Archive for September 2010
“Snille och Smak” is a Swedish saying that means “Shoot the Puck.”
Actually, I’m kidding. It really means “Talent and Taste.”
It also happens to be the motto of the Swedish Academy.
The Swedish Academy is one of the Royal Academies of Sweden, which include three major science academies. Sweden’s Royal Academies were founded more than two centuries ago by King Gustav III who, in his infinite wisdom, granted Royal Charters; the purpose of which was to promote science, culture, and the arts in Sweden.
Given such a history, it’s not at all surprising that 224 years later the seeds that King Gustav planted have become Giant Sequoia’s and Sweden is now one of the world’s most prosperous nations, currently ranking 3rd overall on the Legatum Prosperity Index right behind Finland (#1) and Switzerland (#2).
I wrote about the index in a previous post that you can re-visit here:
Sweden’s Royal Academies are without a doubt the most influential scientific and literary bodies in the world. For instance, one of the many scholarly things they do is decide who gets Nobel Prizes.
The Nobel Prizes are five annual international awards presented to people in recognition of cultural and scientific advances. They were established in 1895 by the Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, the scientist made famous for inventing dynamite. Make no mistake about it. A Nobel Prize is the most prestigious award in its field, and the prize winners are worthy of a great deal of respect. That said, anyone who tries to tell you differently is full of it.
The Nobel Peace Prize is probably the most well-known of the Nobel Prizes. However, it also happens to be the only one of the five prizes not awarded by a Swedish organization. That task is handled by the Norwegian Nobel Committee. The Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee presents the Nobel Peace Prize in the presence of the King of Norway on December 10th each year (the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death).
The other Nobel Prizes are presented in Stockholm, the capital and largest city in Sweden. Incidentally, Stockholm is known for its beauty, its buildings and architecture. It’s also recognized for its abundant clean water and gorgeous parks, which is inspiring given that the city is 760 years old, or about 5 times older than Canada and 3 times older than the United States.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awards the Nobel Prizes in Physics, Chemistry, and the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. The Swedish Academy grants the Nobel Prize in Literature. Each Nobel Prize includes a monetary award, which varies from year to year depending on how much the Nobel Foundation has available to give at the time. In 2009, the award for each category was about $1,400,000. Also, it’s not uncommon for recipients of a Nobel Prize to donate the prize money to some scientific, cultural, or humanitarian cause.
Having said all that, it bothers me that attacking the dignity of such highly regarded scientific organizations is considered good politics on the conservative side of the political spectrum in the United States. Basically, the Republican Party has been trying to convince everybody that the most reputable scientists and scientific organizations in the world are all either corrupt or stupid.
And why, might you ask, are Republicans doing this?
Because not a single reputable scientific organization in the world, or reputable scientist for that matter, thinks that man-made global warming is a myth, or that global warming and climate change aren’t very serious problems that require immediate attention.
Allow me to introduce you one of the top global warming deniers:
James Mountain “Jim” Inhoff is a member of the Republican Party and currently serves as the senior Senator from Oklahoma. Inhoff is among the most vocal global warming skeptics in the United States Congress and has been busy as a beaver trying to convince anybody and everybody that global warming is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on mankind.” Believe it or not, he’s actually the guy who coined that phrase.
Here’s a link to Inhoff explaining what he believes and why:
It sounds like Inhoff studied science at the University of Archie Bunker.
Check out this snippet from a 1975 episode of All In The Family to see what I mean. Archie displays Inhoff-like reasoning about 8 minutes in:
In contrast, Anton Zeilinger is an Austrian quantum physicist. Zeilinger is an example of a reputable scientist from a reputable scientific organization. Here is a link to an interview where he talks a bit about science including a brief explanation of quantum physics:
It bears repeating that not a single reputable scientist or scientific organization in the world thinks that man-made global warming is a myth.
If you find one, let me know.
“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
- Franklin D. Roosevelt (March 4, 1933) – from his inaugural address
Roosevelt may have been speaking about the stock market at the time, but, those words make a profound statement and carry a much broader meaning. Roosevelt wanted people to know about how fear can intensify one’s emotions and obscure reason. More importantly, he wanted people to know that fear can be used as a deceptive tool.
Fear mongering is the term we now use to describe the broader context of what Roosevelt was talking about. Specifically, it’s the deliberate act of using fear to sway the opinions of people. The feared object or subject is often overstated or blown way out of proportion, and the pattern is usually one of repetition and continuous reinforcement. In other words, if you say something enough times, or for long enough, people will start to believe it no matter how absurd it is.
Having said that, when it comes to scaring people, conservative Republicans in the United States are in a league of their own. Figuratively speaking, they’re like the New York Yankees of all fear mongers.
In early April, I wrote a post titled Rachel Anne Maddow Happens to be a Rhodes Scholar. It contained a link to an episode of her MSNBC show where she takes on Koch Industries over the multi-millions Koch spent funding global warming denial and scepticism.
You can get to it here:
Well, Maddow happened to be a guest on the David Letterman Show in early August where she had some interesting things to say about conservative politics in America:
“Scaring white people is good politics on the conservative side of the spectrum, and it always has been. The idea is you sort of rile up the white base to be afraid of an “other” to be afraid of the scary immigrants or scary black people. Somebody coming to take what is white people’s rightful property. Or rights. And you get them riled up so they feel like they need to vote in self-defence, and they vote for conservative candidates because of that fear. I mean we’ve been doing it for decades.”
She goes on to say,
“It should get better. And the way it’s going to get better is not by slime balls being less slimy. There’s always going to be Breitbarts and Fox Newses. That’s going to happen…”
Incidentally, Andrew J. Breitbart is like the Karl Rove of webmasters. He was recently in the news, rather than producing his own for a change, for his involvement in what was dubbed the 2009 ACORN video scandal. What he essentially did was hire a woman to pose as a prostitute and interview members of a group that he and his conservative friends wanted to ruin. While the woman mingled and asked questions, the man posing as her boyfriend secretly videotaped it all. It was kind of like Taxi Cab Confessions without the waiver, only worse. Brietbart then edited the videos in such a way as to provide absolute maximum embarrassment to the group, which it did. The slimy tactic worked and it ruined them.
This is how Wikipedia describes the Breitbart victims:
ACORN was a collection of community-based organizations in the United States that advocated for low and moderate-income families by working on neighbourhood safety, voter registration, health care, affordable housing, and other social issues. ACORN had over 400,000 members and more than 1,200 neighbourhood chapters in over 100 cities across the U.S., as well as in Argentina, Canada, Mexico, and Peru.
“That 20-minute video ruined 40 years of good work,” said Sonja Merchant-Jones, a former co-chairwoman of one of ACORN’s recently closed chapters.
Maddow suggests that the best antidote for dealing with such slimy conservative fear mongers is just by sheer mockery of them.
So, I decided to pitch in.
Check out this recent CNN broadcast where a conservative Republican congressman from Texas goes off the deep end trying to defend nonsense:
Rep., Louei Gohmert Goes Berserk On Anderson Cooper!!!
It’s hard to believe that this knuckle-head used to be a judge.
But, then again, it was in Texas.
Is it any wonder that prison populations in the United States have soared?
When you put “el stupidos” into positions of power you get statistics like these:
- There were 52 executions in USA in 2009.
- Since 1976, USA has executed 1223 prisoners.
- 462 of the executions (38% of all executions in USA) took place in Texas.
- Of the 38 jurisdictions in USA that currently have death penalty statutes, Texas executes prisoners at more than 14 times the average rate.
- USA has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world.
- USA has the highest total documented prison and jail population in the world.
- In 2008, 2,304,115 people were incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails.
- In 2008, over 7.3 million people or 1 in every 31 adults in USA were either in prison, in jail, on probation, or on parole.
- The United States prison population has quadrupled since 1980.
- 44% of all prisoners in the United States are black, even though only 12% of the population is black.
- In twenty states, the percent of blacks incarcerated was at least five times greater than their share of resident population.
- 70% of prisoners in the United States are non-whites.
- Nearly three-quarters of new admissions to state prison were convicted of nonviolent crimes.
- The single greatest force behind the growth of the prison population has been the national “war on drugs.”
- The number of incarcerated drug offenders has increased twelve-fold since 1980.
- In 2000, 22% of those in federal and state prisons were convicted on drug charges.
- Nearly one million of those incarcerated in state and federal prisons, as well as local jails, are serving time for committing non-violent crimes.
- As of 2008, the United States has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world at 754 persons in prison or jail per 100,000 adult population.
- By comparison, Canada’s incarceration rate is 116 per 100,000.
- By comparison, the rate for Switzerland is 76 per 100,000.
- By comparison, the rate for Sweden is 74 per 100,000.
- By comparison, the rate for Norway is 66 inmates per 100,000.
- By comparison, the rate for Finland is 64 per 100,000.
- By comparison, the rate for Denmark is 63 per 100,000.
- In 2006, the United States spent nearly $69 billion on corrections.
- It is estimated that 1 in 9 state government employees in the United States works in corrections.
- The United States has less than 5% of the world’s population and 23.4% of the world’s prison population.
Incidentally, the last statistic on this list reminds me of another:
In 2009, the International Energy Agency released the 2007 numbers for carbon dioxide emissions per capita for over 140 countries, regions, and economies. According to the numbers, the United States, with less than 5% of the world’s population, is pound for pound the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide via the burning of fossil fuels. The United States is responsible for roughly 20% of the oil and coal burning that’s going on in the world right now. Bear in mind, that’s without factoring in that around 33% of China’s emissions were due to the production of exports rather than consumption, and the United States plays a large role in that.
You can download the 2007 IEA numbers for free at:
Ovshinsky isn’t a household name in America, but, it should be.
Stanford R. Ovshinsky is an American scientist and inventor who has close to 400 United States patents to his credit. Additionally, many of his inventions have such wide-ranging applications that the world we know and love would be a very different place without them.
Just to name a few:
• rewritable CDs and DVDs.
• the environmentally friendly nickel-metal hydride battery.
• flexible thin-film solar energy laminates and panels.
• hydrogen fuel cells.
• flat screen LCDs.
Basically, if you drive a hybrid vehicle, have solar panels on your roof, or use re-chargeable batteries, you’re benefiting from the work of Stanford Ovshinsky.
Incidentally, the concept of granting rights to an inventor goes way back to around 500 BC, while, patents similar to the ones we have today have been around for over 500 years. Thomas Edison shattered the record for most patents by an individual in the United States. He earned 1,093 patents in the U.S. and several hundred more from other countries such as Great Britain, France and Germany. Today, the entire landscape of the patent world has changed and IBM has been surpassing its own record year after year for well over a decade. According to United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), IBM recently earned 3,621 U.S. patents in a single year, surpassing the next closest challenger by 1,170.
Stanford Ovshinsky is like Thomas Edison in many ways. For example, Ovshinsky is a self-taught inventor who chose to work in the fields of energy and information and has done so over a career that spans more than 50 years. More specifically, and more importantly, after two completely separate and very long lifetimes of research and learning, both men came to virtually the same conclusion about a key issue. Both men accepted as true that solar energy combined with electric cars is smart and that burning fossil fuels for energy is stupid. As a matter of fact, Edison accepted that as true long before global warming and climate change were an issue.
In Edison’s own words:
“Some day some fellow will invent a way of concentrating and storing up sunshine to use instead of this old, absurd Prometheus scheme of fire. I’ll do the trick myself if someone else doesn’t get at it. Why, that is all there is about my work in electricity–you know, I never claimed to have invented electricity–that is a campaign lie–nail it!”
“Sunshine is spread out thin and so is electricity. Perhaps they are the same, but we will take that up later. Now the trick was, you see, to concentrate the juice and liberate it as you needed it. The old-fashioned way inaugurated by Jove, of letting it off in a clap of thunder, is dangerous, disconcerting and wasteful. It doesn’t fetch up anywhere. My task was to subdivide the current and use it in a great number of little lights, and to do this I had to store it. And we haven’t really found out how to store it yet and let it off real easy-like and cheap. Why, we have just begun to commence to get ready to find out about electricity. This scheme of combustion to get power makes me sick to think of–it is so wasteful. It is just the old, foolish Prometheus idea, and the father of Prometheus was a baboon.”
“When we learn how to store electricity, we will cease being apes ourselves; until then we are tailless orangutans. You see, we should utilize natural forces and thus get all of our power. Sunshine is a form of energy, and the winds and the tides are manifestations of energy.”
“Do we use them? Oh, no! We burn up wood and coal, as renters burn up the front fence for fuel. We live like squatters, not as if we owned the property.
“There must surely come a time when heat and power will be stored in unlimited quantities in every community, all gathered by natural forces. Electricity ought to be as cheap as oxygen, for it cannot be destroyed.
“Now, I am not sure but that my new storage-battery is the thing. I’d tell you about that, but I don’t want to bore you…”
Incidentally, Prometheus was one of the mythical Greek Gods who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to mortals. According to the myth, Zeus punished him by tying him to a rock while a great eagle ate his liver every day only to have it grow back to be eaten again the next day.
Edison made that strong statement 100 years ago in 1910. About 20 years later, speaking shortly before his death, it became quite apparent that he felt as strongly about the issue as ever:
“I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait ’til oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”
Well, the sad fact remains that if Edison were still alive, his hopes would be mostly shattered by now and he would have lost that bet. Although, I’m sure he would have argued over the meaning and context of the word “tackle.” In any event, even Edison could never have imagined that the orangutans would have their own way for such a long time. For over a century they’ve succeeded in keeping practical energy alternatives obscure.
If you’ve heard of Ovshinsky at all, it’s probably because of his brief appearance in the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car, a film that explores the creation, limited commercialization, and subsequent destruction (crushing) of the battery electric vehicle in the United States, specifically the General Motors EV1. Ovshinsky happens to be the one who invented a battery that GM used in those cars. In the film, he and his late wife Iris talk about the unfortunate circumstances that led to the destruction of the battery-powered vehicle.
Here is a link to the part of the film that pertains to Stanford Ovshinsky:
Ovshinsky later made the comment that when GM crushed all those electric cars they probably wished that he was in one.
What a shock it must have been to go from expecting Champagne and roses for a marvelous invention that greatly benefits mankind, to suddenly realizing that you are the enemy. In fact, Ovshinsky and his wife Iris worked together day after day with one underlying goal in mind. They wanted to use advanced science and technology to make the world a better place for all people. And just when they thought that they had achieved a big part of that goal, their dreams were smashed by vested interests not wanting change. As mentioned in the clip, an energy company bought controlling rights of Ovshinsky’s company and essentially crushed the technology.
By the way, the very first battery Ovshinsky invented had a range of 201 miles or 323 kilometers on a single charge, which my 6 cylinder barely manages on about $80 worth of gas. Apparently, the special interests have been lying about the range of all such batteries for a very long time.
Speaking of oil-soaked orangutans, George W. Bush actually took a tour of Ovshinsky’s solar company United Solar Ovonic (Uni-Solar), in February of 2006. Apparently, when Ovshinsky offered to show Bush a few more of his (make the world a better place) scientific inventions, Bush responded with something along the lines of, “Stan, I studied History in college, not Science. Showing me wouldn’t change a thing about science,” to which Ovshinsky responded,
“Well, let’s change history then.”
Ovshinsky is currently working on something really big. His latest project is a 1 Gigawatt, or one billion watt, solar power plant that he says will produce energy at a lower cost, actually, than coal.
Ovshinsky talks about this and much more in a recent full length interview hosted by an organization called On Innovation. Here is a link to an interview that captures the oral history of one the world’s true visionaries: