Election hangover

Recently, I finished reading the last of “Dictator”, the third of Robert Harris’ trilogy nominally about the life of Marcus Tullius Cicero, but just as much about the collapse of the decaying Res Publica. The aim of Roman politicians was to gain power, or imperium. Few actually wanted to achieve anything, other than to put one over their “enemies” (any other Roman who was not helping them gain their power) or to gain the right to govern a province and get rich from the tithes they would impose. There were exceptions. Cato, and to a lesser extent, Cicero, wanted to maintain the “principles of the republic”, even if these were somewhat ill-defined and were bendable for convenience, while Gaius Julius Caesar genuinely wanted reforms, and was prepared to stamp down on the corrupt practices that he, too, had once engaged in.

In some ways, not a lot changes, although everything now is a lot milder. The vitriol slung between Trump and Clinton would be nothing for the times of the Res Publica. Trump said he would have Clinton investigated; Clodius was quite happy to organize a gang to beat a senator senseless. Even Pompey seemed to be almost afraid much of the time, but of course he obeyed the rules and disbanded his legions before returning to Rome. Caesar was not afraid, but then Caesar did not disband his legions, and he got assassinated.

I am always amused at the straw-clutching assertions made by the losing side. Thus we hear that Clinton won the popular vote. She did but that is irrelevant. About half the eligible population did not vote, and there are at least two possible reasons why not. One is, lack of interest. Another is that for many there is the feeling that if you are in a state that has no chance of changing, and you are in the minority, there is no chance your vote will matter, so why bother?.

Another thing that amuses me is the hand-wringing that went on after Trump won. Horrors! The sky was falling! If they were that concerned, why were they not out campaigning for Clinton? My personal view is that there were so many wild statements flung around during campaigning that we could conclude that such statements are necessary to win the election. If so, there could be a serious withdrawal from most of such statements by the winner.

So, is the sky falling? Is Trump going to be a total disaster, as some of the more noisy ones seem to assert? He won by making the most outrageous statements, but arguably that was what he had to do to win with the current voters. If that is true, then guess were the fault lies. But equally, if he is a man prepared to do whatever is required to achieve a goal, then he may very well retract from many of these positions when the goal is to be an effective president. I suppose we have to wait and see how much power Trump will actually have, but the American constitution is specifically designed to limit the power of any president. The president has to do deals with Congress, and even if Congress is majority Republican in both houses, during the election campaign it was clear that not all Republicans are going to back Trump no matter what. Further, Trump seems to be showing signs of dropping his most outrageous assertions.

I think it is far too early to guess what the Trump presidency will be like. My guess is the fight against global warming has not been done favours, although the US has signed the Paris agreement, and I doubt that will be revoked. Trump’s tax plan is similar to what Paul Ryan wants, so that may well get through. International trade may well suffer, and the US could hurt a country like New Zealand. However, whatever happens, the sky will not fall.

That raises the question, what would it take to bring America to its knees? Strictly speaking, it should be impossible, but there is one way: the bulk of the population cooperates in bringing it down. After all, that was why Rome fell. The average Roman decided that the Roman governance was worse than whatever the uncivilized masses could do, at least once the initial rape and pillage was over. So could anything like that happen now, in America? Of course not. However, if you want to have nightmares over something like that, on Dec 2 my ebook ‘Bot War is available, and if nothing else, it might show you how impossible it is. In this story, the general problem is not the terrorists and their robotic war machines, but rather the general population have no faith in their government. Is that lack of faith justified?

Some After-effects of the Earthquake

One of the interesting things about sea life is that the niches are so crowded that sometimes life clings to one very specialist zone. One of my favourite examples was a seaweed that grew on the southwest face of rocks in a harbour in a band of about ten centimeters depth, and then only in a spot that was about twenty meters long! Yes, that was somewhat exceptional, but the principle applies broadly, if not so strictly. Kaikoura is a great place for finding crayfish (rock lobster), and is reflected by the name, and the coast was a great place for other diverse marine life, including seaweed. During the recent quake, the land rose two meters. The places where I described certain seaweeds as originating from in some of my scientific papers are now high and dry, so the descriptions are no longer helpful. But this land rising will also be a serious disruption to marine life in the near intertidal zone because when the life form wants to be a specific distance below sea-level at low king tide, a two meter lift completely alters much of the environment.

This gives an interesting view from the environmentalists: they decree that none of the recently exposed wild-life shall be harvested, and instead be left to die. I am far from convinced this makes sense. Thus paua (a version of abalone) are hemophiliac, and if cut they die. They cannot return to the sea, and they cannot be shifted. What is the point in leaving them rot? I have heard the explanation, the nutrients will go back to the sea, but that is nonsense from my point of view. Such nutrients will only benefit plant life that can absorb it more or less immediately, and the ocean currents take the rest away. Some of the greenies seem incapable of putting numbers to their thoughts. I once saw one criticism of an attempt at aquaculture state that a particular one-acre pool was going to pollute the Pacific Ocean by deoxygenating it. Leaving aside the wave action during storms, and that the aquaculture was for seaweed, the Pacific is so huge such a statement merely displays a total lack of ability at elementary mathematics.

Back to more standard difficulties. Apart from small segments, the land to the north of Kaikoura is a very narrow coastal strip leading to almost vertical hills that are several hundred meters high. To the south there is a little flat land, then the road has to cross some very torn terrain. The earthquake dropped enormous amounts of rock onto the roads, and it will take months to clear reasonable access and stabilize the hills. The town has too little land for a significant airport, and while it has a port for small vessels, large ones cannot be accommodated.

So our TV programs showed tourists being evacuated on a navy transport ship. These are designed to have smaller landing craft that can more or less go anywhere. The tourists were taken out and had to climb a rope ladder to get into a hatch, where they would settle in a fairly mammoth area. The comfort levels would be low, because the military aims to get things done, but not with excessive comfort, but they aim to be able to do things as near to under any circumstances as possible.

Then in another news clip my attention was drawn to a ship just offshore. That did not look like any of ours, and we saw sailors in uniforms that were not like ours, and that was because it wasn’t and they weren’t. This particular ship was from the US navy, that happened to be in the region, and it dropped other activities to offer what help it could. Apparently there were also ships from the Australian and Canadian navies helping. Thank you, US, Canadian and Australian navies. In a disaster like this, one of the great assets of the military is that they get things done, and they have expertise and skills that really help when survival becomes an issue. Meanwhile our army has managed to open some sort of goat track route to get survival equipment in as well. So far, only in their near “go anywhere” trucks.

Meanwhile, in Wellington, it appears a number of buildings are going to have to be demolished. One of the interesting statements about the building code is, it is not designed to ensure a building will survive a major quake and be able to be used thereafter; it is designed so that the building will have enough structural integrity that nobody is going to get killed during the quake. My guess is property investors who have focused on apartments in the Wellington CBD are going to be a bit nervous for a while.

All of which makes my problems look a bit on the pathetic side. As far as I can tell (and with my recent hip replacement I am not yet sufficiently mobile to check a lot) my house has survived more or less intact, my children’s properties are essentially undamaged, and nobody nearby has sustained serious damage. All in all, things have worked out well for us.

So, back to the more mundane. Somehow I have to work out how to promote my latest ebook, ‘Bot War which will be published on December 2. Interestingly, I see some think that under President Trump, the US is headed towards disaster. I don’t think so, but my novel does give an alternative reason why some of what Trump says should be avoided.


Since my last post, things have been happening and there has been material for several posts. I have been in hospital getting a hip replacement, but that is of little importance, other than to me. The United States elected a new President, after what I thought was one of the most bizarre campaigns, and then there was . . . But more of that below.

The surgery and the follow-up care were carried out with professionalism, skill and commitment, and I can assure anyone wondering that New Zealand does have good skilled medical care. One can argue about the politicians’ involvement with health care (and many of us Kiwis do), but I could not have asked for more. While recovering, the election results were coming in, and I had nurses pausing and discussing. Many Americans probably do not appreciate the importance many ordinary people in other countries attribute to their political scene. Of course there is no personal involvement, so we could make our comments in a detached sort of way. I am sure all who are following my blog, or other writings, will have seen enough comments on the actual result, so I shall leave it at that, other than to add that only too many of such comments show some ugly aspects of the writer that probably should not have been shown.

Then it was time to come home. My daughter thought I was being silly coming home because I have some fairly steep steps to climb, but no problem. The hospital had the rule, if you cannot climb up and down steps, you cannot come home, and I had practised. A lot of people commented on how well I was doing, bearing in mind . . . I put that down to three things. First, for weeks before going in I had been doing exercises to strengthen hip muscles. You cannot do anything about what is to be cut, but with bad hips, the muscles around them tend to atrophy through lack of use. You can do something about that. The second, I was determined to do what had to be done, and I think attitude helps. Finally, I had some long-term goals. Simple goals, like being able to walk down the beach in our up-coming summer. Be that as it may, I mention it just in case anybody else is to face such surgery. One can imagine all sorts of things, but it helps if you can focus on the desirable.

So, the day I came home we had, in a 24 hr period, the total average rainfall for November, and here was me hobbling up towards the house. Any moss on concrete, when wet, tends to get slippery, and you need slipperiness under crutches like you need the plague. So, the end of the bad luck?

Nope. I came home on a Saturday, and had a quiet Sunday, but then shortly after midnight, the house started shaking: a 7.8 earthquake. (Equivalent, I have been told, to 5.35 Mt of tnt.) This was centred at Waiau, which is about 40 % of the way between Christchurch and Wellington. This has apparently got international attention, especially “cow island” – three cows stranded on a pillar where the rest of the land had subsided. In one sense it was good this happened at Sunday/Monday midnight because many of the high-rise buildings in the Wellington commercial district lost sheets of glass, and there would have been serious casualties had there been people wandering about down below. Meanwhile, the electricity to the house went out. For me, there was worse to come – just as I was getting back to sleep, the sirens for a tsunami warning started up. No real likelihood of a tsunami where I live, because I am about 70 meters up a hill. But these sirens went on and on.

Then on Tuesday I had to go back and get dressings changed. No problems, except there was a serious storm going on, a number of roads were closed, and I had to hobble both down and up my path to my house. Of course my inconvenience is nothing compared to others’. Apparently, the whole town of Kaikoura has to be evacuated by sea because all land routes to and from it are blocked by huge rock slips. These road closures are all over the country. Earthquake/storms have closed at least 7 roads in the Lower Hutt area where I live, and a good number of houses have had to be evacuated. Then, of course, the aftershocks; 2000 of them. These have ranged as far north as Taupo, (half-way up the north Island) and a number directly under Wellington. A number of high-rise buildings there are under suspicion.

Yes, this has been a period where things have been happening. I just wish they would slow down, or happen somewhere else. I know that is hardly fair to someone else, but I have felt that a quiet spell for recovery would be good.

Why is the Moon so dry?

The Planetary Society puts out a magazine called The Planetary Report, and in the September issue, they pose an issue: why is there more water ice on Mercury than the Moon? This is an interesting question because it goes to the heart of data analysis and how to form theories. First we check our data, and while there is a degree of uncertainty, from neutron scattering as measured from orbiting satellites, Mercury has about 350 times the water than the Moon, not counting whatever is in the deep interior. Further, some of that on the Moon will not be water in the sense we think of water. The neutron scattering picks out hydrogen, and that can also come from materials such as hydroxyapatite, which is present in some lunar rocks. The ice sits in cold traps; parts of the body where the temperature is always below -175 oC. For the Moon, there are (according to the article) about 26,000 km2 cold enough, while Mercury has only 7,000 km2. So, why is the Moon so dry?

Before going any further, it might help some understand what follows if they understand what isotopes are, and what effects they have. The nature of an element is defined by the number of electrons, which also equals the number of protons. For any given number of protons, there may be a variation in the number of neutrons. Thus all chlorine atoms (found in common salt) have 17 protons, and either 18 or 20 neutrons. The two different types of atoms are called isotopes. Of particular interest, hydrogen has two such isotopes: ordinary hydrogen and deuterium with 0 and 1 neutron respectively. This has two effects. The first is the heavier one usually boils or sublimes at a slightly higher temperature and in a gravitational field, is more likely to be at the top, hence ice that spends a lot of time in space tends to be richer in deuterium. The second effect is the chemical bond is stronger for the heavier isotope.

So where do volatiles (water and gases) on the rocky planets come from? I raised some of the issues on where it did not come from earlier: https://wordpress.com/post/ianmillerblog.wordpress.com/564 To summarize, the first option is the accretion disk. That is where Jupiter’s came from. If the body is big enough before the gases are removed, they will remain as an atmosphere. We can reject that. The planets will have had such atmospheres, but soon after formation of the star, it starts spitting out extreme UV/Xray radiation, and intense solar winds, and these strip the volatiles. The evidence that this removed most of the atmosphere from Earth is that some very heavy inert gases, such as krypton and xenon, have heavy isotope enhancements suggesting they have been fractionally distilled, and some of the heavier isotopes were enhanced. These gases are extremely rare, but they also cannot be accreted by any mechanism other than gravity and adsorption, and unless they were so stripped, there would be huge amounts of neon here because physical mechanisms of accretion apply equally to all the so-called rare gases, and neon is very abundant in the accretion disk. However the krypton was accreted, very large amounts of neon would also be accreted. Neon is rare, so most gases that arrived with the krypton would have been similarly removed. As would be water. So after a few hundred million years, the rocky planets were essentially rocks, with only very thin atmospheres. That, of course, is assuming our star behaved the same way as other similar stars, and that the effects of the high energy radiation are correctly assessed.

So, where did our atmosphere and oceans come from? There are only two possibilities: from above and from below. Above means comets and asteroid-type bodies colliding with Earth. Below means the elements were accreted with the solids, and emitted through volcanoes. Which one? This is where the Mercury/Moon data becomes significant. However, as often is the case, there is a catch. Mathematical modeling suggests that the Moon might have changed its obliquity, and once upon a time it was almost lying on its side. If so, and if this occurred for long enough, there would have been no permanently cold points, and the Moon would have lost its ice. It did not, but the questions then are, did this actually happen, did that period last long enough, or did the water arrive on the surface after this tilting?

Back to Earth’s atmosphere. The idea that Earth was struck by comets has been just about falsified. The problem lies in the fact that the comets have enriched deuterium, and there is too much for Earth’s water to have come from there, other than in minor amounts. A similar argument holds for chondrites. It is not the water that is the problem, but rather the solid rock. The isotope ratios of the chondrite rocks do not match Terran rocks. The same applies for the Moon, because the isotope ratios of the surface of the moon are essentially the same as on Earth, and the Moon has not has resurfacing. That essentially requires the water on Earth to have come from below, volcanically. I gave an account of that at https://wordpress.com/post/ianmillerblog.wordpress.com/576

And now we see why the extreme dryness of the Moon is so important: it shows that very little water did land on the Moon from comets and chondrites. Yes, that was shown from isotopes, but it is very desirable that all information is consistent. When you have a set of different sorts of information that lead to the same place, we can have more confidence in that place being right.

The reason why the Moon is so dry is now simple if we accept the usual explanation for how it was formed. The Moon formed from silicates blasted out of the Earth when Theia collided with it. Exactly where Theia came from is another issue, but the net result was a huge amount of silicates were thrown into orbit, and these stuck together to form the Moon. We now come to a problem that annoys me. I saw a review where it said these silicates were at a temperature approaching 1100 oC At that temperature, zinc oxide will start top boil off in a vacuum, and the lunar rocks are depleted in zinc. According to the review, published in October, it could not have been hotter because the Moon is not significantly depleted in potassium. However, in the latest edition of Nature (at the time of writing this) an article argued there was a depletion of potassium. Who is right, and how does whoever it is know? Potasium is a particularly bad element to choose because it separates out and gets concentrated in certain rocks, and we do not have that many samples. However, for water it is clear: the silicates were very hot, and the water was largely boiled off.

So, we have a conclusion. I suppose we cannot know for sure that it is absolutely right because we cannot know there is not some other theory that might explain these facts, but at least this explanation is consistent with what we know.

To conclude, some personal stuff. There will be no post from me next week; I am having hip replacement surgery. Hopefully, back again in a fortnight. Second, for those interested in my economic thoughts, my newest novel, ‘Bot War, will be available from December 2, but it is available for preorder soon.