Converting the US to Solar in One Year

September 4, 2014

I keep hearing from people that it’s impossible to power the nation off nothing but solar power. This is, of course, patently false. What they mean is, it’s impossible to convert the US over to solar power and keep using power the way we are using it today.

The “can’t do it” argument assumes, however, that we have to use electrical power at night.

Now, there are quite a few sources of clean power that function perfectly well at night. Nuclear, hydro, and geothermal are constant sources you can depend on 24/7. Ocean (tidal power) and wind are a bit more intermittent. Battery power is just coming-of-age, so we can function at night when the sun ain’t a-shining after packing away all those daylight kilowatts into magically chemical-filled boxes. But if you tried to supply the existing US power demand using existing power sources, then you’ll be burning coal and oil to power the nighttime grid. My point being, we could alter our own social structure to avoid that need.

Sure, this is drastic, and you’d need buy-in from everyone, and we already know this isn’t going to happen; people hate change. Big corporations hate change even more, and are willing to shell out the bucks to convince you that you should, too. But let’s look at the problem through a new set of specs.

We can create daytime power. I don’t think anyone will argue that point. If some state is cloudy, there’s a place 100 miles away that isn’t, and we know how to get power from one place to another. The commitment we’d have to make to go pure solar and ignore every other power source is to not use electrical power at night.

Let’s go back a couple of hundred years and ask our selves how people ever survived at night without electricity. Okay…they burned stuff. The fireplace gave them heat, the kerosene lamps and candles gave them light. But we have solar thermal storage (hot water tanks, for example) that can take care of the heating issues. And we have really efficient solar-charged LED lamps. Worst case, if it’s been overcast for two weeks and your solar-powered hot water storage tank that runs all your radiators is starting to cool down, and there’s still snow on the ground, then you can fire up your coal/wood/natural gas heater as a final emergency backup system, not your primary power source. Unfortunately, most American houses aren’t fitted with hot-water radiators, but this technology is common in England.

You don’t actually need TV and computers at night. It’s just part of our culture. Even your fridge doesn’t need to run all night if it’s shut and efficient. The wall-wart transformers that leech energy from the system can easily be shut off at night; I’ve noticed that when we do have power outages, the only real inconvenience we’ve suffered is having to reset clocks. Electric cars and delivery trucks could still cruise the roads at night; they have batteries that charge during the day. One Australian team just ran a test car for 500 km at 100kph (62mph) on a single charge. And they weren’t even using the imbedded 800W solar panels for the test run. 

So there it is; we need to become a daytime culture, with solar thermal storage tech to keep us warm at night. We have the tech. We have the know-how. What we don’t have is the will to change. Bit of a shame, really. We were such an amusing species.

Photons Dancing on the Head of a Match

May 1, 2014

Who cares about angels on the end of a pin? Let’s get real; how many photons are there on the end of a match?

There’s a lot of data out there to help us calculate this; one article says that the human eye can detect a candle in the dark at 30 miles. Isn’t that something? The same article says it takes at least 54 photons just for the human eye to register an event. So that match (or candle) has to get 54 photons into that fraction of your eye that actually receives and focuses the photons. But the whole eye doesn’t actually receive the photons; it’s just the black opening in the middle. The largest it ever gets is about 7 millimeters diameter, which is 38.5 square millimeters in area, or .385 square centimeters.

How many events can the human eye see in one second? If we’re looking at the match from 30 miles away, and it looks continuous, then we are receiving over 50 frames a second (though the human eye has been recorded as being able to discern and identify an image in 1/255th of a second, we’ll be conservative). If the image were less than 50 times per second, we would detect a choppiness in the image; still, overlap in the match’s photon emissions could turn a choppy image into a smooth one. But lets assume we get a continuous 54 photons, all the time, at least 50 times a second; anything less would look like a flicker off.

Now we have everything we need to calculate how many photons are coming off the head of a match!

Just put an eyeball…or just the iris, the bit that receives the light, in every spot in a 30 mile radius, add up the total number of irises, multiply by the 50 times-per-second, times the 54 photons per eyeball, and we should have the number we need.

The sphere of irises is 4*pi*r-squared. Or 4*3.14*30*30 = 11,310 square miles, or 29,292 square kilometers. Or 29,292,000,000 square meters. Or 292,920,000,000,000 square centimeters. Since each dissected eyeball (just the iris, you see) only takes up .385 square centimeters, that’s about 760,000,000,000,000 irises stuffed carefully into the perimeter of the sphere to capture all the photons.  Just as a point of interest, that’s about 50,000 times the number of human eyeballs on Earth. Guess we’ll be dissecting all the other animals, too. May as well start with fisheyes; they’re sort of gross to begin with.

Each of those eyes is gathering 54 photons at least 50 times a second, so we get to multiply the 760 million million by another 250-ish, giving us a grand total of about 190,000 million million photons off the head of a match every second. Or, just because I like a lot of zeros, 190,000,000,000,000,000 photons. Every second. From a freakin’ MATCH HEAD. We are awash in a photon bath.

Now, leave the darkness of night, and realize that when you walk outside, you are no longer looking at one tiny spot radiating onto 190 quadrillion eyes, now you have a hemisphere of 30 cubic miles of daylight radiating onto your eyeball. Well, okay, you can’t look at the hemisphere all at the same time. Your turn to do the math! How many photons are hitting your eye every second? Hint; it’s an absolute crapload of photons.

The Global Warming Pause

April 18, 2014

I’ve been hearing about the Global Warming Pause for quite a while now. The point is that Global Warming hasn’t apparently increased at all in the last ten years. That’s not to say that it hasn’t maintained a temperature higher than the last few thousand years; there’s been a very pronounced spike during the last century, but at least it’s leveled out. Whew! Emergency’s over, everybody go home. In this article, I’m not going to speculate on the source of the spike, so all the questions about who or what is causing it may be momentarily ignored. What I am going to speculate on is how a steady thermal increase can result in a temperature plateau worldwide.

And I’ll do this with a large bowl of ice cubes (which you may consider the Arctic if you like). Aw, heck, let’s just start with the Arctic and forget the bowl. The Arctic zone is not just zero-degree ice. It’s much colder than that. The surface temperature tends to range from about -60C to 10C over the year; the point being that the large mass of ice maintains a temperature well below zero. If you increase the temperature of ice from -30 to -28 C, this takes very little energy. If you increase the temperature of ice from -1 to +1C, it takes a huge amount of energy. Believe it or not, it takes more energy to heat up ice from -100C to 0C than it does to go from 0C ice to 0C water. Why does it take so much energy to phase-change from ice to water? Ask a physics professor. But it’s a physical, well known fact. (Refer to Heat Capacity Phase-Change Example Problem for some simple math behind this).

So, you might get an idea where I’m going with this. As the world warms, heating up the ice mass in the artic a few degrees doesn’t melt it much. Going from -5C to -1C doesn’t take a lot of energy. Before we hit the melt-temperature, the world-wide temperature will go up fairly quickly. As we reach a temperature where the ice finally does start to melt, a huge amount of energy is absorbed (and I do mean a LOT) by converting the ice to ice-water, which flows into the ocean, cooling it down. The cooler water merges with the warming water and makes it look like the temperature isn’t going up. We hit a thermal plateau. The massive amount of energy required to change the ice to water produces an illusion; not only does the phase transition absorb the energy while keeping the temperature stable (at 0C), but the ice-water mixing with the warmer circulating waters keeps the temperature low.

Simple experiment for those that don’t understand this; stick a thermometer in a bowl of water. Put a lot of ice in it. Wait until it stabilizes (close to 0C or -32F). Then put it out in the sun where it gets warmer. Watch the temperature not-change while the ice melts. Mark it on a chart every five minutes. Once the ice is all gone, keep watching and recording the temperature. You’ll notice the water is going to all-of-a-sudden start to get warm quickly after it’s melt-period of being stable.

This is the catastrophe point. Lulled by the encouraging data point of a flat, unchanging temperature as all the ice melts, all of a sudden we lose the massive heat-sink that the ice-to-water conversion provides. We lose the deceptively attractive plateau of unchanging temperature, that false crest on your hike that hides the mountain behind it. But by then, it will be far too late to fix things.

We Are The Meteor

July 20, 2013

Not that long ago I was reading an article by Robert Zubrin, called “Carbon Emissions are Good“, where he stated an oft-repeated mantra by those who think global warming, while real, is no big deal.

It generally goes like this; “Global Warming cycles have occurred in the past, life has dealt with it, and in some cases, done even better than now due to all the extra CO2 in the atmosphere.” Zubrin writes, “while it is entirely possible that the earth may be warming — as it has done so many times in the past — there is no rational basis whatsoever to support the contention that carbon-dioxide-driven global warming would be on the whole harmful to life and civilization. Quite the contrary: All available evidence supports the contention that human CO2 emissions offer great benefits to the earth’s community of life.”

Sorry, but this is a completely false statement, and apparently Zubrin neglected to read much of the “all available evidence” he mentions. It completely ignores one of the major components to the problem. As Brian Huntley puts it, “The rate of climate change forecast for the future is 10–100 times faster than the rate of deglacial warming.” His paper, “How Plants Respond to Climate Change: Migration Rates, Individualism and the Consequences for Plant Communities” in Annals of Botany talks about the critical issue; how fast plants and animals can migrate when an environment changes too much to support the plant life.

Herbivores can’t live without the plants they eat. Plants can’t migrate themselves except through a few very slow processes, including undigested seeds, wind distribution, sticky seeds, and water and mud flows. Given a thousand years of slow warming, the natural random distribution of seeds with these mechanisms might allow plant and animal species to spread to local environments that are more habitable. Given a hundred years, the slow random redistribution of seeds means that the old environment will die out before the new one has a chance to migrate or take hold; massive extinctions of the whole food chain will occur. Plants and animals have, indeed, evolved mechanisms to allow migration, but these depend on slow, natural rates of heating and cooling, rates that allow a slow peripheral migration, not the wholesale destruction of one habitat to be replaced by another more suitable 1000 miles away. There are barriers and thermal pinch-points that can prevent a species from migrating at all.

If you were in a room quickly filling with milk, and you had no exits, Dr. Zubrin would point out how healthful the milk is for you.

Rather than the slow process of deglaciation, a climate altering event more comparable to human global warming is a giant meteor strike, resulting in climate change that occurs in weeks and lasts for years. Sure, this is the other end of the scale, but we also know for a fact that such events are quite capable of wiping out 90% of the extant species. Species have no chance to recover from such an event, or migrate to more pleasant climes.

Unfortunately, we have become the meteor.

Billionaires of Mars

August 10, 2012

If you could write a check for a spaceship to Mars, would you?

That’s exactly the situation we have right now. There are over a hundred people on Earth right now with personal wealth weighing in at over $10 billion dollars. Gates has over $60 billion bucks available. Any one of these people with any interest at all in putting a colony on Mars, basically, owning Mars, could do so within a decade.

Robert Zubrin, an advocate of a unique mission profile, stated in an article, “…while Mars Direct might cost $30 to $50 billion if implemented by NASA, if done by a private outfit spending its own money, the out-of-pocket cost would probably be in the $5 billion range.” Wow. Five billion. And his mission profile advocates bringing people back, unlike the Mars One group from the Netherlands who wants to do a one-way mission to colonize the planet; of course, now you’re paying to take enough food and infrastructure for people to stay there.

The key point of this is that, given the will of one person (one very rich person), we could be standing on Mars in 10 years time. We could be living on Mars. The Mars rover, Curiosity, just did a radiation measurement that indicated levels are “not a showstopper”. About the same as low-Earth-orbit. Woo-hoo!

And most important of all, if this rich person has a brain, they can make money on the effort. Richard Branson ($4 billion) or Elon Musk ($2 billion) seem to already be heading this direction, building the infrastructure to get to space on their own terms and making money at it as they go (via Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites, Virgin Galactic and SpaceX). The Mars One people talk about turning the mission into a media extravaganza, a reality show to beat all reality shows, an advertising blitz to beat all others. What would Pepsi pay to have their logo on the first manned lander? What would the first returned samples from Mars be worth to collectors? Can you imagine what actual fossils would be worth if they find them?

And you don’t even have to spend a cent developing the rockets to get you into Earth Orbit. Elon Musk has already done the design work; you can launch 10 Falcon Heavies for a billion dollars, delivering a half-million kg of fuel and hardware to low-Earth orbit.

Let’s look at the potential returns on this for a billionaire entrepreneur;

1. It’s been suggested that a $5-10 billion NASA X-Prize be offered for a private manned mission too Mars. Fine, but likely with lots of strings attached. Still, there it is; your entire mission paid for if you’re successful.

2. Advertising. This starts the moment you actually commit to the project. Just the televised weeding-out process for wannabee astronauts could bring in millions of dollars as a reality show. Competition between countries for seats on the rockets, Olympic fervor and excitement. That could last years. Licensing for games, the official mission logo plastered on every product on Earth, books, autographs from the team members, photo ops, speaking gigs (hey, you own those astronauts, part of the contract), product placements, donations for a variety of perks, or just donations…the list just goes on and on. If I were in advertising, I could make back the $5 billion in the 5 years before the first rocket left the launch pad. How many million-dollar stickers could you get on the side of your lander?

3. Building the rocket to get there, assembled in Earth orbit offers more advertising, more excitement, pay-per-view.

4. The trip there, of course, would be televised. Interviews would be sold. Unlike NASA’s model, nothing is free. Perhaps a bit more reality show programming and product placement advertising. Nothing like a Mars bar when you need a break from your EVA, is there?

5. And when you land, what is that worth? Renting out the copyrighted footage from the first manned landing? Aforementioned ad-space on your hardware? Commercial breaks? The knowledge that you’ll be getting royalties off this footage for the lifetime of the copyright? And the check you got from the country (or company, or person) that paid you off so their guy would be the first on Mars?

6. Experiment space could be sold for your arrival on Mars. Personal items or human ashes carried there and buried there. Designer bacteria could be taken along and tested in the Martian environment. Designer plant species, lichen and such, patented and ready for the colonists to spread around. If the colony was set up inside one of the many known lava tubes on the planet (such as those near Pavonis Mons), with solar collectors and solar pipes channeling the light inside, the colony would be surrounded by rock and safe from radiation. Lava tubes could provide huge living quarters with very little preparation.

7. And once you’re settled? Rent out your colonists. Tell us where you want to go, what samples you want collected, where you want that pickaxe swung. We’ll hop on our Martian bicycles and go check it out. Now that you’re there, anything you sell is just a bonus for you. For that matter, rent out little rovers with cameras. Sure, it’ll take 4 to 20 minutes for Earth-commands to go back and forth, but you know folks would rent time on them. Why stop there; super-light-weight flyers can be programmed to see all sorts of interesting things.

8. Property. Oh yeah, barring international agreements which won’t really apply to you since they can’t reach you, you own Mars. You want to buy 20 acres on Mars? We’ll sell it to you with a deed. It might be underwater when Mars starts to warm up, but that’s the risk you take. Lava tubes, now those are premium property! Create your own Government for your colony and claim it all. Work out deals with Earth governments so they don’t try to steal it all back. Better yet, sell them large swaths of Mars.

9. Sell support services for other colonists and countries. Once you prove it can be done, others will follow, and you can sell some of your infrastructure services (like a communications satellite, if you left one in orbit, you can rent bandwidth. Or a berth in your colony, if the new arrival wants to rent or buy a place to stay). Once they find out you’re trying to claim Mars for yourself, well, there won’t be any lack of newbies clamoring for a piece of the action, and they’ll all be paying you rent for your existing infrastructure.

10. Propellant; assuming you’ve tapped off of some of Zubrin’s brilliant ideas for making propellant from the Martian atmosphere, you can sell that to potential customers. Hey, we have water and propellant for sale! Come as you are. We have the supplies to send you back. For a price.

11. Patents on new minerals, compounds, and materials, and if you’re very, very lucky, microfossils. Unique gemstones on Mars? Who knows. Getting them back to Earth is a problem, but once your infrastructure is in place, heck, that’s a mission you could pay for with pocket change and make your money back ten-fold. Take stamps to Mars and ship them back.

12. And it gets stranger…once your colony is pressurized to 0.5 Earth-atmosphere in 1/3rd G, it’s time to pull out your sports-wings and fly around inside your 200-meter wide lava tube (yeah…they’re huge). You get to start your very own Martian sport. Which team will you bet on? Which Earth-network is going to pay to broadcast it? And Superbowl advertising for $4 million dollars per ad? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Okay, sure I forgot some things. Let me know. Point is, we can go to Mars now; all we need is a billionaire with a dream and a marketing team that makes sure he remains a billionaire. After all, you’ll want to have money left over for that next colony.

UPDATE: Elon Musk (the Paypal billionaire) spoke at the Mars Society Convention in Pasadena last week, and expressed his interest in colonizing Mars, and making seats available for $500,000 a head for would-be colonists. Go, Elon! I might be too old to make the trip by the time this happens (being a spry 58 now), but at least I can make the trip vicariously! If you want to have your spirits bolstered by what he says, you can watch it here. Skip the Zubrin introduction – it’s lengthy.

A Solar Retirement

June 21, 2012

I’ve been thinking of adding 5-10KW of solar panels to my house, or rather, my back hillside, for a few years now, just to generate income.

My current setup is a 3.75KW roof-mounted installation, but my roof is full. From this, I get an average of about 400KWH every month, roughly 5000KWH per year. Some months I produce 300KWH, some 600KWH. I use most of this in household activities, and keep converting things (like the water heater) over to electric so I don’t have to shell out the big bucks for propane. My current *annual* electric bill is about $100, and that’s only line charges because I’m still connected to the grid.

And I’m getting close to retirement, and urgently looking for the best way to collect 5% consistently every year on my 401K money, and still have enough of the original money left when I keel over that my kids can party hearty and afford eco-friendly Teslas.

So I was reading up on what PG&E pays for a kilo-watt-hour (10 cents) from a small producer (less than 1.5 megawatts…downright tiny unless you’re holding onto the output wires), and thought, HEY, why don’t I invest my 401K cash in solar panels and collect this 10 cents per KWH.

The math is fairly attractive. When I bought my first panels, they were running about $4 per watt. Now you can get panels for about $1.50 a watt.  Let’s say I go for a system 10 times my current size; 37.5KW, yielding about 50,000 KWH and $5000 per year from PG&E. If the system costs less than $100,000, I’ve found my 5% retirement (note; my first system of 3.75KW cost $30K before rebates, but that was also at $4 a watt – I expect some savings of scale, too). If it’s less than $100K, well heck, my percentage just went up.

And the humongous advantage? Since I can run it as a BUSINESS, I get to deduct part of the cost every year! Probably wouldn’t pay a cent of taxes on that $5000.

I’m sure I’m glossing over some of the details a bit, but isn’t this an awesome idea? Naturally, it would apply to wind generators, too, but can’t you just imagine an army of retirees protecting their 401K investment and the planet at the same time?

Moronic Political Emails – It’s the season!

June 15, 2012

I recently received an email from a friend talking about a $737 million dollar loan to a solar company for the Tonopah solar thermal installation in Nevada which would generate only 45 permanent jobs, which came out to $16 million per job. There was attempt to blame this terrible government waste on a few evil politicians, but after I read the message, my first thought was, “But that’s not correct. It’s not a grant, it’s a loan.  The government isn’t paying anybody anything. They’re lying to make their point.” Ah, sweet campaign season!

It’s not like it took me any research to figure this out. It said right in the message: “$737 million dollar loan”. Any fool could read this and think, “Oh, they’re going to pay back the loan, and those jobs will cost the government $0.”  A few seconds of mind-breaking research (I googled it) revealed that they were even going to pay 4% back on the loan.

A few more backbreaking seconds of research used up visiting SolarReserve’s website revealed that sure, there were only 50*permanent* jobs being created, along with 600 construction jobs during the year, and 4300 related “direct, indirect, and induced” jobs (you know, like mining and trucking) that would be affected during the 30 month construction period.

I will admit, the first information source I discovered was at http://www.factcheck.org, who is perfectly willing to slam both Democrats and Republicans, and who thoroughly dissected this pathetic piece of political pisinformation.  Staunch followers of both parties seem to dislike factcheck because it’s so good at debunking their erroneous political spam.  My recommendation is that they do their own fact-checking before smacking that “forward” button. It’s a simple solution: quit forwarding crap.

So here’s a clue for the clueless; http://www.factcheck.org and http://www.snopes.com. Please, oh, please filter your political garbage emails before you pass them on to the next gullible sucker. You can save a lot of headaches that way, and maybe avoid that dreaded 5-cent per email surcharge that the post office has in the queue. If it’s just lying propaganda you want to pass on, then never mind, but keep in mind that if your candidates are elected based on the power of lying propaganda and a gullible electorate, well, you get what you pay for.

Rich People, Rich Companies, Rich Government, and Jobs

June 15, 2012

There’s a peculiar dichotomy in the discussion on “the rich” creating more jobs by getting tax cuts.

When we talk about the wealthy, we have to be aware that “taxation on the rich” takes two very different paths; one is regarding tax upon the upper-level management that’s getting paid in millions of dollars regardless of the performance of the company. The other is tax on corporate profits.

Clearly, if an individual is sitting on a pile of cash, then there is no job creation going on there. If the money is invested in stocks, it’s accomplished little more than raising that stock’s artificial value for someone else. This is not job creation. Two stock owners can buy and sell stock back and forth until the stocks have doubled in price. All they’ve succeeded in doing is tying up their profits in inflated stock prices. When the stock market is doing great, cash is being tied up to inflate the prices; this cash is not creating jobs.

Likewise, the concern about taxing profits on companies is totally irrelevant if the company is actually using their extra money to create jobs. in which case their profits will be very small and they will pay very few taxes.  If you think about it, high corporate taxes could, in fact, encourage corporations to reinvest heavily in themselves and in job creation – they maintain corporate growth, new jobs, and thus investors to jack up their own stock prices.

But if we look back over the last thirty years, the tax on the wealthy has been lower than ever so there’s been less of an incentive to dodge taxes by reinvesting in job growth without the company. The job situation is worse than ever. The government, collecting less money, has the worst deficit problem ever, escalating every year for the last 30 years or so (excepting Clinton’s time in office – we can only assume he raised taxes). The jobs that the government created by taxing the wealthy went away with their tax cuts.

Contrary to conservative beliefs, lowering taxes eliminates jobs. The government tends to spend ALL of the money they bring in, as everyone has noticed, and when they spend it, they create jobs.

So if CEOs have a pile of cash to burn, what are their choices? Sit on the cash, that’s an option. Invest in stocks, inflate stock prices, thus tying up the cash? Or expand their companies.

Expanding their companies only makes sense if there’s a demand. So in a depression or recession, there’s zero incentive, no matter how low you make their taxes, to invest in creating jobs. Think about it…put yourself in the CEO’s position. It’s pretty simple math.

So what options are we left with in  a recession? Tax breaks for the rich…no, that clearly doesn’t work. Compare unemployment when peak tax rates were  90% to current times. Pretty obvious, isn’t it? And if the government has this tax money, what do you think they’ll do with it? Put in in stocks, spend it in China on cheap labor, or make jobs for Americans?

Fair Taxes?

December 27, 2011

The fact that both parties run their campaigns on sound-bites is unquestionable. They try to dilute the truth so thoroughly that little thought is actually left in it.

Look at the idea of taxing the rich. The liberals insist that the rich aren’t paying their fair share. The conservatives think that the rich shouldn’t pay a larger fraction of their money to taxes because it isn’t fair. Yet both are relatively true. How can this be?

Is there any legitimate reason to tax the rich more than the middle class? On the surface of the argument, no, if in fact the rich were actually paying more than the middle class, which is false (consider GE’s nearly100% tax dodge, and Warren Buffett’s article about just how little the rich actually pay). Just having them pay the same tax as the middle class would be a big step forward. Is increasing taxes on the rich a good way to fix the problem? Not really. Large corporations and the rich will just find countries with tax havens, perfectly legal with today’s world-wide financial structures (consider GE again). Is reducing taxes on corporations a good solution? The reasoning behind this is that it creates more jobs. If one looks at the Reagan era tax-rate versus unemployment, and the current tax-rate versus unemployment, we find that this isn’t necessarily true. Likely there are multiple factors involved, but it’s clear to everyone that corporations and the rich are raking in more money than ever, and jobs are still lacking. Why on earth would a corporation create jobs in an economy where people aren’t spending money? It’s a catch-22, but lowering taxes won’t change it, and will in fact only aggravate the problem by causing the loss of government-created jobs which are currently supported by…you guessed it…taxes.

So while both sides are correct at the same time, neither really has a viable solution to make taxation fair or a decent way to enforce it. We are provided with deceptive sound bites from both sides of the aisle that lead us to believe the issues are black-and-white, or red and blue.

Let’s look at the back-issues. First, do the wealthy deserve to be taxed more than anyone else? If I work 40 hours a week, and my neighbor works 80 hours a week, should he pay more taxes? I think not. He works harder, deserves more. But what if we both drive trucks for a living? Now we’re both using public infrastructure for which we both pay taxes; the road work, the DMV, the CHP, roadside phones, traffic signals, government bureaucrats to run all this infrastructure. Hmm. Now he’s using the assets the government provides twice as much as I am. I guess he should be paying more than me.

How about the guy that makes $20,000,000 per year? Is he working 200 times as hard as I am, or is this money a result of taking advantage of tax-provided benefits? Arguably, if his high wages are a result of depressing his own employees’ wages, then that portion of the tax is already covered; he’d be taxed at the same rate as his employee; no loss to the government there (unless the employees are pushed into poverty levels by CEO wage abuses, in which case the government is incurring a loss). But how about the trucks on the roads? Police protection? Water service? Firemen? How about the education of his employees from the public education system? How about the pollutants produced by the public utilities providing the power for the factory? Use of common assets, like air and water? Though it’s difficult to put a dollar figure on such things, it’s clear that you can’t run a large company without taking advantage of a lot of things either provided by government through taxes, or subsidized by the government, or ignored by the government, such as the intrinsic cost of pollution. This is part of the $20,000,000 that the executive earned.

So sure, if I, as a middle-class guy, only have to pay $25,000 in Federal Income Tax, then the guy that makes $20 million a year should only have to pay that much. Then you can tack on the Public Education Use Fee of $1,000,000, and the Public Asset Pollution Fee of $1,000,000, and the War Coffers to Protect Your Company on Foreign Soils Fee of $3,000,000, and so on.

To summarize, taxes should be evaluated based on use of the assets those taxes provide. If someone is drilling oil in Iraq, chances are they should be paying a lot more taxes than someone drilling oil in Texas, just because they’re taking advantage of military assets to keep things in line over there. If Google is using geniuses created by the government subsidized educational system (don’t laugh), then they should likely be paying more taxes than the guy hiring uneducated farm workers. If the guy with farm workers is taking advantage of the government-subsidized medical system for poor people, then he should be paying more taxes than Google, who might provide much of their own medical care through their employee medical insurance.

This might sound “unfair” to some just because it isn’t an across-the-board equal tax for everyone. Well, get a clue, folks, we don’t all use the stuff we’re taxed for on an equal basis. The people that have figured out how to leverage tax-provided benefits into their own wages have made out. Sure it’s corrupt, but it’s legalized corruption. Just like the bank bailouts and subsequent bonuses.

All I’m suggesting is that people pay for what they use. Sure, we’d have to create a whole new system of Use Fees, and then argue about the dollar value of someone dumping mercury in your neighborhood stream, but if you want “fair taxes”, then that’s what we need to start looking at.

The Biggest Slam-dunk Against Intelligent Design Ever

November 21, 2010

The key to exposing those processes of evolution that appear completely nonsensical if attributed to an intelligent designer is to ask these two questions;

1. If God designed this, what would he likely have done? And
2. If the process of evolution produced this, what would be the end result?

A great example of this is the case of every living thing eating every other living thing just to survive (but this is not the “slam dunk” I’ve promised in the title). If I assume as a basic foundation that God is a loving, caring individual and really likes humans more than anything else, then one would have to guess that he would not design an entire ecosystem where the primary goal of each member of that system is to kill and eat one of the others. Humans are just “food” to a number of viruses, bacteria, parasites, scavengers, and large predators. While this appears to be a perfect characteristic for an evolutionary process of competitive consumption and mutation, it’s entirely moronic from the perspective of any sort of intelligent design. Add to this the fact that some vegetarian humans choose to avoid killing any other animals and it tells us that it is, in fact, possible to have an ecosystem where nothing kills anything. God was just too stupid to figure it out. There are quite literally thousands of species of scavengers and insects and plants that eat nothing but already-dead organics. Wouldn’t that be something; an ecosystem where animals would only eat each other after they died from other causes?

Of course, an evolutionist would argue that this could not stand; eventually one animal would evolve the brilliant trait of killing other animals to assure their timely death, drag the carcass off, and nibble on it only after it had decomposed to an edible state, like a pheasant hanging in front of a British butcher’s shop. Killing to eat, as you can see, is an inevitable state of evolution, not the hand of intelligent design. But this, again, assumes that an animal could naturally evolve at all without God’s thick fingers in the dough. Even if God had started with such a benevolent, non-violent system, mutation and evolution would inevitably have driven us in the direction that it has.

So, again, look at the questions; How would God design something, and how would evolution mould it?

Take genetics. There’s the obvious fact that every living thing, even viruses, use DNA, and use the same code sequences that all the other organisms do. The gene that makes haemoglobin in humans is very much like the gene that makes haemoglobin in pigs, and in fact can and has been spliced into pig DNA so that the pig had both human and pig haemoglobin coursing through its veins. The genes are just little strings of codes, and the fact that genes that do the same thing in each animal tend to be nearly identical should be a pretty obvious clue that evolution, with its accumulation of mutations, has been at work. However, the ID proponents will tell you that God has merely taken a good design and used it elsewhere, tweaking it for that particular organism.

So the ID argument is founded on the idea that God can apparently pick and choose what genes he wants to use in each animal. After all, he designed them, right? We might expect each animal to have its own unique genes, with common functions duplicated in between species as very similar genes.

But here’s the problem. If there are 5 genes in a Human, let’s just call them A, B, C, D, and E, and we compare them to their functionally equivalent genes in a muskrat, we would expect some variation between each pair of common genes in the two animals. If God can just pick and choose genes and tweak them to his heart’s content, we would expect the Human-A gene to be different from the Muskrat-A gene by some percentage, like 5%. Evolutionists would consider this 5% as an accumulation of mutations after splitting from a common ancestor. The B-gene might be 20% different, and the C-gene 50% different. And so on. God can pull genes from anywhere and do anything he wants with them. So any level of variance between two genes between two animals would be possible, right?

Wrong.

What we find is the answer to “what would evolution do?” question. If two animals descend from a common ancestor (well…they ALL do), then we would expect a certain mutation rate to occur in the genes of the each animal, a “molecular clock”. All the genes in the animal would maintain this same rate of mutation accumulation, being exposed to the same mutating environment, the same statistical distribution of unexpected change. What we would expect is that the 5 genes between human and muskrat would have roughly the same percentage difference for each pair of common genes.

This, not surprisingly, was the result of an experiment done by David Penny and published in 1985, using 5 genes which were so similar between species that they have the same name in each species (the experiment is described by Richard Dawkins in The Greatest Show on Earth, page 322). Except they checked the 5 genes across a group of 11 mammals. The results were as mentioned above; for a given pair of animals, the number of mutations in similar pairs of genes were consistently close to the same percentage across all 5 pairs of genes. Other experiments since then have expanded on Penny’s work, with similar results. Incontrovertibly, it points to the FACT that each pair of animals had a common ancestor and accumulated a statistical average of mutations since the speciation event occurred.

What it does NOT show is that God picked whatever gene he felt would help the animal survive best and slap it into the animal’s DNA matrix. This would have given totally different results, with a broad variance of mutations between pairs of similar genes.

This experiment, above and beyond any other experiment I’ve read about, proves beyond a doubt that ID is bogus, and evolution suitably describes exactly what we would expect. There is no intelligent designer picking and choosing; there is only a random, statistically averaged accumulation of mutations weeded out by competition and speciation events.

If this isn’t enough of a nail-in-the-cofffin for doubters, there is the issue of viral scarring in human DNA, which not only hammers in the last nail, but buries the coffin besides. Retroviruses have a nasty habit of inserting their own code into the human DNA sequence. Estimates are that 8% of human DNA (of the 95% that’s considered “junk DNA”) is viral in nature, inserted in the past by retroviruses. This portion of our DNA is, in essence, a fossil record of every virus that humans and their animal ancestors have had to fight during their long history.

It should be pretty clear even to ID proponents that God wouldn’t go out of his way to add inert viral sequences into our own DNA. However, just the fact of its existence is not the telling point (although it isn’t a bad point by itself).

Viral scarring in DNA shows up in the same place in the gene sequence in different creatures with whom we share a common ancestor. Apes and humans, humans and rats, if you look, you find that both species carry the signature of ancient viral attacks that left a physical scar behind, inserted in exactly the same place in the equivalent gene in both animals, a viral attack that occurred before the two species went their separate genetic ways from their common ancestor. Here you have two different animals that both just happen to have the same viral-scar in the same place in the equivalent gene in both their DNA sequences; only an evolutionary process can explain this.

The fabrication and rationalization of an ID proponent could only stretch so far before it shatters into nonsensical fragments while attempting to explain these evolutionary results. The fact of evolution is sealed in genetic documentation, a book merely waiting to be opened and translated into the history it provides.


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