Sunday, January 25, 2015

Back to the Permian (Or: Some Like It Hot)

Only the most idiotic and hatefully prejudiced members of the human population of the globe can be in denial of global warming caused by greenhouse gasses emitted by our industrial civilization. 2014 was the hottest year on record, and most climate models show the heating up to be accelerating. At best politicians dither, and of course in most countries they are backed by the vast majority of people who don't want to give up the benefits of industrial civilization, much as they might whine about some of the negative consequences.

Where it will end exactly is hard to predict even with computer models, but as a rule of thumb I am going with the earth going back to conditions last seen during the Permian.

The Permian was hot, by our current standards. It ran from about 300 million to 250 million years ago. It followed the Carboniferous, which was when much of the coal and petroleum we've been burning started to from. It ended with a mass extinction, followed by the Triassic (which featured large lizards and the first dinosaurs).

The Permian is not a bad time to go back to, on the whole. In fact it was warmer (on average) than the Carboniferous, but not as hot as the Triassic. It was about 2 degrees Centigrade warmer than it's been on earth lately. Of course then, as now, some places were considerably hotter than others.

But life thrived anyway. It was an important period in the evolution of life, as amphibians began to give way to reptile-like creatures and even the earlier mammal-like creatures. In the oceans Trilobites were still in good supply, but going extinct. Seed ferns appeared, but some of the landscape might seem familiar to us, as the earliest conifers appeared. On the other hand, cockroach like insects did pretty well. If you don't like cockroaches, you won't like the New Permian.

Cockroaches should do well as things heat up, but in the evolution of life, predictions are just guesses. Maybe rats will do well. Maybe reptiles will start getting bigger again. But it won't be just a repeat of the Permian. Because I think Homo Sapiens will survive. Perhaps renamed Homo Stupidius.

Another difficult guess is how many humans will survive the coming die off. Will most of us cooperate to stay alive, with the population reduced to maybe 1 billion from the current 7 billion? I doubt that, but it is possible. I think people will cut each others throats for the last remaining air conditioned theater tickets, or grass-fed beef, or whatever else has not disappeared but reminds the survivors of the good old days.

I expect humans to evolve after the winnowing. We'll see who can take the heat. Small noses are probably out. Big noses help to cool hot air on the way to the lungs, and to retain moisture as air leaves the lungs. While cold-blooded animals will likely get bigger, humans may get smaller. Body mass, which generates heat, shrinks at a faster rate than skin surface, which helps cool the body off. Unless it is so hot that skin surface admits more heat, so it is better to be big ... in which case people will evolve to be the size of elephants. Or at least Rhinos. Which would give Republicans an advantage.

But most promising is the potential for what biologists call radiation. Not atomic radiation, but the evolutionary branching out of one life form into different niches, followed by specialization and eventually by forming new species or even whole new groups of species.

Radiation typically occurs when a dominant life form is wiped out. That is how a few mostly small mammals that had been hiding in holes came to replace the dinosaurs. A few million years later there were mammals of all sizes occupying all kinds of niches, from herbivore to omnivore to carnivore. So you might, in a million years or so, get cow-like homo species and wolf-like species and certainly sloth like species, snake like species, and maybe even bird men.

But can't we do anything to stop this disaster? Can't we save the current flora and fauna and temperature range? Clearly no. It is over. Industry won. It bought politicians and scientists and propagandists and the general public. They delayed and weaseled and made money on the side selling solar cells and wind mills.

So adapt or perish. Of course, it make take a few hundred generations to see what type of humans will ultimately emerge from the die off.

Of course I could be wrong. We could be headed to the Devonian instead. Average temperature 6 degrees Centigrade above the current era. Giant insects and scorpions dominate a landscape of primitive plants, with a few amphibians walking around. Happy hunting. Or avoiding predators.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Congress Should Fully Fund the U. S. Postal Service

Postal services are crucial to modern economies and cultures. Messenger and transport services of various kinds go back to the dawn of civilization. Benjamin Franklin realized the importance of postal services. With the other Founding Fathers he built the United States Postal Service (USPS) into the original U.S. Constitution:

Section 8. Congress shall have the Power To ... establish Post Offices and Post Roads.

The list of Powers actually granted to Congress is quite short. Since the adoption of the Constitution various Congresses have taken to authorizing (along with Presidents and Supreme Courts) many, many things that are not clearly intended by the Constitution.

But in the last two decades, what Congress has failed to do is to fully fund the Post Office. Pushed by lobbyists, ideologues, and government-haters, Congress has purposely made a shambles of the Post Office. Their actions come close to Treason against our Sacred Constitution. They have funded corrupt governments abroad, funded corrupt friends at home, but they have not funded the Post Office.

That hurts all of us, except perhaps the stockholders of Federal Express and United Parcel Service.

A strong, efficient and universal Postal Service is a keystone to modern economies. How bad has it become? It costs less to send a package from any city in China to Seattle than it costs to send the same package from Seattle to San Francisco.

Why? Because the Chinese government realizes the importance of postal service to business and economic prosperity. They fund their postal service. So if you go to eBay and are looking for the best price including shipping for anything (like an input into your own American business), the cost of shipping across the Pacific Ocean does not prohibit buying from Chinese merchants.

While electronic communications have had a revolutionary impact on the world, people are still physical and need physical things. Consumers need them and businesses need them. If a business needs a shipping container full of something, they don't need the USPS. But if they are in the business of breaking down that container and selling to individual consumers over the Internet, they need a reliable low-cost shipper.

By subsidizing the Post Office instead of (or even in addition to) oil companies, farming corporations, and road builders, Congress could help to restore the American economy to maximum efficiency. We need a system that delivers paper and parcels to every physical address in America every day. People should not have to wait in long lines at post offices to pick up packages, especially when the packages were sent via rival services and then dumped at post offices for final delivery.

Given that the Post Office charges for its services, it would not take much of a direct subsidy from Congress to get it to peak modern efficiency. Subsidized rates would be available to all shippers. That would encourage consumption and help all the mom-and-pop businesses that have emerged to ship what consumers want directly to their homes.

When you hear some doltish politician is against funding the Post Office, wave a copy of the U.S. Constitution in his face. Ask him to trample on it, because that is what he (or she) is doing when they vote to strangle the United States Post Office. Don't vote for the S.O.B. Vote for someone who honors the Constitution and has some business sense.

Make full funding of the United States Postal Service an issue in the 2016 elections. Demand that candidates take a position. And the only right position is that the USPS be fully funded so it can become the most economically effective Post Office in the world. Let's enable U.S. merchants to include the lure of "free shipping" when they sell to the Chinese, or anyone else in the world.

If the U.S. wants to be number 1 in the world, it needs the number 1 Postal Service in the world.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Happy Invicible Sun Day Chistmas!

The Winter Solstice (December 21 this year) has a certain gravity to it. Most human civilization evolved north of the equator, and until recently the most obvious natural phenomena, besides the phases of the moon, was the shortening of days in the Fall.

Con artists, having observed the sun cycle, they began telling people that the sun would, indeed, sink forever out of site if "priests" were not given "sacrifices" starting around the solstice. Many ancient religions were centered on the solstice or on the resurrection of green plants in the Spring, or both.

No one knows what day of the year Jesus of Nazareth, aka Jesus Christ, was actually born on. Apparently he was not an important man at birth. The data is not given in the Gospels, nor are there clues in the narrative that would help guess it. Stranger still, there is no record of when Christians adopted December 25 as Christ's birthday, or Christmas. They apparently started keeping written records not too long after Jesus's death, but probably no one wanted to admit they did not have a firm grasp on God's birthday. Or where they borrowed it from.

Scholars, of course, have tried to research the question. Here is my favorite scholarly guess, by the Very Reverend W. R. Inge, D.D., in the chapter The Rival Religions in Universal World History, Volume Four, pages 1123-1124 (1935):

"The Christians were both puzzled and annoyed by the resemblance of the Mithraic religion to their own. Not only did Mithras have his high pontiff [pope], his priests vowed to celibacy and his consecrated virgins, but there is to be a second coming of Mithras, preceded by great plagues. The dead will rise from their tombs to meet him... Finally, the [Christian] Church paid Mithras the great compliment of annexing his chief festival on December 25, the birthday of the "Invincible Sun," and turning it into the feast of the Nativity of Jesus Christ."

The Invincible Sun. If you need a local god or prophet, why worship some Jewish rabbi or Indian prince or Arabic camel trader or American polygamist when the Invincible Sun is available? Resurrected daily, with an additional annual bonus show around the solstices.

The United States of America has recast Christmas in a modern light. December 25th marks the end of the consumer buying frenzy season.

If there is anything to thank Nature or any god for, it is the end of the modern Holiday season.

Enjoy the holiday, but don't get too drunk, too stoned, too high, or too sad for your own good.