A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Monday, October 12, 2015

TOF is Bugged

Well, not literally; but there was a recent news item that buried the lead. It regarded a software modification on VW diesels that enabled the cars to maintain fuel efficiency while at the same time meeting the letter of the law on the particulates and NOx tests. Now they will be forced to reduce fuel efficiency permanently, spew additional tons of pollutants into the environment, and impose billions in higher costs on VW diesel owners, all in the name of reducing emissions (particulates) that have never been shown to cause a death.

Of course, there have been simulated deaths predicted by Models, but even they do not approach the annual death toll from giant meteor impacts.
Suppose a "dinosaur killer" has one chance in 70 million of striking, and suppose it wipes out all or nearly all dinosaurs, including people as well as bureaucrats and professors with tenure. Estimate the death toll at six billion. That's 85.7 deaths per year. You can't argue with Science!™
That's more or less how they get the "death" toll from particulates. Let's apply that thinking laterally.

Suppose VW were to comply wholeheartedly with the spirit of the edict rather than with the actual law (which, recognizing the variability introduced by usage, requires compliance only at the time of testing).
[S]uppose the net effect of the rule if applied would be to decrease the mileage ... from a claimed 68.75 MPG to a real 55 MPG -- in part because the engine burns fuel less efficiently and in in part because it has to run at a higher RPM to produce comparable power. Now assume 400,000 VW diesels averaging 20,000 miles a year over eight years, and you get the guess that the EPA wanted to force VW customers to buy and burn an additional 230 million gallons of fuel over the period. Figure an average $3 and 23 pounds of exhaust per gallon, and this rule shows as a $698 million dollar differential tax burden on VW owners -- and 5.3 billion pound assault on the environment. -- American Thinker
TOF does not believe the SWAG of 23 lbs exhaust per gallon, inasmuch as a gallon of diesel weights only 7.5 pounds at room temp. We suspect the author intended 2.3 pounds, which reduces the total burden to a mere half-billion pound assault.

Yet we repeatedly see news items like this: "the world’s largest [sic] automaker had systematically cheated on U.S. emissions tests to make its diesel engines appear more eco-friendly than they really are." In the trade-off between fuel efficiency and particulate emissions, which is the better option? One might say that by sacrificing gas mileage for particulates, the EPA test is designed to make diesel engines appear more eco-friendly than they really are, since what they gain on the shy, they lose on the roundabout. (Also, VW is listed as third-largest, after Toyota and GM, which Astute Reader will note, have previously been sent to the woodshed by the US government. Interesting. Hyundai better watch out. They're next.)

And how do the $18 billions in fines [a quarter of VW's corporate value] imposed for theoretical deaths compare to the $0.9 billions fine imposed on GM for a switch defect that actually caused over a hundred real deaths? Is violating the spirit of an EPA reg really 20 times worse than killing people?

None of the stories TOF has seen have told us the actual difference in particulate levels between the fuel-efficient and EPA-compliant engines. Quantity matters, at least in the real world; and when quantities are never mentioned, despite the public's Right to Know™, it is generally a sign that they are negligible.

However, the headlines have been garnered, Emmanuel Goldstein has been ritually hated, and we move on. Perhaps we ought to keep an eye on who buys up the VW stock now that it has been depressed to half its value. They stand to make a great deal once it rebounds.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Quote of the Day

Such utter self-assurance produces the irony-deafness of those who identify themselves with the slogan: "I get my news from Comedy Central and my comedy from Fox News." ... Of course, none of this is news — even Fox news. Nor do I mean to suggest that there is any shortage of offensive cocksureness on the right — not least among the supporters of Mr Trump. But then that’s really the point. Donald Trump is the product of the Jon Stewarts and the Garry Trudeaux, who dominate the media culture, and their mirror image. He speaks to an audience accustomed to their contempt, and he answers it, to their applause, with contempt of his own, joining, too, in their cheerful willingness to write off anyone who doesn’t share it.
-- John Bowman, "Sixteen no-Trump", The New Criterion September 30, 2015.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

TOF and the Ambo

The ambo at St. Jane
Today marked TOF's return as Lector. For a number of years, he was a lector at St. Joseph's church and then, after its dissolution and incorporation with St. Bernard's and St. Michael's, at Our Lady of Mercy. But then he was felled sick enough that, as one of the doctors put it, he was "this close to being on the wrong side of the grass." Faithful reader may imagine that "this close" referred to the thumb and forefinger held together like a micrometer, and not to the arms widespread by a fathom. After that, the leg pain from a pinched sciatic nerve seemed almost a blessing.

Later, when the old church building was closed and TOF's father went back to his childhood parish, TOF joined the Incomparable Marge at St. Jane de Chantal out in the wilds of Palmer Township.

Note the steps to climb
As tall as the steps to the ambo?
But as a result of his sciatica, TOF could barely hobble along, and the steps leading up to the altar at St. Jane's seemed in his eyes as improbable of climbing as the steps ascending to the shrine at Knock or perhaps the Bullman St. Stairs in P'burg. It just wasn't gonna happen.

However, nowadays TOF can walk unaided with little trouble and, having gone through the training program (held once a year), he was "installed" as a Lector and has now appeared on the Schedule in time to read just this morning, when he had the chance to regale folks with the story of Adam and his rib. Many people regard the story as a kind of failed biology lesson, as if the original compiler of the tale or the church that adopted the story gave a rat's patoot about biology! 

What some people fail to appreciate is how danged funny the story is. A fit companion, is it? How about the cattle? Hmmm, no. Birds of the air? Don't think so. Hey, what about a wild animal? Ah, no. TOF is convinced that properly told, this story should have the children laughing and the young men and women grinning, for they must know that when their beloved "fit companion" is absent they feel something missing under their heart; and if it is not the physical absence of a material rib, they story gets the point across.

However, TOF is grievously disappointed that he did not read last week from the epistle of James:
Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries.
Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten,
your gold and silver have corroded,
and that corrosion will be a testimony against you;
it will devour your flesh like a fire.
You have stored up treasure for the last days.
Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers
who harvested your fields are crying aloud;
and the cries of the harvesters
have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.
You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure;
you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter.
You have condemned;
you have murdered the righteous one;
he offers you no resistance.
Some of you will remember that this "day of slaughter" passage was a favorite of "Brother Angelus" during the Armleder peasant revolt mentioned in Eifelheim. And it actually was a favorite passage of the revolutionaries of that time.

Just in case anyone thinks Pope Francis was the first to point out the sin of greed.

Friday, October 2, 2015

We're Running Out!!

Los Angeles oil fields, 1935
 Courtesy of Paleofuture, a roster of Peak Oil predictions:

1909: until 1934-39
"Petroleum has been used for less than 50 years, and it is estimated that the supply will last about 25 or 30 years longer. If production is curtailed and waste stopped it may last till the end of the century. The most important effects of its disappearance will be in the lack of illuminants. Animal and vegetable oils will not begin to supply its place. This being the case, the reckless exploitation of oil fields and the consumption of oil for fuel should be checked."
— July 19, 1909 Titusville Herald (Titusville, PA)

1919: until 1921-1924
"In meeting the world's needs, however, the oil from the United States will continue to occupy a less and less dominant position, because within the next two to five years the oil fields of this country will reach their maximum production and from that on we will face an ever increasing decline."
— October 23, 1919 Oil and Gas News

1937: Gone in 15 years (1952)
Capt. H. A. Stuart, director of the naval petroleum reserves, told the Senate Naval Affairs Committee today the oil supply of this country will last only about 15 years.

"We have been making estimates for the last 15 years,' Stuart said. 'We always underestimate because of the possibility of discovering new oil fields. The best information is that the present supply will last only 15 years. That is a conservative estimate.'"
— March 9, 1937 Brooklyn Daily Eagle

1943: Peak oil has been reached
"There is a growing opinion that the United States has reached its peak oil production, the Oil and Gas Journal pointed out in its current issue. Since 1938, discoveries of new oil have not equaled withdrawals, in any single year, although there is a very good chance that 1943 will see enough new Ellenburger oil in West Texas to provide an excess."
— June 7, 1943 Bradford Evening Star (Bradford, PA)

1945: Just thirteen years left (1958)
"Faced with the threat that our nation's petroleum reserves may last only thirteen years, geologists are striving to tap the almost limitless supply of oil located beneath the seas off our coastline. The first attempt to get oil from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean was begun this month near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes revealed that the scientists are making progress in their efforts to reach the underwater oil."
— December 10, 1945 Times Recorder (Zanesville, Ohio)

1956: Ten to fifteen years until peak oil (1966-1971)
"M. King Hubbert of the Shell Development Co. predicted [one year ago] that peak oil production would be reached in the next 10 to 15 years and after that would gradually decline."
— March 9, 1957 Corpus Christi Times (Corpus Christi, TX)

1966: Gone in ten years (1976)
"A geologist stuck a figurative dipstick into the United States' oil supplies Tuesday and estimated that the country may be dry in 10 years."
— August 3, 1966 Brandon Sun (Brandon, Manitoba)

1972: U.S. oil depleted in twenty years (1992)
"At any rate, U.S. oil supplies will last only 20 years. Foreign supplies will last 40 or 50 years, but are increasingly dependent upon world politics."
— May 1972 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

1977: Oil will peak by the early 90s
"As a nation, Americans have been reluctant to accept the prospect of physical shortages. We must recognize that world oil production will likely peak in the early 1990's, and from that point on will be on a declining curve. By the early part of the 21st century, we must face the prospect of running out of oil and natural gas."
— 1977 US Department of Energy Organization Act

1980: In the year 2000
"Stressing the need for conservation, [physicist Dr. Hans] Bethe said the world will reach its peak oil production before the year 2000. Production of oil worldwide will then drop to zero over about 20 years, he said. Rigorous conservation could stretch the world's oil supply to the year 2050, he said.
— October 17, 1980 Syracuse Post Standard (Syracuse, NY)

1996: Peak oil likely by 2020
"Unfortunately, oil production will likely peak by 2020 and start declining. Without a change, developing countries will ultimately be left in the dark, and developed countries will struggle to keep the lights on. Conflict is inevitable. My guess is that this won't become a big issue unless there is a thalidomide event. We will have to see in the rear-view mirror that we are past the peak in worldwide oil production."
— Richard Smalley, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, 1996

2002: Global peak by the year 2010
"Global supplies of crude oil will peak as early as 2010 and then start to decline, ushering in an era of soaring energy prices and economic upheaval — or so said an international group of petroleum specialists meeting Friday."
— May 25, 2002 Index Journal (Greenwood, SC)

2007: Sometime between now and 2040
Most studies estimate that oil production will peak sometime between now and 2040. This range of estimates is wide because the timing of the peak depends on multiple, uncertain factors that will help determine how quickly the oil remaining in the ground is used, including the amount of oil still in the ground; how much of that oil can ultimately be produced given technological, cost, and environmental challenges as well as potentially unfavorable political and investment conditions in some countries where oil is located; and future global demand for oil.
— February 2007 GAO Report

So buckle up sports fans. The oil is gonna run out Real Soon Now. Unless it already did and we're living in the Matrix.

Yet each time one of these predictions comes along, we still take it seriously.

Balticon 50: Bring 'Em Back!

For its 50th anniversary, Balticon is trying to bring back all her previous guests of honor, one tenth of one being TOF himself. (He was one of the "Ten Previous Compton Crook Award Winners" who were GoHed at Balticon26:

In aid of this, Balticon is raising funds to pay the hotel rooms of these Special Guests. Please help fund TOF! Donate to the BOOSTER CAMPAIGN! Get Kool Swag!

 Give early and give often. What more Star-Studded cast can you ask for than those noted above (who are the past guests who have already expressed their willingness). Even the presence of TOF does not detract from its lustre.

Gene Wolfe and Jodi Lynn Nye already have their hotel cost covered. TOF travels cheap and needs no subsidy for that, but Don't let TOF go homeless!
Gimme Shelter!