Sunday, March 26, 2023

The Sound of One Bat Flapping: from Echolocation to Songwriting

"If a shell falls in a forest, does anyone hear?"

The number of jobs for humans
that will remain in 2030 shrinks by the day. GPT-4 didn't just get into law school, it passed the bar in the 90th percentile. It passed the med school exams. It aced all the high school AP exams and the GREs (its highest score was in Environmental Science). It passed the introductory, certified, and advanced sommelier exams, even though it has never doffed a flute of bubbly. It has bettered grandmasters at chess and Go and designed women’s fashion. 

AI has painted faux Rembrandts and Van Goghs and composed tunes in the style of Mozart and Snoop Dog. It has even assumed the voice and mannerisms of Steve Jobs to describe how Apple fared through the pandemic, in English or in Spanish.

In Ukraine, artillery duels are an important part of the action and AI is strutting its stuff. The Red Army began with a decided advantage, sending 20,000 missiles per day from Russia with love. NATO infusions redressed that imbalance, with HIMARS mobile batteries following laser signals from pilot-less drones converting ammunition stockpiles into greenhouse gases, and counter-battery radar, which can detect and track artillery shells in the air and locate the firer even before the shell lands. Russia sent in its own Zoopark-1 counter-battery system only to have Ukrainian hackers detect the radio waves and decapitate the mobile units.

Sound-ranging tech traces to 1915 when William Lawrence Bragg used widely-spaced microphones to automatically record distant gunfire via a galvanometer and pinpoint a firing position to within 10 meters. Modern systems are slightly better but have difficulty with some types of camouflage or if a target is mobile. This is where we need to make a point. No matter how good AI may get, it will never attain superiority to biological systems. That goes for rooftop mechanical trees over forested ecosystems as much as it does for the latest counter-battery radar.

Bats make my point. They have evolved better technology over several million years. They don’t “see” targets with a precision of meters—they pinpoint to millionths of meters.

With all those bat-hours spent on R,D&D, they do other things AI devices can only dream of. In An Immense World, Ed Yong explains:

The basic process seems straightforward. The bat's call is scattered and reflected by whatever's around it, and the animal detects and interprets the portion that rebounds. But to successfully do this, a bat must cope with many challenges. I count at least 10.

Yong’s ten challenges that bats face, and their solutions, are these:

  1. Distance. Bats conquer this by concentrating calls into a cone and sending out sonar at 138 decibels (fortunately outside the range of human hearing).

  2. Avoiding deafening themselves. They can hear their own screams even if we can’t. They address this by contracting muscles in their middle ears while they shout and then relaxing their ear muscles for the echo. Since they may be shouting and listening at 200 pulses per second, this is a remarkable muscular ability. Ginger Baker eat your heart out. It is further complicated by a moving target that is approaching, changing the echo gap with each pulse. Yong notes:

Bats can compensate for Doppler shifts. When closing in on a target, they produce calls that are lower than their normal resting frequency, so the upshifted echoes hit their ears at exactly the right pitch. And they do this (quite literally) on the fly, constantly tweaking their calls so that the echoes from targets ahead stay within 0.2 percent of the ideal frequency. This is a staggering feat of motor control that's almost unmatched in the animal kingdom.

Imagine that you have a mistuned piano that always produces notes three tones higher than what you're actually trying to play. If you want middle C, you'll have to press the A on its left. You'd soon get the hang of it—but imagine now that the piano's mistakes aren't systematic, and the gap between the pressed notes and desired notes changes all the time. Now you must constantly judge the size of the gap by listening to the music coming out of the janky instrument, and adjust your fingers as you play. That is what constant frequency (CF) bats are doing many times a second, with almost no errors. They can even do this for several targets simultaneously. A horseshoe bat can throw its attention between different obstacles at varying distances and perform the right Doppler compensation for each one.

  1. Speed of evasive manuevers. While closing on prey at high-speed, bat vocal muscles contract up to 200 times a second. This is the so-called terminal buzz. They blanket their target with sonar.

  2. Separation. When calling very quickly, a bat risks creating a jumbled stream of overlapping calls and echoes that can't be separated or interpreted. Bats, therefore, make their calls very short and space them closely so that each goes out only after the echo from the preceding one has returned. The control is so fine that even during rapid terminal buzz, there's no overlap.

  3. Decrypting the signal. The bat's nervous system is so sensitive that it can detect differences in echo delay of just one or two-millionths of a second, which translates to a physical distance of less than a millimeter.

  4. Translating to type. Yong explains: “… a hunting big brown bat produces a call that sweeps across a broad band of frequencies, falling over an octave or two. All of these frequencies bounce off the moth's body parts in subtly different ways, and provide the bat with disparate pieces of information. Lower frequencies tell it about large features; higher frequencies fill in finer detail. The bat's auditory system somehow analyzes all this information—the time gaps between the call and the various echoes, at each of their constituent frequencies to build a sharper and richer acoustic portrait of the moth. It knows the insect's position, but maybe also its size, shape, texture, and orientation.”

“When a sonar pulse hits an insect's flapping wing, the echo strength varies as the wing moves up and down. But at one particular moment, when the wing is exactly perpendicular to the incoming sound, an especially loud and sharp echo bounces straight back at the bat. This is called an acoustic glint. It's a dead giveaway that an insect is flying nearby… a CF bat can use glints to distinguish fluttering insects against cluttering foliage. They must be the auditory equivalent of flashes of light.”

7. Motion. The entire hunting sequence, from initial search to terminal buzz, might occur over a matter of seconds. In their attempts to close or evade, both bat and target are moving incredibly fast. Once the bat goes in for the kill, it produces the terminal buzz to claim as much information as possible as quickly as possible.

8. Camouflage. Is it a leaf-like beetle or a fluttering leaf? Using sonar, and sonar alone, a bat approaches from a sharp angle, so that echoes from the insect bounce toward it while those from the leaf bounce away.

More than 200 bat species in 60 countries are considered threatened (Critically Endangered, Endangered, or Vulnerable). More than half of the bat species in the United States are listed as endangered or in severe decline.

9. Crowds. When 20 million bats are flooding out of a cave together, how does each pick out its own echoes? Mostly, they ignore the din and fly blind. Yong says: “This explains the many historical incidents in which people barricaded the entrances to caves for safety reasons, only to later find that bats had fatally crashed into the doors.” The bats just weren’t paying attention.

10. Energy. Echolocation is mentally demanding, especially since bats do everything they do at speed. Yong tells us that bats can distinguish two grades of sandpaper whose grains differ by half a millimeter, but will also plow headlong into a cave door. The feats that they do are exhausting, but they do it on a diet of bugs. The calories or kilojoules of energy it takes to run the brain of a bat would not be enough to boot your phone. You could probably run a hundred bat brains on the energy your phone uses just launching an app.

One thing you will notice when you look at a bat is all the hair. All over its face, ears, nose, wings, tail, belly and back are various kinds and sizes of hair. Every strand is an antenna. The follicles and the nerves aid bats in flight control, detecting air velocity, wind direction, vortices, and potential stall conditions. Hair also feeds their brains more information about obstacles or prey. Shave a bat and it collides with walls and trees. I wrote more about the sensory perception of hair in 2012

AI-endangered economic sectors

Will general AI become creative in the way musicians like Brian Wilson, Paul McCartney or Paul Simon claim their greatest works came fully formed from the deep subconscious, or writers like Shakespeare, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Stephen King pull up ideas no one seems to have imagined before? What about non-linear relationships? Will AI enter into a flow state to tap the collective unconscious?

Will AI learn from bats? It probably is doing that already in some defense industry lab—design by biomimicry. Bats have one insurmountable advantage over AI, however, just as real trees have an advantage over artificial ones. We saw this in how astronaut Dave regained control of the HAL-9000 computer in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

AI requires external power. Vast power. If you are worried about AI taking over the world and killing us all, don’t. For now, we can just unplug it.

That may be what the bats were trying to do in Wuhan, China. Unplug us. They may finally be paying attention.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

The Talosian Origins of the Reality Distortion Field and Tucker Carlson

"The spells don’t work on minor wizards"

Gene Roddenberry had not really appreciated how long it would take to produce believable weekly SciFi when Star Trek launched in 1966 on NBC. Toward the middle of the first season, he found himself writing the tenth episode with Ricky Ricardo pacing the floor wanting to see shootable pages. Ricky and Lucy worried that Gene would be unable to deliver the next episode to film, edit, and fly to NBC in New York in time to fulfill Desilu’s promises to sponsors.

More importantly for Roddenberry, he needed a signature tale to show the night when Star Trek would air in prime time on Thanksgiving.

He did have one ace up his sleeve—an unaired pilot episode from 1965 called “The Cage.” If he re-edited The Cage into a cliffhanger, he thought, it could be episode 11 and the solution would be Thanksgiving’s episode 12.

It is 2267. Enterprise answers a distress call from the former Enterprise Captain Christopher Pike and arrives at Starbase 11. Sound like the Kobayashi Maru test? It's close. Pike communicates to Spock they need to go to the planet Talos IV. Enterprise’s current Captain, James T. Kirk, refuses because the Federation has placed Talos off-limits. Spock and Pike, under a hypnotic spell cast by the Talosians, hijack the Enterprise. Kirk is briefly marooned at the starbase, but he gives chase in a shuttlecraft and eventually takes back his ship from the mutineers while warding off a Talosian attempt to hack his mind.

At Spock’s court-martial, the ship’s log reveals that in 2254 Pike was abducted by the Talosians, who have the power to create reality distortion fields.

You can see where I am going with this, right? No?

Take your pick: Steve Jobs' charisma and its effects on the developers working on the Macintosh in 1984. Tucker Carlson cherry-picking 30 seconds of footage of the January 6 Capitol riot to show that the rioters were as harmless as weekend tourists. Donald Trump insisting that the election was rigged and he is still legally President. Vladimir Putin claiming that he is liberating Kyiv from Nazis. Bill Gates forecasting in 2020 that Small Modular Reactors will power rural homes by 2024. The AMA claiming long covid doesn’t exist. The State Department saying the Havana Syndrome is all your mind.

Oh wait, those last two were gaslighting. Let’s not get confused. Reality distortion is when the illusion is so powerful you actually believe it. Gaslighting is making you think you’re crazy when you’re not.

The RDF was said by Andy Hertzfeld to be Steve Jobs' ability to convince himself, and others around him, to believe almost anything with a mix of charm, charisma, bravado, hyperbole, marketing, appeasement and persistence. It was said to distort his co-workers' sense of proportion and scales of difficulties and to make them believe that whatever impossible task he had at hand was possible. Jobs could also use the reality distortion field to appropriate others' ideas as his own, sometimes proposing an idea back to its originator, only a week after dismissing it.


During development of the Macintosh computer in 1984, Jobs asked Larry Kenyon, an engineer, to reduce the Mac boot time by 10 seconds. When Kenyon replied that it was not possible to reduce the time, Jobs asked him, "If it would save a person's life, could you find a way to shave 10 seconds off the boot time?" Kenyon said that he could. Jobs went to a whiteboard and pointed out that if 5 million people wasted an additional 10 seconds booting the computer, the sum time of all users would be equivalent to 100 human lifetimes every year. A few weeks later Kenyon returned with rewritten code that booted 28 seconds faster than before.

In an interview, Gates said he considered himself immune to Jobs's reality distortion field, saying, “…he would be casting spells, and I would see people mesmerized, but because I'm a minor wizard, the spells don't work on me.”

In 2267, the court-martial is interrupted by a message from Starfleet Command, revealing that the Enterprise log images they have been viewing are being transmitted from Talos IV.

So what is it? Real or fiction? Is the reality distortion field the court has been viewing something they need to understand about the Talosians, or is it what the Talosians want them to think? That is the cliffhanger on which Roddenberry closes episode 11. Space music outro. To be continued.

At 7:30 pm Thanksgiving evening, November 24, 1966, episode 12 came on with its famous theme song and hardly anyone watched. It was across from the 4th quarter of the Browns-Cowboys game on CBS and Dating Game on ABC, followed by the number-one-rated Bewitched. Very few viewers saw Kirk beam Pike down to the planet to inseminate the Talosian’s non-illusory women and reboot a dying race. Star Fleet Prime Directive be damned, Kirk had prevented Talosian extinction. Space music outro. Curtain.

The master negatives of Episode 11, “The Cage,” and Episode 12, ”The Menagerie,” together produced in just one week, were flown to New York for broadcast. In 1967, The Cage won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. In 2017, ranked The Menagerie the 3rd best episode of all Star Trek television. Some repertory movie theaters in North America showed the two classic episodes as a 110-minute feature film in the 1970s. Meanwhile, the Cowboys beat the Browns 24-14, Bewitched retained its number one spot in ratings and Desilu sold Roddenberry’s folly to Paramount after its first season. NBC canceled Star Trek after three seasons in 1969.

And there the Reality Distortion Field might have ended, but for a young Australian newspaperman who resurrected it to create the modern tabloid. Around the same time Star Trek was being canceled, Rupert Murdoch, then in his thirties, refined a formula for weaponizing outrage to capture eyeballs. He manufactured scandals out of thin air. Eventually, his success playing to neurobiological instincts and dopamine cravings allowed him to buy Australia’s largest newspapers and color them yellow.

By 2011, News Corp Australia owned 23% of the nation's newspapers and held captive 59% of the nation’s readership. The company grew to the point where it could buy The Sun in London (turning it into pulp fiction and gaining 10 million readers), The Times and Sunday Times, Sky-TV, New York Post, South China Morning Post, 20th Century Fox, DirecTV, Dow Jones & Company, The Wall Street Journal, Barron's Magazine, Star India, the Far Eastern Economic Review (based in Hong Kong) and SmartMoney. Like a Gitmo or Bagram 100 Db torture cell, Fox News monopolized bars, airports, hotel lobbies and dental exam rooms worldwide, indoctrinating billions of Manchurian Candidates. It begat entire Congressional Districts, such as The Villages in Florida. It be-knighted Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and Donald Trump.

No one knows exactly where it came from, although there's a theory someone bought it at a market in China and then spread it around the world. To be honest it's a scandal it was even on sale in the first place. MyMetPoll says the virus is spread by a new 5G phone signal but the mainstream media is trying to cover that up just because it isn't true. Phone companies say 5G is safe but they can't know because 5G is totally unlike anything we've seen before, apart from 4G and 3G and 2G, 1G which I think was called WAP, probably to put us off the scent. Anyway, Paul sent me this really interesting video:

David Icke: “I managed to get the message out that if they start firing out 5G at 60 gigahertz they're gonna have a lot of people who are gonna keel over because they can’t absorb oxygen.”

I thought he was talking out of his ass but then Paul explained how the phone companies use a Jewish computer to replace everything David Icke says with absolute bullshit in a bid to discredit him. As soon as he said that, the way David Icke doesn't make sense suddenly made sense.

Theory Liker and Non-Epidemiologist Philomena Cunk explains Coronavirus


Is it just me, or does Rupert Murdoch bear an uncanny resemblance to the Talosians? Is this our payback for having rescued their race from extinction?


Sunday, March 12, 2023

First Principles: Learning from Buffalo

"Many people think that we followed the buffalo, when in fact the buffalo followed us."


I seem unable to explain to some of my critics why I cling to natural solutions over high-tech inventions like artificial trees, nuclear energy, and AI. While surfing YouTube I came across an inspiring, hopeful TEDxKC talk by permaculture master teacher Lyla June, Diné (Navajo).


Lyla June beautifully laid out my first principles of design, which she modestly described merely as indigenous land practice.

  • tap into and align with forces of nature

    “What if I told you I've seen my people turn deserts into gardens? What if these human hands and minds could be such a great gift to the earth that they sparked new life wherever people and purpose met?”

  • expand habitats

    “For millennia, following the grass-burning moon of our lunar calendars, we would transform dead plant tissues into nutrient dense [carbon], nourishing the soil and unlocking the seeds of pyro-adapted grasses and medicines like echinacea. Over time, this fire would prevent trees and shrubs from taking over the grasslands and would nourish the soil to generate topsoils up to four feet deep. Many people think that we followed the buffalo, when in fact the buffalo followed our fire. In this manner, we anthropogenically expanded buffalo habitat as far south as Louisiana and as far east as Pennsylvania.”

  • create non-human-centric systems

    “For example, Coastal Salish Nations of British Columbia enhance fish habitat by planting kelp forests where the herring lay their eggs. This helps that small silverfish lay even more eggs, rebound in even greater numbers, and both the eggs and the hatched herring fish cascade up the food chain, nourishing so many other life forms, such as bear, salmon, orca, eagles, wolves and more. Ironically, by seeding this food web and feeding all life around them, Coastal Salish Nations have greater food security for themselves.”

  • design for perpetuity

    “One Kentucky sediment record shows how Shawnee ancestors took care of a chestnut food forest for over 3,000 years straight. A sudden influx of fossilized charcoal during the same period indicates that they managed it with routine burning of the forest floor. Presumably, this enriches the soil, helps the soil hold more water, and eliminates competing vegetation to boost the immune systems of the trees they selected. Apparently, it worked because it lasted for millennia. What if our systems were designed to last forever?”

That same day, I happened to rent Nomadland and was struck by cross-cutting themes. Nomadland won Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress for Frances McDormand at the 93rd Academy Awards. The story comes from a book by Jessica Bruder who spent months living in a camper van documenting itinerant Americans that gave up traditional housing to hit the road full-time, similar to the Okie migrants in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.

In the film, Fern (McDormand) loses her job and company town when a plant shuts down, sells most of her belongings and purchases a van. Over the course of the film, she warms up to van life to the point where, given the opportunity to go back to “normal,” she chooses to remain a nomad.

What seems to attract her more than the camaraderie and community of fellow nomads is living close to nature. She experiences freedom in a more profound way than she ever had. Despite the hassles and heartbreaks, she is endlessly surrounded by natural wonder, and can almost effortlessly traverse from one moment of awe to another.

Hitting during Covid, Nomadland did not gross its costs and was a box office dud, but went on to win not only the three Oscars but Best Picture and Best Director Golden Globes, Best Film at the British Oscars, and top honors at both Toronto and Venice (a first). Although originally scheduled for a limited release in China starting on April 23, 2021, the film has still not been shown there, which is interesting, because as I explained in an earlier piece, these Nomadland themes are very much in harmony with Xi Jinping’s “Lucid Water and Lush Mountains” policy.

In a scene shot in an Amazon warehouse, Swankie (Charlene Swankie) recites to Fern’s work group that the Three-Points principle means you want to keep three points of contact with a stable surface when climbing or reaching, to avoid spills. Here is my third point.

My friend Rex Weyler recently interviewed my other friend Nate Hagens for Greenpeace Green Talks. He asked Hagens to explain what he calls (in podcasts, YouTube channel, and an animated film) the Great Simplification.


A barrel of oil provides the same total work as a human working full time for 11 years. Since humans can be more efficient than mechanical systems at turning muscle labor into useful work, we discount the oil by about 60%, so a barrel of oil represents about 4.5 years of human work. Since every year we use 100 billion barrels-equivalent of fossil fuels, we get effectively 400-500 billion human workers added to our economic system, to the 4-5 billion real human workers.


We are alive during the carbon pulse, our economic system treats this huge yearly benefit as if it were interest, when actually, we are drawing down the principle, Earth’s natural principle, all the energy and materials we drain from the Earth and use for human economy. We are drawing down the fossil hydrocarbon store 10-million-times faster than it was trickle-charged by daily photosynthesis millions of years ago.


We feel entitled to current large quantities of energy, but after basic needs are met (about 100 Giga-Joules per capita globally) there is very little benefit derived from more energy use. Citizens in the US and Canada use over 300GJ per capita, so there is lots of room to simplify. We can reduce our energy demands without significantly reducing the general well-being of humanity. 

A recovering Vice President at Salomon Brothers (“in 2002 I gave my clients their money back, left Wall Street, and began educating myself on ecology and energy full time”), Hagens believes we are at the cusp of a Minsky moment and Korowicz crunch.

My work suggests that even the next doubling will not occur in the face of very real energy, material, and environmental limits. The moment we are no longer able to grow sufficiently to service debt and financial claims, there will be a musical chairs moment in global financial systems. 

Debt or “credit” allows us to consume resources today that without credit would still be available in the future. We are producing things that we’d not be able to produce without debt. The implication is that once the markets no longer trust that governments can be fiscally responsible or that growth can’t continue, we have a sharp reduction in economic output akin to the 1930s. This will be the beginning of the Great Simplification, the largest event ever encountered by a global human culture.

As Scrooge asks the Ghost of Things to Be, “Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?”

Contraction is a thing that will be, but some consequences are things that may be only. ‘Which and how many’ are things we may yet have agency over. Path selection should proceed from first principles.

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Jennifer Granholm was Pwned

"Edward Teller still has avatars in the game."

his farewell address, Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of the “military-industrial-congressional complex” where one hand fed the other in a vicious cycle of self-aggrandizement at public expense. Of the expenses paid since 1960, none has been dearer than the habitable climate of Earth.

In 2022, the US added 55 billion Watts of solar cells, the equivalent of 55 new nuclear power reactors. They were constructed in weeks, not decades. They will not require Russian uranium. They will cost one-twentieth of a similar capacity addition by nuclear. They are cheaper than oil, gas or coal.

In 1970, many of us, myself included, were saying this could be possible. We said it could happen before 1980. We were heaped upon with “freeze in the dark” ridicule. The National labs, flagbearers for Ike’s M-I-C complex, won the argument. They poured billions into nukes (Price Anderson waiver of liability for catastrophe; free fuel enrichment; free waste disposal; regulatory capture; etc.) and erected barriers to solar (no grid ties; expensive tariffs; no subsidies; scant public research).

Today solar is the cheapest form of energy (as we had predicted) while nukes are the most expensive (as we had warned) — many times the cost per kilowatt with subsidies removed.

After writing last month about artificial trees, I tweeted, rhetorically, how could it be that we could be spending billions of dollars and euros on a solution to climate change that could never scale? And the answer, which should have been obvious had I taken a moment, was: Edward Teller. We have been pwned.

Pwned (pəʊned) vb.: to defeat an opponent in a convincing and humiliating fashion. Etymology:

  1. from corn pone, an ignorant southerner; rustic; unsophisticated;
  2. a simple keyboard error, p being next to o on a standard QWERTY keyboard;
  3. a code error from World of Warcraft (2004), when the message “X has been owned” should have been displayed but instead it said: “X has been pwned” carried viral on FidoNet, a system created in the 1980s for exchanging emails or text on digital bulletin boards, where pwn slowly transformed into an insult.

Direct Air Capture, Small Modular Reactors, and Fusion Energy — all are pwnings of solar by the National Laboratories, set in motion by Edward Teller.

National Labs make some sense if you are trying to solve some gargantuan problem that humanity faces — it would be good to have one for climate change, for instance — but today they mainly exist to keep engineers and physicists fully employed.

It is easy for the labs to lobby their funders, ultimately taxpayers, for ungodly sums for national security reasons, to prevent a brain drain, to advance basic science — even if the work being proposed is not only useless but mindlessly destructive, as long as it costs a lot and employs millions of little Edward Tellers. It will be good for the economy and will advance the cause of democracy, right?

History Rhymes

Edward Teller is commonly thought of as the “father of the hydrogen bomb” although he did not like the sobriquet. Born in Hungary in 1908, Teller came to the United States in the 1930s as one of the many so-called “Martians”, physicists being rescued from Europe to join what would become the Manhattan Project that developed the first atomic bomb. After the war, having successfully pwned his rival, Robert Oppenheimer, as a pinko, Teller co-founded the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and was its director for many years. He was author of the Red Scare, the Cold War expansion of nuclear arsenals, the Reagan “Star Wars” Strategic Defense Initiative, posthumously the Trump Space Force, and some hare-brained plans that thankfully never came to fruition, such as nuclear-powered airplanes and a plan to excavate an artificial harbor in Alaska using H-bombs.

In a recent Pugwash podcast, Professor Frank von Hippel, Co-Director of the Science and Global Security program at Princeton, explained how Teller was so masterful at pwning presidents and secretaries of Energy and Defense. In the 1990’s, von Hippel was an advisor to President Clinton, and later Obama. In the ’80s, he advised Gorbachev on how to wind down the Soviet nuclear threat. He reveals that Reagan and Gorbachev had agreed, mano a mano at the Reykjavik summit, to eliminate nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth only to have Reagan backpedal when the weapons labs balked. Reagan was pwned. Von Hippel tells how it later went during the Clinton years:

… the emphasis has been on energy but the research really was done for nuclear weapons design purposes … and the issue was a Nuclear Weapons Test Ban and where the weapons lab directors were insisting that they needed to do 15 more tests… there were reasons of safety or reliability that required them.
And the labs presented the tests that they wanted to do in this meeting that was called by the Secretary of Energy [Hazel Henderson] and I was not convinced so I brought along a retired weapons designer who was also not convinced. And it turns out the Secretary of Energy wasn’t convinced either.
… And one of them [the directors] said, well if you would give us as much money for not testing as you’ve been giving us for testing we might be able to see it your way. And so that was the beginning of the science-based stockpile stewardship program and it was basically the budgets — some billions of dollars a year — that were offered to the weapons labs basically to do what they wanted.

This month’s issue of Wired magazine gushes over one outcome:

In December 2022 — a solid century since physicists first identified fusion as the source of star power — American scientists at the National Ignition Facility in Livermore, California, where ignition is a way of life, had a breakthrough. They’d aimed 192 lasers at the inside of a pearl-sized gold can called a hohlraum, creating a radiation bath that heated up the outside of a peppercorn-sized spherical nubbin of hydrogen coated in diamond in the center of the little can.
Atoms flew off the nubbin, forcing it to implode at a speed of nearly 400 kilometers per second — about four times a bolt of lightning. This created 100 million-degree plasma under hundreds of billions of atmospheres of pressure — a gas so hot that electrons were freed from atomic nuclei. At 1:03 am on December 5, humanity hit the threshold for fusion ignition in a lab. The first flash of a handmade sun. Though it blinked out rather quickly, after less than 100 trillionths of a second, the reaction created 3.15 megajoules of energy when a mere 2.05 went in — a glorious 150 percent return on investment.

In his Save the World podcast interview, von Hippel explained how the National Ignition Lab got its start:

Those different labs chose different things. The weapons design labs wanted supercomputers. … What Livermore National Lab got was this National Ignition Facility that made the news with the fusion breakthrough which cost 3.5 billion…. The purpose of it is to create fusion explosions on a miniature basis to train weapons designers and also to test the computer codes…. Basically what they’ve been trying to do is create a fusion explosion with a yield of about a hand grenade. They’ve been struggling with this for decades now. They built huge lasers and concentrated them down on a tiny millimeter size pellet of heavy hydrogen Isotopes of deuterium and tritium and they’ve been trying to ignite these little pellets for decades now and they finally got to the point where [for 80 nanoseconds] they got as much energy out of of the pellet from fusion energy as they put into it from laser energy and that was a breakthrough.
To get to a power plant is an enormous, enormous extrapolation. You’d have to do this many times a second — hundreds of times a second. You’d have to have affordable lasers that would do this repeatedly many hundreds of times a second and in the end, whether that would compete with other sources of energy is a stretch. Even a very simple nuclear power plant can’t compete with solar and wind power anymore, so whether this extravagant contraption could is extremely unlikely.

I watched the press conference where US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm took to the stage and announced this world-changing breakthrough with visions of unlimited energy that would have no climate consequences. I could barely fathom how people could be so gullible as to believe it. Even when one of the lab directors got up and said that the breakthrough would really help their weapons research, apparently no-one saw through the ruse. Astonishing.

Wired’s head exploded in technocornucopian orgasm:

Fusion will, of course, rescue the environment and decarbonize planet Earth in a cool afternoon. It will also — don’t stop me now — render irrelevant all the dead-eyed petroleum kleptocracies and trade wars and real wars waged in their name. When energy can be produced anywhere, with common household ingredients, authoritarian states will no longer derive despotic authority by accidents of geography, but will, whoosh, become secular democracies, the better to share fusion-reactor tips and tricks in happy glasnost and savor the collective joy and peace of a burning, flooding planet restored to tranquil shades of green and blue.
Even leaving aside the Shangri-la, fusion is exciting here and now.

That 80-nanosecond burst was estimated to have cost $3.5 billion, which is likely an underestimate. It resulted in nuclear waste — principally tritium, which will linger for some 240 years as a lethal isotope. Gordon Edwards, President of Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, replied to von Hippel that:

I think we have been we have been manipulated and a lot of people fell for it because you don’t think that the Secretary of Energy is going to go on public airwaves and simply give a false account of what actually happened. And that’s what we’re seeing. I think that the the scramble for money for fusion research, and even for fission research in terms of small modular reactors, is impelling people to misrepresent their product as a way of of getting governments to invest in it and the public to support it.

Question Authority

The China lab leak theory — was it “most likely” or “low confidence?” On February 26, the Energy Department held a press conference to announce that the coronavirus pandemic was “most likely” caused by an accidental laboratory leak in Wuhan, China. Given that scores of international expert virologists, zoologists and geneticists sent to Wuhan have instead concluded that genetic sequencing ruled that possibility out, the DoE announcement came as a surprise. Peer-reviewed 2022 studies used genetic swipes to pinpoint a specific stall at the Wuhan market where the coronavirus likely jumped from an animal into people.

And a genetic analysis estimates the time, within weeks, when not just one but two spillovers occurred. It calculates that the coronavirus jumped into people once in late November or early December and then again few weeks later.

— M.Doucleff, What does the science say about the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic?
NPR February 28, 2023

The director of the Wuhan Lab’s bat virus research, notified of SARS-CoV2, rushed back to the Lab to see if they had any coronaviruses there that could match the strain in the market. A lab leak was her worst fear. She got the genome sequence from Johns Hopkins and immediately ran it through her database. Then she breathed a great sigh of relief. This new one was not one of theirs.

Was the DoE’s “most likely” announcement from virologists? No. It came from a US National Laboratory specializing in biological warfare, with an annual budget coming from countering threats of foreign biological laboratories. Pushed by reporters, the DoE Laboratory conceded their conclusion had “low confidence.”

Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, declined to confirm the intelligence. But he said President Biden had ordered that the national labs be brought into the effort to determine the origins of the outbreak so that the government was using “every tool” it had.

— The New York Times

Biden’s Director of National Intelligence announced in October 2021 that four other intelligence agencies and the National Intelligence Council concluded that the virus most likely emerged through natural mutation. That matched the March 2021 report by the W.H.O. that said it was “extremely unlikely” that the virus came from a lab. And yet, if you unpack the Biden response, it signals bigger budgets for the bioweapons labs. The ghost of Edward Teller is clapping its hands with joy.

Small Modular Reactors and Fusion Grenades

In 1968, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) placed legal obligations on the 5 signatories with H-bombs to get rid of their weapons (Article 6). The 5 states began dismantling in 1970. The US reduced from 64000 warheads to 15000 but stopped at the point they could destroy the world by nuclear winter 10 times over and has since sustained their arsenal there. There are now 191 signatories to the NPT. Von Hippel continues:

Pierre Elliott Trudeau was the only political leader that I’m aware of who publicly spoke out against Insanity of the NATO policy on nuclear weapons. He’s also the one in 1978 before the U.N General Assembly who gave his Strategy of Suffocation speech, which was, that if we’re serious about getting rid of nuclear weapons then there has to be a strategy of suffocation — choking off the vital oxygen on which the nuclear arms race feeds. And that includes the primary nuclear explosive materials. We shouldn’t be producing plutonium and highly enriched uranium if we want to have a nuclear weapons-free world.
Rather than disguising a fundamentally military project like the Lawrence Lawrence Livermore Lab experiment as a peaceful energy thing when in fact it’s a military maintenance project, we have to restart the debate over nuclear weapons policy.

And thus we all drift, pwned like Granholm, stocked to the gills with horrific weaponry and new threats to unleash it out of MRGA (Make Russia Great Again) rage. Every new reactor built is both a bomb component factory and a wartime target. It makes plutonium. We gave up a critical 50 years chasing the peaceful atom myth — unlimited energy that’s safe, clean, too cheap to meter — when we could have had cheap, safe, clean renewable energy with no explosive potential and a tamer climate all that time. Maybe it is time we stop listening to Edward Teller’s ghost and listened to Justin Trudeau’s dad, Maybe it’s time we did something different for a change.




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