Tuesday, March 30

If biomass industry keeps expanding, pray Biotic Pump theory is wrong

"First published in 2007 by two Russian physicists, Victor Gorshkov and Anastassia Makarieva, the still little-known biotic pump theory postulates that forests are the driving force behind precipitation over land masses. Since the biotic pump turns modern meteorology on its head, it has faced stiff resistance from some meteorologists and journals." 
-- From an explainer at Bing about the pump  

"Since then, there has been neither validation nor disproof, but largely a standoff."
-- From the following report

I was watching with half an eye a short version of Burned, a  documentary about the evils of burning wood pellets for fuel -- not that the film is boring but I was biomassed out after plowing through articles on the topic. Suddenly I snapped to attention as a map of the United States showed where industrial forest cutting for wood pellets was happening. I blinked at one part of the map and blurted, "That's coastal area! What would Gorshkov and Makarieva say about that?!"

Turns out Gorshkov wouldn't have anything to say because he's dead. He died in 2019, at the age of 84, I have just learned to my sorrow. 

But I recalled Makarieva saying years ago that it's the mature coastal forests that are most critical to preserve. That's if we don't want to transform the interiors of our countries into desert, so the Biotic Pump argument goes.   

The memory of her words sent me scurrying around the internet to see if there's been any progress on explaining the Biotic Pump theory. Judith Schwartz took a stab at the challenge for Scientific Americans readers but that was in 2013.  (Clearing Forests May Transform Local -- and Global --Climate: "Researchers are finding that massive deforestation may have a profound, and possibly catastrophic, impact on local weather.") 

I see we have another try, almost a year ago, at Science magazine.  Okay, I'll give it whirl:

A controversial Russian theory claims forests don’t just make rain—they make wind
June 18, 2020
Science Magazine, AAAS

Half of the Amazon’s rain comes from the forest’s own moisture. Could it also make winds that ferry rain across continents?

Every summer, as the days get long, Anastassia Makarieva leaves her lab in St. Petersburg for a vacation in the vast forests of northern Russia. The nuclear physicist camps on the shores of the White Sea, amid spruce and pine, and kayaks along the region’s wide rivers, taking notes on nature and the weather. “The forests are a big part of my inner life,” she says. In the 25 years she has made her annual pilgrimage north, they have become a big part of her professional life, too.

For more than a decade, Makarieva has championed a theory, developed with Victor Gorshkov, her mentor and colleague at the Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute (PNPI), on how Russia’s boreal forests, the largest expanse of trees on Earth, regulate the climate of northern Asia. It is simple physics with far-reaching consequences, describing how water vapor exhaled by trees drives winds: winds that cross the continent, taking moist air from Europe, through Siberia, and on into Mongolia and China; winds that deliver rains that keep the giant rivers of eastern Siberia flowing; winds that water China’s northern plain, the breadbasket of the most populous nation on Earth.

With their ability to soak up carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen, the world’s great forests are often referred to as the planet’s lungs. But Makarieva and Gorshkov, who died last year, say they are its beating heart, too. “Forests are complex self-sustaining rainmaking systems, and the major driver of atmospheric circulation on Earth,” Makarieva says. They recycle vast amounts of moisture into the air and, in the process, also whip up winds that pump that water around the world. The first part of that idea—forests as rainmakers—originated with other scientists and is increasingly appreciated by water resource managers in a world of rampant deforestation. But the second part, a theory Makarieva calls the biotic pump, is far more controversial.

The theoretical foundation of the work has been published, albeit in lesser known journals, and Makarieva has received support from a small coterie of colleagues. But the biotic pump has faced a head wind of criticism, especially from climate modelers, some of whom say its effects are negligible and dismiss the idea completely. The dispute has made Makarieva an outsider: a theoretical physicist in a world of modelers, a Russian in a field led by Western scientists, and a woman in a field dominated by men.

Yet, if correct, the idea could help explain why, despite their distance from the oceans, the remote interiors of forested continents receive as much rain as the coasts—and why the interiors of unforested continents tend to be arid. It also implies that forests from the Russian taiga to the Amazon rainforest don’t just grow where the weather is right. They also make the weather. 

“All I have learned so far suggests to me that the biotic pump is correct,” says Douglas Sheil, a forest ecologist at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. With the future of the world’s forests in doubt, “Even if we thought the theory had only a small chance of being true, it would be profoundly important to know one way or the other.”

Many meteorology textbooks still teach a caricature of the water cycle, with ocean evaporation responsible for most of the atmospheric moisture that condenses in clouds and falls as rain. The picture ignores the role of vegetation and, in particular, trees, which act like giant water fountains. Their roots capture water from the soil for photosynthesis, and microscopic pores in leaves release unused water as vapor into the air. The process, the arboreal equivalent of sweating, is known as transpiration. In this way, a single mature tree can release hundreds of liters of water a day. With its foliage offering abundant surface area for the exchange, a forest can often deliver more moisture to the air than evaporation from a water body of the same size.

[Two Graphics: Routes of flying rivers, and Biotic Pump in action]

The importance of this recycled moisture for nourishing rains was largely disregarded until 1979, when Brazilian meteorologist Eneas Salati reported studies of the isotopic composition of rainwater sampled from the Amazon Basin. Water recycled by transpiration contains more molecules with the heavy oxygen-18 isotope than water evaporated from the ocean. Salati used this fact to show that half of the rainfall over the Amazon came from the transpiration of the forest itself.

By this time, meteorologists were tracking an atmospheric jet above the forest, at a height of about 1.5 kilometers. Known as the South American Low-Level Jet, the winds blow east to west across the Amazon, about as fast as a racing bike, before the Andes Mountains divert them south. Salati and others surmised the jet carried much of the transpired moisture, and dubbed it a “flying river.” The Amazon flying river is now reckoned to carry as much water as the giant terrestrial river below it, says Antonio Nobre, a climate researcher at Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research.

For some years, flying rivers were thought to be limited to the Amazon. In the 1990s, Hubert Savenije, a hydrologist at the Delft University of Technology, began to study moisture recycling in West Africa. Using a hydrological model based on weather data, he found that, as one moved inland from the coast, the proportion of the rainfall that came from forests grew, reaching 90% in the interior. The finding helped explain why the interior Sahel region became drier as coastal forests disappeared over the past half-century.

One of Savenije’s students, Ruud van der Ent, took the idea further, creating a global model of airborne moisture flow. He combined observational data on rainfall, humidity, wind speed, and temperature with theoretical estimates of evaporation and transpiration to create the first model of moisture flow at scales larger than river basins.

In 2010, van der Ent and his colleagues reported the model’s conclusion: Globally, 40% of all precipitation comes from the land rather than the ocean. Often it is more. The Amazon’s flying river provides 70% of the rain falling in the Río de la Plata Basin, which stretches across southeastern South America. Van der Ent was most surprised to find that China gets 80% of its water from the west, mostly Atlantic moisture recycled by the boreal forests of Scandinavia and Russia. The journey involves several stages—cycles of transpiration followed by downwind rain and subsequent transpiration—and takes 6 months or more. “It contradicted previous knowledge that you learn in high school,” he says. “China is next to an ocean, the Pacific, yet most of its rainfall is moisture recycled from land far to the west.”

IF MAKARIEVA IS CORRECT, the forests supply not just the moisture, but the winds that carry it.

For a quarter-century, she worked with Gorshkov, initially as his pupil, at PNPI—part of Russia’s foremost civil and military nuclear research agency, the Kurchatov Institute. They were mavericks from the start, studying ecology in a place full of physicists who use neutron beams from nuclear reactors to study materials. As theorists, she says, they had “exceptional freedom of research and thought,” pursuing atmospheric physics wherever it took them. “Victor taught me: Do not be afraid of anything,” she says.

In 2007, in Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, they first outlined their vision for the biotic pump. It was provocative from the outset because it contradicted a longstanding tenet of meteorology: that winds are driven largely by the differential heating of the atmosphere. When warm air rises, it lowers the air pressure below it, in effect creating space at the surface into which air moves. In summer, for example, land surfaces tend to heat faster and draw in moist breezes from the cooler ocean.

[Photo of Gorshkov and Makarieva]

Makarieva and Gorshkov argued that a second process can sometimes dominate. When water vapor from forests condenses into clouds, a gas becomes a liquid that occupies less volume. That reduces air pressure, and draws in air horizontally from areas with less condensation. In practice, it means condensation above coastal forests turbocharges sea breezes, sucking moist air inland where it will eventually condense and fall as rain. If the forests continue inland, the cycle can continue, maintaining moist winds for thousands of kilometers.

The theory inverts traditional thinking: It is not atmospheric circulation that drives the hydrological cycle, but the hydrological cycle that drives the mass circulation of air.

Sheil, who became a supporter of the theory more than a decade ago, thinks of it as an embellishment of the flying river idea. “They are not mutually exclusive,” he says. “The pump offers an explanation of the power of the rivers.” He says the biotic pump could explain the “cold Amazon paradox.” From January to June, when the Amazon Basin is colder than the ocean, strong winds blow from the Atlantic to the Amazon—the opposite of what would be expected if they resulted from differential heating. Nobre, another early acolyte, enthuses: “They don’t start with data, they start with first principles.”

Even those who doubt the theory agree that forest loss can have far-reaching climatic consequences. Many scientists have argued that deforestation thousands of years ago was to blame for desertification in the Australian Outback and West Africa. The fear is that future deforestation could dry up other regions, for example, tipping parts of the Amazon rainforest to savanna. Agricultural regions of China, the African Sahel, and the Argentine Pampas are also at risk, says Patrick Keys, an atmospheric chemist at Colorado State University, Fort Collins.

In 2018, Keys and his colleagues used a model, similar to van der Ent’s, to track the sources of rainfall for 29 global megacities. He found that 19 were highly dependent on distant forests for much of their water supply, including Karachi, Pakistan; Wuhan and Shanghai, China; and New Delhi and Kolkata, India. “Even small changes in precipitation arising from upwind land-use change could have big impacts on the fragility of urban water supplies,” he says.

Some modeling even suggests that by removing a moisture source, deforestation could alter weather patterns beyond the paths of flying rivers. Just as El Niño, a shift in currents and winds in the tropical Pacific Ocean, is known to influence weather in faraway places through “teleconnections,” so, too, could Amazon deforestation diminish rainfall in the U.S. Midwest and snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, says Roni Avissar, a climatologist at the University of Miami who has modeled such teleconnections. Far-fetched? “Not at all,” he says. “We know El Niño can do this, because unlike deforestation, it recurs and we can see the pattern. Both are caused by small changes in temperature and moisture that project into the atmosphere.”

Two years ago, at a meeting of the United Nations Forum on Forests, a high-level policy group on which all governments sit, David Ellison, a land researcher at the University of Bern, presented a case in point: a study showing that as much as 40% of the total rainfall in the Ethiopian highlands, the main source of the Nile, is provided by moisture recycled from the forests of the Congo Basin. 

Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia are negotiating a long-overdue deal on sharing the waters of the Nile. But such an agreement would be worthless if deforestation in the Congo Basin, far from those three nations, dries up the moisture source, Ellison suggested. “Interactions between forests and water have been almost entirely ignored in the management of global freshwater resources.”

The biotic pump would raise the stakes even further, with its suggestion that forest loss alters not just moisture sources, but also wind patterns. The theory, if correct, would have “crucial implications for planetary air circulation patterns,” Ellison warns, especially those that take moist air inland to continental interiors. 

Lan Wang-Erlandsson, who researches interactions between land, water, and climate at Stockholm University, says it’s time for water resource managers to shift their focus from water and land use within a river basin to land-use changes occurring outside it.

“We need new international hydrological agreements to maintain the forests of source regions,” she says.

THE THEORY’S SUPPORTERS are a minority. In 2010, Makarieva, Gorshkov, Sheil, Nobre, and Bai-Lian Li, an ecologist at the University of California, Riverside, submitted what was meant to be a landmark description of the biotic pump to Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, a major journal with open peer review. Titled “Where Do Winds Come From?” the paper faced a barrage of criticism online, and it took the journal many months to find two scientists willing to review it. Isaac Held, a meteorologist at Princeton University’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, finally volunteered—and recommended rejection.

“This is not a mysterious effect,” he says. “It is small and included in some atmospheric models.” 

Critics said the expansion of air from heat released when water vapor condenses counteracts the space-creating effect of condensation. But Makarieva says the two effects are spatially separate, with the warming effect happening aloft, and the pressure drop of condensation occurring closer to the surface, where it generates the biotic wind.

The other reviewer was Judith Curry, then an atmospheric physicist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who has long had concerns about the atmospheric dynamics at the core of climate models. She felt it was important to publish the paper and says the standoff was “very bad for climate science, which badly needs an infusion from hard-core physicists.” 

After three years of debate, the journal’s editor overruled Held’s recommendation and published the paper, saying it was published “not as an endorsement” but “to promote continuation of the scientific dialogue on the controversial theory [that] may lead to disproof or validation.”

Since then, there has been neither validation nor disproof, but largely a standoff. Gavin Schmidt, a climate modeler at Columbia University, says, “It’s simply nonsense.” The authors’ responses to criticisms were “really just mathematics that gave no one any confidence that there was any point in continuing the dialogue.” 

Jose Marengo, a meteorologist in Brazil and head of the National Centre for Monitoring and Warning of Natural Disasters, says: “I think the pump exists, but it’s very theoretical right now. The climate model community hasn’t embraced it, but the Russians are the best theoreticians in the world, so we need proper field experiments to test it.” 

Yet no one, including Makarieva, has yet proposed clearly what such a test might look like.

For her part, Makarieva is building on the theory, arguing in a series of recent papers that the same mechanism can affect tropical cyclones, which are driven by the heat released when moisture condenses over the ocean. 

In a 2017 paper in Atmospheric Research, she and her colleagues proposed that biotic pumps set up by the forests on land draw moisture-rich air away from the cyclone nurseries. This, she says, might explain why cyclones rarely form in the South Atlantic Ocean: The Amazon and Congo rainforests between them draw so much moisture away that there is too little left to fuel hurricanes.

Kerry Emanuel, a leading hurricane researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says the proposed effects “while not negligible are very small.” He prefers other explanations for the lack of South Atlantic hurricanes, such as the region’s cool waters, which send less moisture into the air, and its strong shearing winds, which disrupt cyclone formation.

Makarieva is equally dismissive of the traditionalists, saying some of the existing theories for hurricane intensity “conflict with the laws of thermodynamics.” She has another paper on the topic under peer review at the Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences. “We are concerned that, despite the editor’s encouragement, our work will get rejected once again,” she says.

Even if Makarieva’s ideas are fringy in the West, they are taking root in Russia. Last year, the government began a public dialogue to revise its forestry laws. Aside from strictly protected areas, Russian forests are open to commercial exploitation, but the government and the Federal Forestry Agency are considering a new designation of “climate protection forests.” 

“Some representatives of our forest department got impressed by the biotic pump and want to introduce a new category,” she says. The idea has the backing of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Being part of a consensus rather than the perennial outsider marks a change, Makarieva says.

This summer, the coronavirus lockdown put the kibosh on her annual trip to the northern forests. Back in St. Petersburg, she has settled down to respond to yet another round of objections to her work from anonymous peer reviewers. She insists the pump theory will ultimately prevail. “There is a natural inertia in science,” she says. With a dark Russian humor, she invokes the words of the legendary German physicist Max Planck, who is said to have once remarked that science “advances one funeral at a time.”

Posted in:


Fred Pearce
Fred Pearce is a journalist in London.



Tuesday, March 23

Two reports for Bill Gates watchers

Both articles are from The Nation. 

One, published February 16, 2021 is Bill Gates, Climate Warrior. And Super Emitter: "The billionaire’s new book, a bid to be taken seriously as a climate campaigner, has attracted the usual worshipful coverage. When will the media realize that with Gates you have to follow the money?"  The author, Tim Schwab, has done just that. 

Schwab is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C., whose investigation into the Gates Foundation was part of a 2019 Alicia Patterson Foundation fellowship. 

Also according to The Nation, in the name of full disclosure (something Mr Gates has great trouble doing), "Four years ago Tim Schwab was employed as a researcher for Food & Water Watch, an NGO that works on agricultural and energy issues."

The other Nation article, also by Tim Schwab, was published October 5, 2020 and titled While the Poor Get Sick, Bill Gates Just Gets Richer: "The billionaire’s pandemic investments, like much of his work, remain a secret."

I don't begrudge Gates his wealth yet there are increasingly worrisome ways in which he's sought to profit in the name of charity. The revelations in February article are probably not news to committed Gates watchers, but some in the earlier report are jaw-droppers.

I knew Gates was deeply involved with vaccines but I had no idea until reading The Nation report of the extent to which he had promoted AstraZeneca's Covid vaccine. At this moment the vaccine is in such trouble there are predictions it will bite the dust. I'll assume that Gates is doing everything he can to prevent that from happening, but that's just the problem -- his power, no small part of which is derived from showing how to make big profits from humanitarian causes, now more than equals his wealth.

See also: 

German Study Reveals Why AstraZeneca Vax Can Cause Brain Blood Clots as WHO, EU Give Jab Green Light; Sputnik News, March 20


Monday, March 22

John Batchelor's radio show moves on

After 20 years John Batchelor has retired from WABC radio in New York City. John's next move is to the media giant CBS. An anonymous source told me that with the exception of WABC the same radio stations around the U.S. that had syndicated Batchelor's show while at WABC will carry the CBS one. See John's Wikipedia page for a partial listing of the affiliate stations.

We'll learn more in the coming days about the transition; for now, the podcasts from John's new show are posted at the Audioboom page and can be accessed for free.



Friday, March 19

Transhumanism and gene-editing Covid vaccines: Dr Frankenstein would approve.

Gene-editing, Moderna, and transhumanism
By Christina Lin
August 5, 2020
The Times of Israel

About the author:

Dr. Christina Lin is a US-based foreign policy analyst specializing in China-Mediterranean relations. She has extensive US government experience working on national security issues and was a CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear) research consultant for Jane's Information Group.

As gene-based mRNA vaccines from Moderna are being designed and tested at warp speeds to fight Covid-19, this is also bringing the debate over transhumanism into the forefront.

Transhumanism is a type of futurist philosophy aimed at transforming the human species by means of biotechnologies. Transhumanists see disease, aging and death as undesirable and unnecessary, and aim to transform human beings into post-human species with greater capacities than those of present human beings.

The philosophy is based on secular humanism and sees human nature as an evolutionary work-in-progress with room for improvement and enhancement. However, it is more radical in that it promotes not only traditional means of improving human nature such as education and cultural refinement, but also direct application of medicine and technology to overcome basic biological limits.

Transhumanists give special attention to genetic engineering, robotics, molecular nanotechnology and artificial intelligence, and the Covid-19 pandemic is providing gene-based vaccines a chance to break through into the global health market.

Moderna and gene-editing

Currently there are various companies such as Inovio, Moderna and CanSino Biologics that are testing mRNA and DNA vaccines to counter SARS coronavirus-2 (SARS CoV-2) which causes Covid-19, but Moderna is the front runner that recently nabbed $472 million from U.S. government’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to develop the vaccine. This is in addition to the $483 million it had already received back in April, bringing its total funding to $955 million.

With U.S. government funding at nearly $1 billion for one company, Moderna may be too big to fail. However, this is perplexing for a company that has never produced a single vaccine. According to a CNN report, Moderna was only established in 2010, has never brought a product to market, nor gotten any of its nine or so vaccine candidates approved for use by the FDA.

However, it has been a long-term Pentagon contractor for biodefense, working closely with Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) on gene-editing and mRNA therapeutics. DARPA is focused on developing emerging disruptive technologies to maintain a competitive edge over adversaries, including many ‘transhuman’ projects such as genetic engineering and soldier enhancement via robotics.

In the case of Moderna and mRNA therapeutics, DNA vaccine is considered a new paradigm that would disrupt the pharmaceutical industry. Its vision is to harness a new technology that synthesizes messenger RNA, or mRNA—which is an instruction manual in every living cell for creating protein—to prompt the human body to make its own medicine.

So instead of injecting a piece of virus into a person to stimulate the immune system, the synthesized genes would be shot into the body whereby the genes are edited, deleted, added, to re-engineer human DNA to resist the disease. If successful, scientists hope DNA vaccines could be a “transformative” treatment for heart disease, metabolic and genetic diseases, kidney failure and even cancer. Moreover, it could be an effective form of biodefense to protect the population against biological warfare, which is also the mandate for DARPA and BARDA.

Transhumanism and hybrids

Indeed, DARPA is also developing other forms of human enhancement in addition to gene editing. Already scientists are merging robotics with the human body in brain-to-computer interface (BCI), wherein individuals with physical injuries can regain their functions, and soldiers become smarter and more powerful through the fusing of their brain with machines.

In a way, the Pentagon is now building real iron man similar to the American superhero based on the Marvel Comics character. Soldiers in exoskeleton suits are physically more powerful than those without, while other soldiers with bionic limbs perform better than adversaries with human limbs. When one adds artificial intelligence with BCI, the sky is the limit for an army of these genetically modified and robotically enhanced humanoids.

The U.S. is not the only country engaged in human enhancement and transhumanism, as Russia and China are also in hot pursuit with exoskeletons, vaccines and brain implants. As this competition gains traction, one wonders what the future of their militaries may look like as human beings are steadily integrated with machines to become armies of iron man.

Here the Book of Daniel may lend some insights. In interpreting King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of an image with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet of iron and clay, Daniel revealed the parts as the sequence of world empires, with the feet of iron and clay being the last.

In Daniel 2:43 it is written, “as you saw iron mixed with ceramic clay, they will mingle with the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, just as iron does not mix with clay,” that seems to describe a hybrid of man (clay) mixed with machine (iron). And as transhumanism and biotech gain momentum, armies of hybrid humans of iron and clay may be a real possibility in a not too distant future world.

[See illustration at the Times of Israel website for an artist's depiction of the Biblical imagery.]


Monday, March 15

Who knew the human brain has a sewage system? We didn't.

Here in the USA incidences are increasing of early onset- dementia and early-onset Alzheimer's, which follows dementia like night follows day. From Early-Onset Dementia and Alzheimer's Rates Grow for Younger American Adults | Blue Cross Blue Shield (, February 27, 2020:
Each year, early-onset dementia and Alzheimer’s disease affect the daily lives of a growing number of Americans under 65. As measured by the Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) Health IndexSM in 2017, about 131,000 commercially insured Americans1 between the ages of 30 and 64 were diagnosed with either condition.

Dementia is a general term for cognitive decline in excess of typical aging. An adult with early-onset dementia may have trouble with memory, language and cognitive skills that can make it difficult to perform routine tasks. Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia characterized by progressive brain deterioration, memory loss and an inability to independently care for oneself.2


According to the article the average age for combined early-onset dementia and early-onset Alzheimer's is 49 years. However, the statistics in the article apply only to commercially-insured Americans, which leaves out a large part of the U.S. population.

We know from other sources that Americans are in bad shape when it comes to brain health. On February 1 the Daily Mail highlighted a research finding that a third of Americans walk around in a concussion-like daze. From the report:

The study was published in the Sports Medicine journal in January

The authors surveyed almost 31,000 student-athletes from NCAA institutions and military service academies

Between 11 and 27 percent of student-athletes without a recent concussion reported symptoms that can be linked to post-concussion syndrome (PCS)

Common symptoms include fatigue, low energy, and drowsiness

The study says the symptoms are due to stress and a lack of sleep

I noted the first time I linked to the Mail report that the study needs to be expanded. From all the reports I've seen in the past few years about sleep issues, one-third is a great underestimate. It can't be any other way, given the large number of Americans who ignore the brain's need for time to clear out gunk it accumulates during waking hours. The housekeeping chore takes about eight hours. If the cleanup can't be completed on a routine basis, you will experience dementia-like symptoms; there's no way around it. 

From A sleep expert explains what happens to your body and brain if you don't get enough sleep, Business Insider, March 2019 (emphasis mine):


We certainly know that a lack of sleep will actually prevent your brain from being able to initially make new memories, so it's almost as though without sleep the memory inbox of the brain shuts down and you can't commit new experiences to memory. So those new incoming informational emails are just bounced, and you end up feeling as though you're amnesiac. You can't essentially make and create those new memories.

We also know that a lack of sleep will lead to an increased development of a toxic protein in the brain that is called beta-amyloid and that is associated with Alzheimer's disease because it is during deep sleep at night when a sewage system within the brain actually kicks in to high gear and it starts to wash away this toxic protein, beta-amyloid.

So if you're not getting enough sleep each and every night, more of that Alzheimer's-related protein will build up. The more protein that builds up, the greater your risk of going on to develop dementia in later life.


Here are 11 signs that can indicate early-onset dementia, from Bustle's June 2019 article on the topic:

      1. You've Been Experiencing Memory Changes

2. You Suddenly Despise Any Kind Of Change

3. You Keep Getting Lost

4. You Can't Remember Anyone's Name

5. Your Behaviors & Moods Have Changed

6. You're Suddenly Bad At Making Decisions

7. You Can't Remember That Restaurant's Name

8. You've Been Getting Easily Confused

9. You Struggle To Recall What You Just Read

10. You Struggle To Learn New Things

11. You're Experiencing Depression

Regarding that #11 sign, the BCBS article mentions that 57% of people with early-onset Alzheimer's had gotten a prescription for an antidepressant in the year prior to diagnosis.

That doesn't necessarily mean the depression was brought on in whole or part by people experiencing the symptoms of Alzheimer's. But from the Bustle article, I think it's a reasonable assumption that people experiencing significant memory and behavior changes can become quite depressed. It's awful when you realize something's very wrong with your mind but you don't know what it is, and you keep trying to shrug it off, or chalk it up to situations you feel you should be able to control.

But you can't control a situation you don't understand.


Wednesday, March 10

Pundita explains America to the author of "America Without God"

Shadi Hamid, an author of two books, a writer for The Atlantic, and a senior fellow at Brookings Institution, has penned an article for The Atlantic that Drudge found interesting enough to link to, which is how I learned about America Without God. The  introduction says, "As religious faith has declined, ideological intensity has risen. Will the quest for secular redemption through politics doom the American idea?"

Hamid is part of a huge crowd of observers, both domestic and foreign, that has tried over the course of centuries to understand America. This exercise has most often landed them so far outside the ballpark they're in the parking lot. Undaunted, they proceed to extract meaning from their understanding of what a parking lot looks like. This has been the case for Shadi Hamid, who wonders whether a perceived decline in religious faith in America has been funneled into politics. 

I don't mean to shortchange Hamid's contemplations but I think a genuinely helpful discussion about American politics and religion should start with an understanding of what America is actually all about. 

A fast way to get Hamid and The Atlantic's editors in the ballpark is the story of the Iraqi engineer who was frantic because the U.S. bombing of Baghdad had put a critical facility out of commission. There was no hope of obtaining parts to get it running again anytime soon. I don't remember whether the American military officer sent to help him had an engineering background, but he looked at the situation then told the Iraqi  (paraphrasing here), 'Okay, let's see what we can do with duct tape and wire.'

If the Iraqi believed that all Americans were batshit crazy, the suggestion would've confirmed it for him. But he went along and helped the American scrounge parts from other bombed-out facilities.  

Then, between the two of them, and with lots of trial and error and liberal use of wire and duct tape, they got the parts fitted together and fired up the facility. Keeping it going required constant tinkering, and I don't think it worked terribly well but it wasn't working well even before the bombing. 

And there you have it; there are countless kinds of hearts but the soul of America is a tinkering fool.  

For various reasons our soul is not immediately evident, or maybe it's so evident it's hidden in plain sight. But when you consider the peoples who left everything behind to settle in America, they are and always have been marked by incredible resourcefulness and the improvisational spirit that manifests in tinkering and the do-it-yourself mentality.

That's come to be the real divide in American society. On one side are people who were never prompted to do things for themselves and were sold on the idea that success meant getting others to do things for them. On the other side, people who measure success in the ability to do things for themselves.

Those who want others to do things for them have been in the ascendant in recent years but that's because the complexities of modern society in the USA have stymied the creation of action paths sufficient to deal with the present era. The upshot has been a kind of social gridlock resulting in large numbers of Americans who take out their frustrations by calling each other bad names.

The gridlock masks the fact that doing it yourself doesn't necessarily mean thinking it up for yourself. The American and Iraqi who engineered the restoration of a facility were following a model, what they knew certain parts should do when fitted together. There are prodigies who can figure out from scratch how to do something, but most of us need a model, an action path to follow, a set of instructions, before doing something new for ourselves.  

So that's where we are today in the USA: waiting on the path makers to tinker routes through the new complexities. The path makers are around, as I pointed out years ago on this blog. Now it's just a matter of waiting for their work to come to the fore. Then we'll see where the situation that so concerns Shadi Hamid really stands.


New research raises more questions about sunscreen products

At the end of this post I've republished passages from troubling new research findings on sunscreens. But first I want to point out that there are considerable questions raised by various studies about whether sunlight causes skin cancer. From what I've read about the topic in articles for the layperson, the issue is not cut-and-dried. In his 2019 article, The Sun Does Not Cause Melanoma, Dr Leland Stillman stated flatly,

... melanoma rates have been increasing for fifty years, faster than any other cancer, and this is definitely not due to changes in our exposure to ultraviolet-B light.  

But he hedges:

One of the most consistent risk factors I was able to identify from the literature on melanoma was intermittent sun exposure, specifically resulting in sunburns. In other words, if you rarely see the sun and, when you do, you get sunburned, then you are maximizing your risk of melanoma. 

Yet from an undated unsigned article at Naturalon titled, Compelling Evidence that Avoiding the Sun is Dangerous:


One of the world’s leading experts on skin cancer, the sun, sunscreens, and melanoma skin cancer risks, doctor Bernard Ackerman, MD (deceased 2008) released an article to the New York Times in July of 2004 where he stated that the link between developing deadly melanoma and overexposure to sunlight was completely unproven. He stated at that time that there was no conclusive evidence that even getting serious burns would lead to skin cancer and no proof that sunscreens protect the body from melanoma and that there was no proof that being exposed to the sun increased the risk of melanoma.

He also cited a Swedish study done in 2000 that concluded that there were higher rates of melanoma in those who used sunscreen compared to those who did not.

A California-based scientist and author, Elizabeth Plourde, PhD, states that malignant melanoma, as well as all other skin cancers, dramatically increased with the use of sunscreens over the past 30 years. She points out that many sunscreens contain toxic chemicals, even chemicals that are known carcinogens.


I'm afraid that the latest published research findings on sunscreens tend to support Plourde's observations and the conclusion in the 2000 Swedish study:

From Benzophenone Accumulates over Time from the Degradation of Octocrylene in Commercial Sunscreen Products, a research paper by C. A. Downs et al., published March 7, 2021 by the American Chemical Society at ACS Publications. 


Benzophenone is a mutagen, carcinogen, and endocrine disruptor. Its presence in food products or food packaging is banned in the United States. Under California Proposition 65, there is no safe harbor for benzophenone in any personal care products, including sunscreens, anti-aging creams, and moisturizers.

The purpose of this study was to determine (1) if benzophenone was present in a wide variety of commercial sun protection factor (SPF)/sunscreen products, (2) whether benzophenone concentration in the product increased over time, and (3) if the degradation of octocrylene was the likely source for benzophenone contamination.

Benzophenone concentration was assayed in nine commercial sunscreen products from the European Union and eight from the United States (in triplicate), including two single ingredient sources of octocrylene. These same SPF items were subjected to the United States Food and Drug Administration (U.S. FDA)-accelerated stability aging protocol for 6 weeks.

Benzophenone was measured in the accelerated-aged products. Sixteen octocrylene-containing product lines that were recently purchased had an average concentration of 39 mg/kg benzophenone, ranging from 6 mg/kg to 186 mg/kg. Benzophenone was not detectable in the product that did not contain octocrylene. 

After subjecting the 17 products to the U.S. FDA-accelerated stability method, the 16 octocrylene-containing products had an average concentration of 75 mg/kg, ranging from 9.8 mg/kg to 435 mg/kg. Benzophenone was not detectable in the product that did not contain octocrylene. Benzophenone was detected in the pure octocrylene manufactured ingredient.

Octocrylene generates benzophenone through a retro-aldol condensation. In vivo, up to 70% of the benzophenone in these sunscreen products may be absorbed through the skin. 

The U.S. FDA has established a zero tolerance for benzophenone as a food additive. In the United States, there were 2999 SPF products containing octocrylene in 2019. The safety of octocrylene as a benzophenone generator in SPF or any consumer products should be expeditiously reviewed by regulatory agencies.


Octocrylene (CAS no. 6197-30-4) is one of 14 United States Food and Drug Administration (U.S. FDA) active ingredients approved for use in sun protection factor (SPF) over-the-counter drugs which include sunscreens, moisturizers, lip balms, and anti-aging products. In March of 2019, 2999 SPF products that were registered for sale in the United States contained octocrylene.(1) Octocrylene is also used in non-SPF-labeled personal care products such as shampoos, hair sprays, tanning oils, and conditioners.

The personal care product industry has known for some time that octocrylene is contaminated with benzophenone (CAS no. 119-61-9).


Here I'll interrupt to ask the obvious question: if the industry knew about that, why didn't the FDA?

You'll just have to finish reading the paper; it'll all come painfully clear in the end.

So what's the best course if you feel you're facing a choice between the possibility of skin cancer from the sun and the possibility of cancer from sunscreen products? I think reasonable advice comes from the article in Naturalon: 

While sunlight may increase the risk of certain types of skin cancer, what is much less publicized is that going without it can greatly increase your risk of other illnesses.

About 50,000 people every year will be diagnosed with either basal cell or squamous cell skin cancer. These are highly treatable and are rarely, if ever, life threatening. Melanoma, on the other hand, makes up for about 10 percent of all skin cancers. If not caught early, it is generally fatal. Much of the information regarding limiting one’s exposure to the sun has been directed at reducing melanoma. There was a recent study released which showed that sunburns in early childhood increased the risk of developing melanoma later on.

But the link between sunlight and melanoma isn’t as clear as you might think. Studies show that habitual exposure to the sun can actually cause the skin to make its own self-protective mechanisms against it. Also, melanoma often forms on body parts that don’t tend to receive much sunlight, such as the soles of the feet.

The balance of evidence strongly suggests that in order to avoid melanoma, it’s important to protect your skin from very intense sun, or sunburns early in life, but just how much protection is not quite clear.

Also, the advice we have been given regarding sunscreen is also open to question as at least two recent studies have shown that using sunscreen is associated with an increased risk of melanoma.

Studies show that just a 10 percent reduction in exposure to sunlight leads to an increased risk of breast cancer by as much as 10 percent and as much as a 12 percent increase in colon cancer.

In light of all these different types of advice and conflicting reports, perhaps it’s best to suggest that we avoid the sun when it’s at its strongest by staying in the shade, staying indoors, or wearing protective clothing, rather than sunscreen.



Tuesday, March 9

The abuse of human language

The photo is from a video posted in Sputnik's playful A Husky's Guide to Ending an Unwanted Conversation

Huskies are famously argumentative, mimicking intonations in human language and even mustering a few words when pounding home a point to their dazzled human companions.  But Huskies are not impressed by the loquaciousness of other Huskies, as we can see from the above. 

I wish it was that simple to end unwanted human conversation. Yet there is now a crying need to talk less. This is because people in modern societies are abusing language to such an extent that much discussion is not to inform but to persuade. 

So what happens to getting informed if the goal of communication is to get others to agree? I'll tell you because there's a precedent.

The late Stephen F. Cohen, a Russia expert, once said on John Batchelor's radio show that when he was living in Moscow everyone read Pravda, but by then no one believed anything from Russia's official news source. They didn't believe because they'd learned the hard way that the official source was only trying to get agreement with its position, and telling fairy tales instead of reporting in order to do it. So everyone made up their own version of whatever situation Pravda was reporting on.  

Steve recounted the story several years ago but I still remember my reaction: No wonder the Soviet Union fell apart. 

More than one factor contributed, but the situation Steve described made it inevitable that the empire would collapse on itself. 

It's not possible for a society to hold together if many of its members not only don't believe what authoritative sources are telling them, they're also making up for themselves versions of  what the sources are reporting and which can have no basis in facts. 

Yet this is exactly what is happening in the United States today when it comes to public discussion of anything even remotely political. 

It's important to put the horse before the cart when purporting to inform. You don't want to start out the discussion by trying to get everyone to agree with you because soon enough no one will believe a word you say.


More on American nomadism

Michael Vlahos has written at his blog ("A New Civil War") about issues raised in my February 25 Pundita post (The New American Civil War and the New American Nomadism) and invited me to write a guest post on the topic. 

His post is titled RV Nomads Today, Red Guard Tomorrow. My post at his blog is titled Nomadland and secession of sorts.

The discussion is happening at a fortuitous time. Yesterday came the news that "Nomadland" won the Critics Choice awards for best picture and director, and that the film is set to "sweep" the Oscars.


Saturday, March 6

Maybe they don't have ice ages on the planet Bill Gates comes from

On February 15 the Wall Street Journal publicized Bill Gates' latest book, "How to Avoid Climate Disaster." The book "outlines the various activities that add greenhouse gases to the earth’s atmosphere and then offers a step-by step analysis of the innovations that could offer a remedy." As an incentive to WSJ readers to pay attention, the article explains there's an awful lot of money to be made from Climate Change. There is indeed, notwithstanding Solyndra's flameout, which cost American taxpayers an awful lot of money.

If Bill's instructions are a success at vastly reducing manmade greenhouse gases (note that if it's something bad, it's still called manmade rather than humanmade), I look forward to his step-by-step analysis on avoiding an ice age.

See, that was the whole point of manmade greenhouse gases, as far as Svante Arrhenius was concerned -- Arrhenius being the first scientist to "use principles of 
physical chemistry to estimate the extent to which increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide are responsible for the Earth's increasing surface temperature" according to Wikipedia. But he undertook his study in a quest to understand how ice ages happened.

After getting his  point across in German and at least one other language, in 1908 he went to the English-speaking public. In his book, "Worlds in the Making" he wrote:
"We often hear lamentations that the coal stored up in the earth is wasted by the present generation without any thought of the future, and we are terrified by the awful destruction of life and property which has followed the volcanic eruptions of our days. We may find a kind of consolation in the consideration that here, as in every other case, there is good mixed with the evil. By the influence of the increasing percentage of carbonic acid in the atmosphere, we may hope to enjoy ages with more equable and better climates, especially as regards the colder regions of the earth, ages when the earth will bring forth much more abundant crops than at present, for the benefit of rapidly propagating mankind." (p. 63)
Subsequent generations of scientists pointed out his laughable underestimation of how much carbon emissions would be produced by factories but the point is that Arrhenius seemed to think manmade global warming could save the human race from being wiped out by a catastrophic ice age. 

Was he right? Maybe, in theory. From a riveting explainer about the discovery of global warming (which mentions Arrhenius' work):
Past Climate Cycles: Ice Age Speculations:

The calculations were backed up in 2004 by data from a heroic new drilling effort in Antarctica that brought up ice spanning the past eight glacial cycles. Among these was an unusually long previous cycle where the orbital elements had been similar to those in our own cycle. On the other hand, in 2012 a team using a different ancient cycle as an analogy to the present claimed that the world should indeed be descending into an ice age within the next few thousand years.(53*)

The scientists who published these calculations always added a caveat. In the Antarctic record, atmospheric CO2 levels over the past 750,000 years had cycled between about 180 and 280 parts per million. The level by 2012 had climbed almost to 400 and kept climbing. (The other main greenhouse gas, methane, was soaring even farther above any level seen in the long ice record.) Greenhouse warming and other human influences seemed strong enough to overwhelm any natural trend.
One scientist, paleoclimatologist William Ruddiman, even argued that the rise of human agriculture had already produced enough greenhouse gases to counteract the gradual cooling that should have come during the past several thousand years; every previous cycle had begun a steady cooling soon after its peak, rather than leveling off as ours had done.(53a) As emissions climbed exponentially, we might not only cancel the next ice age but launch our planet into an altogether new climate regime.

To cut a story I think the scientific consensus at this time is that whatever threat the human race would face from a catastrophic ice age is neither here nor there, if we're wiped out first by unprecedented global warming.

But is it unprecedented? Here we run into the reality that it's not possible to put the universe and its history on a laboratory bench for examination. Which calls to my mind an old joke told to me by a CIA  analyst. I can't remember the exact details but the gist is this:

After World War Three broke out, the U.S. President called the CIA director into the Oval Office. He threw a 2,674 page report at him titled, "How to Avert World War Three" and fumed, 'We did everything this damn report recommended! Now you tell me what we missed!" 

The director called for the lead analyst on the report and snapped, 'Tell the President what they missed.'

The analyst thumbed through the report then said, 'They missed the third footnote on page 822.'

Somehow I doubt Bill Gates would find the joke funny.