Robert Park | 5 Mar 19:42 2011
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What's New Robert L. Park 4 Mar 2011

WHAT’S NEW   Robert L. Park   Friday, 4 Mar 2011   Washington, DC

1. MASS EXTINCTIONS: FIVE OVER THE COURSE OF 540 MILLION YEARS.
The extinction of species is to be expected in a violent universe; that's 
why we have paleontologists.  They have identified five mass extinctions 
over the past 540 million years in which the number of species declined by 
over 75% in a geologically brief interval.  These mass extinctions mark the 
end of the Ordovician, Devonian, Permian, Triassic and Cretaceous Periods.  
Recovery from each of these episodes took millions of years.  There is a 
growing conviction among paleobiologists that Earth is on the brink of mass 
extinction-six.   The only exception is Homo sapiens.  By any measure, Homo 
sapiens is thriving at the expense of wild species.  Now numbering almost 
seven billion, the population has doubled since Paul Ehrlich published the 
Population Bomb (Oxford, 1968) which warned of mass starvation by the turn-
of-the-century.  Ironically, the developed nations are today confronted 
with an obesity epidemic 

2. MASS EXTINCTION-SIX: THE BALANCE OF NATURE IS A DANGEROUS MYTH.
A review article in yesterday's Nature by Barnosky et al. at UC Berkeley 
asks, "Has the Earth's sixth mass extinction already arrived?”  The article 
answers in the affirmative.  The current extinction crisis, number six, 
unlike previous episodes, results from the actions of a single species, 
Homo sapiens.  The evidence is everywhere, global warming, enormous ocean 
garbage patches, destruction of the great ocean fisheries, deforestation, 
etc.  Of the 5,487 known species in the class Mammalia, for example, 1,141 
are considered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) 
to be "threatened with extinction."  The ancient concept of a "Balance of 
Nature," described by Herodotus in 425BC, is still frequently invoked to 
explain apparent homeostasis between species.  But there is no homeostasis; 
it was simply an illusion created by the short lifespan of humans.  That's 
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Robert Park | 12 Mar 04:39 2011
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What's New Robert L. Park 11 March 2011

WHAT’S NEW   Robert L. Park   Friday, 11 Mar 2011   Washington, DC

1.DIM BULB: "AND GOD SAW THAT LIGHT WAS GOOD" (GENESIS 1:4).
"Let There Be More Efficient Light," an op-ed by Roger Pielke Jr in this 
morning's New York Times.  He was commenting on a bill introduced by Rep.  
Michele Bachmann (R-MN) that seeks to turn back the ban on conventional 
light bulbs signed into law by George W. Bush.   I can do no better than 
Dr. Pielke, however, I don't think Rep. Bachmann reads the New York Times.  
I don't think she reads WN either, but she should.  Rep. Bachmann declared 
that, "Government has no business telling an individual what kind of light 
bulb to buy."  Hold your candle a little closer Michele; I can find nothing 
in the law telling people what kind of light bulb they have to buy, as long 
as it's efficient.  Lots of things are banned if they’re harmful; 
incandescent light bulbs harm the entire planet.  The ban is an incentive 
for companies to build a better light bulb.  The compact florescent lamp 
was an important step in that direction but half-a-dozen other new lamps 
are already entering the market.  

2.GAS PRICES: THE BEST NEWS THAT EVER HURT SO MUCH.  
Petroleum is a hydrocarbon of fossil origin that can be refined to provide 
fuel and valuable petrochemicals.  Abundant 100 years ago, it is now 
available in the quantities needed by modern industrial societies only 
beneath oceans and politically unstable countries. Short of an unexpected 
breakthrough in synthetic fuel production or fusion the world, and 
particularly the US, will suffer a serious oil shortage.  

3. DISCOVERY: THE EXPLORATION THAT REACHED NO OTHER SHORE.
The space shuttle Discovery returned its crew safely to Earth on 
Wednesday.  Nothing more had been asked of it.  A remarkable technological 
achievement, the shuttle program must nevertheless be judged a colossal 
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Robert Park | 19 Mar 14:06 2011
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What's New Robert L. Park 18 March 2011

WHAT’S NEW   Robert L. Park   Friday, 18 Mar 2011   Washington, DC

1. BAD WEEK: WE MUST FOCUS ON HELPING THE PEOPLE OF JAPAN.
In yesterday's New York Times, science reporter Bill Broad covered the 
projected movement of the radiation plume by the UN’s Comprehensive Test 
Ban Treaty Organization.  The forecast is based on patterns of Pacific 
winds and, ”the predicted path is likely to change as weather patterns 
shift."  Weather patterns always shift, but for the US any radiation from 
the plume will be down to a safe level.  What is a "safe" level?  It's time 
to repeat my "radiation-hormesis" rant.

2. HORMESIS: THE LINEAR NO-THRESHOLD MODEL MUST BE WRONG.
Airline crews experience a high total-radiation exposure.  But the exposure 
of airline crews is spread over many years, while Chernobyl survivors got a 
concentrated dose.  Statistically they are not distinguished.  Do the 
derivatives matter?  According to a story in the news this week, Chernobyl 
survivors today suffer cancer at about the same rate as others their age.  
The same is true of Hiroshima survivors.  If true, it would seem to support 
the radiation-hormesis thesis.  "Hormesis" refers to things that are toxic 
in large doses, but harmless or even beneficial in small doses.  Trace 
amounts of selenium, for example, are essential for cell function of 
animals.  But selenium salts in larger doses, are highly toxic.  Airline 
pilots or not, we are all exposed to background levels of ionizing 
radiation every day of our lives.  We do not all succumb to cancer.  It 
seems there is a repair mechanism that compares neighboring strands of DNA 
and patches up damage.  The comparison can work only if damaged strands are 
isolated.  If the damage rate is very high, the same repair mechanism could 
multiply the damage.

3. MAXWELL: THE SESQUICENTENNIAL OF MAXWELLS EQUATIONS.
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Robert Park | 27 Mar 14:13 2011
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What's New Robert L. Park 25 March 2011

WHAT’S NEW   Robert L. Park   Friday, 25 Mar 2011   Washington, DC
	
1. IGNORANCE: HOUSE COMMITTEE VOTES TO OVERTURN NATURAL LAW.
The price of gasoline at the pump is at the highest level ever for this 
time of year.  That’s not all bad; raising the price is the only effective 
way to reduce consumption, thereby improving the environment and delaying 
the dreaded Hubbert peak.  There are, however, two ways to raise the price 
to the consumer: increase the profit margin of the oil industry, or levy a 
large consumption tax.  The revenue from a heavy consumption tax would help 
to pay the crushing costs of the Bush economy. You will not be surprised, 
however, to learn that the Republican Congress overwhelmingly prefers the 
first method, which will embodied in the Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011, 
in preparation.  But first they had to amend the Clean Air Act to eliminate 
the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency over greenhouse 
gases.  According to an editorial in last week's Nature, the Republican 
disdain for climate science was evident in the "anger and distrust directed 
at scientists and scientific societies."  The widespread melting of snow 
and ice, and rising global average sea level, is unequivocal evidence of 
global warming, http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN11/wn020411.html.  

2. CELL PHONES: ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH TRUST MOCKS ALBERT EINSTEIN.
It's not exactly a work of art, but I recently came across an image taken 
from the famous photo of Albert Einstein sticking his tongue out at the 
cameraman.  A different gesture would be used today. The caption 
was, "CAN'T CALL IT A SMART PHONE, IF IT KILLS BRAIN CELLS."  I wasn’t 
amused.  It was put out by the Environmental Health Trust, a nonprofit 
educational foundation founded by Devra Davis.  She is the author 
of "Disconnect," a recklessly irresponsible book that falsely claims that 
radiation from cell phones causes serious health problems, including 
cancer.  It is particularly offensive that Einstein's image was used for 
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