Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Sleazy Actor Slush Fund (Cohen's the sleazy actor, not the porn star)

Late to the party but that's not new. The issue is Trump's attorney Michael Cohen claiming he paid porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 out of his own pocket without being reimbursed by the Trump Organization or the Trump campaign. Kevin Drum says:

OK, here’s my guess: Cohen paid Stormy; Kushner paid Cohen; Ivanka paid Kushner; Don Jr. paid Ivanka; and Don Jr.’s end-of-year bonus from The Trump Organization was $130,000 higher than last year thanks to his outstanding performance. You don’t believe me? Fine. Come up with a better theory.
Kevin's theory is closer to reality than he thinks, because I think I may have seen this game before in California politics. The game is played by sleazy political consultants who want to keep up the win ratios for a client for purposes of getting future business, but can't bill the client for the sleazy thing they'd like to do. So they use money they earned previously, that was previously placed in an entirely separate slush fund, to do whatever's needed. Long after that matter is concluded and the campaign is over, they go back and refill the slush fund with their own personal profits.

In reality the client is being billed, ultimately - the sleazy actor is very expensive because he wins a lot, so he can afford to replenish the revolving slush fund from profits as a kind of cost of doing business that doesn't quite show up on the accounting books.

I'm not guaranteeing this is right. Maybe it's something else in Cohen's case, as people point out he doesn't rule out being paid directly by Trump. This technique seems like an obvious possibility though and one I've guessed at previously.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Matching Methane Combustion to Carbon Capture

An idle thought that probably has occurred to a lot of people.  There is a lot of talk about clean coal with carbon (dioxide) capture. There is a lot of discussion about a hydrogen economy driven by catalytic electrolysis of water.

2H2(g)+ O2(g)--> 2H2O(g)    ΔH = 2(-241) kJ/mol = -482 kJ/mol

Eli's idle mind thought about comparing this to natural gas combustion

CH4(g) + 2O2(g) --> 2H2O(g)  + CO2(g)   ΔH = -801 kJ/mol 

Now methane, or natural gas, whether it is in the gas form or liquefied is easier to handle than hydrogen, if for no other reason that it can be liquefied. What interested Eli in this simple calculation is that methane and hydrogen have the same number of hydrogen atoms.  Eli knows that this is a very Rabett way of thinking, but if you twist your mind that way it means that there are 319 kJ/mol available for carbon capture.  True you might have to invest some of that to sweep out the water vapor, but even there there are possibilities for recapturing the heat generated in the condensation step

 2H2O(g)  --> 2H2O(l)    ΔH = 2(-44) kJ/mol = -88 kJ/mol

The interesting chemical question is can a bunny find a carbon dioxide capture system which can simultaneously capture CO2 and absorb the water vapor into solution as a liquid.  Eli is a clever bunny, it's easy to be clever and find the answer when you figure out what the question is.  Amines are obviously not going to do the job, ionic fluids might and there are some systems already known which may point the way

Setting this up as a process means that natural gas can be combined with carbon capture to yield an emission free system that can easily be combined with wind, solar, hydro and yep, nuclear to provide inexpensive (a friend taught Eli never to use the word cheap) and reliable electrical energy.  There is lots of energy to be used for the carbon capture process.  Given the right chemical system, it might even work for trucks and buses.  Autos, well leave them to Toyota, Tesla and GM.

The future will be clean natural gas and renewables.

Monday, February 19, 2018


The latest massacre of innocents has stirred up a hitherto unseen anger. Thoughts and prayers were never enough, but Emma Gonzales put it in words

  • Nothing could have ever been done to prevent this                                     We call BS
  • Tougher gun laws do not decrease gun violence                                          We call BS
  • They say a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun                        We call BS
  • They say guns are just tools like knives that are as dangerous as cars,         We call BS
  • They say that no laws could have prevented the 100s of
    senseless tragedies that have occurred                                                            We call BS
  • That us kids don't know what we are talking about that we are too
    young to understand how the government works.                                            We call BS
Eli went to school in the 1950s when every month you practiced ducking and covering under your desk in case an atomic bomb dropped, where just about every building had an air raid shelter  sign pointing to the basement.  Everybody knew this was useless.  We had all seen pictures of Hiroshima after the bomb dropped.  It was BS but the fantasy of survivability supported a complex of  illusionists like Herman Kahn and the Rand Corporation who made their living. A generation of kids was scared of every day.

Today we have a generation of kids who have grown up practicing active shooter training.  They go to school every day wondering if it will be their last.  The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have endured this all their days

Let Eli close with a story from Twitter, of a parent's discovery.  There should not be a parent in American who is not having such moments.
My 5th grader and I were conversing on the way to work/school this morning. As an educator, I wanted to be sure he and his classmates were taking the school safety drills seriously and not using it as a time to socialize and goof off.

Me: Have you guys practiced a lockdown drill in class yet?

Dez: Are you talking about an active shooter drill?

Me: Yes

Dez: Yes, we practiced it

Me: So tell me what you are suppose to do.

Dez: The teacher is suppose to shut and lock the door, put the black paper over the window on the door. Then myself and three other boys are suppose to push the table against the door.

After that all the class is going to stand behind us on the back wall.

Me: The class is suppose to stand behind who?

Dez: Me and the other 3 boys. We stand at the front and they get behind us.

*I internally went from 0 to 100 real quick. My child is one of only 2 black children in a class of 23. Being transparent, I immediately went to the "why is my black son being put on the front line?" (Just being real) So I asked before I verbally stated my thoughts*

Me: Why did you get picked to stand in front of everyone else if a shooter came in your school?

Dez: I didn't get picked. I volunteered to push the table and protect my friends

Me: 😯*immediate nausea * Dez why would you volunteer to do that?

Dez: If it came down to it I would rather be the one that died protecting my friends then have an entire class die and I be the only one that lived

Father God, it took everything out of me not to breakdown. I still have a lump in my throat. Ten damn years old and this has to be our babies thought process in America.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Nothing New in the Pielkesphere

Well Gavin, Climate of, has had it with a certain political scientist, 

and And is naval gazing about how scientists should communicate, so memories stirred in Eli's Email list about science communication and Ethon's friend, so with the majic of search Eli found this letter which discussed how the National Assessments of Climate Change impacts came into being and the role of scientists as communicators.  
But Roger didn't like that either. It became evident that Roger's modus operandi, like his father's, is along the lines of "everyone but me is full of shit so stop thinking about what you think is significant and do my agenda instead."  
Bush-Cheney suppressed the National Assessment for the denial machine, because they could see the implications of allowing that discourse to flourish. But Roger has nothing to contribute on any such matters. He has failed so badly, and even harmfully, to see that the science community is not the problem on climate change (not to say that scientists couldn't benefit from knowing how to communicate better), it's much more importantly what happens on the receiving end of politics, media, and the public -- and how that connection has been mediated and manipulated by various interests.  
If it could be fixed by heroic efforts of scientists to communicate with civilians on climate change, it would be fixed already. I believe that a serious discussion of climate change as a policy problem calls for a progressive critical analysis of the political situation, not just beating up on the science community. For someone whose degree is in political science (my field of graduate study as well), Roger is just friggin clueless (to put it as kindly as I can) about how to think about and discuss the political aspect of things. That contributes to his remarkable, never-ending ability to miss the key point of whatever matter he is discussing and say something wrong-headed. If he gets into new subject matter the same problem will occur.  
 That only scratches the surface of the problem, I realize.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Another Sadly-Unpaid Endorsement: The Beyond Burger


(Someday maybe I can sell out for money, but right now I'm forced to endorse products based on quality alone....)

I have both (slightly unusual) ethical and (the usual) environmental reasons for thinking I should avoid meat, especially red meat. But I really like it. And I'm back on a low-carb diet which also narrows options.

I haven't yet tried the Impossible Burger that all the hip people are talking about. I have tried The Beyond Burger though (it's in our local Safeway) and it's darn good. It's not identical to burgers in taste and feel, but very close, and when grilled it gives you a very similar experience. I've never been satisfied with the various veggie burger alternatives, so if you're in the same camp, check it out. I don't think I'll every buy regular burger meat again for myself when I have this alternative.

Consumer Reports has a writeup here. Definitely a healthier alternative, except for the high sodium (a problem I see in a number of veggie alternative foods). Too bad they don't have a greenhouse gas emission comparison, but it's virtually certain that pea protein has far lower emissions than beef.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Reducing Textbook Expense (Rant II)

In Rant I.2018 Eli explained that the root cause of unaffordable textbooks is that they are ordered by faculty and paid for by students.  Teh textbook publishers know this and focus their attention on providing services for faculty not serving students needs.

Faculty have created a wide range of educational materials. Individuals, educational institutions, foundations and funding agencies have invested considerable time and resources to these projects. The INTERNET provides a global low cost distribution channel for educational materials but broad adoption of open on-line educational materials and software lags. While many STEM faculty can and have created educational materials, marketing of the materials to others for the most part requires a skill set and resources that they do not have, nor for open Online Educational Resources (OER) is it clear what the rewards are. There has been a strong effort to create educational materials, but there has been no systematic effort to disseminate them.

While science is a gift culture where those who contribute the most are the most highly valued, this is not true for those who create open educational materials, especially at research universities. A key to establishing high quality OERs will be extending this ethic to educational resources so the effort of all who participate is rewarded. Such sponsorship will be important not only at teaching oriented institutions but also in traditional research centered departments to create and maintain a broad range of OERs,

The study of science education needs to be discipline based and it needs to be housed in university science departments.  Research centered departments resist hiring tenure track faculty in discipline based educational research (DBER) but such faculty are increasing, if not at all the best places, at least at some places and some fields, with major conferences bringing practitioners together.  There are well established DBER journals in the geosciences, chemistry, physics, engineering and more.  Research on science education needs to be recognized as a major focus.

Faculty creating educational materials need support and rewards. Administrators should provide rewards for faculty, with increasing rewards as the OERs they create, and market are adopted nationally and globally. This will require measurable outcomes but can be as simple as crediting creation and marketing of first rate materials in annual evaluations and consideration for raises. For promising OERs, universities should consider hiring outside consultants and advertising experts. The contribution of a successful OOER to institutional reputation and recruiting can be significant.

Faculty seeking to disseminate materials needed to learn marketing skills that will influence adoption.  They need to bring in marketing and advertising folk from the business school to help with this and to learn from them.  This issue is obviously connected with the issue of climate or science communication in general.  Getting the public to pay attention to scientific results without involving marketing and advertising expertise is a category error.  Transforming scientists or content creators into communications experts to disseminate their ideas and materials is neither efficient nor likely successful.  Working with people whose skill IS marketing is much more likely to succeed.

 Moreover it is important for creators to work with the DBER folk to continually evaluate their materials and modify them to best meet student needs and business school colleague to identify and serve the market .

Finally, to compete with commercial publishers for the attention of faculty, an ecology of OERs is needed: texts, workbooks, videos, test banks, on line homework systems and more.  OER can be integrated both within a field, and linking together related fields.

Nye was right

To attend the State of the Union speech as a guest of the climate-denying Trump nominee to lead NASA, Jim Bridenstine. Obviously, it's controversial:

A science guy is heading to Capitol Hill to watch an anti-science president address the nation on Tuesday.

Bill Nye the "Science Guy" is going to watch President Donald Trump's State of the Union address in person, and of course, not everyone is happy about it.

More than 28,000 signatures have been added to a petition asking that Nye refuse to attend the State of the Union.

I'm sympathetic to the Climate Hawks campaign against attending, but I have to disagree. I don't see it as fundamentally different from Al Gore's sit-down with Trump - you should take an opportunity to make your case, even if the odds of success are low. It's also worth noting that Bridenstine is a young guy and likely to be around in politics for a while. Getting an idea into his consciousness now could pay a dividend sometime in the future.

And yes, Bridenstine is using Nye as a prop, but I don't think that's going to swing a single confirmation vote in the Senate. Beyond that, Nye has responsibilities as head of the Planetary Society:

But here's the thing about Bill Nye: While he's an outspoken advocate on issues like climate change and a harsh critic of Trump in that respect, he also needs get along with the White House. Nye is the CEO of the Planetary Society, an organization that advocates for space exploration.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that he needs to make nice with the administration that will effectively set space exploration policies for at least the next three years. If nothing else, getting a little face time with the administration could benefit the Planetary Society in the future. 

So yeah, purity takes a hit, but Nye has additional responsibilities beyond communicating about climate change. There are occasions when you have to draw the line - if Bridenstine were an overt Trump-level racist, say, - but I wouldn't do it in this case.

Beyond this, there's the interesting fact that the Republican War on Science has a truce, mostly, when it comes to planetary and space science. I haven't seen much discussion about this. With the inconclusive issue of attacking NASA earth science studies because Republicans can't handle the truth about climate change, the Republican Party has been comparable to and occasionally better than the Democrats on funding space science. Worth thinking more about whether this means anything.

Anyway, I expect I'm in the minority on agreeing with Nye's decision. (Personal bias note: I'm a space nut and member of the Planetary Society.)