Monday, July 19, 2010

Overpopulation and Food

Not many people know that there was a 19th century historian, Thomas Carlyle, who advocated the reintroduction of slavery in the West Indies because the liberation of slaves, he argued, resulted in a drop in their living standards and not having slaves in food production (crop harvesting and so on) would lead to massive starvation as population growth exceeded the rate of increase in the food supply.

Fools come in many shapes and sizes and have been throughout history. Carlyle referred to the study of economics as a dismal science because of his rather narrow understanding of human nature, liberty and capitalism.

I remember somewhere in the past I heard a story about a filthy rich person who made his fortunes in the railroad business in the 19th and early 20th century and prohibited any of his money to be invested in anything other than the railroads after his death.

Because the executors of his estate were compelled to follow the testator's wishes, his money ran out and his estate was liquidated while the 20th century was still a teenager.

I know that it is easy to stand well into the 21st century and look back and point fingers, but the cardinal mistake anyone could make is to underestimate human ingenuity and then rule from the grave. My dad always said that the suit you will be wearing when you move to that small piece of real estate located on the wrong side of the flowers does not have pockets. Let it go already.

Even in this freshly minted century it is possible for one to look back many centuries by looking at other cultures with traditions that haven't changed.

When Carlyle made his rather idiotic statement about slavery, he based it on the constraints of food production of his time. It would have been a cause of witch-burning if I could tell him then how I produce food for my family today.

If I want meat, fruit, salads, bread, cheese and spices for my family, I can enter a weird gadget that whisks us away at 70 miles per hour to a building where all of these products are harvested, prepared, cooked, and assembled in a meal in no more than five minutes. While the weird gadget whisks us home again at an unbelievable clip, we would probably have our meals and be done by the time we get there.

Carlyle would have employed his entire family, with slaves and animals, for an entire year to accomplish what I do in minutes. If I spend more time on preparing and enjoying food, it would be purely for leisure and because of the company.

Regardless how simple feeding one's family and oneself has become, it doesn't mean that it is the end of technological development. We are looking at all the things around us in just as much amazement as the railroad millionaire and Carlyle did.

The answer is not to enslave people to keep a production process affordable, it is the counter-intuitive approach: liberate people so that technological innovativeness can be unleashed. How many wonderful innovations have been lost due to slavery, intimidation and poor education? These are perhaps the most costly of all human behaviors and they are all related.

It is unavoidable that we ask ourselves whether we have outgrown the Carlyles of the world. Is there anyone left today who believes what Carlyle believed? Surprisingly, liberals of today advocate the slowing down of technological development through dumber education and creating subjects not fellow citizens. We should go 'organic' or 'free range' and work the land ourselves so that we can honor and connect with 'mother earth.' I tell you, be careful what you wish for; 'mother earth' can be a terrible taskmaster. But cowards are first to criticize and judge others while they are well fed and safe.

Another thing: the earth is not my mother. I know my mother very well and she is not round and she doesn't spin endlessly around her axis.

Humans are custodians of the planet, not its children. Earth doesn't feed me or care for me. It takes hard work to extract the earth's resources and work them into usable things.

And I don't need slaves to help me with my work, either. I need people who can think and on whose intellect and innovation I can count, hopefully, better educated and more intelligent than what I am, which shouldn't be too difficult.

Capitalism -- individual liberty and the free market system -- will set people free and sufficiently feed them every time it's tried.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


I read an article by some wild-eyed expert who listed all the dangers of overpopulation of the planet citing carbon footprints, people in developed countries having some ridiculous tonnage of carbon emissions over their life-times, and so on.

At a currently estimated number of people on the planet of about 6.6 billion people (some estimated 6.8 billion but without the U.S. government's census workers out in Africa, Mongolia and Peru to count all the newborn babies last night, who would know what the real number is, but I digress) I tried to calculate and put in perspective the magnitude of the problem.

As other people already did, I also used the state of Texas as an example and divided its area by 6.6 billion people to see how much acreage one person could count on getting when push comes to shove.

Numbers are fascinating, so let's play with them a little bit. Texas consists of an area of about 269,681 square miles. A square mile is exactly 27,878,400 square feet, so Texas covers 7,487,608,550,400 square feet. If we divide the area of Texas by the number of people (6.6 billion) we get 1,134 square feet for every man, woman and child on the planet. That means, a family of four would get either 4,537 square feet of living space, which is huge in terms of necessary living space as opposed to desired living space, or more than one person would live together. So, we should play with the numbers again.

If 80% of all the people on the planet live with someone else, it means that 5.28 billion people would live with one other person leaving 2.64 billion spaces in Texas vacant. If 50% of those 5.28 billion people have one other person living with them, that makes it three people per every 1,134 square feet, another 1.36 billion spaces would be vacant. And, one last time, if another 20% has one other person moving in with them to make that number a four-person family, another 1 billion spaces would be vacant. So, of the 6.6 billion spaces required in Texas, the entire world's population can be accommodated in 1.6 billion spaces of 1,134 square feet each.

The remaining 5 billion spaces represent an area of 204,121 square miles in Texas that remains unoccupied - including the entire planet. Nobody, not a single soul lives anywhere else; not in Africa, Asia, Europe, Russia, Australia - nowhere not a soul.

The vacant space in Texas would be larger than Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut, Hawaii, New Jersey twice, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maryland, West Virginia, South Carolina, and Maine combined.

Who will feed all these people in one location and where will they work? Well, more spaces will be left vacant as some people would have to move to adjacent states, which will be used for food production and other industry to accommodate this mega-mega city, but we will leave them vacant in case some of them wishes to come "home" to visit family. The rest will all work from home on their computers eliminating the need for mass transportation.

If we should fill up the state of Texas and use all the other surrounding states as production facilities to keep the Texas World going, we can accommodate another 21 billion people. If we should build these spaces as high-rise complexes, and build every space up to 10 stories, we can accommodate 270 billion people before we have to think about the rest of the U.S. or Africa or Australia, or Europe. That should last us for another thousand or so years.

What about the carbon footprint when the people's presence is currently dispersed across the entire globe but in this scenario it becomes a concentrated exhaust stack of waste and pollution?

With all the people of the world concentrated in such a relatively small area, one can build a wall around Texas, slap a roof over it and scrub all the air and water of impurities and dispose of the waste in one concentrated plant.

That's ridiculous.

I know.

But you started it.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Thunderstorm and the Pope

I read with interest and great sadness the report on AOPA's website ( of a Piper Apache that broke up in a thunderstorm. The pilot was an airline captain with thousands of hours flying his newly purchased private plane home with his 200+ hour son.

The author of the article mentioned the differences between flying a passenger jet around thunderstorms and a low-powered, normally aspirated twin, in terms of power and equipment. No doubt the pilot was more confident at the outset than what was good for them; an over confidence that has dealt with high-time jocks of many stripes. When the poor Apache rained from the sky in pieces, the monster of the skies had its fill, taking a father and his son with it proving that time in the cockpit is no guarantee who makes it out alive or not.

I can understand if a pilot is caught unawares by clear air turbulence but deliberately flying in and around severe thunderstorms shouldn't break up your ride, in my (not always) humble opinion. When I was much younger and less prudent, a few times I would deliberately fly into a thunderstorm to see what's inside. Curiosity didn't get this cat, by the grace of God. Curiosity wasn't the only motivating force, either. The rough air maneuvering speed of a light aircraft seemed awfully high to me, ordinarily just less than twice the stall speed. Which means going into rough weather at, roughly, 130 mph in an Apache. That speed already makes for a stiff ride, which means a 50fps gust would give the pilot and pax a serious jolt and even perhaps injury. With two engines hanging onto the wings to boot, I'd hate to subject the airframe to those stresses.

My first CB experience happened in a single Comanche with 250 hp. I flew along a squall line trying to either go around it or find a hole through which I could sneak. When I realized it was no use, I thought I'd poke my nose into its white fluffy side and peak inside.

The Comanche's rough air speed was 138 mph, if I remember correctly, which didn't appeal to me at all, so I slowed down to 90 mph, kept the wheels inside with no flaps. I figured I can recover from a stall but I cannot grab the wing as it goes by.

The results were instantaneous and very educational to say the least. One thing that I instinctively knew was not to fight the controls but make small control inputs and stay aware of the aircraft's (unusual) situation rather than try to fly straight and level. Even pointing the nose down till the AH would almost be brown all over at 90 mph IAS, still produced 6,000 fpm plus ascents. And when the Comanche went through the updraft column and hit the adjacent down draft, it was the same with the nose as high and power as much as I could and it would still dump me down at 6,000 fpm descents.

Until the ascents won and coughed me up in perfectly calm and clear air at around 14,000' there wasn't much else to do but ride the beast. I ended up not on the other side of the squall line, but back where I came from. I can see that it will easily kill one by either throwing the plane against the ground or rise above one's oxygen level, pass out, and then lose control completely. Without hail, the airframe shouldn't break.

That flight into severe weather taught me valuable lessons, which proved later to have saved my life. For one, to stay out of these suckers.

Once I got sucked into a thunderstorm at night flying below cloud in West Africa. Terrain flat, elevation not more than 3,000' with no cloud below 8,500' made for a pitch dark night VFR flight of about 1.5 hours. About 45 minutes into the flight things suddenly went wild, which I immediately recognized and flew the Seneca II through the storm yo-yoing up and down between 7,000 and 12,000' before gaining more moderate skies.

Incidentally, I had a hitch hiker with me as my sole passenger. It happened sometimes that folks needing a ride would sit in the control tower and listen to where folks are headed and then ask if they have a seat open. It so happened that I picked this guy up for a ride to my destination. It was a blessing that he was in the Seneca, because I didn't know that the Seneca's pax seats are clip-ons and during our roller coaster part of the flight some of the seats became adrift. He was very helpful in keeping them behind the cockpit. I guess we exceeded the "clip-limit" of the seats.

When we landed he bowed down and Pope-like kissed the ground and said he will never, ever get into one of these again. Eh. Lost one for general aviation, I suppose.

But, I gained one for GA at another occasion. A brand new Mooney 231 was in South Africa (perhaps the first one) and the owner wanted me to fly it from Lanseria to Wonderboom for reasons I cannot recall any longer. I had to ferry it back to Lanseria that night.

A business associate was at Wonderboom when I had to fly it back and I invited him along. Having never been in an airplane before, he flatly refused and especially not at night. My car was at Lanseria, so I promised to bring him back to his car. After a lot of people employed mob-tactics on him, he relented but said he wanted to get his briefcase in the trunk of his car. He didn't see me following him a few minutes later to his car (I truly thought he was going to bolt) and I saw him writing his last will and testament in his notebook in the light of the trunk's light. I knew I shouldn't laugh at him so I said I did the same before I got into a plane the first time, too. :-)

We had a wonderful flight taking a few turns over Johannesburg and he marveled at the beauty of the city at night and the stillness of the air. I must admit, the air was especially silky smooth. He later took up flying and became a very passionate commercial pilot. So, I guess the Seneca's mess was redeemed by the Mooney's perfect flight.

I got to get back to work.



About Me

Seeking the truth until I find it.