Thursday, January 19, 2017

Education - Making Murica Great Again

Just as a matter of professional interest, I've been paying a bit of attention to soon-to-be-President Trump's Cabinet appointees, particularly Education Secretary.

Betsy DeVos.  To quote her bio on Wikipedia: 

"DeVos is a prominent member of the Republican Party known for her advocacy of school choicevoucher programs, and ties to the Reformed Christian community."  

She is probably a billionaire, or at least moves in billionaire circles, father-in-law one of the founders of Amway, not that such things would automatically be a problem.... however....  

Some of her family connections are explained here.

She was recently grilled by the Senate as part of her confirmation hearing.  Some of the proceedings are recounted here: 

Six Astonishing Things Betsy deVos Said - and Refused to Say - At Her Confirmation Hearing

Now I know what some people are gonna say, so I will attempt to preempt it all by noting here that I'm aware that the Washington Post is a "liberal", "left-leaning", 'biased" media outlet (to quote some of the epithets I've heard about it).  I think it tends to report stories in a fashion more like cheap tabloids than serious new outlets, but that doesn't mean the exchanges didn't take place or that Ms DeVos didn't say what she said.  So if we could focus on those.... (keeping in mind that I can find many other sources that will also quote what she said...).

So it's worth reading the article with that in mind.  Some highlights:

  • Apparently schools need guns because at least one (in Wyoming) might need a gun to protect against grizzly bears.
  • She doesn't seem to be aware of federal legislation that requires public schools to provide education and related resources to students with disabilities
  • She wouldn't answer a question about whether all federally funded schools should be held to the same standards of accountability.
  • She wouldn't commit to enforcing laws already on the books that attempt to protect students from fraudulent institutions (one example being Trump University.  Trump has paid $25M to settle fraud claims related to that institution).
  • Her personal history makes it pretty clear that she is a religious zealot and doesn't believe in the separation of church and state.
  • Her plans don't seem to include concern with the achievement gap that begins in infancy.  What's really odd is Ivanka Trump's child care proposal.  Is the proposed Secretary not aware of this?

Some personal thoughts:

  • I just can't imagine why there isn't much concern about schools becoming armed camps, with guns, security guards, metal detectors and such.  Doesn't anyone see this as a problem?
  • I have no objection to private schools, but I DO have a problem with them being funded by tax dollars, specifically for this reason: they don't have to accept every student who wants to attend there and they aren't mandated to provide services to everyone.  You make private schools work within the same regulatory framework as public schools and then we'll talk about funding.
  • Some individuals have suggested to me that public schools are merely indoctrination camps for young minds, bending those malleable brains to all sorts of liberal nonsense.  I can make two points: First, I know, for a fact, that some of my former students aren't socialists, despite any attempts I (allegedly, as a teacher in a public school) might have made to turn them into such.  So I question the ability of schools to do what they are being accused of.  Second, I can also say that I was criticized personally by a Board member for "pushing my own opinion" on students.  This was specifically connected to the topic of Acid Rain.  You might remember back in those days when Ronald Reagan was supposedly quoted as blaming acid rain on pigeon poop?  There was this story from the Orlando Sentinel.  Sound familiar?
  • It's worth noting that some of the worst-performing schools are in some of the poorest parts of America and that many of those parts are controlled by Republicans.  I know that correlation doesn't equal causation, but it does make you wonder.  And I'm not the only one who thinks like that....
  • There are studies that show private schools don't have better achievement than public schools "when you take into account family resources, parental involvement, etc".  If you cherry-pick your clientele, you can make it seem like your success is better, but I go back to my second point.
Anyhow, education.  One thing (out of several, to be honest) that has the potential to lift people out of poverty and yet is targeted for budget cuts whenever governments (of a certain stripe) want to lower taxes for people who certainly don't need them and then find they have to cut spending to "balance the budget", don't 'cha know.  Because we certainly wouldn't want education spending to put the country into debt, would we.

Dick & Betsy DeVos
I'm anticipating (perhaps not the best word to use) a train wreck with the Trump administration at the engine's throttle.  If you don't agree, prove me wrong, don't just yell at me.  Arm-waving proves nothing.

I guess if you want to drain the swamp, you have to be careful not to just drain it (and the alligators) right into the Oval Office.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Post Tortoise

While stitching a cut on the hand of a 75 year old farmer, the doctor struck up a conversation with the old man. Eventually the topic got around to Donald Trump and his role as the Republican Nominee for President. The old farmer said, " Well, as I see it, Donald Trump is like a 'Post Tortoise'.'' Not being familiar with the term, the doctor asked him what a 'post tortoise' was. The old farmer said, "When you're driving down a country road and you come across a fence post with a tortoise balanced on top, that's a post tortoise." The old farmer saw the puzzled look on the doctor's face so he continued to explain. "You know he didn't get up there by himself, he doesn't belong up there, he doesn't know what to do while he's up there, he's elevated beyond his ability to function, and you just wonder what kind of dumb ass put him up there to begin with."

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Volcanoes and the World's Climate

For some reason, a number of climate change science deniers have latched on to the idea that human emissions of CO2 are insignificant and pale in comparison to what comes out of an erupting volcano.

It's a real pity for the state of a country's overall IQ that these people don't seem capable of even the teeniest bit of research.  If they were, they would very quickly find the following:

Under the heading "Volcanoes Can Affect the Earth's Climate", there are tidbits like this:

There is no question that very large volcanic eruptions can inject significant amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens vented approximately 10 million tons of CO2into the atmosphere in only 9 hours. However, it currently takes humanity only 2.5 hours to put out the same amount. 

Depending on how many volcanoes are active, in general, volcanoes can throw off somewhere in the vicinity of 200 megatons of CO2 per year.  That's 200 million tons.

Human activity releases somewhere in the neighbourhood of 30 Gigatons.  That's 30 Billion tons. About 150 times as much as volcanoes.

To summarize: 

Volcanoes - perhaps 200 Million tons/year
Humans - perhaps 30 Billion tons/year.

Volcanoes also give off other stuff other than CO2, such as water vapour, various oxides of sulfur and lots or particulates.

The sulfur compounds and the particulates are well known to cause cooling of the earth.

In an article titled "How Volcanoes Influence Climate", are listed the various types of volcanic emissions and how they affect the climate.  And of course there is the increasing world temperature which doesn't match up with volcanic activity patterns.

There are many other reliable sources of this information.  Why is it so hard for some people to find it?

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Deconstructing Donald

The title of a recent article in The Economist.

"Both the president-elect and his critics have exaggerated the scale of his firm"

Some more memorable quotes from the article:

 Far from being a global branding goliath, it is a small, middle-aged and largely domestic property business. 
Start with size. Trump Inc is worth perhaps $4bn, with $490m of annual revenue. Were it listed it would be the 833rd-largest firm in America by market value and 1,925th by sales. Other occupiers of, and contenders for, high political office—including Nelson Rockefeller, Ross Perot, Mitt Romney and Michael Bloomberg—have owned and run more powerful firms.
The group’s branding operation is puny, generating only 11-13% of its asset value and sales. Its largest individual source of fees is Panama, where there is a Trump-branded hotel. The Mumbai project has paid annual fees of about $550,000 for the Trump brand. Hotels in Toronto and Manila also paid modest sums. It is also a domestic affair: 66% of the Trump Organisation’s value is in New York and 93% is in America. Mr Trump created its best assets over a decade ago. His directorships inside the group rose from 235 in 2007 to almost 500 last year, as entities such as China Trademark LLC and Trump Marks Egypt LLC were formed. But few of these vehicles generate income; if anything, they are evidence of disorganisation and disappointed ambition.
It seems likely that President Trump will inevitably blur the lines between business and politics in potentially disturbing ways—expect grubby deals and murky meetings. But it is less clear that his firm’s value will soar. With old assets in mature industries, a patchy record, disrupted management and controversies over conflicts of interest, Trump Inc’s value could stagnate or fall. And that, rather than the thrill of fresh billions, could be what really distracts America’s new leader.
And this from a mildly conservative magazine noted for analytical analysis.

Won't sit well with the true believers....

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

What Will Happen and How Will We Know?

I see a lot of slagging of various media outlets and also see many media outlets used to support one position or another, so it was with some interest that I saw this posted the other day:

What's needed is for someone (reputable) to assign positions for some Canadian media outlets.  I'd like to see where the CBC, the Tyee, the G&M, the National Post, CTV (any others?)... where they fit on the spectrum.  I have my opinions, but I can't claim to be objective on this....

But with that in mind, I offer this lengthy article from The Economist: 
Up in Smoke?  What will happen if America's president-elect follows through on pledges to tear up environmental laws.
It's a lengthy article and seems to fit the description above - "skews conservative but still reputable; Great in-depth source of news".

I'd recommend reading the whole article, but, just in case, here are a few snippets that caught my attention:  
Mr Trump’s view on climate change, it seems, is chiefly governed by what he thinks each audience wants to hear. That may be good news for the world. Public concern about global warming is rising in America; 64% of Americans say they are worried “a great deal” or “a fair amount” about it, and 71% say America should not withdraw from the Paris accord—including a majority of Republicans. As for scrapping the EPA, the share of Americans who like the breathable air and drinkable water the agency helps to safeguard is no doubt even higher. Mr Trump acknowledged this, too, in his recent interview: “Clean water, crystal-clean water, is vitally important.”
Mr Obama’s most important environmental regulation is the Clean Power Plan, which seeks to limit carbon emissions from coal- and gas-fired power stations. It is considered crucial to America’s chances of fulfilling its commitment under the Paris accord to cut its emissions, by 2025, to 26-28% below their 2005 level. Mr Trump has promised to scrap the plan.
"... even this would not persuade many electricity companies or states to reverse the shift they are already making towards renewables and away from coal. The growth of renewables has helped cut America’s emissions from power generation by around a quarter since 2005. The main reason for that progress, an abundance of cheap shale gas, gives the lie to another piece of Trumpian bluster: the tycoon’s promise to pep up the coal industry.
"... solar installations in the world’s sunniest spots now offer power at less than 3 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh)—cheaper than even the most economical gas plants. “With solar so cheap you might think it is a communist plot, but you’re still going to put up the panels,” says Mr Harvey. The volatile price of fossil fuels also makes them less attractive when planning new generating capacity."
"Strenuous efforts by China to cut emissions would also mean vast domestic demand for clean-energy technology, which would help the country’s firms to consolidate their lead in supplying a fast-growing, and lucrative, global market. While Mr Trump occupied himself with a few unprofitable coal-mines, China could be taking a commanding lead in batteries, solar panels and wind turbines."
Extreme weather events linked to climate change already result in huge distress and enormous bills: in the 12 months to April 2014 central and state governments spent $92bn after floods, droughts and other disasters.
So while there are certainly concerns when a loose cannon like Mr Trump is on the doorstep of the White House, positive things are likely to continue to happen.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Fact vs Myth - Truth in the Internet Age

I was listening to an NPR Planet Money podcast last night.  It was called "Finding the Fake News King".

I'm sure you've seen them.  Perhaps this has been your response:

I've had my share of discussions with conspiracy theorists and others who routinely post sensational "news" stories.  Some media outlets seem to specialize in this as well.  I'm thinking of "Faux News", among others.  So this particular podcast kept me awake as they explained one example of how such nonsense was propagated. 

One particular story was this one: 
"FBI Agent Suspected In Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead In Apparent Murder-Suicide."
The story, however, was a complete fake.  It started with the "news outlet" that purportedly ran the story.  A news outlet that didn't exist.

Given the ability to find out almost anything these days, why do so many people just leap at the headline and pass such stories on as fact?  Perhaps this is the reason:
For those interested in checking the validity various stories out, I'd recommend these two sites for assistance:

The other factor would obviously have to be an individual's BS Detector.  Generally, if a story is so sensational that it seems fanciful and too good to be true, then it probably is.  Look before you click "Share".

To Pipeline or Not to Pipeline. That is the Question

Prior to the global collapse in oil prices starting back in mid-2014 (so no, not Ms Notley's fault since she was elected in 2015), there was talk about building new pipelines.  Northern Gateway and an extension of TCP's eastern pipeline were part of the conversation at the time.

The industry is certainly volatile and there is no chance that will change.  The realities of this volatility are well explained in this article from the New York Times.

Since the oil price collapse, however, the clamour has intensified.  The mantra now is that Alberta needs access to "tidewater" so it can get better prices.  One would almost come to believe that Alberta's oil (conventional or otherwise) had always been confined to Alberta's borders and that we needed new pipelines to fix that situation.

The reality is that Alberta's crude has been exported for decades.  South to the USA, east to at least Montreal and west to BC's Lower Mainland.

Now, of course, two new pipelines have been approved as of late November: Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain expansion to the Lower Mainland and a shorter line through Saskatchewan, Enbridge's Line 3.  Northern Gateway has been nixed and there appears to be a ban coming on increased tanker traffic along BC's coast.

Some media outlets waxed enthusiastic about these developments, as in this one from the Financial Post.

One serious question, among many, that have been raised is whether the pipelines are really needed.

In the wake of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain approval, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley visited BC in an attempt to sell its benefits to people in this province. An understandable effort given her understanding of the concept of social license.  As an aside, this article contends that there is no such thing as social license.  You decide.

But are the claims of benefits unrealistic?  This article says they are.  There are the costs from the increased GHG emissions and the risk of spills, either from the pipeline or, more likely, from oil tankers.  And the forecasts of jobs and value to the province's GDP appear to be exaggerated as well.

The Tyee (a westcoast publication) pointed out Four Harsh Truths for Canada's Lovestruck Pipeline Polliticians.  

As Economist Jeff Rubin pointed out, there is insufficient demand for Alberta's bitumen to justify a pipeline, taking the risk that the pipeline will become a "stranded asset".  He goes on to say:
"The reality is that Asian markets pay less, not more, for the bitumen that Canada wants to sell than U.S. refineries," he told Crowe.

This article contends that "Big Oil" has been manipulating its forecasts to maintain the myth that new pipelines are needed.  The article claims that their math has been false.

There is a plethora of analysis out there that brings into question the very need for pipelines, and I haven't included any articles that focus on the increased emissions that such pipelines will add, all the while these same governments are parading their new-found awareness of the climate change crisis.  

It's quite clear that the "debate" (or fight, if you like) has only just begun.