Monday, August 13, 2007

Inexhaustible Oil

Well-known physicist Freeman Dyson of the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study has a piece in Edge in which he challenges the conventional wisdom on global warming. Along the way he mentions a very interesting theory on the origin of hydrocarbons like oil and natural gas in the earth's crust. The conventional view, which always struck me as highly implausible, is that the oil we consume today was formed millions of years ago by the decomposition of organic matter, such as rafts of floating vegetation.

Some scientific heretics, like Immanuel Velikovsky, theorized back in the fifties that the petroleum actually rained down upon earth as the planet passed through the tails of hydrocarbon-rich comets. Dyson, however, leans toward a theory espoused by the late Thomas Gold. Here's what he writes:

Later in his life, Tommy Gold promoted another heretical idea, that the oil and natural gas in the ground come up from deep in the mantle of the earth and have nothing to do with biology. Again the experts are sure that he is wrong, and he did not live long enough to change their minds. Just a few weeks before he died, some chemists at the Carnegie Institution in Washington did a beautiful experiment in a diamond anvil cell, [Scott et al., 2004]. They mixed together tiny quantities of three things that we know exist in the mantle of the earth, and observed them at the pressure and temperature appropriate to the mantle about two hundred kilometers down. The three things were calcium carbonate which is sedimentary rock, iron oxide which is a component of igneous rock, and water.

These three things are certainly present when a slab of subducted ocean floor descends from a deep ocean trench into the mantle. The experiment showed that they react quickly to produce lots of methane, which is natural gas. Knowing the result of the experiment, we can be sure that big quantities of natural gas exist in the mantle two hundred kilometers down. We do not know how much of this natural gas pushes its way up through cracks and channels in the overlying rock to form the shallow reservoirs of natural gas that we are now burning. If the gas moves up rapidly enough, it will arrive intact in the cooler regions where the reservoirs are found. If it moves too slowly through the hot region, the methane may be reconverted to carbonate rock and water. The Carnegie Institute experiment shows that there is at least a possibility that Tommy Gold was right and the natural gas reservoirs are fed from deep below. The chemists sent an E-mail to Tommy Gold to tell him their result, and got back a message that he had died three days earlier. Now that he is dead, we need more heretics to take his place.

I don't know how this explains the deposits of oil, unless the conditions necessary to form natural gas also form oil, but if Gold was right we have an almost inexhaustible supply of the stuff just waiting for us to develop the technology to go down deep enough to get it.

Just an aside: It's ironic that Edge runs a piece extolling the role of heretics in science when most of their contributors are decidely uncongenial to the most sweeping "heresy" in modern times - the "heresy" of Intelligent Design.


Fatherlessness and Crime

Cities are struggling to find ways to prevent crime. Gunshot detection monitors, increased police presence, better school facilities, safe harbors for children, job programs, etc. are all being added to our communities to try to reduce the terrible violence which plagues our communities. These measures are all fine as short-term palliatives, but what none of them do is address the reason there is so much crime in our cities in the first place.

We have crime because the family, especially in the minority communities which are most heavily represented in urban areas, has all but disintegrated. Too many children are growing up feral with no parental supervision to speak of and especially no father to give guidance and discipline to young boys.

Consider these excerpts from a City Journal article by Steve Malanga who, in the wake of the recent murders of three college students in Newark, tells us this:

Behind Newark's persistent violence and deep social dysfunction is a profound cultural shift that has left many of the city's children growing up outside the two-parent family - and in particular, growing up without fathers. Decades of research tell us that such children are far likelier to fail in school and work and to fall into violence than those raised in two-parent families. In Newark, we are seeing what happens to a community when the traditional family comes close to disappearing.

According to 2005 figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, only 32 percent of Newark children are being raised by their parents in a two-adult household. The rest are distributed among families led by grandparents, foster parents, and single parents-mostly mothers. An astonishing 60 percent of the city's kids are growing up without fathers. It isn't that traditional families are breaking up; they aren't even getting started. The city has one of the highest out-of-wedlock birthrates in the country, with about 65 percent of its children born to unmarried women. And 70 percent of those births are to women who are already poor, meaning that their kids are born directly into poverty.

3,750 kids are born every year into fatherless Newark families.

The economic consequences of these numbers are unsettling, since single parenthood is a road to lasting poverty in America today. In Newark, single parents head 83 percent of all families living below the poverty line. If you are a child born into a single-parent family in Newark, your chances of winding up in poverty are better than one in five, but if you are born into a two-parent family, those chances drop to just one in twelve.

And the social consequences are even more disturbing. Research conducted in the 1990s found that a child born out of wedlock was three times more likely to drop out of school than the average child, and far more likely to wind up on welfare as an adult. Studies have also found that about 70 percent of the long-term prisoners in our jails, those who have committed the most violent crimes, grew up without fathers.

The starkness of these statistics makes it astonishing that our politicians and policy makers ignore the subject of single parenthood, as if it were outside the realm of civic discourse. And our religious leaders, who once preached against such behavior, now also largely avoid the issue, even as they call for prayer vigils and organize stop-the-violence campaigns in Newark. Often, in this void, the only information that our teens and young adults get on the subject of marriage, children, and family life comes through media reports about the lifestyles of our celebrity entertainers and athletes, who have increasingly shunned matrimony and traditional families. Once, such news might have been considered scandalous; today, it is reported matter-of-factly, as if these pop icons' lives were the norm.

Until our society begins to address the real root cause of crime nothing else we do is going to make any significant difference, and our cities will continue to descend toward something like Fallujah in 2003.

So why don't we do something to reverse the course? In my opinion there are two reasons: First, the left would have to admit that its grand social revolution of the sixties and seventies was an abject failure. The relaxation of sexual restraint, no-fault divorce, the view that women don't need men to raise children, along with the corrosive effects of the welfare state all combined in a perfect storm to destroy the family. The left will never acknowledge that this is the root of the problem, but we'll never be able to neutralize the acids dissolving our social fabric until they do or until they are rendered politically irrelevant.

Second, any change would require not only a return to the social mores of the fifties, which seems very unlikely, but it would also require an official stress on the importance of personal morality which would entail making a concerted effort to restore religion to a place of prominence in peoples' lives. This a secular society is ill-prepared and even less willing to do.


Michael Vick

J.C. Watts makes an important point about the charges against Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick. The deeds for which Vick has been charged are inhumane and reprehensible, but they're no more savage or cruel than ripping the limbs off of an unborn baby.

We are sickened to read about what happened to dogs on Vick's property, but a large segment of people in this country, some of them the same folks who are deeply repulsed by the dog-fighting culture, believe that cutting a baby to pieces in an abortion should be legal at any point in a pregnancy up to, and including, the moment of birth.

A lot of folks apparently care more about the well-being of defenseless, innocent animals than they do about the lives of defenseless, innocent human beings.

If Vick had been licensed to kill unborn babies on his property for Planned Parenthood he wouldn't be in the difficulty he's in today. Instead he's charged with killing dogs and it may cost him millions.