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January 13th, 2010

11:36 pm: A Few Tidbits
My retroactive New Year's resolutions for 2009 were to make beer, cider, cheese, and BBQ sauce at home. (We were a bit late with the cheese, but still.) My retroactive resolutions for 2010 was to get engaged. I mean, I'll probably do other things, but this is still pretty beg.

Also, have I written about cooking recently? No? Aiight, so I made Lamb Rogan Josh last Saturday. Let me say first that Indian food is a pain in the ass. I found a recipe for lentils at Salon that is pretty amazing, and that leaves your kitchen pretty thrashed. For lentils.

So the lamb involves about an hour of fairly labor intensive cooking, including blending garlic and ginger into a paste, and stirring yogurt into the sauce a tablespoon at a time. Then everything simmers for another hour. The end result is chunks of lamb in a thick, brown-red sauce. I thought it was pretty damn skippy, although I'd like to try again now that I know what in the hell I'm doing. And when I don't mind thrashing the kitchen.

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December 16th, 2009

01:55 pm: I Agree with Glenn Beck
Yeah, I said it. The man is an oozing pile of half baked innuendo and cheap theatrics, but his prediction of dire consequences for the country are very likely to come to pass, if not for the reasons he gives.

America is f*cked. We are staring at three major systemic shocks, one after the other, and our ability to prepare for, mitigate, or adapt to any of them is questionable at best.

Explain? I'll be glad to.

1. Ongoing wars halfway around the world. We aren't out of Iraq yet, we are escalating our conflict in the place history warns most strongly not to escalate a conflict in and we aren't paying for any of it. The vast expenses of our military adventures are being borrowed, largely from the Chinese government. This is a recipe for shedding allies, military power, and financial werewithal. No end is in sight. Leftists portray these conflicts as wars for oil, and I almost hope they're right, because the other explanations offered make no sense, and because...

2. Peak Oil is at hand. Worldwide production of liquid fuels will eventually peak and begin an irreversible decline - every year after peak will have less oil, and therefore less liquid fuel, than the previous year. What oil is available will be increasingly expensive, dirty, and difficult to get. As the most energy profligate nation on the planet, with local and national transportation systems (as well as food production) that rely heavily on fossil fuels, we will be hit early and hard by peak oil. So when will the peak hit? 2030? 2050? Actually, the peak may have happened in 2005. Or in 2008. Or it may not hit until the beginning of the next decade. But it's soon, and it's bad. So while we are struggling to remake our cities, rebuild a viable national rail network, and keep ourselves fed, we get hammered by...

3. Climate change. Barring a massive effort by the United States, Europe and China to reduce their use of coal and oil, global average temperature will rise dramatically over the course of this century. The list of impacts, even within our own country, is long and scary. Dust storms, massive hurricanes, insect-borne diseases, crop failure and floods are just the start. Worse still is sea level rise, which is now predicted to be 1.5 meters by 2100. New York will lose their subway system, and then they will lose Manhattan. Many of our largest cities, as well as factories, highways, railroads, chemical plants and power plants are threatened by sea level rise. It really is hard to picture the changes that will have to take place to adapt to all this, but it's easy to predict that it will involve massive amounts of human suffering.

So a hard rain is going to fall. And as of now who do we have in charge to deal with these issues? We have a president who tosses campaign promises overboard at a steady clip, and whose biggest accomplishment so far is not being the disaster that his predecessor was. We have a congress that can't get out of it's own way, and that managed to squander any momentum in favor of health care reform by killing it with a thousand cuts, unwilling or unable to bleed the industries that are largely responsible for the problem. And waiting in the wings is an opposition party that is using the tactics of vehement insanity, and whose only goal seems to be preserving the status quo and clawing their way back into power.

What I'm saying is that from where we stand now, a hard crash seems inevitable. So what do I suggest? Not sure. I'm learning how to brew beer, and cut up a whole chicken. If you have the room you can get chickens, or buy seeds and start a garden. If you don't have a scooter or a bike, get one now. Dust off your umbrella, because a hard rain is gonna fall.

Current Mood: grim
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December 2nd, 2009

10:09 pm: After a lot of thought, and careful consideration...
U.S. out of Afghanistan.

That is all.


November 10th, 2009

11:44 pm: Yeah, but...
The lawyer-lady at the Young Energy Professionals conference had a slide that said "Americans want their energy to be: Abundant, Cheap and Domestic". I want my pony to be: Loyal, Magical, and Free.


October 24th, 2009

08:51 am: Letter to a Climate Skeptic

X -

Because this Saturday is the Global Day for Action on Climate Change, and because of some disturbing items I saw recently in the news, I figured now was as good a time as any to try to lay out for you the reasons why I believe that climate change is a serious problem, one that demands aggressive action right now. Hopefully this will be convincing, if not, well I tried.

I know that you are skeptical about climate change and the need to take steps to combat it. Which is completely reasonable - I think that the President and others have been disingenuous about what the impact of emissions reducing legislation could be on consumers. Its possible that prices of gas, electricity and even food could rise significantly. Its also possible that cumbersome and uncomfortable restrictions could be put on travel, home design, thermostat settings, and other areas. So, yeah, it could cost you money, and it could impact your lifestyle. I have to try to convince you that the alternative is worse, and that in the long run, doing nothing is much more expensive.

First off, "doing nothing" is inaccurate. Doing nothing is better described as "business as usual", which involves unrestricted human activities pumping steadily increasing amounts of CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the air. Since the industrial revolution, when we figured out how to power machines and vehicles with burning coal, and even more so since the end of WWII, when Americans began to embrace a lifestyle centered around driving cars and homes powered by electricity, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has been rising. We know from ice cores drilled in Antarctica that, after having held fairly steady for the past 800,000 years, CO2 levels began to climb rapidly starting around 1850.

Ok, but why is that bad? Plants need CO2 right? And there has always been CO2 in the atmosphere, produced by animals and volcanoes and other natural sources, right? Yes, that's true. The problem is that CO2 and some other gases scatter infrared radiation. The earth is continually heated by the sun, whose radiation peaks in the visible spectrum. Because the earth is much cooler, most of the radiation it emits comes from the planet's surface, in the form of infrared radiation. This energy can either escape into space , or be scattered by the atmosphere (basically refracted continually in random directions until it is absorbed by the air or by the surface). Greenhouse gases increase the odds that infrared radiation will be scattered, reducing the amount that escapes, and therefore reducing the cooling power of surface radiation. The science behind all this is over a hundred years old, and not controversial. An increase in CO2 concentration, on this or any other planet, will act like insulation and cause that planet to heat up. In fact, greenhouse gases are used by scientists to explain the differences in average surface temperature between Venus, Earth and Mars, and they calculate that without any greenhouse gases, the Earth would be too cold to be inhabitable.

So we know that concentrations of greenhouse gases have been increasing since the industrial revolution (because we can measure that directly from ice cores), and we know from well established physical principles (and direct observation of nearby planets) that more CO2 will result in a warmer planet. So the 40 trillion dollar question is - how much CO2 will result in how much warming? Previously, around the time the Kyoto accords were signed in 1997, it was believed that 450 parts per million of CO2 represented the limit of the safe zone, and the efforts there were focused on constraining total emissions to keep the atmosphere below that limit. Today, CO2 is at 387 ppm, and we are already seeing dramatic and unexpectedly rapid declines in polar sea ice. Some researchers are now predicting ice free summers in the North Pole by as early as 2019. That's plenty scary in itself, but also because it strongly suggests that the other predicted impacts of climate change (sea level rise, loss of crop land, spread of mosquito borne diseases, widespread plant and animal extinction) will arrive sooner and hit harder than predicted.

And its possible that we are already screwed. Ice cores only go back about 800,000 years, and CO2 is now at higher levels than at any time in that record. To determine CO2 levels before ice cores are available, scientists have used different kinds of chemical analysis of rocks and fossils to make estimates, but these methods are subject to fairly large error margins. Now, researchers at UCLA used a method of examining mineral ratios in fossilized plankton to estimate CO2 levels going back 20 million years. Their method gave good agreement with the ice core data, which suggests that it is accurate. Their findings were that the last time CO2 levels were this high was 15 million years ago, a time when sea levels were 25 to 40 meters higher than they are now, and polar ice caps were much smaller. Now, obviously this research needs to be scrutinized, challenged, and if possible independently duplicated. But IF the study is accurate, and IF the correlation between CO2 levels and sea levels holds, we have already crossed deep into the danger zone.

Meaning what? Well, for starters, tropical storms are predicted to be more frequent and more violent. Disease carrying mosquitoes will expand their range, spreading malaria and dengue and yellow fever. Droughts and heatwaves will kill people and crops. The cost of food will rise, and food riots and starvation will become a permanent part of life in many third world countries. Animals and plants will shift their ranges as climate heats up, causing widespread impacts to local ecosystems. Finally, the big one. Sea level rise. Billions of people live at or near sea level, in cities like New Orleans, Galveston, New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Tokyo, Nagasaki, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Mumbai, Venice, Amsterdam and London, as well as low lying islands and countries like the Maldives, the Phillipines, Vietnam and Bangladesh. Many island nations, with thousands of years of history and culture, are at risk of literally disappearing below rising waters. And none of this will happen quickly, at least from a human perspective. All of the people made homeless by flooding will try to escape to higher ground, bringing the possibility of widespread revolution, civil unrest and war. So even regions that could benefit from climate change (and there are some, at least at first) face the possibility of being inundated by waves of starving, desperate people. This is not a case of environment versus economy, like with spotted owls or some tree frog somewhere. This is a question of our economy, as it currently works, destroying the global ecological systems on which rest everything humanity has ever built. We are sawing through the branch we are sitting on to get to the sweet nectar inside.

Now, what I'm describing isn't predicted with complete certainty, and there are at least a few accredited climate scientists who doubt the causes and effects of climate change. But the consensus opinion of climate scientists, notably outlined by successive reports of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is that anthropogenic global warming is real, it is already occurring, and the impact will only increase over time. Our last president created a doctrine that advocated pre-emptive action against groups or nations that credibly threatened our country's security. If global warming was Al Quaeda, we would already be bombing it. NASA, in fact, takes climate change very seriously. They even have a page (link below) where they track major indicators of climate change, like sea level, average global temperature, and arctic ice cover. Japan's space agency also takes climate seriously, having recently launched a satellite, Ibuki, specifically to track sources and sinks of CO2. The United Nations takes it seriously, having convened the IPCC I talked about above, and the Nobel prize committee takes climate change seriously enough to award the IPCC and Al Gore the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. (Yeah, I know Obama won. So did Henry Kissinger and Yasser Arafat. Still.) Even ExxonFreakingMobil takes climate change seriously enough to have a page on their website discussing their response to "the risks of climate change".

Americans bear special responsibility in this matter. We have had more people burning more fossil fuels for longer than any other nation on earth. Per capita, we are predicted to be worse polluters than China and India for decades. But we can change. This is the country that wiped out malaria and yellow fever in Panama on our way to finishing the Panama Canal. We saved Europe from the Nazis and then rebuilt it. We built the atom bomb and put a man on the moon. If the need is dire enough, Americans will rise to the challenge, no matter how much it costs or how long it takes. The time to begin was, well, a decade ago. But the second best time to begin is now. We can do it. We have to.

Best regards,

Jess G. Totten

 - Links -

NASA Global Climate Change Website -


Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Website -


The Nobel Peace Prize 2007 -


JAXA : "Ibuki": Global Efforts to Protect the Environment -


ExxonMobil : Energy and Environment : Climate Change


The Last  Time Carbon Dioxide Levels Were This High: 15 Million Years Ago


Arctic to be 'ice free in summer'


Current Location: Garden Oaks Elementary
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October 7th, 2009

11:57 pm: Republicans
They don't commit corporate gang rape, they just protect people that do.


September 2nd, 2009

11:34 pm: guns and trucknutz
Yeah, I had a thought for how to fund healthcare - spend half as much on goddam defense. Seriously. The scariest enemies we have live in caves. We spend more on weapons and troops than the rest of the world combined. We spend more money than you can count on high tech hooraw doodads that won't be needed for decades, if ever. Cut the damn budget in half, shutter half the overseas bases, bring the troops home, and spend the money on health care for every goddamn american citizen. Even the ones who watch Glenn Beck.

Relatedly, a recent post on wonkette made me laugh out loud. Basically, a corporate shill for GE wrote an email to their editor whining about being shut out of development of the engine for the Joint Strike Fighter, and offering food and booze in exchange for some sweet, sweet publicity. Hilarity ensued. Be sure to read the comment by memzilla (near the top). I promise you will enjoy it.

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August 28th, 2009

11:26 pm: Bottle Bomb
A few weeks ago I collaborated with a guy at work to brew a batch of beer. Homebrew typically yields about 5 gallons per batch, so after the brewing, the primary fermentation, the secondary fermentation, the bottling, and the carbonation, Alex brought a box full of assorted bottles of our brew to work, and handed it off to me. I brought said box home, set it on the counter, and put a couple of bottles that were hissing into the fridge. I didn't think we had room for all the bottles, so I left the rest on the counter, and proceeded to play gamecube.

About a half hour later, the loudest POP sound I've ever heard brought me crouching to the floor, waiting for the next gunshot. Then I noticed that there were glass fragments all over the living room and dining room, and beer was flowing out of the box, over the counter and onto the floor. Three of the bottles had exploded simultaneously. Shit.

My first thought was "T is going to be pissed." Cleaning all that crap up was a big job, involving putting on jeans, a shirt, and shoes, moving the surviving bottles to the sink to be rinsed with cold water, clearing up the major glass pieces on the floor, moving everything off the counter, cleaning the counter, and then cleaning the floor. Longest distance glass fragment - the one on our bed. Most dramatic - the one lodged in the ceiling over the counter. By the time T did get home, around 930, the apartment was mostly clean and mostly glass free, but it reeked of beer and dinner was nowhere in sight. And actually, when I explained what happened, she was more concerned than mad.

We got dinner at the late night Vietnamese place by us (she had veggie pho, I had lemongrass tofu), and came back so I could sweep and mop and go to bed.

The beer is actually okay, its not my favorite, but it's not Coors Lite either. Based on the aggressive head (and the explosion) I think we failed to fully ferment during the second stage, caused by too low a storage temperature and being anxious to start drinking. Also our apartment gets up to 85 degrees in the evening, which would definitely contribute (most gases, including CO2, are decreasingly soluble in water with increasing temperature). The homebrewing wiki helpfully explains that bottle bombs are "one of the only real risks of homebrewing", adding that "most brewers will go their entire carreer without seeing one".

Thanks. I need a drink.

Current Mood: chagrined
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August 9th, 2009

10:57 pm: The New Guy
I wonder if it embarrasses some of the democratic senators that Al Franken believes in things they say they believe in.


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July 19th, 2009

10:18 am: Florida!
Here are some random things that are good and not so good about Florida, based on our recent visit.

The good:

1. Wildlife - We saw manatees (that nearly capsized my Mom and Dad's kayak), dolphins, pelicans, an osprey (the bird, not the aircraft that kills Marines), gulls, sand pipers, sand fleas, and sand crabs.

2. People caring for wildlife - the kayak rental place was covered in posted signs warning people against touching, teasing, or molesting the manatees. Also, the section of beach in front of the house we rented had mandatory light reduction measures to avoid confusing hatching baby sea turtles. And although we didn't see any momma or baby sea turtles, several places along the beach had been roped off with sticks and tape, and tagged with the date the eggs had been laid and their approximate hatch date. So, yeah, props to the Floridians getting their conservation on.

3. The beach - I've never been to New Smyrna Beach before, or spent much time swimming in the Atlantic. The beach there was clean, and stretched to the horizon in both directions. The water was a bit chilly, but the waves were big enough to make swimming or boogie boarding feel like an adventure.

4. The seafood - we had lunch at JD's fish camp with my mom and abuela, and we had some solidly kickass shrimp and crab, along with some very tasty hush puppies and french fries.

Not so good:

1. The sun - oh my god. I applied sunscreen like mad, and still got red in the face and shoulders. Out in the kayak there was no shade at all, and it felt like I was going to broil like a lobster.

2. Giant trucks - not exclusive to Texas, it would seem. My favorite was the giant Fordzilla that agressivley tailgated me at a time when I could neither speed up or make a lane change, and then proved to be driven by a kid who looked to be all of 14.

3. Orlando airport - had been partially deconstructed for our convenience. And while I know its probably not the airport's fault that our plane was delayed an hour to change a tire, I'm just going to say so anyway.

4. Dead fetus billboards - did you know that abortion stops a beating heart? Well, you will if you drive on I-95. I swear, the billboards, in order, were fetus, Ron Jon Surf Shop, fetus, fetus, Disney world, fetus, fetus, fetus. If I wanted lectures from lunatics, I would watch Glenn Beck.

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