Thursday, June 26, 2014

Dry Paint

The next few weeks will be an exciting time for the melting of ice. Ice melting, second only to the drying of paint, is a popular metaphor for the ironies of unbridled joy, and by unbridled I mean wildly pervasive, and by joy I mean tedium. Still, July is the month, in the Northern hemisphere at least, when ice does melt rapidly. And of all the great places to watch ice melt in the Northern hemisphere none is more compelling than the Arctic sea.

Sometime, in the next few weeks, there is the possibility of a major arctic sea ice melting event which could make 2014 a record-breaking year. Already large pockets of open ocean called polynyas have started to form within the ice-covered arctic sea.



The truth about Arctic sea ice coverage is not exactly what I generally picture in my mind. An area is said to be covered in Arctic sea ice if it is at least 15% ice covered. This means that much of the area covered by arctic sea ice could be as much as 85% open water, with just chunks floating around. In other words a really big storm could appear to be a major melting event by pushing all the sea ice from one part of the ocean to another.

Whatever the major melting event actually is there has been one in the June-July time frame for most of the record-breaking years. The major melt event for the 2012 all-time record occurred earlier in June, but the one for the 2007 record that stood until 2012 occurred later in July. Any day now! Isn’t it exciting!

The Arctic ice is currently tracking at slightly less than the 2007 year trace, and parallel to, but significantly higher than, the 2012 trace.

In March I predicted the maximum sea ice extent about a week before it happened. There was a rapid expansion event that took 2014’s maximum out of the running for a record low. I caution anyone from mistaking any of my guesses for predictions with any discernible intrinsic certainty.

In the Antarctic the amount of sea ice is increasing rapidly. Antarctic sea ice is very different from Arctic sea ice. The Antarctic data are not as pretty as their Arctic cousins. First of all, the sea ice almost completely melts off in the summer. Secondly, its rapid increase may not be a good thing.

In the Antarctic we want the ice to stay on land; by “want” I mean that melting the land ice in the Antarctic could raise the level of the oceans by many feet causing major breakdowns in social structure, wars, pestilence, biblical-level-mad-god plagues, and other “do not want” stuff. If it is in the water it could mean that it has come off the land.

A recent study suggested that some of the major Antarctic glaciers were oozing off the land into the sea at incredible rates. This is not good. To image the movement of glaciers into the Antarctic seas I picture squeezing toothpaste into water. The toothpaste eventually disperses into the water, and the level of the water rises in proportion to the amount of toothpaste squeezed into it. This, however, is an unsatisfactory metaphor as realizing it physically will result in additional dishes, and wasted toothpaste. Only a very foolish person would try it in a bathtub as it makes a significant mess, and one has to waste lots of toothpaste to get the water to rise at all; although if the tub water is really warm and soapy the toothpaste disperses quickly.

Not only does ice melt quicker in July, but paint also dies quicker. Here in the Utah high desert a freshly painted wall can go from glossy-wet to matt in minutes. I’ve got a project planned that involves knocking holes in walls and power tools. After I am almost done I will repaint, call AYD and AOD into the room with me, and I will explain that the drying paint we are watching is a metaphor for an ecological disaster destroying the fabric of humankind’s culture on this planet. Choosing one’s metaphors carefully can save a lot of scrubbing.

“Out, damn'd spot! out, I say!—One; two: why, then 'tis time to do't.—Hell is murky.—Fie, my lord, fie, a soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our pow'r to accompt?” -Macbeth Act 5, scene 1




Thursday, June 19, 2014

The beepocalypse will NOT be televised

Every single day, usually a half-dozen times a day, some social media informs me that the beepocalypse is nigh. It isn’t.

It would be incorrect to state that there are not real problems –big political and biological problems- with commercial beekeeping. There have been problems for some time, and there are some new problems. The problems which social media tells me are going to cause the beepocalypse are very specific. There is one class of chemical insecticide, and sometimes GMOs. The beepocalypse will be catastrophic because between 75% and 90% of all human food is the result of honeybee pollination.

The warnings of the beepocalypse are a blend of truth, and hyperbole, and misinformation. I often get sidetracked when discussing it as I believe there are problems that can be addressed, and I reflexively believe that it is always better to point out a solution than a problem. In this post I am just going to ignore my reactionary personality and just point out a couple problems with the idea of a beepocalypse:

  1. There is no imminent beepocalypse
  2. Focusing on eliminating neonicotinoids threatens to harm agricultural workers.

The reason I say there is no imminent beepocalypse is that there has been no reduction in registered hives in the US. The numbers of bees have to drop below some critical level for there to be a beepocalypse , and the bees are simply not dying off. The number of managed hives has even increased slightly. Honey production in the US, which is a crude measure of overall hive health, is up 5% this last year, with the average yield per hive increasing by 1%.

Statistics compiled by the Australian Government Department of Agriculture.
Downloaded from http://www.daff.gov.au/__data/assets/image/0011/1942481/graph1.gif on 19 May 2014


Despite the fact that there are lots of happy honey-producing hives there are an alarming amount of bees dying. However, there are fewer dying than there were a couple years ago. The overwinter death rate (OWDR), which represents the largest loss of hive statistic, is two thirds of its eight-year average. Still, the OWDR is over 20%, and that is too high.

Summary of the total overwinter colony loss (October 1 – April 1) of managed honey bee colonies in the US across the 8 annual national surveys (red bars). The acceptable range (blue bars) is the average percentage of acceptable loss declared by the survey participants in each of the 8 years of the survey. Downloaded from http://beeinformed.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/ColonyLossWinterup2014-v2.png on 19 May 2014


A 20% (one in five) annual death rate sounds catastrophic, and if bees reproduced like humans it would be. Of course if humans reproduced like bees then a child entering kindergarten could have over 50 kids, more than 1,000 grandkids, more than 20,000 great grandkids, more than 300,000 great-great grandkids, and more than 2,400,000 great-great-great grandkids. There are only about 2,500,000 commercial honey bee colonies in the US. Of course honeybee queens usually die by age 4 so they would not make it to kindergarten, and honeybee hives are usually not induced to create the maximum number of queens, but you get the idea.

At this point you may be asking: “What about those real problems you mentioned?” There are real problems. The greatest of which appears to be weakening of hives by Varroa mite infestation. Nosema infection is another. There are a handful of viruses that are causing issues. Air pollution is a big problem in some areas. Insecticide exposure can be a big problem as insecticides are chemicals designed to kill insects, and bees are insects. The one problem that captures most headlines is Colony Collapse Disorder.

In 2006-2007 a new problem was documented in hives. Some hives experienced rapid (less than two weeks) loss of workers; leaving the hive empty except for ample honey stores, and even a queen with drones. This was a bizarre event, and was named Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Groups and commissions were formed to study this phenomenon. If CCD spread it would be catastrophic. Fortunately CCD did not spread. The discovery of CCD was not followed by an overall decrease in viable commercial hives in the US, and the numbers of CCD hive losses has decreased in recent years. Unfortunately “CCD” sounds dramatic, and it has become synonymous with all causes of honeybee colony death.

The oversubscription of the term CCD is not exclusively due to the scientific illiteracy of journalists. Even respectable apiologists (bee scientists) confuse the term to create hyperbole. Alex Lu and collegues at Harvard recently published a widely quoted paper linking neonicotinoids to CCD-like behavior. The introduction to the paper states: “The persistence of CCD worldwide was highlighted in a recent United Nations report (UN News Center, 2011), which calls for changes in honey bee colony management in order to save this important insect.” A search of the “UN News Center, 2011” article they link to in their bibliography turns up no mention of CCD, although it does present a host of problems impacting bees worldwide. The actual UNEP report the article summarizes does talk a little about CCD; stating that :"CCD only accounts for about 7% of losses in the USA [2008-2009] and even less in Europe."

One of the most used neonicotinoid insecticides is called Imidacloprid. It is the chemical used by Alex and his colleges in the Harvard study. It is a moderately toxic chemical, and as little as 21 grams might kill a 70 kilogram human if they drank it pure. One of the non-neonicotinoid insecticides that has been used in huge quantities worldwide is called parathione. If a 70 kilogram human got a little over a tenth of a gram (0.14 grams) of parathione on their food they would have the same chance of dying. That is just a drop. Many agricultural workers who were used to working with the much less toxic DDT were poisoned when it was replaced –because of concerns about how DDT affected the environment- with parathione.

Because parathione is so toxic there has been some successful efforts to replace it with less toxic materials. Monocrotophos is almost 10 times less toxic than the parathione it replaces. Just last summer 25 school kids in India died when their lunch was contaminated with small amounts of monocrotophos. Un-noticeable amounts of these organophosphate insecticides in food can cause severe poisoning and death.

Banning of neonicotinoid pesticides will likely result in replacing of them with much more toxic chemicals. This will put agricultural workers, and their families, at risk. Who are these agricultural workers in the US?

The 2001-2002 National Agricultural Workers Survey conducted by the US department of labor talls us a little about who these people are that would be put at risk in the hopes that bee mortality would be decreased. 83% of them identify as Hispanic. 87% of them did not finish high school. The wages and career prospects of agricultural workers are shockingly low. In other words the term “Agricultural Worker” is essentially synonymous with a racial/class group that is regularly subjected to racist attacks by the privileged minorities more prevalent in social media.

What does it say that the remote possibility of decreasing some bee deaths is worth more than an agricultural worker’s life? Do you really want to be telling another person that they are of less importance to you than an insect?




Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Apostasy Roast

Lately the word “Apostasy” has been all over the news, and the talking heads say it with disdain; as if “Apostasy” was a bad thing.

Not surprisingly the LDS-church apostasy all over the recent news is not the big story about apostasy from the LDS church. The big story is just too big for the news to cover.

a•pos•ta•sy
əˈpästəsē/
noun
noun: apostasy; plural noun: apostasies
1. the abandonment or renunciation of a religious or political belief.

Based on the dictionary definition apostasy should be something easy to do. Just stop going to church, then think about other –more interesting- things, and then (and this step should be optional) realize that that old dusty belief structure was hauled off with the trash. This abandonment route is the road Marco Rubio took "out" of the LDS church. A road is a good metaphor here; one starts walking out of town, and eventually you pass the city limits even if you do not notice the sign. It is so easy and comfortable to just give up on an awkward belief system that many people don’t recognize they have left till they arrive someplace else.

In some churches, like the LDS church, the most popular form of apostasy is to have never been a member at all. The vast majority of LDS church members exist outside of the United States. One can compare census data for countries that include religious affiliation on their census with what the church provides as membership numbers. Latin American countries typically have around a quarter the number of self identifying Mormons as are counted by the church offices. This means that as many as 75% of the Mormons in Latin America have committed Apostasy simply by actively identifying themselves as not being Mormon.

Most Mormon apostates find apostasy somewhat contrived and bureaucratic. Lately a few dozen former Mormons made a show of their apostasy by marching around temple square with letters of resignation, which they then respectfully mailed, and which the LDS church could have refused. Recently these apostates have been receiving official acknowledgment of their apostasy. I have not heard of anyone actually being refused their apostasy, but the mechanism is there should the LDS church decide to stop letting members officially leave.

The LDS church is concerned about apostasy. Starting in 2012 they have been addressing the issue head on. The effort appears to be spearheaded by a General Authority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints by the name of Marlin Keith Jensen. He called for "a strategy to get church history onto the Web,". Specifically Marlin wanted an official response to what Mormon scholar Terry Givens described as a "discrepancy between a church history that has been selectively rendered through the Church Education System and Sunday school manuals, and a less-flattering version universally accessible on the Internet”.

"Maybe since Kirtland, we never have had a period of, I'll call it apostasy, like we're having right now." -- Marlin Keith Jensen (General Authority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) 3 January 2012

The LDS church has a two-tiered (at least) system for Mormons. There are “members” and “temple recommend holders” (which I sometimes call real Mormons). Each temple recommend is a serial-numbered bar-coded identification card whose unique number is in a database which can be simultaneously retrieved from the computerized verification stations at the entrance to every LDS temple. During a pre-consecration tour of a temple I was personally shown the desk where the holiest of computers would be installed, and given a brief description of what they would be used for.

The LDS church has very accurate and specific statistical and demographic data concerning real Mormons, but it instead only releases the loose membership numbers for public consumption. Based on some surveys and numbers of temple marriages it may be that only 45% of self-identifying Mormons in the most devoutly Mormon areas are real Mormons, and only 2% of self-identifying Mormons in areas outside of the USA are real Mormons. Since, in some areas outside of the USA only 25% of LDS church identified Mormons self-identify as Mormons, this would mean that in some areas 99.5% of the LDS church identified Mormons could be apostates.

My calculations are based on available numbers. My definition of apostasy is a somewhat rigid interpretation of the dictionary definition. It is likely that manipulation of the definition coupled with re-interpretation of the available numbers would yield slightly different results. Any apologist worth their salt could point out the weakness in my information. The only rock-solid interpretations that might be possible rely on the LDS church releasing temple recommend data. So even the most true believing LDS apologist will not counter with a position that is significantly stronger.

One of the problems most apologists have with understanding apostasy is that they see it as a bad thing. Apostasy leads to discipline; the worst form of which is excommunication. It surprises me each time I think about it; excommunication is seen as a horrible discipline by a church that both vigorously cooks the books in order to make it appear to have a large number of members, and makes it difficult to actually leave. One can not tithe, not go to church, and even state that they are not a Mormon, but they still won’t be officially recognized as abandoning the LDS church.

What is official apostasy? There are two instances that are making the news.

The most popular new apostate is a woman by the name of Kate Kelly who is a leader in the “Ordain Women” group. To people who are not familiar with the LDS church the notion of ordaining women as priests might sound a bit modern. Males (most do) receive their priesthood when they are 12 years old. Picture a 7th grade classroom; do you see a room full of priests? Now, still picturing the room of 7th graders, imagine why the little girls should not be priests. Don’t try too hard to reason out why having 7th grade girl priests is more damaging than the idea of having 7th grade priests of any type as thinking too hard about it can get icky.[The priesthood in the LDS church has several divisions, Baptism at age 8, Aaronic, or preparatory priesthood at age 12, and Melchizedek priesthood at age 18]

The other newly famous apostate is a blogger by the name of John Dehlin. John has been addressing the actual apostasy issue on his “Mormon Stories” blog. I think John is an apologist. I bet John thinks of himself as an apologist. He has presented reasons why Mormons should remain Mormon despite the LDS church history. He has also provided modern moral synthesis for LGBT issues, and is generally concerned with people staying members of the LDS church.

They have already revoked John’s temple recommend, so he is not a real Mormon anymore. Next week it is likely that he and Kelly will be excommunicated. For the sake of their families, and their personal pride, I hope they do get excommunicated. It sounds so much more exciting than “I mailed a letter”.

However, I do hope they take their excommunication in a more positive way than Lavina Fielding Anderson. She was excommunicated in September of 1993 with a group of Mormon intellectuals who have been dubbed “The September Six”. Lavina wrote about ecclesiastical abuse at a time before such a term would sound lake soft-pedaling sexual abuse by priests [Lavina Fielding Anderson, “The LDS Intellectual Community and Church Leadership: A Contemporary Chronology,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (Spring 1993): 7-64.]. The concept of ecclesiastical abuse, as Lavina envisioned it, is rather convoluted. The way Lavina handled her excommunication is rather convoluted as well. Lavina never stopped going to her LDS church. She still insists she believes. She does not have an active temple recommend, and she may not be able to get into the good heaven all the 7th-grade boys will get into, but she has been an active participant in the LDS church for the 20 years since they kicked her out.

I hope Kate and John can revamp their testimony after the Mormons kick them out. It will be much more inspirational, at least to their kids, to have a testimony about coming to understand the world as a rationalist and a skeptic; a testimony that begins: “I believed as hard as I could, but it was still wrong, so the Church kicked me out. Only then did I give myself the opportunity to stop believing, and I discovered Love, and Beauty, and the person I always wanted to be.”.

Even if they do not excommunicate you I want to personally welcome you, Kate and John, to the Dark Roast Side.  Bring Lavina if she is not too busy.



Thursday, June 12, 2014

Htrae

The planet Htrae is a cube shaped world where coal is used for money, and words are spelled wrong. Created on what must have been a slow day Htrae is a silver-age Superman opposite world. The jokes from Htrae (also called Bizzaro world) get old as fast as trying to get around with one’s pants on backwards gets old, but the typical silver-age comic book was only a couple dozen pages long so the jokes were only getting stale by the time the book was finished.

At some point the irony that covers the modern libertarian movement like candy sprinkles goes full bizzaro world. “Religious Liberty” has become code for “power to oppress people on religious grounds”. “Defending Marriage” has become “Preventing Marriage”. “Defending the Second Amendment” has become “Providing good reasons for enhanced gun control legislation”. “Patriotism” has become “Terrorism”. The list is long. We are going full-fascist bizzaro.

This weekend’s shooting spree in Nevada is getting scarier every day. Apparently the male shooter was, just a couple months ago, blocking traffic on I-15 while openly displaying a firearm. The display of firearms in a confrontational situation is an implied threat of violence. This is not the complete opposite of a non-violent demonstration, but it is not really a peaceful demonstration at all. This weekend the Millers took their creative nonviolence full-fascist bizzaro, and began shooting people to death.

On a Venn diagram of topics I’ve covered in this blog the Millers would fall on one of the tiny polygons of multiple overlap. She identified with Hobby Lobby, and he with Cliven Bundy. They both were white supremacists. They thought that owning a tool for killing gave them special freedoms. Each time I read about them the confused patchwork of their apparent mindset picks up yet another thread from my blog. It is as if they were avid followers of a bizzaro version of my blog.

I used to like the idea of Htrae. I used to say that my misspellings were just the Htrae version of the word I meant. Before the advent of spell-checking software I said this a lot.

The word “Htrae” is surprisingly hard to pronounce.

I have begun to flinch at mundane instances of bizzaro world events. Even those that are not full-fascist bizzaro are disturbing. I know relatively sane and surprisingly intelligent people who listen to Alex Jones or Glenn Beck; saying “Not everything they say is way off base”. I want to say “Why isn’t the way off base stuff enough to cut power to their transmission? “

In the instant before I can condemn these teabagger reactionaries I call friends I picture myself reading some article from Mother Jones or the Huffington Post. I readily read through some articles; dismissing some parts as spin, and accepting others as partial facts. Maybe I support going part Htrae on the news as long as it is in the right direction?