Voice of Sanity – March 2017
Membership: adults $24/year
Editor: Joyce Bates
All correspondence to:
3620 Pelham Rd., Suite 5, #135
Greenville, SC. 29615
The Voice of Sanity
THE NEWSLETTER OF THE PIEDMONT HUMANISTS
Visit our web-site for current issues at:
The Sunday meeting: There is a meet and greet 10:00AM to 10:45AM
At 11:00AM there is usually a talk, video, or general discussion from 11:00AM to 1:00PM
Location: the Earth Fare 3620 Pelham Road, Greenville.
There is a business meeting at the 11:00 time on the first Sunday of every month.
Dates for the Sunday meetings are: March 5th, 12th, 19th. And 26th
For those new to Humanism a discussion group will meet 10:00AM Sunday March 19th Location: the Earth Fare 3620 Pelham Road, Greenville
The Free-Thought group will meet at 7:00PM March 9th and 23rd. (Thursday) for a meal at California Dreaming restaurant; 40 Beacon Drive; near the Pelham Road exit off I85.
The Freethought trivia and pool group will meet at Friar’s Tavern,
1178 Woodruff Road, Greenville, SC 29607.
Meetings will be held 7:00 to 10:00PM on March 2nd, 16th, and 30th.
March 11th: Second Saturday Brunch will be at10:00AM at the Golden Corral, 3240 North Pleasantburg Dr. Greenville, SC 29609.
LIFE AND THE TRANSFER OF ENERGY
In the early 1800s Nicholas Carnot the son of the Minister of War under Napoleon investigated ways to improve the efficiency of steam engines. During his work he noticed that “fire” invariably progressed to “ice” or more generally that heat always flowed from hot to cold, never in the opposite direction. This observation was the beginning of exploration of the Second Law of Thermodynamics and how energy changes and degrades from one form to another in only one direction through time.
Household heating is an example of energy transfer and the Second Law. Locally, the primary and richest form of energy comes from radioactive sources at the Oconee Nuclear Plant. This form is transferred to turbines which generate electricity as the next form of energy. The electricity flows to the local residence where a heat pump transfers it into heat for distribution in the home. Finally the heat leaks out and is absorbed into cold air outside. Nothing travels in the opposite direction; the “transfers” each “degrade” the original energy until it becomes part of the cold air outside. The total transition down the scale is called an energy gradient.
Energy gradients are noticeable everywhere. The flow of water downhill is an example. Our weather patterns are due to energy from the sun combined with earth’s gravity and rotation. So is the circulation of ocean currents. The earth itself is a planet basking in the “goldilocks effect” a unique situation where it is at the right temperature and location in a giant gradient extending from the 58000K of the sun to the 2.70K of outer space. This enables the correct temperature or energy input to permit existence of liquid water and the chemical reactions necessary for life.
The most fantastic example of something taking advantage of the energy gradient is the living cell. Cells are incredibly efficient at this. They use a chemical reaction which turns sugar and oxygen into energy. The process performs a kind of molecular magic trick. While it produces the energy needed, it also reproduces the two molecules that initiated the action in the first place. These two molecules go on to use sugar in a future reaction again allowing energy release plus two molecules for another reaction and so on. This type of chemistry is performed by all the cells in our bodies or, for that matter, cells in any form of life that has to metabolize or burn sugar.
Many scientists now think that life, in order to have originated, would have had to take advantage of the Second Law as well as use the replication of DNA and RNA. The initial chemical reactions to obtain energy for building protein would have been vital and might have even preceded the means of replication. Indeed, the first living things were probably autotrophic. That is, they maintained life by directly feeding on non-living materials and did not “eat” in the way modern organisms do. This is the way some creatures that live near oceanic vents survive; only they run their metabolism by taking in sulfur instead of food. They manufacture energy and produce hydrogen as the waste product.
The first living things probably had access to the amino acids that are necessary for the formation of life. Many of these acids are relatively common even in space. The original organisms would not have been able to use oxygen to live, though. Oxygen did not exist in the atmosphere until about 2.3 billion years ago. Greenland rocks dating to 3.8 billion years show radioactive carbon traces suggesting that life was already well established. The tentative conclusion is that life must have metabolized something other than oxygen for energy but ironically issued it as a waste product. Eventually, too much of it in the atmosphere led to the demise of all but a few of these original organisms.
Forms of life have one thing in common and that is despite the variety of items they may burn for energy they all need to burn something. The commonality extends from single cells to complex organisms and beyond to ecological systems.
The health in a complex organism can be measured by the stability of its metabolism. In human beings and other mammals we measure the effectiveness of this stability by taking temperature. When someone’s temperature goes up it means that their thermodynamic condition is not normal; they are expending energy to fight infection in addition to the normal maintenance of cells. Even when a person has to run to catch a plane, the sudden effort accelerates an older metabolic process of fermentation instead of steady burning. This is reflected in sore and aching muscles from an accumulation of lactic acid.
An ecosystem is also a thermodynamic system. Green plants do their part by taking solar energy and converting it into sugars that can be burned slowly as they transfer from species to species throughout the system before the energy has finally dissipated. A cow eats grass and uses its sugar to maintain its body. The rumen of the cow supports bacteria that maintain themselves by metabolizing parts of the grass the cow cannot digest. At the same time they create sugars that the cow can digest. The cow gives milk during its life to support other animals and when it is finally slaughtered its body will be used as a source of rich protein. The dung that the cow produces during its life is a source of energy for soil bacteria and fungi that break it down to fertilize more grass that the cow can eat.
One cannot overestimate the importance of natural forests and grasslands in their ability to provide stable healthy ecosystems. A plant reflects 15 percent of radiation back into the atmosphere, 18 percent into sensible heat (like that reflected off asphalt parking lots), and 66 percent in the transpiration of water from the roots to leaves where it evaporates into the atmosphere. Only one percent is used in biomass production of sugars that support the living fibers, and flesh in the rest of the system.
Mature ecosystems such as temperate and rain forests process energy from the sun more efficiently than those that are less developed. As a system matures its biomass increases and so does its assortment of species and their residency time. Natural disaster and/or human intervention can set them back to an earlier less productive period of development. We know this because disturbed environments lose that energy more easily in the form of heat just like environments that do not have adequate water.
Contrary to what one might think this also means that tropical and other climax forests recapture heat to recycle it in the form of rain again and this in turn keeps temperature in the high clouds much cooler than above grasslands and deserts. Also, the disturbed ecosystems mentioned in the previous paragraph radiate heat from the sun out into the atmosphere at a rate comparable to grasslands and deserts. A healthy well developed natural area simply recycles energy longer, supports a greater number of species, and radiates less heat than a poor one and this has been reinforced by satellite data.
This is a short and very general history of the roll energy plays in the maintenance of life. Hopefully, it will help us to understand our place in this process and give us the humility to realize how much we depend on all of it for our existence. JB
Into the Cool, Eric Schneider and Dorian Sagan, 2005, University of Chicago Press.
EIGHT RICHEST MEN
At the end of 2015 OXFAM a non-governmental organization founded for the relief of global famine published a list of 62 of the wealthiest people. The select few owned wealth equal to that of half the population of the world. In fact, the aggregate of their worth (over $498 billion) was more than the GDP of any one of 168 countries. Last year the list was shortened to just eight people in order to balance the equation of the previous year. The paragraphs below feature financial statuses and short biographies of the eight richest men in the world.
Larry Ellison: (born 1944, New York City; financial worth January 2017 $43 billion)
Ellison was adopted by a middle class family and spent his early life in Chicago. He attended the University of Chicago where he first learned computer design. Ellison partnered with two others in 1977 to form Oracle, a company specializing in data base management. In 1990 the company almost became bankrupt because of a misleading marketing strategy which involved the overstatement of earnings. The company recovered from this and grew until 2010 when the European Union approved its acquisition of Sun Microsystems. By 2014 Oracle was worth $185 billion with 130,000 employees.
Philanthropy: In 2010 Ellison was one of the 40 billionaires signing the “The Giving Pledge” a campaign to encourage wealthy people to give to charity.
Mike Bloomberg: (born 1942, Boston Mass.; financial worth January 2017 $43.9 billion)
Bloomberg has degrees from Johns Hopkins University and the Harvard Business School. He initially worked for a Wall Street investment bank but was laid off when the business was sold. He set up a new company called Market Systems to provide high quality and quickly delivered business information to firms on Wall Street and in the general business community. In 1982 Merrill Lynch became the first customer. By 2015 Market Systems had 325,000 terminal subscribers worldwide. Other technical business products are Bloomberg News, Bloomberg Message and Bloomberg Tradebook. He left the business to serve three mayoral terms in New York City.
Philanthropy: Bloomberg was named the third largest donor in 2015. His donations are too extensive to detail here, but go to various health organizations, art projects, and science foundations.
Carlos Slim Helu: (born 1948, Mexico City; financial worth January 2017 $48.2 billion)
This son of a wealthy Lebanese businessman became a billionaire after the economic crash of 1982. He did this by purchasing investments at bargain prices which later became extremely valuable. Later he used the expanding equity to purchase big companies mostly in tobacco and communications.
Philanthropy: He is ranked by Forbes as one of the biggest donators with sponsorship to the Musee Sumaya in Mexico City which contains 60,000 works including those of Da Vinci, Dali, Picasso and Renoir. He has given $100 million to cataract surgery for those Latin Americans unable to afford it.
Mark Zuckerberg: (born 1974, New York City; financial worth January 2017 $56.6 billion)
While attending Harvard in 2002, he launched a technical directory where students could enter information and a photo of themselves onto a template that could be shared with others. This soon became available to students across the country. He left Harvard and established an office in Palo Alto, California in 2004 and managed to raise $12.7 million in capital in 2005 and officially named the directory Facebook. More money was made when Microsoft and Digital Sky Technologies bought a small percentage of shares in the company.
Philanthropy: in 2013 the Chronicle of Philanthropy listed him as giving one billion dollars to charity. He has donated 18 million shares of Facebook stock to the Silicon Valley Community.
Amancio Ortega: (born 1936, Leon, Spain; financial worth January 2017, $71.3 billion)
Ortega started his career in textiles when he went to work for a shirt maker at age thirteen and remained working for others for about 14 years before going out on his own. In 1963 he opened a company that made bathrobes. His first general clothing retail store opened in 1975 with an emphasis on high-quality design for lower prices. He lowered his costs by keeping factories in Spain, producing smaller quantities and shipping quickly and often. By 1989 his holding company “Inditex” had over 100 stores in Spain. He has been retired since 2011.
Philanthropy: Ortega has a low public profile, but is documented as giving approximately $60 million towards education, culture, and welfare in his country.
Jeff Bezos: (born 1964, Albuquerque, New Mexico; financial worth January 2017, $72.5 billion).
He graduated from Princeton with degrees in electrical engineering and computer science. After graduation he worked in computer technology for a number of companies and enjoyed a lucrative career in finance. In 1994 he moved to from New York to Seattle and set up a new company in his garage finally launching it in 1995 as Amazon.com. The virtual book store sold products in the US and 45 foreign countries and in two months reached sales of $20,000 a week. The company went public in 1997. Many similar companies went bust in the 1990s but Amazon thrived with sales in 2011 of over $17 billion. Bezos purchased the Washington Post in 2013 for $250 million. He also sponsors “Blue Origin” a project to make space exploration commercially viable. Its launch pad is in West Texas.
Philanthropy: He donated $2.5 million to support a same sex marriage referendum in Washington State which was successful; $10 million to the Seattle Museum of History and Industry; and $15 million to the Center for Neural Circuit Dynamics at Princeton.
Warren Buffett: (born 1930, Omaha, Neb.; financial worth January 2017, $73.2 billion)
Buffett graduated from the Columbia Business School in 1951. He started out by working at his father’s investment firm. He then used his savings to invest in various partnerships over time in his hometown. After a while he merged them all into one and invested in a textile firm called Berkshire Hathaway. Late in the 1960s he shifted attention from textiles to insurance but his company made acquisitions that were varied in nature. One example was the procurement of seven percent of Coca-Cola stock. His tax return for 2015 was $1.85 million on a gross income of $11.6 million, a tax rate of about 16 percent.
Philanthropy: He has pledged $30.7 billion worth of Berkshire stock to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Other donations include $50 million to the Nuclear Threat Initiative an organization that works to prevent catastrophe from weapons of mass destruction.
Bill Gates: (born 1955, Seattle, Wash., financial worth January 2017, $83.9 billion).
Gates started working with programming when a GE computer was made available at his school. Later he wrote his high school’s computer program for scheduling classes. He entered Harvard in 1973 but dropped out in 1975 to start Microsoft along with Paul Allen in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He adapted the DOS system for IBM’s personal computers in 1980. In 1985 he launched Windows and continued to write code until 1989. After that date his role was confined to management. In 2006 he transitioned out of the company to concentrate on humanitarian issues.
Philanthropy: In 2015 The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation spent $4.2 billion in global health and development, US programs, communication, and other charitable programs. Eventually Gates will donate 95 percent of his wealth to charity.
References other than Wikipedia:
“The closest a person ever comes to perfection is when he fills out a job application form.”
Businessman Stanley Randall
“When I lost my rifle the Army charged me $85. That’s why in the Navy, the captain goes down with the ship.” Dick Gregory
“Whoever named it necking is a poor judge of anatomy.” Groucho Marx
“I don’t want to brag, but I do speak pig Latin; I mean, I’m not fluent, but I’m sure if I ever went there, I could get by.” Bonnie McFarlane
“The next time I send a damn fool, I go myself” Sgt. Louis Cukela reportedly said at the Battle of Belleau Wood WWI.
“A Canadian psychologist is selling a video that teaches you how to test your dog’s IQ. Here’s how it works: If you spend $12.99 for the video, your dog is smarter than you.” Jay Leno
“If con is the opposite of pro, then isn’t Congress the opposite of progress?” Jon Stuart