadership at the Department of Energy is lacking.  Especially with the supposed suggestion in the current budget of closing extremely important programs like ARPA-E.  What confuses me is that the current administration would like to increase defense spending.  How is that consistent with 'defunding' the ARPA-E program?  Makes little sense to me.

In the end, the large question with the current administration is the following:

Who will fund research?  Government or the private sector?  What is the argument for a shift in either direction?

In the coming months to years, the answer should become apparent.  Hopefully, in that time, the United States does not fall too far behind in leading technologies for the future of the planet.