One people, one planet, one pollution

I was hiking yesterday (23rd) and looked out to sea. This is what I saw.

An orange-brown band of dust? smog? all of the above? stretching over the whole horizon. There’s a larger composite picture here that shows more of the extent. (In the foreground, you can make out the Navy Seabees target practice range. That’s Anacapa Island shrouded in the distance.)

I’ve lived here for years and never seen anything like it. Ordinary Los Angeles pollution looks like this:

It’s more purple-colored, much fainter, and bigger toward LA, petering out toward the ocean. (The picture is from an old post where I was puzzling about wind direction.)

When I mentioned it at home, I found out that Beijing had an Airpocalypse around January 12th and the next few days, an immense pollution event that drowned the city in choking dusty smog.


View of Beijing smog. From aworldchaos.wordpress.com.

NASA regularly tracks Chinese pollution across the Pacific, but it wasn’t usually still as thick as soup by the time it got here.

Well, it is now. I’m fairly sure that’s what I was seeing. Dirt pushed across the whole Pacific ahead of a huge storm system that also brought us rain later on. One to two weeks is how long it takes to get here from China.

This is not good.

Crossposted from Acid Test


About that Iranian nuclear threat

AP has a big, exclusive story based on a graph of a simulation leaked by they’re-not-saying-who from they’re-not-saying-where. This is Proof the Iranians are working on a big bad nuke.

Glenn Greenwald seems to be getting exasperated at the silliness of such setups:

even if one assumes that this graph is something other than a fraud, the very idea that computer simulations constitute “evidence” that Iran is working toward a nuclear weapon is self-evidently inane.

Well, yes, there is that.

But there’s one even bigger piece of evidence suggesting that the Iranians aren’t doing much, and for some reason that’s not being mentioned. They have a border with a huge and powerful country. Russia has zero reason to want powerful Islamic fundamentalists right on its southern border who might encourage friction in other Central Asian majority-Islamic countries.

If the Iranians were really that close to useful nukes, you can bet your Sunday bonnet the Russians would be making noise about it and/or doing something about it.

Crossposted from Acid Test


No. We should not respect other people’s beliefs

No. No, no, no. This is not about free speech as opposed to beliefs. It better not be. If it is, we’re headed straight for holy wars.

I’m talking about this sort of thing: BBC News – Film protest: Egypt PM urges US to end ‘insults’.

“At the same time we need to reach a balance between freedom of expression and to maintain respect for other peoples’ beliefs.”

There is no way to “respect beliefs” and have freedom of speech. It’s impossible. Think about it, Minister Qandil, for a microsecond. If my belief is that you speak drivel and should shut up, you can say nothing. If your belief is that I speak drivel and should shut up, neither of us can say anything if we’re both going to be “respectful.” Or, if we both talk and infuriate each other, then the only way to get “respect” is to silence the other. And only the dead are silent.

The malicious film is not a problem because it insults a religion. It’s a problem because its whole and only purpose is to inflict hate on people. It is not making a political statement, it is not arguing about anything. It’s trying to spit in the eye of people it hates. That is hate speech. It is incitement to riot. It is already illegal. It is an abuse of free speech. It is not protected under free speech laws.

The only problem is the growing US inability to understand that religion is a belief system, not an excuse. We should not lose all ability to tell right from wrong just because somebody hangs a judeochristian religious label on crap.

(Although when it involves a Muslim, the FBI seems to see “material support” for terrorists where only criticism exists. One example: Glenn Greenwald on the arrest of a person expressing outrage over the Abu Ghraib atrocities.)

We should take a deep breath, take our courage in our hands, and actually be responsible for some judgment calls. Avoiding responsibility with wishy-washy excuses about not having any right to judge anyone means only handing a blank check to the biggest bully to do their worst.

It’s pretty obvious where that leads. Haters incite hate and before you know it, real people with real families and real friends have died.

That’s why there are laws against hate speech. That’s why there are laws against incitement to riot.

By understanding the real reason why that sort of crap has to be squelched, it becomes clear that it is not criticism of religion which is the problem. Nobody can tell anybody to stop expressing their thoughts on a religion. They can insist on not hearing them. It’s the same as the idea behind the brown paper covers on porn mags. I don’t want to know what’s going on in the sewer of your mind, and you don’t have to tell me.

It becomes hate speech when you insist on rubbing my mind in your hated message. Then the intent is to hurt. Not to communicate. Then it’s hate speech.

That revolting film wasn’t noticed by anyone but the revolting people who made it. Pathetic, but not a huge issue. They didn’t like that. So they paid to have it translated into Arabic. That is hate speech, pure and simple.

We don’t have to slavishly avoid offending every bizarre — or even ordinary — belief system on the planet. We have to enforce our own laws against hate speech and incitement to riot. As a matter of fact, the solution is to be more willing to offend beliefs. When somebody’s beliefs result in hatred and harm we have to be ready to stand up to them and say, “NO.”

Crossposted from Acid Test


Here’s an idea: civil rights for everyone!

You know, everyone. Including those everyones who are female.

Rights are the solution to the Todd Akinses of the world, and it would be unspeakably obvious if people could remember that rights matter.

For some reason, even people on the left don’t get it. I had somebody say, when I was carrying on about free speech rights and Pussy Riot, “Fuck theories of speech. Free Pussy Riot.” So, let’s see. “Forget about rights. Give ‘em their rights.” Uh huh. That makes a lot of sense. And that’s the “thinking” on the left.

People don’t even get it when it concerns their own rights. There are way too many examples, but here’s just one from Lexia commenting at Reclusive Leftist: “…the woman’s mother, who had worked as a nurse (she had wanted to be a doctor), but mostly as a wife, and so was left at retirement age, divorced, impoverished and living in a trailer with thirty seven leaks….

“The woman’s mother said to me, in response to some remark I made about women’s rights: ‘But that has nothing to do with us.’”

I’m not sure where this reluctance to think about principles comes from, but that’s why we have a problem. That’s why we can’t see that

SOME RIGHTS ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN OTHERS.

I know we’re not supposed to shout, but, honestly people, what is so hard about that concept?

Take religion, for instance. At this point, it’s enough to say, “But it’s my religion!” to excuse just about anything. The media just stand there, being respectful, when a Todd Akin says “Women don’t count. I’ll tell ‘em when they’ve been raped. I’ll tell those uterine incubators what to do. It’s my religion.” The Left mostly nodded along when Obama quite agreed that Catholic bishops shouldn’t have to put up with anything so anti-religious as female citizens making their own medical decisions. (But because he’s such a nice guy, it won’t be as bad as if that horrible Other Party was giving the bishops their wishes).

May I make a suggestion? I think we need a Church of Savage Death to all Godbags. They’re interfering with my religion, which is that we all leave each other in peace.

Yeah, I know. That’s about as logically consistent as destroying women while Allah is said to be Merciful and God is said to be Love.

It always takes only about one step to fall into complete logical absurdity if religion is put above civil rights.

It’s obvious if you think about it at all. No other right means anything if you are not, as the old language had it, secure in your own person. If you can be imprisoned until you agree with me, you have no freedom of thought. If I can requisition a kidney from you (because I’m dying and my life is at stake and you’re a perfect match and my religion is pro-life), you’re nothing but ambulatory organ storage.

If all that drivel was understood in the context of rights, the Todd Akinses and their spiritual cousins, on up to the mild-mannered and socially acceptable versions in the White House, would all be obvious for the antidemocratic throwbacks they are. They’d never get near the teevee. Because the media are dimly aware that no religion is so important that it can demand human sacrifices. Not even female ones.

Crossposted from Acid Test


Okay. Now it’s a heat wave.

The interior of Southern California has been slow-roasting, like everybody else in the U. S. of A. It’s so bad, people are being told to use their A/C less, to let their houses go all the way up to 78°F (25°C). The utilities have been moaning about having barely enough power to meet needs

They’ve been bewailing the temporary shutdown of the San Onofre nuke like the loss of the last drop of drinking water. (The thing has cracks in hundreds of steam pipes due to design flaws.) It provides 2200 Megawatts. It’s loss is terrible. We’re all dying out here.

A complete load of horsefeathers. I live near two natural gas power stations, and they’re barely ever even on. If it’s as bad as all that, you’d think they’d have to use them, yes? One produces 560 Megawatts, the other 1516MW. But they don’t. Especially the 1516MW one. If I see it running two days out of the year, that’s a lot. Admittedly, I don’t spend my life staring at it, so I might miss a day or two, but not much more than that. The other one seems to run maybe 14 days out of the year.

Then, yesterday I went for a hike and saw this:

view of Pt. Mugu

Nice, you say? What are you complaining about, you say? Well, look at those two wisps coming out of the two power plants. They’re running! They’re producing power!

Ormond Beach Generating Station

Half of it is down right now due to a fire, so it’s only producing about 730MW. (Notice also that line of photochemical smog.)

Mandalay Generating Station

The neat thing about natural gas plants is the utlities get pollution credits for them because they’re so (relatively) clean. So — this is just a wild guess — by not running them, they can use those credits for dirtier plants of theirs. Or sell them to other needy utilities.

Meanwhile, they can weep and wail and gnash their teeth over how we must turn the nukes back on now now now! Or else we might have to turn the A/C all the way to 79°F.


Check whether you have the DNSChanger issue

Via Uppity Woman, a couple of possibly useful links. A malware site was shut down months ago. The infected computers used the bad server to find their way around on the internet. To keep all those people from going dark, the FBI has been maintaining a server to replace the bad one. That way people could fix the problem when convenient. But over 300,000 people still haven’t fixed it, and the FBI is turning off the server on Monday. I hope that doesn’t include anyone on Skydancing, but just in case…

More info here: http://www.dcwg.org/

The site to check whether your computer might have the problem: http://www.dns-ok.us/


What Really Makes Us Fat

Let’s face it. People feel the fat-antifat kerfuffle is a struggle between good and evil. Gluttony is bad! It’s not gluttony. It’s a disease! It’s not a disease. It’s genetics. It’s okay. It is not okay. And so on and on.

Folks, we’re talking about biology. It could be all of the above and then some. “Then some” is actually my preferred answer and I’ll discuss it in a bit. But in the meantime, it’s worth remembering that none of the above are mutually exclusive. The answers vary from person to person and there is no single thing that is true for everyone, or even for one person all the time. As they say on Facebook, it’s complicated. In that spirit, it’s well worth looking at research that tells us about parts of the answer.

Gary Taubes writes about a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Ebbeling et al., 2012) on What Really Makes Us Fat:

[T]he study tells us that the nutrient composition of the diet can trigger the predisposition to get fat, independent of the calories consumed. The fewer carbohydrates we eat, the more easily we remain lean. The more carbohydrates, the more difficult. In other words, carbohydrates are fattening, and obesity is a fat-storage defect. What matters, then, is the quantity and quality of carbohydrates we consume and their effect on insulin.

Chalk one up for the Atkins Diet, but don’t therefore assume the American Heart Association is “wrong” when it tells you to eat a low-fat diet of whole grains, fruits and veggies. The AHA is trying to help your heart. Their advice is perfectly good for your heart. The Atkins Diet is trying to help you lose weight. This research says it does. It says nothing about your cholesterol or the kidney-damaging effects of long term excess protein, especially in people with borderline kidney disease they may be unaware of.

The research shows an interesting piece of the obesity puzzle, but unless fat storage regulation is the biggest reason for obesity, it’s not actually going to deal with the epidemic. And the biggest causes can’t be fat storage regulation gone awry. Human physiology hasn’t changed in the last few decades. We have the same fat-storage hormones we’ve always had. Likewise, people have always wanted to eat too much. Nor have our genetics changed a whole hell of a lot in the last few dozen years. And yet obesity (as medically defined and meaning more than mere overweight) has gone from being a rather rare issue to being a problem for a third of all US adults.

The thing that’s missing in too many current discussions of the obesity epidemic is environmental effects. This is not a comment on the research, because that wasn’t its topic. But every single discussion for the general public needs to beat that drum until we all get it. Environmental factors are the only ones that have changed recently. Plus, that explains why we have an epidemic. Epidemics are public health issues, and they’re all embedded in the environment.

The reason it’s so important for everyone to understand the biggest causes is because obesity really is an epidemic, and it really is destroying the health of millions. It’s causing and will continue to cause horrible suffering in people who go blind or need amputations due to diabetic complications, or who become paralyzed after strokes. This stuff is no joke. Nor is it just a conspiracy by the fashion industry (although it’s that too). To the extent that obesity damages health, it’s vital — literally — to understand and fix the real causes and not to waste time on sacrificial food offerings to gods who don’t care.

I think two environmental factors stand out like sore thumbs.

  • Advertising for fat-making food and drink
  • Endocrine disruptor environmental pollution

You may not think of ads as an environmental factor, but what I mean by that is it’s out there, in your environment, and not something you control. You can’t simply ignore ads, no matter how many people blithely tell you to. Ads have their effect whether or not you pay attention. Your only real choice is to turn them off. An individual can choose to eschew most media, but on a population level, that’s not going to happen.

So we’re in an environment saturated with unavoidable messages to have fun with food. At the population level, some proportion of people some of the time will find themselves wanting that food, wanting that cola, and taking it. At the population level, some proportion of people get more calories than they otherwise would. And some proportion of them get fat.

It’s important to remember that getting fat, being a biological process, is not a simple matter of balancing calories in and calories used. Nothing in biology is simple. Calories in is a factor, certainly. If it wasn’t, you’d see fat people among famine sufferers.

But how the body stores fat stands right between the two halves of the equation. That is a complicated, hormonally controlled process we’re only beginning to understand. Insulin is one of those hormones, but only one. Sex hormones are also among the messengers that carry out the regulation. The starkest example of fat storage gone crazy is rare genetic conditions where the body’s hormones that promote fat storage are so active, they don’t leave enough glucose circulating in the blood for metabolic needs. Everything goes into fat, there’s too little left over for the business of staying alive, and the person is literally starving while putting on weight.

A big contribution of Ebbeling’s and her colleagues’ research is demonstrating the subtle effect of fat storage regulation that’s within the normal range. And since hormones are part of that process, hormone disruption can be expected to have a huge effect on fat deposition.

Which brings me to the second big environmental factor: a whole group of chemicals. They’re called hormone disruptors and they come from some plastics, pesticides, hormonal medicines, and so on. Those break down into hormone analogues and get into the environment. As I said in an earlier post on the Obesity Epidemic, if hormones help regulate energy balance, and if we’ve flooded the environment with bad substitutes for hormones, is it any wonder that people are having trouble regulating energy balance?

So, you may be asking, what does it all mean? What are we supposed to do about it? I’ve said it before so I’ll just say it again:

Like all public health issues, nothing less than a population-level approach will work. Dysentery, cholera, and typhoid are never wiped out by drinking boiled water. They’re wiped out by building municipal sewers. Smallpox wasn’t eradicated by avoiding smallpox patients. It was eradicated by universal vaccination. The individual actions aren’t useless. They just don’t change the widespread causes of the widespread problem.

Modern health problems like cancer and obesity aren’t going to be wiped out by eating fresh vegetables. Eating veggies is good, but it doesn’t address the basic problem. That’s going to take nothing less than a change to clean sustainable industry.

It’s almost enough to make you wish a mere diet really was all that’s needed.