Posted by: bkivey | 23 May 2016

Cleaning Up the Blog Pile

Some items from the bottom of the blog pile before they get too old:

From the 17 April Op-Ed pages of The Oregonian comes a piece written by a local landlord responding to hate mail he received to a Craigslist rental listing. Jeff Wallach absolutely lays the wood to the sorry excuses for oxygen thieves who fly the Progressive banner in Portland.

A 24 April opinion piece by Nishant Bhajaria provides a well-reasoned commentary on why Bernie Sanders isn’t qualified to run for dog-catcher, to say nothing of Chief Executive. It seems Mr. Bhajaria is a naturalized citizen voting in his first American national election, yet he has a better grasp of what this country is about and how it operates than the vast great majority of the native-born population.

Warm Springs Lumber Mill

About two hours southeast of Portland is the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. Sitting somewhat incongruously in the high desert is a sawmill miles from any forest. Prior to construction of the casino and resort complex, it was the primary employer on the reservation. I’ve always wondered why the mill was sited where it is, as sawmills are generally built as close to the trees as possible. That’s all moot now: the tribe announced the closure of the mill due to curtailed supply. (The citation is a stub; I wasn’t able to find the full article online).

The Federal government controls the forest from which timber was harvested, and also administers the reservation. As restrictions were placed on timber harvesting, the mill ran into financial trouble, which caused the Feds to further restrict harvesting. Earlier this year the Feds cut off the harvesting entirely, depriving the mill of its raw material. Another illustration of government largess and deprivation.

There Goes the Neighborhood

Forest Grove is a town on the western edge of the Portland metro area known for Pacific University and a slower pace of life. It’s a place I’d consider living if most of my work wouldn’t be an hour away. Folks who live in Forest Grove like living in Forest Grove.

And that’s about to change.

Thrillist, described as a ‘men’s digital lifestyle magazine’, named Forest Grove as Portland’s best suburb. While the town may be something of a bedroom community for Nike and Intel, it’s a real honest-to-God town rather than a metropolitan add-on. I read a few articles on the site, and calling Forest Grove a suburb is indicative of the type of lazy editing that seems to be Thrillist’s hallmark. One of the attractions noted was ‘a decent commute’. Anyone who thinks Forest Grove is ‘a decent commute’ from Portland either doesn’t live here, or moved from Los Angeles.

It’s no secret that Portland traffic ranges from bad to impassable. It’s amusing listening to transplants complain about the traffic: I’m thinking ‘Why do you think that is?” A person living in Forest Grove commuting to Portland can expect an hour or more each way. Hillsboro (Intel) and Beaverton (Nike) are accessible, but Portland?

The fact is that urban sprawl is taking over the area. The 16 miles of road between Beaverton and Forest Grove are almost completely lined with infrastructure. Times change and people are going to live where they like, but the folks at Thrillist aren’t helping.

 

 

Posted by: bkivey | 22 May 2016

Sound of Silence

Simon & Garfunkel’s 1964 song “Sound of Silence” is an American rock/pop classic. A definitive part of the duo’s discography, the song evokes deep emotions, especially when taken in context with the time in which it was composed.

If you’re going to remake a standard, you’d better bring something to the table.

Paul Simon covered the song in 1965, and did it in his style. Bouncy lyrics and percussive sound mark his edition. It doesn’t really, to my mind, fit the nature of the song. I like Paul Simon’s work, but his style isn’t a good fit for this song.

I’d thought the S & G rendition would remain the gold standard, until earlier this year. The heavy metal band ‘Disturbed’ covered the song in 2015, and I found out about it from a ‘Behind The Black‘ post earlier this year. ‘Disturbed’ front man David Draiman breathes life into the song, and while Simon & Garfunkel were superlative songwriters, they had some shortcomings as singers. Range and phrasing weren’t their forte. You can take a listen to the official video here, or the appearance on Conan O’Brian here. I’d suggest listening to the original song, and then the ‘Disturbed’ remake. In my opinion, the Conan performance is superior, but judge for yourself.

Posted by: bkivey | 3 May 2016

Evergreen Aviation Museum

In the heart of the Oregon wine country on the western side of the Willamette River valley, 35 miles southwest of Portland, the town of McMinnville is home to the Evergreen Aviation Museum, itself home to the Spruce Goose. The only example of Howard Hughes’ mega-plane is somewhat incongruously ensconced amid the rolling farmland of central Oregon. I’d been by here many times, but never stopped in. With a day off, and a gorgeous Spring day inviting a drive in the country, I figured I’d see what the museum was about.

I was also motivated by the fact that the museum is facing significant legal trouble. The original backing company Evergreen International Aviation collapsed in 2013, and creditors have been after the museum’s assets since. A Chapter 11 filing by the controlling Foundation has staved off foreclosure proceedings for the moment, but I figured I’d better see the museum before the lawyers divvied up the assets.

And the assets are substantial.

Admission is $25, and permits access to the museum buildings and one movie in the IMAX theater. The main building houses the main attraction Spruce Goose (H-4 Hercules), and the building was literally built around the aircraft. It simply dominates everything in a rather large structure, as might be expected from the largest airplane ever built.

Evergreen musuem interior panorama

There are numerous aircraft on the floor, and few suspended from the ceiling. Displays include general aviation, homebuilts, a number of trainers, aerobatic craft, WW II aircraft including a Mustang and a Corsair, and reproductions of WW I airplanes. There is an honest-to-God Bf-109 in flyable condition: one of the very few in the world. There’s also a DH-4 mail plane; the only example known to exist:

Evergreen museum DH-4

By the way, the propellers on the H-4 are the largest ever fitted to an airplane, but you’d never know it from the scale of the thing.

A B-17 is on the floor. Once operational; it’s being restored. There’s a separate charge to tour the bomber.

Evergreen musuem interior Spruce Goose and B-17

The tailplane span of the H-4 is longer than the wingspan of the B-17.

A surprising number of the aircraft are operational or nearly so. You can tell which ones are by the drip trays underneath the engines and other leakage points. There is a display of piston engines along one side. Quite amazing to see how compact an engine rated at 15o0 HP can be. That’s locomotive power in a package barely 6′ long and less than 3′ high.

The star of the show is, of course, the Spruce Goose. The museum procured the airplane on the condition that it would be the main attraction, and given it’s size and provenance, could hardly be anything but. That the aircraft is constructed almost entirely of wood is true, but it’s birch, not spruce, that makes up the structure. ‘Spruce Goose’ is the appellation given the machine by newspapers, probably because ‘Birch Bird’ didn’t have the same ring. Museum admission gains you admission to the entryway, but to go up to the flight deck costs extra. The museum found that the constant parade of visitors was literally shaking the aircraft apart, so a charge was instituted to reduce traffic and pay for maintenance.

From the entry you can view the length of the aircraft’s fuselage (although ‘hull’ is the more appropriate term for a seaplane of this magnitude). If you’ve been in a cave, the feeling is similar. It’s huge. There’s a mannequin placed about a quarter of the way to the tail for scale, and it seems small. If you want to go topside, the charge is $25 for groups of 1 – 4. There were a couple of other guys, so I asked if they wanted to split the admission charge; a proposal they agreed to. I went to the front desk to buy the ticket, and then there was some waiting for the next tour. It turned out the two gentleman were commercial pilots who’d flown a client into Hillsboro the previous day, and were doing a little sightseeing in their off-hours. I thought it would be interesting to get their take on the aircraft.

After passing through a glass door, the first thing is a giant HEPA filter. Howard Hughes germaphobia was well known, and he demanded that the cabin air be filtered. The stairway to the upper deck is a spiral staircase from a destroyer, and while not original equipment, doesn’t seem out of place. The upper deck is larger than some airplanes.

Spruce Goose upper deck

Looking forward from the rear bulkhead. The skin over the top is only 1/8″ thick, and pressing on it, it is. The structure is all wood, mind you. Directly behind me is the fuel distribution circuitry: essentially an analog computer. The equipment on the left are stations for flight test recording, while the two pilots are sitting up front. I sat in the copilots seat, and there are hatches in the overhead through which you can stick your head. When you do, you see that there’s a lot of airplane following you around. Nearly all the flight instruments and controls are on the pilot’s side. The pilot’s seat also comes with a tube to supply air directly from the HEPA filter. No other flight station is so equipped.

There are numerous dials and switches and such, but if you look at them, the array of instrumentation isn’t complicated, there’s just a lot of it with eight engines. The flight engineer’s station has a number of gauges related to engine performance for each engine, but one gauge had even the pros stumped. The BMEP gauge caused some head-scratching, and we all did what everyone does, and went to the phones (internet). There’s a flight manual in the cockpit, but all it did was confirm the gauge existed. No word on what it did. As best we could figure, the gauge was used to evaluate engine performance and set the engine (using the flight engineer throttles) to best performance for the conditions. As a side note, the throttles are marked with an ‘H’ or an ‘E’ depending on whether that particular engine generates electrical or hydraulic power.

As part of the fee, you can have your picture taken on the flight deck, complete with a replica Howard Hughes fedora. Yes, they wipe the hat between uses.

The rear of the upper deck allows access to the wings.

Spruce Goose wing interior

The guide supplies a flashlight so you can see to the end. It’s a long way. A person can easily walk upright for most of the length. There’s a hatch in the rear bulkhead for access to the rear of the wing.

After the H-4 tour, I’d thought Id’ seen pretty much what the museum had to offer. There are some outdoor displays, mostly military jets from the 60’s and 70’s. There’s a MiG-29, which has an astounding 65,000 feet-per-minute climb rate. That’s . . . that’s insane.  There’s also Russian armor for some reason.

Evergreen museum Russian armor

Maybe they need targets.

While wandering around the outdoor displays, I found that there’s a sister building to the ‘Spruce Goose’ home housing the museum’s space collection. I didn’t know about this, and was somewhat dismayed because I made the discovery with less than an hour to go before the museum closed. I debated coming back another time, because the collection (minus the ‘Goose’) was the equal of the other building, but forged ahead.

The other half of the museum houses the jet and space collection. There’s a lot to see here, and the centerpiece is a Titan II ICBM  (the launch vehicle for the Gemini program) set upright in silo configuration. This particular Titan II was the last to be manufactured. There’s also a Redstone rocket, the launcher for Mercury. I built paper-towel tube models of US launchers as a child, so very cool to see the real thing. The building exhibits are primarily devoted to the American and Russian space programs, and there are a number of US and Soviet military jets on display. Many of the displays feature flown items like crew suits, food, and even experimental nosecones when US engineers were figuring out ablative materials. You can touch something that’s been in space, and that’s cool. The Russians are well-represented, as they should be. The feeling is that the museum looks to honor that which should be honored, and the Russians are often given the limelight in the displays. Going to space is no easy thing, and only three nations have achieved a manned presence. Perhaps Evergreen can include some Chinese exhibits in future.

I grew up on Apollo, and I’ve been to Johnson Space Center in Houston, but Evergreen has something I didn’t know existed. Apparently the Saturn V had a ring below the third stage that controlled stages one and two.

Evergreen museum Apollo engine and control ring

That’s actual hardware. Not flown, of course, but still the real deal. The ring is packed with hydraulic and electrical systems that controlled staging for the launcher. Fascinating stuff. The engine is a third-stage engine from Apollo.

Speaking of hardware, the museum made a bid for a Space Shuttle when they were decommissioned. With only four to go around, and McMinnville having only 35,000 people in a rural area, there was no real chance they’d get an Orbiter. They did get a couple of pieces. On display is a hold-down bolt that attached the Orbiter to the fuel tank (smaller than you might think), and a tire. From the condition of the tire, it looks like flown equipment. They didn’t get the whole ship, but they got a few pieces. Sort of like saint relics in the Middle Ages.

In the same building there’s a decent helicopter display of Army and Navy choppers. My father flew helicopters in the Army, notably the Huey (officially Iroquois) in Vietnam, and the H-34 Chickisaw. The H-34 has the engine in the nose, and my father remarked how it took some getting used to with the weight forward of the cockpit.

Evergreen has an SR-71, something I did not know.

Evergreen museum SR-71

This particular plane last flew in 1996, and the display includes the various ‘black boxes’ (actually white) the airplane carried on missions. The craft on the left is a Mach 3.5+ drone carried on the back of the ‘Blackbird’, and in one instance destroyed the launching craft on exit, killing the crew. Of interest was the SR-71 ‘start cart’:

Evergreen museum SR-71 start cart

There are two Buick 425 engines in there to generate electrical power to start the plane. After the mid-60’s, parts for those engines became scarce, so the Air Force used Chevy 350’s.

There are engines:

Evergreen museum jet engines

Included are passenger aircraft turbojets and turbofans (the large turbofan on the left is from one of Evergreen’s 747’s) on the left, a P&W F-100, the J-58 which powered the ‘Blackbird’ and the engine I wanted to see, the P&W J-57, which, like the Chevy 350, has powered just about everything.

For some reason there are a couple of cars here.

Evergreen museum cars and Eagle

Not that they’re out of place, just unexpected to see them. The Eagle in the foreground was flown by museum founder Micheal King Smith as an Oregon Air National Guard pilot.

On the way home, there was an example of why this is a great place to live:

Bald Mt road panorama

A view from Bald Mtn Road looking over the Willamette Valley with Mt. Hood on the horizon. I love living here.

There’s a not so subtle inkling that Evergreen Aviation Museum is about God and Country. There are inspirational sayings painted about from Emerson to Hill. There’s a church on the grounds, and a grove dedicated to Scouting. There are worse things to swear allegiance to, and few better. If you have an interest in aviation, the museum can easily take a day. It’s not hard to see a ‘Wine and Wings’ tour, if you want to tour the Oregon wine country with the museum. If you’re in the Portland area, the museum might just be worth a trip.

Posted by: bkivey | 21 April 2016

Acknowledging Reality

On 14 April Washington Post reporter Yanan Wang wrote a story on the school district in Kingsburg, California passing a measure allowing teachers to pack heat. While such policies are in place in several other states, including, unsurprisingly, Texas, this is the first California school district to allow concealed carry in schools. The motivating factor is the growing realization that simply declaring schools a ‘gun-free zone’ does exactly nothing to prevent mass shootings. Nor do the myriad Federal, state, and local regulations prohibiting firearms in school zones, or the fact that armed assault and murder have always been illegal. Words on paper are no defense against a deranged individual putting bullets in people.

Firearms exist. That’s a fact, and all the wishful thinking to the contrary won’t change it. To think otherwise is irrational, as is the belief that simply banning something will automatically force compliance. All ‘gun-free zones’ do is signal to those intent on doing harm that there will be little or no resistance should they decide to act. Sure, the police will be called, but the reality is that the shooter is on site now, and the police aren’t. A lot of damage can be done in the minutes between the call and the appearance of law enforcement.

There’s no small amount of controversy on arming teachers. A student or students could overpower and disarm the teacher, firearms could be misplaced, an armed teacher having a bad day could themselves be a threat. And those are just some of the physical security issues. On the human side, would a person without a military or law enforcement mindset bring themselves to shoot someone?

There are measures and procedures that can be emplaced to mitigate the concerns, but arming teachers is a more rational response to school shootings than what we’ve been doing. We’ve tried the non-violent approach for decades, and all we have to show for it is a lot of dead children. At the very least, allowing teachers to carry can’t be worse than that. I’d wager that schools where teachers are known to be armed will be much less likely to be targeted for violence. Acknowledging reality is a much more effective way to deal with a problem than magical thinking.

Democrat Speaks the Truth

During the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament, Vice President Joe Biden was brought on to comment on the proceedings. Joe Biden has been in a media dungeon during Obama’s second term: seldom seen or heard. During the radio appearance. the reporter asked a leading question seeking Biden’s opinion on how sports related to American society. Mr. Biden opined that in sports, those individuals and teams with the most talent, ambition, and highest work ethic were the most successful.

What?!!!

That worldview is so far away from the Democrat/Progressive reservation as to be heresy. If the US were the worker’s paradise Progressives would like to have, we’d be looking for a new VP. Joe Biden had the temerity to speak truth, but I couldn’t help but wonder if he said that to tweak the Administration. If he really believes what he said, why is he a Democrat?

CEO Speaks Truth to Progressives

Jeffrey Immelt is the CEO of General Electric, and I’d had no reason to know who he was prior to the publication of an essay earlier this month in the Washington Post. The piece was in response to remarks by Democratic Presidential hopeful Bernie Sander’s comments that GE was one of the companies ‘destroying the moral fabric’ of the country. Mr. Immelt’s exposition is a cogent refutation of Mr. Sander’s in particular and Progressivism in general. Worth the read.

The Least Popular Bumper Sticker in Portland

Last year I designed a bumper sticker to refute the Progressive love affair with socialism. After I paint and install a new rear bumper on my car, it’s going on.

Socialism

Posted by: bkivey | 13 March 2016

The Apple and the Worm

The most deadly terrorist attack on US soil since 9/11 occurred on 2 December 2015, leaving 14 dead and 22 injured. Both shooters were killed a few hours later. Among the evidence was an Apple iPhone. One of the primary selling features of the iPhone is its robust security protocol. The recovered phone uses a four-digit key to protect access. While it may seem a trivial exercise to set up a program to run through the 10,000 possible combinations, the iPhone encryption protocol makes it increasingly difficult to access the phone with each wrong entry. The US federal government finds this inconvenient, so earlier this year a federal judge ordered Apple to open the phone.

Apple refused.

In a frightening and chilling indication of how far Americans have fallen from their roots, a majority of people, from all points of the political spectrum, seem to think that government should have access to their phones. True to form, Dear Leader is throwing gas on the fire. Speaking at the SXSW festival, Dictator Wannabe Obama had this to say:

“It’s festishizing our phones above every other value,’ he said. ‘And that can’t be the right answer.”

Following the Obama playbook, he first insults the people he’s supposed to be leading, then chastises them for not toeing the government line. Because, you know, any time government is thwarted, ‘that can’t be the right answer.’ But he’s not done yet:

‘If [the government] can’t get in, then everyone is walking around with a Swiss bank account in their pocket.’

And that’s a problem? He does mention the use of warrants, but his Administration’s actions, particularly those of the NSA, demonstrate that the Fourth Amendment is something to be brushed aside like so much tissue paper.

‘We agree on that because we recognize that just like all of our other rights, freedom of speech, freedom of religion…there are going to be some constrains imposed to ensure we are safe.’

‘This notion that somehow data is different and can be walled off from those other trade-offs we make, I believe, is incorrect,’ he said.

This is classic misdirection. There are very few restrictions on speech and religion in this country. You can’t yell ‘Fire’ in a crowded theatre, and human sacrifice is proscribed, but people are pretty much free to speak and worship as they see fit. The misdirection is that American freedoms as codified in the first ten Constitutional Amendments are designed specifically to protect individual liberty and privacy, while the Great Man is advocating an active invasion of privacy and serious curtailment of liberty.

One of the bedrock principles of a free society is the right of individuals to be secure in their persons: that there is an expectation of privacy. Without privacy, there is no freedom. The protections afforded American privacy have been seriously eroded in a series of misbegotten laws the past fifteen years, and with it our freedoms.

What the Left fails to understand is that law enforcement should be difficult. In a free society, the ability of the State to persecute and prosecute individuals should be as hard as reasonably possible. In this case, the phone isn’t even being used to prosecute the offenders: they’re dead. This is a government fishing expedition. But the Left cares not for the rule of law, instead preferring the chimera of the personality cult and a worldview with no basis in reality.

Those advocating that Apple be compelled to open this one phone are not thinking the situation through. If Apple, or any other entity, is forced to compromise individual security, then there is no privacy, and no freedom. Do those advocating for the government really want their lives opened to people nakedly advocating persecution of those with whom they disagree? Some things aren’t worth the price, and trading the nebulous promise of enhanced personal security for the certainty of loss of privacy and freedom is such a choice.

The Decline of the American Press

I’ve noticed the last several years that when someone links to source material critical of, or even reporting the actions of the US government and officials, quite often those links go to British newspapers. I’ve also noticed that the local fishwrap doesn’t seem to do a lot of reporting on current federal government machinations. While the local paper doesn’t pretend to be a national paper like The New York Times or Boston Globe, Washington DC may as well be behind a news shield for all the information conveyed. It seems that to find out what our own government is doing, we have to look to offshore sources.

Economics 101

Oregon’s Governor recently signed into law a measure that will raise the minimum wage to $14.75 in Portland, and $13.50 and $12.50 in other areas of the state over the next six years. On 13 March, the Oregonian reported on the impact this will have on student employment at state colleges and universities. The expectation is that student jobs will be cut, while the cost of higher education will increase. This shocking development wasn’t foreseen by anyone. Well, anyone except people who understand how the world works. That category doesn’t usually include college students. The probability approaches unity that every single college student supported this measure. Now, they’re going to get a first-hand look at practical economics.

I expect that rather than realize that a childish worldview is incompatible with reality, college students will agitate for a freeze on tuition, increased student loans, and demands that student employment levels not be cut. There will be demonstrations. Legislators, not wanting to appear anti-education, are going to try to find additional money, and that will likely come from increased taxes. This will diminish earning power, so there will be calls for an increase in the minimum wage. And so the economic death spiral continues.

 

 

Posted by: bkivey | 1 March 2016

The End of Reason

This year’s Academy Awards generated a controversy over the fact that no Black folks were nominated for an award. Given the number of categories, this might seem a bit odd. In short order cries of ‘Racism!’ filled the air. One might think that no Black’s had ever been nominated, or even won, due to the oppression and discrimination of the Hollywood power structure. A quick check shows this not to be true by a long shot. Of a piece with this are the articles claiming that some organization or process disproportionately affects women and minorities. The general form of these articles is that something is wrong with the process, while people in authority espouse the usual bromides. This practice is so common that it’s become a joke.

Then there’s the increasing mob rule on American college campuses. Hordes of some of the most over-privileged people on Earth are agitating that they are somehow oppressed by people who don’t take part in their mass psychosis. There is no thinking; only a mass hysteria fostered by a simplistic worldview. Those who don’t subscribe to the Progressive canon are Other, and in true animal fashion, must be silenced, and preferably eliminated.

What is lost is that data provides a What, but not the Why. If, as the local paper of record recently reported, Black inmates are restrained at a rate 47% higher than other inmates, that’s a datum. It isn’t an explanation. But the teachings of the One True Church have so permeated Western society that people automatically conclude that there is only, can only, be one reason why women and minorities are hardest hit. And so it goes for any of the other ills that permeate society. There is an -ism for everything, except for capitalism, which tends to solve most of the other problems.

At one time the ability to reason was much prized. The ability to ask Why, and then look at multiple data sources and reach a logical conclusion, is not something that comes especially easy to people. It has to be learned. Small children are infamous for annoying their elders with questions, but they’re expecting to be told the answer rather than work it out for themselves. Thinking is hard. It takes effort. The individual so engaged must be prepared to find that their assumptions are incorrect, or more recently, their conclusions are counter to the prevailing feeling. A reasonable person these days isn’t likely to be a popular person.

For any given circumstance, there may be multiple explanations. There may even be multiple valid explanations. It’s the responsibility of a conscientious person to evaluate the evidence within the context of experience. But we live in a time when many people in the Western world can’t be bothered to make the effort. I wouldn’t mind so much, but they’re taking the rest of us down with them.

 

Posted by: bkivey | 24 February 2016

The Green Police

Oregon HB 4036, designed to eliminate coal-generated electricity in the state, has cleared the House and is now in committee in the Senate. A concurrent bill, called the Healthy Climate Act (HCA), is still languishing in the House. The HCA is modeled after a California law designed to reduce carbon emissions from the industrial, power generation, and transportation sectors. The baseline figure of merit is the greenhouse emission levels of 1990. Reduction goals are a 20% cut by 2025, 45% by 2035, and 75% reduction by 2050.

A perusal of the HCA summary shows that it’s a monetary transfer vehicle, plain and simple. The motivating basis for the bill is that Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is an established fact. It’s not. AGW acolytes like to use scary graphs like this:

so they can claim that human activity is Bad For Gaia and human activity should be curtailed, or for the zealots, eliminated. The geological record tells a different story:

I haven’t done the analysis, but a glance doesn’t appear to show a high correlation between atmospheric CO2 and global surface temperature. In the Jurassic period, for instance, CO2 was rising even as temperature was falling.

Then there’s the fact that CO2 and methane, the twin terrors of the AGW crowd, are trace gases. Very trace. The current atmospheric CO2 concentration is 400 ppm. It was 350 ppm in the Green’s 1990 reference year. That’s a nearly 13% increase in a quarter century. That does sound bad. In actuality, it means CO2 went from 0.035% of the atmosphere to 0.04%. Methane makes up a whopping 0.00018% of the air. The AGW argument is that CO2 and methane trap long wave solar radiation in the atmosphere. Those must be really powerful gases if four one-hundreths of one percent of the atmosphere can significantly affect global temperature in such small concentrations.

Besides increasing costs and lowering living standards for a problem that may well not exist, or at the least not be nearly as bad as the Prophets of Gaia claim, the HCA has the same problem all Green legislation, and nearly all Progressive initiatives have: there are no performance metrics. I have not seen a single piece of AGW-motivated legislation that has any way to tell if the initiative is achieving it’s goals. At the very least, any government act that deprives people of freedoms or resources in real, measurable amounts, should have real, measurable ways of verifying performance.

The reality is that any plan that claims to address a problem  without first establishing verifiable and reproducible connections between cause-and-effect, and then develops a methodology for altering cause to modify effect in an objectively measurable way isn’t a plan at all. It’s an assumption. And when government engages in that kind of chicanery, it’s theft.

Blazing Trails

The local NBA Portland Trialblazers are setting the basketball world on its ear. After losing 4/5ths of their starting line-up in the off-season, they weren’t expected to break 0.500 on the season, much less contend for the playoffs. They are now doing both. The first game after the All-Star break was against the defending champion Golden State Warriors. Both teams were healthy and rested, and the game was seen as a good opportunity to see how well Portland was developing. Golden State was, and still is,  the best team in the NBA, having lost four games all season.

Portland 137 Golden State 105

Portland’s for-some-reason-not-an-All-Star Damian Lillard dropped 51. This is a team Blazer Nation has watched grow before our very eyes. Portland will face Golden State in Oakland twice more this year, and I’m sure the Warriors will be looking for a measure of revenge, but for one night, we saw the team we’ve been waiting for.

 

 

 

Posted by: bkivey | 9 February 2016

How Green Is My Valley

The Oregon Legislature normally meets biennially, but legislation was enacted allowing that august body to meet in short sessions in ‘off’ years. One of the primary bills in this years session is HB 4036, otherwise known as the Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan. The goal is to eliminate electricity generation from coal-fired plants by 2035, and require utilities to provide 50% of their electricity from renewable resources by 2040. The bill has brought together supporters ranging from utilities to environmental groups, though for vastly different reasons.

The legislation is a variation of ‘cap and trade’ called ‘cap and invest’ that through a complex system of investment credits allows power companies to acquire credits through investment in renewable power plants and electrically powered transit systems. The credits can be used to offset penalties incurred if the percentage of coal-generated electricity exceeds the capped amount in any given year.

Environmental groups support the proposal because coal is the bogeyman du jour, and for most people in those organizations their understanding of power generation and use only goes as far as coal Bad, wind and solar Good. Their literature related to the legislation tout the environmental and cost benefits of transitioning from coal.

The utilities support the legislation because they and their ratepayers are on the hook for crippling expensive pollution controls to be phased in over the next several years. Requirements that were pushed through by the very  environmental groups citing cost-savings in their material. Those pollution control requirements are why Oregon’s only coal-fired plant will be closed in 2020. Supporting HB 4036 is a way of green-washing a necessity into a virtue.

Oregon currently generates 40% of its power requirements through hydro, so eliminating coal-fired plants isn’t as much of a hardship as it would be in many other places, and Oregon has a relatively small population. However, even the most ardent renewable power advocate has to admit that wind and solar are intermittent supplies at best. Because they are environmentally dependent, they can never supply what is known as base power: power that’s reliably available around the clock. Implied but not stated by all concerned is that natural gas-fired power generation will pick up the load in the absence of coal. As there aren’t any gas-fired power plants under construction in the state, utilities are going to have to buy that power out-of-state, negating much of the local benefits supporters are fond of citing.

HB 4036 does have a provision for emergency exemptions if power companies can’t meet reliability standards. I expect the use of that provision will rise as the percentage of allowable coal generated electricity decreases. Because otherwise it’s going to be a world of rolling blackouts, but the Greens can part themselves on the back. They’ll just have to do it in the cold and dark.

Life in America

There’s a gun show in a neighboring county this weekend (for readers abroad, a gun show is a convention space filed with firearms, knives, and related accessories for sale). The radio ad is (I think) unintentionally amusing:

WE KNOW WHAT YOU WANT!

GUNS!

WE HAVE LOTS AND LOTS OF GUNS!

No ambiguity there.

 

Posted by: bkivey | 20 January 2016

Turn the Ship Around

“I’m going to have to science the shit out of this.”

Mark Watney

The Martian

I saw another recent sci-fi movie this week, this time on DVD. The film was The Martian, and it’s what you get when Apollo 13 meets Castaway, but with Matt Damon instead of Tom Hanks. The result is a superior movie. Even though people who haven’t seem the movie know generally  what it’s about, the story is told in such a compelling way that the film is worth seeing.

There’s a lot to like about this film:

  • Matt Damon inhabits the character of Mark Watney, projecting the kind of good-natured competence we’d like to think we’d have in a dire situation. After he deals with the immediate situation, he figures out what he has to do. He doesn’t (on screen, at least) whinge and moan about how unfair life is. He solves problems. He gets shit done. He also puts up with a steady diet of disco, which is no mean feat.
  • The rest of the cast ranges from good to excellent. Everyone commits to their roles. No one is miscast, and even a bit player like the mission controller whose sole job appears to be monitoring Watney brings nuance to the role. A superior ensemble effort.
  • The screenplay is very good. People act like people rather than characters. The dialogue rings true: people don’t go around cracking wise and getting off one-liners. Matt Damon’s first word after he deals with the initial disaster is what 95% of people would say. There are differences of opinion, but folks act like the professionals they’re portraying. And for a movie about a man making stark choices just to stay alive, there’s a fair amount of humor.
  • The cinematography is well done, capturing the vistas of an uninhabited planet. We know a lot about what Mars looks like: the header on the blog this month is an image of a Martian sunset, so movies should get that part right.
  • There’s a J.R.R. Tolkien reference.
  • The pacing is very good. The movie starts with a disaster and doesn’t let up. I haven’t seen a movie with this level of kinetic pacing since Runaway Train. Every scene and every line move the story along. It’s about the shortest 140 minute movie I’ve seen. In fact, there are places where the movie could reasonably slow down to give the viewer a moment to breathe. Exposition is minimized nearly to the point of making some parts of the movie obtuse. Aaron Sorkin this ain’t. When the ship’s crew is informed that they won’t be returning to Earth after nearly two years away, it wouldn’t have hurt to spend a bit of time showing their reaction. But this movie is about one thing: getting a guy off Mars in the shortest time possible, and the film does a good job conveying that sense of urgency.
  • Directing is very good, but it’s Ridley Scott. He gets nice performances out the actors, and they interact with each other in believable ways.
  • A running joke is that the only music Watney has available is 70’s disco, which he detests, and that conceit nicely offsets the very harsh realities he’s facing. He appears to be a bit of a Happy Days fan, as there’s a scene where the TV show is playing, and in his first image back to Earth he strikes a Fonzie pose. It occurred to me that as the first soft landing of a US Mars probe happened in 1976, the entertainment choices might be an homage to that event.
  • We see once again that duct tape can fix anything. We already know this to be true, so another point for the film.
  • This is a Science fiction story, as opposed to Star Wars’ science Fiction. STEM is front and center, and the movie does an excellent job of portraying what interplanetary travel will likely look like. There is no magic here. It’s human beings living and working in a completely inhospitable environment, and dealing with situations within the unyielding framework of real physics. Choices have to be made, and corners are cut, sometimes with unhappy results. The story by itself is a good one, but the fact that people face real limitations elevates the film and greatly adds to its veracity.

Every movie is a compromise, and even a work that tries to hew closely to reality has to make some stylistic choices. None of the choices made in this film take the viewer out of the movie, but there is one big thing and few minor ones:

  • The One Big Impossible Thing in The Martian is the complete ignorance of radiation in open space. Not that the production crew was ignorant of it, but that they consciously chose to ignore it. A movie where Matt Damon dies of radiation poisoning in a few months isn’t going to do great box office. When NASA executives discuss the viability of the rescue plan, their only concern is if the ship will remain viable for the extended mission; there’s no discussion of the effect 900 days in space will have on the crew. The current record for continuous time in space by a human is 437 days, while most proposed crewed Mars mission profiles are for around 600 days, and there’s real concern whether people can survive the radiation exposure.
  • I had to wonder why a botanist would be sent to a lifeless planet. As this is the third manned mission, maybe something was discovered on the previous two. This is another place the movie might have taken a moment with a few lines of dialogue.
  • The windstorm that sets the story in motion is massively, uh, overblown. The atmospheric pressure on Mars is so low that even a wind of hundreds of kilometers an hour is going to feel like a breeze. Director Scott knows this, but a crew isn’t going to abandon a mission for a mere zephyr. The movie references the thinness of the Martian atmosphere later in the film, so there’s a bit of contradiction there.
  • As would be expected, the metric system is used throughout the film, with one notable exception. Scenes shot in the Martian habitat and ship show monitors with readouts on atmospheric conditions. The air pressure is the only reading in English units (psi). I’d have thought they’d show pressure in kPa or at least millibars. I figured this was a stylistic choice to make the movie more accessible. Even folks who grew up on metric may not know the units for pressure.
  • Hollywood has a tendency to make spaceships too large. I’ve seen an Apollo Command Module (Apollo 10), and a mockup of the Shuttle crew compartment at Johnson Space Center, and the thing you notice is how small they are. The ship in The Martian looks to be at least as large as the International Space Station, a structure that took years and billions of dollars to build. I expect that if you’re planning on going to Mars more than once, it would make sense to build a large, robust ship, and re-crew and resupply it at the end of each mission. And if six people are going to spend a couple of years on board, you’d want some elbow room, but every gram of that ship has to be lifted out of Earth’s gravity well.

Except for the radiation thing, these are minor quibbles that in no way detract from the movie, and this film is good enough to get away with ignoring radiation. This is a well-made, well-acted, entertaining and riveting movie that puts the science in science fiction. It’s been nominated for Best Picture, and it’s only real competition is The Revenant, which will probably win. I was surprised to find that the movie is still playing locally, and it’s a film that rewards a big screen. I expect I’ll go see it in the theater, because if I don’t, I’ll regret it.

EDIT: 28 January 2016: I watched the official trailer for the movie, and it’s like watching a different movie. The trailer seems to be made of outtakes, or more precisely, the director/producers had a different vision for the movie than what ended up in theaters. This is the rare case where the actual movie is better than the trailer. Much better,

Posted by: bkivey | 14 January 2016

The Post Awakens

I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens today. I’m not a big Star Wars fan, although the first film blew me away, but that was 1977 and I was 13. I saw the two sequels in theater, but have never seen the subsequent movies and know almost nothing about them save that almost no-one likes them. My sci-fi interests run more along Star Trek/Babylon 5/Firefly lines, but the movie has gotten good buzz. I thought I’d wait awhile for the crowds to thin out, but realized that unlike 1977 when there was no home media and the movie ran in theaters for the better part of a year, Disney couldn’t start selling to the consumer market until the theatrical run was over. I didn’t want to wait too long.

I might see a movie every 2 -3 years, so I splurged and went the IMAX/3D route. The nearest IMAX theater is a 20 mile hike from the house, but for the 1230 showing the traffic was reasonable. I’d avoided looking up the movie online, and people I know knew I hadn’t seen it, so I really had no idea about the plot. A trailer aired during last years Super Bowl, but it looked like a lot of people running away from explosions; so hard to tell anything about the movie.

I’m assuming that nearly everyone who wants to see this film has done so, and there will be spoilers.

$18 bought admission, a pair of 3D glasses, and what looks to be a pass to a showing this coming Saturday. The theater had comfortable seats and maybe two dozen people scattered about. At 1230 the lights went down and the PSA’s and trailers started. One of the trailers looked like a really bad print because everything on the screen was blurry. Oh yeah, 3D. On with the glasses. Now I could see clearly that if movie trailers are to be believed, the world is full of giant things loudly blowing right the hell up. Isaac Newton has been replaced by Micheal Bay.

On to the movie:

  • I liked that after the splash screen, the movie jumps right into the action.
  • The BB-8 droid was a little distracting, because I was trying to figure out the engineering. Is a rolling ball really an efficient method of locomotion? What about ice or mud? In a largely bipedal universe, what about stairs? There’s a shot of the droid rolling down stairs, but try rolling a large ball up stairs. Maybe it uses the wheelchair ramps.
  • Daisy Ridley and John Boyega breathe life into their characters, and there is some chemistry between them. They’re entertaining to watch. The Finn character gets most of the best lines, but bad news for him, by the end of the film he’s firmly in the Friend Zone.
  • J.J. Abrams borrowed some pages from the Joss Whedon playbook.
  • A good chunk of the movie consists of frame-by-frame reshoots of the original film. Director Abrams specialty is reviving moribund movie franchises, and this may be a case of giving fans what they want, but it’s also kind of lazy. Rather than experiencing an original film, you often feel like you’re watching the 1977 film with a bigger budget. This tends to subtract from the value of the movie.
  • The script is OK. A lot of the humor depends on the actor’s ability rather than any intrinsic humor in the dialogue. John Boyega is very good at this.
  • Pacing is OK. At 140 minutes the movie doesn’t feel overly long, but there are places where tighter editing would have helped. The story doesn’t really get going until about 2/3rds of the way in.
  • Casting is the best part of the movie, and that’s not a bad thing.
  • The Kylo Ren character sure has a lot of hair for a guy that wears a full-head helmet all day.
  • Speaking of which, when did Solo and Leia have a son? Is this canon, or something original to this film?
  • 3D is generally used to enhance the cinematography rather than distract you from it. There are some very effective uses of 3D, including a shot of a Star Destroyer that had me wanting to reach out and touch it.
  • Character motivation could use some help, but I suppose you have to save something for the sequels.
  • What was a side quest in the original, the search for a Jedi master, is the main plot point in this film. Likewise, the main point in the original, destroying the Death Star, is almost a side note in this iteration. That’s not a complaint, just an observation. Without the Death Machine of Damocles hanging over the Rebel’s heads, the movie turns into Saving Private Ryan.
  • It seems everything the Empire builds blows up real good. You could make a fortune in the Star Wars universe selling fire suppression systems.
  • I’d thought the next film might be about how our new heroes find Luke Skywalker, but the ending negates that idea. Still, the ending worked well enough, and gives a sense of how the sequels will unfold. ‘Train you I will, Rey’.

There’s a fair amount going on the film, but I couldn’t really enjoy it, because I just couldn’t get past the complete and utter disregard for basic physics. I can suspend disbelief for spacecraft swooping around like aircraft, noise in a vacuum, and the implications of the inertial dampers required for the shown maneuvers, but there were moments that took me out of the movie:

  • You would not jump in a car that had been sitting for years and drive across the country. You certainly wouldn’t do that in an aircraft, and you sure as hell wouldn’t do that with a spacecraft. I don’t care how robust the engineering is, it’s not feasible. If it had been established that the craft was in use, then there’s not so much of a problem.
  • The energy required to accelerate (or decelerate) an object the mass of the Millenium Falcon to light speed in a fraction of a second is astronomical. If you tried that in an atmosphere, you’d likely blow half the atmosphere away. In any case, you and your ship would be plasma. All that energy has to go somewhere.
  • It’s clear that any weapon that destroys a star for power is a one-time use device in that solar system. And even if the Empire Planet Buster is the size of a small planet (as shown), even a dwarf star would be many times larger and heavier. So where does all that mass go? I’d thought they might have something like a tame black hole, have it suck down a star’s atmosphere to build an energetic accretion disk, and then use the polar jets as weapons. But nope, we’re shown the star being destroyed entire.
  • It’s not apparent where the Death Machine is in relation to the Rebel base, but as there is sunshine at the base, we can assume it’s not in the same solar system. Well, hell. The Empire can fire that thing, and it will take months if not years for the energy to reach the base. And if you’ve destroyed a system’s star, destroying the planets is pointless.

These aren’t nit-picky points. They’re places in the movie that had me going ‘What?!’, and took me out of the film. The movie would have been just as good, and more watchable, without those distractions. I understand that folks in the movie business are a lot more interested in exciting visuals than whether something is even remotely possible. And there’s a lot of good science fiction where the viewer or reader is asked to accept one (or a very small number) of impossible things. As long as those impossible things work in a consistent way, most people will suspend disbelief. Star Wars has a bit of a problem in how it presents itself. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a fantasy that acknowledges that it’s a fantasy, but Star Wars is a fantasy that wants to be taken seriously, and that leads to things like the above mentioned points. It’s a bit of a stretch.

Overall I give the movie 3 stars, losing one full star for the physics problems. The story is decent, the film moves along well enough, and the 3D is worth the money.

 

 

 

 

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