Amoeba’s Lorica: Public Service Announcement 2

Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba and Quilly (Dame Amoeba) continue to be safe and well, despite the twin calamities of the Kilauea volcanic eruption and the Hawai‘i Democratic Party Convention. We remain safely far away from the one. The other is closer, but we have our ears (mostly) firmly plugged against it.

Whatever the “news” media may say.

As this blog post is written (2200 HST, 26 May 2018), a lava flow from the fissure eruption is enveloping, from the west, a power-generating concern known as the Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV). A previous flow, from the south, stalled before it could go Wreck-it Ralph on the business. By the time you read this post, the flow from the west may have done the deed.

And the “news” media will be announcing the end of life, as we know it or any other kind, on Hawai‘i Island. Ka-CHING, ka-CHING, ka-CHING!!!

We will still be here, soh.

The issue that will be screamed at you is HYDROGEN SULFIDE!1!! Hydrogen sulfide gas is indeed a product of volcanic activity, especially when it’s produced deep in the ground where oxygen is not available to combine with the sulfur and produce sulfur dioxide instead. It is indeed not something to mess around with. It is toxic, it is flammable. It stinks of rotten eggs. And you’re not safe when you can no longer smell it, because after a while – a short while – your nose stops working and you don’t smell it any more.

The PGV creates – er, created – power by injecting water into deep wells, tapping the hot rocks of Kilauea’s East Rift Zone. The resulting steam is used, either directly or indirectly by heating another substance (in this case, pentane), to drive turbines and generate electricity. The steam is then condensed and returned to the ground. A closed loop.

Of water that is saturated with the hydrogen sulfide that it picked up from those hot rocks.

The fear, that will be shouted at you by the “news” media for your emotional titillation and their profit, with your friends and acquaintances as (un)witting accomplices, is that the lava will breach the closed water loop at PGV and set off the hydrogen sulfide, or the pentane, or both, with devastation of as much of Hawai‘i Island as they can get you to buy into as the result.

Last YFNA and Quilly knew, the ‘safe zone’ around PGV, worst case scenario, had a 3-mile radius.

Not fun for the remaining residents of Hawai‘i Island’s Lower Puna district, but hardly the island-wide calamity (or, better still, state-wide) that the “news” media is counting on to sell targeted ads.

And the worst case isn’t likely. As has been consistently reported by County of Hawai‘i Civil Defense and other agencies that aren’t trying to sell you stuff you don’t need, PGV has been taking steps to minimize the risk. The pentane was removed weeks ago. The wells have been capped and disconnected from the turbines. The lava will pave them over, quietly and unemotionally. Any gases captured will be shunted to the lava fountains, where they will be converted to sulfur dioxide and added to the however-many tons of the stuff that are already gushing into the atmosphere around the Big Island. And, for the most part, not reaching us in Kailua Kona. The business assets of PGV will be destroyed, but with a whimper, not a bang – and, when the eruption is over, the business may or may not choose (or be allowed) to rebuild. But, for most Big Island folk, the volcano will leave us, mostly, in peace.

We should be so lucky to only have to deal with the volcano.

There are those who believe that the imminent demise of the PGV site is nothing less than divine retribution. Pele (no, not the god of futbol) is usually considered to be the offended deity in question, but it might as well be Jesus or Muhammad or Karma or the Thetans or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It doesn’t matter. Humans insist on stuffing the planet full of their own kind (three times as many now as just seventy years ago, with no end in sight), to the detriment of all other life, and they insist on power to fuel that stuffing. According to their own superstitions, or else. Anything that violates those superstitions and falls afoul of the still-very-imperfectly-understood workings of matter and energy gives the superstitious the power of “I told you so.”

Geothermal power stations require hot rocks to operate. Hot rocks that are close enough to the surface to make drilling to reach them economically viable. Nearly all such stations, of which YFNA is aware, are sitting on top of volcanoes. There is a calculated risk, siting a business (or a home) on top of a volcano. In the case of geothermal power stations, you take the risk or you don’t have a business. If you’re trying to live on the island of Hawai‘i without a billionaire’s pension, you take the risk. Or rent. If you can afford the rent. Or you don’t have a home. And no, they won’t let you live on the beach any more, not if the authorities can catch you.

Sometimes, you take the risk and lose. It would be nice if people did not have to take such risks. But see “stuffing the planet”, supra. The way, Aragorn, is shut.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba reads that PGV produces produced about 13.5% of total “firm” electric power on Hawaii Island, and represents represented just under half of total “renewable” electric generation on this island. The superstitious, for the sake of being able to say “I told you so” without investing in the work needed to better understand matter and energy, and the risks involved in living with, never mind harnessing, them, would prefer that such energy be supplied “the old-fashioned, safe way”. With fossil fuels, especially oil. Procured, these days, by fracking. Which produces about as many earthquakes in Oklahoma as does the Kilauea volcano on this Big Island. But Oklahoma is way far away. Or, by nations that (for example) behead people for professing the wrong superstition. But Saudi Arabia is way far away. And who cares what they do so long as they keep shipping us oil, like the good dogs they are.

And meanwhile, at that Democratic convention, a governor who has a reputation for actually trying to understand things before he requests action on them, is losing his battle for re-election to a known-corrupt congressional representative that is far better at “taking a stand” (spelled “I T-O-L-D Y-O-U S-O”). But then, corruption no longer matters to us, whatever our color of party. Just authority, the more ignorant, the more superstitious, the better. Isn’t that so, Donald?

The folk at the United States Geological Survey (USGS) are working their butts off, together with the county Civil Defense and other agencies, to provide critical information and other assistance to those who are trying to help people on the ground, people directly affected by the volcanic eruption. They are not paid, or, for the most part, trained to be dancing monkeys for the media. When it is possible, or informative, the USGS posts data and images of the eruption, on their website and on their Facebook (alas) and Twitter feeds. On one of those recent posts, the first commenter was a person who asked for more videos of the eruption “because it is so soothing to watch the lava bubble.”

Who asked for scientists and first responders to make pandering to his [sic] emotions their first order of business.

Pornography. It’s not just about naked women any more. And please, dear readers, don’t try to talk to YFNA about “lunatic fringe”. There are too many of us to make that claim. Who the hell else do you think is buying what the “news” media are making their massive, and massively immoral, fortunes selling?

Ecce populus vosmet.

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Amoeba’s Lorica: Covenant

Incredible as it may seem, not least to himself, Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba is in charge of a team of three four people. This is up from zero three short years ago, when he was granted the opportunity of creating an Applied Research department – and demonstrating, to the people who pay for it, that a pack of researchers could actually be of any practical profitable use.

The people who are paying for this grow algae for a living. Yes, this is a thing.

And the thing they wish from Applied Research is to keep those algae happy and healthy. Happier and healthier than before, if can. With lowered costs of production, if can. Within your budget or else, Buster.

Alas, unlike, say, wheat, rice, or maize (“corn”, to you Yankees), algae have been grown as crops for a very short time. Which means that “happier” is not generally a matter of picking the correct fertilizer off the garden supply store shelf. If Issue X comes up, chances are good that no one has encountered it before (or, they have and aren’t telling). There are no guidebooks, no agriculture extension agents, and even the scientific literature, if any exists on the issue, may not answer the question or, worse, it may present answers that prove to be wrong. If answers are to be had, therefore, they must be baked from scratch. See “budget”, supra.

No pressure.

Many, many moons ago (almost 500 of ’em, in fact), a well-respective supervisor, mentor, and coauthor passed this advice on to YFNA:

Never admit you’re wrong.

The advice that a much grayer and more weathered Amoeba now passes on to his folk is [ahem] somewhat adjusted:

We are ‘Research’. By definition, we don’t know what we’re doing. The minute we do, it becomes somebody else’s standard operating procedure. And we’re on to the next WTF.

Because we don’t know what we’re doing until we figure it out, then Mistakes R Us. Indeed, if mistakes aren’t happening, then we’re probably not trying hard enough, not providing the service that we’re being paid for: We Go Splat So You Don’t Have To.

This is not a comfortable space to be in. In a world where so-called ‘winners’ are asserting their authority, we are admitting our vulnerability, our kinship with Thomas Edison and his proclamation about his results, “I know several thousand things that won’t work.” I make many mistakes, as a scientist and as a person. The best I can do with that is to learn from the mistakes, and to serve and support others while the learning goes on, with the goal of turning the lessons into stuff people can use. If you are better than I at this, bless you. But I have no business expecting it.

I offer this covenant. I ask you to give us your best, each 40-hour week. Your best labor, your best intelligence, your best wit, your best courage. In return, I pledge to do all I can to support your efforts, to put you in a space where you can best succeed, where your success can give us all a boost. In particular, I pledge to listen. Grant me the privilege of understanding your molehills. Alas, I cannot fix all things, but it is my responsibility to try, or to explain why another way, or simple patience, may be best for now. And molehills are far easier to level than mountains.

Above all, I ask that we serve each other. In the practice of mutual service, we will better sustain each other during the challenges, and reap better rewards during prosperity – which will come soonest if we can do this. I will err along the way, and I expect you will too. But I’ll do my damnedest not to err the same way twice.

And if I heedlessly break this covenant, I expect to suffer the consequences.

Sometimes, YFNA reckons, keeping algae healthy in 2018 CE is a lot like keeping the human body healthy was in 400 BCE. The ancient physicians were forced to make decisions on the fewest of clues, with life itself at stake. Rather like the modern algae farmers are. After all, Hippocrates lived and worked a full two millennia before William Harvey published his account of blood circulation (which was sharply criticized on publication), and an additional 100 years would elapse before Louis Pasteur and his contemporaries established the links between various microbes and human disease.

In this atmosphere of uncertainty, when an overly adventurous physician could maim or kill the patient, and thus be accused of having offended the gods and be at risk of the associated consequences (usually execution or banishment, both of which were death penalties), the Hippocratic Oath represented a covenant between the physicians and their patients. Though, YFNA reads, the phrase “First, do no harm” was coined much later than Hippocrates, the principle (“I will abstain from all intentional wrong-doing and harm”) was firmly established from the outset.

Though some passages of the original oath were, to these modern eyes, obviously self-serving, intended to preserve the integrity of the guild, not to mention its income, overall the message is that the physician is to serve patients, not be served by them.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba is long enough in the tooth pseudopod to remember how, in the 1960s, physicians, with their perceived wealth and their increasing unavailability to, and disdainful treatment of, patients, got stuck with the label, not of ‘servant’ but of ‘self-serving’, thus breaking the Hippocratic covenant. The result was passage of the Health Maintenance Organization Act of 1973, the first push down the slide to the current disastrous state of affairs that is “health care” in these Untied States, for all but the wealthiest citizens, the disparaged residua of Medicare and the Affordable Care Act notwithstanding.

For many years now, YFNA has been in the same straits as the person identified (not by name) in the Preface to The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (in YFNA’s opinion, the only truly worthwhile section of the book, for reasons discussed here), who professed atheism, yet continued to attend church “out of loyalty to the tribe”.

Together with the late Stephen Hawking and many other prominent persons of science, YFNA accepts that there is no objective evidence for the existence of a deity … and, moreover, he wouldn’t care to live under the capricious rule of a deity who could make that objective evidence null and void at will. Especially not under the terminally insecure spoiled brats that appear to represent the acme of what the human imagination can conceive under the heading of “omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent”. Not, of course, that he would have any choice in the matter, under these circumstances; he, like Winston Smith and everybody else, would be loving Big Brother in a fog of foul gin.

But, those terminally insecure spoiled brats sure as hell can organize people, Adolph. While even Dawkins, that most ardent (and self-regarding) of atheists, bemoans the corresponding organizational failures of atheists and atheism. There may indeed be atheists in foxholes, contrary to the common trope. But they generally don’t admit it, preferring, for the while, to sign on with those with a committed cause (usually assigned to a god or a godhead). Because, YFNA argues, those with the committed cause win wars. How the hell else do you think that two flavors of an obscure Middle Eastern deity without so much as a picture to go with the name managed to split the whole world, outside of China and India, between them? While the socially uncommitted atheists are scattered to the hills, and consider themselves lucky to have achieved that much.

Those “loyal to the tribe”, YFNA thinks, have signed on, tacitly or explicitly, to a covenant. That, in exchange for conduct of their lives contrary to increasingly evident fact, they become part of a social contract that will authentically promote service to others, both within and outside the group, as the best way for members to sustain each other during times of challenge, and to reap better rewards during times of prosperity.

Those “loyal to the tribe” have tried to soldier on in their thinking, in the face of published evidence that those in “the tribe” are actually less inclined to service, especially to those outside the tribe’s increasingly narrow definition of “neighbor”, than are those outside the tribe. As they observe, increasingly, “the tribe” cast itself in terms of self-serving “us vs them” rhetoric. As they observe the election of a President of the United States who embodies none of the stated ethos of “the tribe”, solely because he represents a vehicle through which “the tribe” can achieve its narrowly-defined, self-serving goals. An election against which other members of “the tribe” have spoken ineffectually, or not at all, as these “liberals” discover that they speak for nobody; their communities are choosing against irrelevance, and for either fundamentalist social cohesion, or atheist recognition of fact.

And when YFNA and Quilly finally were confronted, inescapably, in their own lives, with self-serving reality that was obliterating empty preaching of service by the ostensible leader of “the tribe”, it was enough. When they saw ignorant authority assert itself over expertise, offered in humble service, it was enough. When they realized that superficial achievement by that leader was masking an all-too-typical toxic leadership profile, capable of ignoring facts in the quest for power and its attendant self-gratification, it was more than enough.

The covenant is broken.

What remains is for those in possession of the facts to find an answer for Voltaire’s pronouncement, Si Dieu n’existait pas, it faudrait l’inventer. To master the challenge of creating social cohesion, based on the concept of mutual service, across society at large, in the absence of a god or godhead on which to pin false hopes.

Before it’s too late.

If it isn’t already.

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Dude and Dude: Distances

Gah!!

“This sumthin’ I wanna know ’bout, dude?”

“Prob’ly not. Check out this IM from Terry.”

“‘Tha news suggests the entire big island will be blown to smithereens.’ Like, wow.”

“Ya didn’t even read tha bit ’bout tha Pacific Ocean fillin’ up wit’ all tha lava from tha otha volcanoes that ours is gonna set off.”

“Sheesh. No wonda all a our peeps on tha mainland ‘r tryin’ ta get us ta come home, like now.”

“They don’ mean it, dude.”

“… whut?”

“They talk a lot, yeah. But ya seen any plane tickets from ’em yet?”

“Oh. ‘Thoughts an’ prayers’, like?”

“‘R not like.”

“Word. But, where does they get this stuff?”

“What stuff?”

“Tha fake news ’bout tha volcano!

“Straight outa tha KaCHING School a Journalism, dude. Where all tha rest a tha fake news’s been comin’ from alla this time. Nobody’s buyin’ nothin’ else!

“But what if’n ya got tha straight dope, yeah?”

“What’s this gotta do about weed?

“Tha volcano burnin’ down all tha ganga farms? Not that kinda dope, dope!

“Fine, have it yer way. Y’wanna try tellin’ peeps what’s really happenin’ an’ see if’n any a ’em will pay attention?

“I’d rather they paid me!

“Right. Speakin’ a burnin’ ganga.”

“Fun-nee. Not! So what’s tha deal? Peeps think this volcano thingy is really big, big ’nuff ta wipe out Hawai‘ Island an’ maybe lots more. But they really ain’t got no clue, so’s they buy whatever they’re told. Especially if’n it gives them a thrill.”

“Ew. But how doya fix it?”

“Ya give ’em somethin’ ta compare it to! Say ya live in Boston. OC’s got some peeps there, yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“So ya tell ’em, if’n ya put tha volcano in Massachusetts along tha South Shore, we’re livin’, like, west a Worcester. Nobody in Boston cares ennythin’ ’bout what goes on in Massachusetts west a Worcester. An’ we’re that far away from tha volcano in Hawai‘i. So why should we care about it?”

“‘K …”

“Now, say ya put tha Hawai‘i volcano in Washington DC.”

“Ain’t they already got one?”

“In his dreams, dude. An’ ours. Tha bad ones. Stop distractin’ me. Anyway. If’n tha volcano’s on tha Mall, we ‘r livin’ in, like, tha Blue Ridge Mountains. Ya go ta tha Blue Ridge so’s ya c’n get away from DC an’ not haveta care ’bout it no more. Why should we care enny more than that?

“An’ speakin’ a Washin’ton. We useta live in tha state, yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“So what if’n we put tha Hawai‘i volcano on topa Mt. St. Helens? What blew in 1980, yeah? We’d be livin’ practically on tha coast. Y’can hardly see tha mountain from there.”

“Yeah, but that’s west a Mt. St. Helens. They didn’t get much outa that big boom. East, ‘nother story. That ash cloud went ta Idaho, at least.”

“Right. Now we c’n talk ’bout how big is big. Lookit this: the map a what’s eruptin’ on Hawai‘i right now (tha black box, yeah?) versus just tha blast damage from Mt. St. Helens. Tha Kilauea thingy is tiny, dude!”

“Mebbe not so tiny fer tha folks what’s livin’ in lower Puna, dude.”

“Dig. An’ it’s sure as hell photogenic. But it ain’t no way big as tha hype it’s gettin’.”

“But we’re still livin’ on an island, dude. An’ wasn’t there an island in tha Caribbean what was wiped out by a volcano?”

“Only ’bout half a it, dude. Yer thinkin’ a tha island a Montserrat. Which’s got tha volcano what Jimmy Buffett sang about. An’ yeah, let’s compare Montserrat wit’ Hawai‘i.”

“Like wow, dude. Ya c’ld put half tha islands a tha Caribbean onta tha Big Island, lose ’em, an’ nevah find ’em again!

Island size matters, yeah, dude? D’ya think peeps’ll believe us now when we sez we’re doin’ OK here, volcano or no volcano?”

“Mebbe. Mebbe not. All’s I know is this.”

“What?”

“If’n tha volcano starts belchin’ out apartment-sized refrigerators, I’m a’gonna be gettin’ m’self one.”

“Only if’n ya c’n catch one afore it lands, dude. Otherwise, yer prob’ly gonna have ta be dealin’ wit’ a pretty good-sized Freon leak.”

“Damn, dude. There’s always a catch.”

“Yeah, like, what’d I say, dude?”

Posted in current events, Dude and Dude, Hawai'i, satire, We the People | Tagged , , | 1 Comment