Saturday, November 20, 2010

Global Warming, a Horse’s Ass, and the Preservation of Our Species

There’s a good piece of internet lore that makes the circle every few years. It’s the story of how the width of common railroad tracks came to be. The distance between the common rails (or gauge) is 4 feet 8-1/2 inches. Depending on which version of the story you read you get various details about British trams, wagon wheels, ruts, and Roman chariots. Finally, and the reason for these stories, is that everything is then reduced to the width of two horse butts. Whenever you can reduce anything to a horse’s ass there is a bit of comedy in it. Yes it’s funny and it might very well be true, but if this story is true, its implications are far greater than simply laughing at the legions of engineers who based their transportation designs for the past several millennia on the width of a horse’s ass. It would seem that the decisions were deliberate and therefore locked in time, rather than optimal and based on a comprehensive search of the available decision space, which indicates that an evolutionary algorithm is, or in this case is not, at work.

My thesis here is simple. If we as human’s, with our free will and ability to choose options, choose paths forward in the development of our technologies that lock us into certain standards, we may miss the powerful ability of evolution to keep us viable as a species. The ability to move, or migrate, has always been a fairly important trait of many species that has kept them alive. Legs allowed us migrate but trains allowed us to conquer the land masses. Yes we can swim and stay afloat, but boats allowed us to conquer the island nations. Many other species have used their ability to move about, and in some cases travel great distances, in order to survive. They physically adapt or die. Ours is the first species that because of our technology do not have to physically adapt in order to survive. Harnessing electricity tops the list. This is where global warming creeps in.

Freeman Dyson contends that we will adapt to changes in our environment with technology. If we really begin to destroy our environment, sooner or later, since we are smart innovators, we will invent the technology that saves us from ourselves. Not the least example of which has been our ability to invent the nuclear bomb but then not to use it to our own demise…at least not yet. We have been seeing the signs and hearing the warnings associated with the destruction of our planet for several decades now. So the innovation and technological need has been surfacing. We are forced to decide between paper or plastic, and now the reusable lead laced shopping bags made in China. The problem, if we choose to face it, is big…very big. This month’s Atlantic reports that to stabilize the carbon in our atmosphere the “entire world would have to reduce its per capita emissions to the level of Kenya.” That’s stepping back a few years. Certainly since before we harnessed electricity. And this is where decisions and the standards that we choose become so crucial to our survival.

In his book “Collapse”, Jared Diamond explains to us what happens to a civilization that has a tree based economy that happens to live on an island. What happens when all the trees are gone? When eco-systems are in balance the evidence of evolutionary adaptations are amazing…witness the foraging patterns of the army ant. Over a 20 day bivouac a colony of army ants systematically forages 360 degrees around their mobile colony in 14 raids, each raid separated by 123 degrees of separation before the next raid. This search algorithm naturally developed over millions of years of evolution. At the end of 20 days the entire colony picks up and moves. What if one of those ants felt tired and decided they didn’t want to move this month? Well we can speculate on how the colony handles dissidents and I can guarantee you their constitutional rights are not being protected. In an ant colony the “needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…or the one”, as Spock would say. The same is not true in our society. This whole business of standards in transportation has never been based on the needs of the many; it has always been based on the needs of the few. And that’s the problem. Transportation must serve the evolutionary needs of the species, not the commercial needs of those with intent to exploit the species the cheapest way possible. This is not an essay to describe all the various times in our transportation history that bad decisions were made that changed the direction of our country…but we continue to witness more of them every day. The point of this essay is to make clear that we might have unwittingly broke the evolutionary algorithm with regard to human transportation.

If we believe the internet lore that the standards that have emerged for rail transportation have locked us into a rut, no pun intended, we have a problem. The version of the story I read recently carried the 4 foot 8-1/2 inch standard even further. It seems distance between rails also restricted the final size of the solid rocket boosters (SRBs) for the space shuttle. As we so painfully know down here on the Space Coast, the shuttle program is over. Would larger SRBs on the space shuttle have saved the program? Hard to say…the cost to weight ratio would have been significantly improved with more initial boost…would this have allowed us to do more and to have demonstrated far more value to the Country with regard to our manned space program? I don’t know but the point here is evolution. If the restricted size of the SRBs can be traced to the design specifications for Roman Chariots we are broken as an evolutionary species.

If this is true then Freeman Dyson’s belief that we will be able to overcome our own environmental disasters through innovation and technology and that one day, if necessary, we will escape to other planets to preserve our species has suffered a serious set-back. We have created an island in space from which we cannot escape. And one day, when all the trees are gone, we will not be able to carve a wooden raft upon which we can float to the natural preserving resources of another island within our galactic chain.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Contrails, Missile Plumes, and the Birth of Conspiracies

It’s been a few days since a KCBS News Helicopter in Los Angeles caught the spectacular rising plume of a missile launch thirty-five miles off the OC coastline. Looking at a still photo of the column of smoke it’s hard to believe that the image is not exactly what we are told we are looking at...the exhaust plume of a very big missile launched off the California coast. If you read the reports what we have is primarily a series of self proclaimed experts weighing in on the video. In one sad case, KCBS dug up retired Ambassador Robert Ellsworth and showed him the video clip of the launch …not only did Ellsworth confirm the footage as the “spectacular” and “breath taking” launch of a “very large” missile he offered his expert testimony that it could have come from a submarine and that it could be an ICBM (Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile).

When you watch this news report not only does the station offer no explanation for the launch other than that of a missile they lend credence to the theory by showing a video clip of a real missile launch for the viewer to compare for themselves. If you even realize that the video clip of the real missile is not the same footage you might take the time to make this comparison and see the distinct differences. If you don’t, witness the birth of a conspiracy.

As the days go by and the official response from the Government does not adequately explain where the missile came from…the conspiracy grows. Since it’s already been ruled a missile launch anything less than a full disclosure confirming what we have already been told is a massive government cover-up. 48 hours later the Pentagon denied the event as a missile launch and explained that it was an aircraft contrail. That was too late.

Spectacular video and immediate expert testimony that gets picked up and reported by the news service is a strong medium for the message. I’ve looked at the video over and over again and I agree it’s pretty amazing. It’s hard not to believe the story unfolding before my eyes as true. So we wait patiently for the government to tell us it’s a Navy missile test gone awry or another Country is putting us on warning, or the best yet…another quip coming from Ambassador Ellsworth, the US is conducting a show of force pointed at Asia (at this point Ellsworth’s reliability as a witness get’s called into serious question). We are seeking explanations for that which we know to be true, a missile launch. Not explanations for that which might be deceiving our eyes…that something other than a missile launch caused this phenomenon.

When I studied the JFK assassination a number of years ago I became interested in conspiracy theory and what it takes for a conspiracy theory to really take root in the psyche of a population. It’s actually fairly simple. If the magnitude of the underlying cause of the occurrence is out of balance with the magnitude of what has actually occurred, conspiracy theories spring forth to fill the gap. It’s that simple. JFK was the President of the United States, well loved by many he represented a great future, “Ask not what your Country can do for you, ask what you can do for your Country”, and all the symbolic rhetoric. Balance that with the actions of a lone gunman. A single deranged individual who changed the course of the world history. It can’t be that simple. It’s totally out of balance. But it actually is that simple. The same thing holds true with the conspiracies surrounding 9/11. The magnitude of that one cannot be balanced out even with the colossal evil that is Al Qaida bursting into the public awareness.

Now we have the pretty simple and extremely common occurrence of a jet aircraft generating a vapor contrail at cruise altitude while being viewed head-on against the bright pallet of a California sunset. The contrail is so spectacular in appearance but from such a marginal a source, water vapor, we have a mental disconnect. Further, the image it paints is so similar to a missile launch it appears Southern California must be under attack. That presents an even greater disconnect. Known experts weighed in early, John Pike, always looking for quick paycheck tried to dispel the growing myth early on, but slanted his opinion with his typical shot at the Federal Government’s inability to respond with the truth early enough. (This is another topic altogether but I’m not sure which Federal agency he thinks is responsible for responding to vapor trails – it’s not NORAD, it’s not NASA nor is it the Navy or the USAF at Vandenberg, AFB. No one seems to have asked the Federal Aviation Administration).

The next day a web site known as did a pretty rigorous debunking of the missile launch theory with a lot of technical detail and evidence of another contrail that looked very similar to a missile plume that happened last December. It’s a very common occurrence. Yet the missile theory continued to grow along with the conspiracies and the wishful thinking that we are once again witness to a large Government cover-up. Let’s pin this one on Obama is perhaps the unconscious theme.

Perhaps the balance is upset by an incessant search for the guilty as if someone is to blame for acts of nature and their inability or unwillingness to respond quickly enough to quell our anxieties. George W. Bush, in his new memoir, Decision Points, regrets the photo of himself taken on Air Force One looking out over the New Orleans flooding in the wake of Katrina with what has been interpreted as an unconcerned and detached expression on his face. We have to believe that although he might have been slow to react, the expression on his face could not possibly have been detachment, yet that’s what we are told and or lead to believe. Another conspiracy is born.

In an earlier post, March 2009, I provided a “spectacular” eyewitness testimony of a space shuttle launch at sunset, about the power of God and the power of man. I posted about the launch of STS 119. In this post I describe what a column of rocket smoke looks like as it billows skyward in a vertical column changing colors as it climbs higher and higher into the atmosphere. The same powers of God that paint the unbelievable pallet of pink and orange hues of a California sunset reveal that which separates the horizontal from the vertical. An actual missile would have burst into the white light of the California sunset as it rejoined with the sun on its vertical flight skyward. The same thing happens at sun rise (see photo). This did not happen…nor would it happen with an aircraft traveling west to east in level horizontal flight. The plume remained orange until the contrail ceased to be produced (according to when UPS Flight 902 entered the drier air mass of the coastline).

Nevertheless the extreme optical illusion presented to us by nature demonstrates that the power of God’s hand trumps the imaginative and perceptive powers of the human mind, every time.  The reporter who captured the spectacular images should not be held responsible for shooting the footage rather the media should continue to remember that they are in possession of a powerful medium, too, but never all the facts. Their cameras are certainly not the watch dog for missile launches. Our Country has spent billions of dollars on knowing when and where a missile launch occurs anywhere in the world.

When NORAD reports that there is no threat or danger, if that message doesn’t get out far and wide, I’m not sure the purpose of a news media anymore. If stirring up conspiracies is their main focus they have ceased to be of any value to the public. They might as well be reporting on crop circles…and of course vapor trails.