April 29, 2013

"Imagine, Mr. Speaker, a world without balloons."

Said Congressman Hank Johnson. "How can we make sure that the injustice of there being no helium for comedians to get that high-pitched voice that we all hold near and dear to our hearts."

He was, as the video at the link showed, mocking Republicans for wasting 2 days debating the Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act (which passed the House on a nearly unanimous vote, 394-1). "Too often lately, this body has sat deflated — not for lack of hot air, mind you. But seriously, ladies and gentlemen, unlike a noble element, this House has failed to act on Americans’ real concerns."

Now, Hank Johnson is the Congressman who famously asked whether the island of Guam, if it gets over-populated, might "tip over and capsize":



On his Friday show, Rush Limbaugh played the old tip-over-and-capsize clip along with the new world-without-balloons clip. Rush derided Johnson for caring about helium as if he's some kind of nut:
Did you know that helium was endangered or threatened? What, is the Hunt family trying to make a run on helium like they did silver? Or maybe the Koch brothers? The Koch brothers are trying to corner helium. That's what it is, so that kids can't have birthday parties. That's what it is. The Koch brothers are doing it! The Koch brothers are trying to corner the helium market. And Hank here was saying that he supported the Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act. He's from Georgia. 
Well, every single Republican in the House who voted, voted yes, and the vote was 391-1, so you might want to educate yourself about what this program is about. When I blogged a Washington Post item about it — "Congress finds it hard to let Federal Helium Program run out of gas" — I got called out by a number of commenters, notably Carl, who said:
The issue is not nearly as picayune as this asinine article suggests. In the first place, helium is essential stuff for a number of high-tech, scientific, and medical uses. I said essential, as in completely irreplaceable, at least with present or foreseeable technology.

Second, it is a weirdly irreplaceable resource. When your liquid He boils off, it makes its way to the top of the atmosphere and drifts off into interplanetary space, because the Earth's gravity is too weak to hold it. It's gone for good. You will never be able to recycle it, the way you might think of recycling iron from scrap heaps, or even reconstituting oil from the CO2 and H2O in the atmosphere after it gets burnt.

Third, the only conceivable source is the underground decay of uranium and thorium, which verrrry slowly produce helium over millions of years, particle by particle. There is no way to hurry the process up, and the supply is obviously finite and decreasing remorselessly every year.

Fourth, the economics are stupid, because the 1990s Federal law said to sell off the reserve as fast as possible, so the Federal government has been dumping He at far less than the cost to actually supply it for years and years. Not surprisingly, all these wrong economic signals have built up a whole economic structure built on them -- built on sand, so that once those signals reset to reality, you are going to have significant disruption.

That's the difficult issue. There may be broad agreement that economic reality should take over, and the signals reset, but how and when to do that is a matter of debate, as well it should be, and for the admittedly narrow segments of tech for which this is relevant, hardly trivial. It is by no means something Senators and Representatives shouldn't be wasting their time upon. The Post could do its readers a better favor by explaining why this happened, and the strangely unique nature of helium, than by phoning in a cheap mindless story about how government programs live forever ha ha ha.

But that's modern journalism. It has decayed to formula so absurdly that I wonder whether someone with an actual original thought or story line could survive. I suppose it is conservatism born of their shrinking bottom line. Reminds me of Hollywood, similar[ly] threatened by cable and the Internet, which can only make Spiderman 8 and Star Trek: The Fourth Reboot because is timidity won't allow for any bolder essay.
I am pushed back. What seems dumb may not be dumb. It may be dumb to accept the prompt that something is dumb.

And is Hank Johnson dumb? Surely, his world-without-balloons speech isn't dumb. He may be wrong to minimize the significance of the helium program, but Rush was deriding him for seeming to care about the program, which wasn't even what he was doing. Was Rush dumb to misunderstand the balloon quote and to present it along with the tip-over-and-capsize quote? Rush has his fun, but I don't think Rush knew much about the value of the helium program.

But if Rush has his fun, occasionally at Hank Johnson's expense, he (and we) ought to see that Hank Johnson also has his fun. Unquestionably, the world-without-balloons speech deploys sarcasm. It's time to ponder whether the tip-over-and-capsize question was deadpan humor.
This is a island that, at its widest level is, what, 12 miles from shore to shore, and at its smallest level, smallest location, it's 7 miles between one shore and the other.  My fear is that the whole island will become so overly populated that it will tip over and, uh, and capsize.
I say it was!

ADDED: Back in 2010, at the time of the "tip-over-and-capsize" remark, Neo-Neocon said it was "deadpan humor"... but she was doing a big old April Fool's joke.

104 comments:

Sorun said...

"It's time to ponder whether the tip-over-and-capsize question was deadpan humor."

Yes, it was humor. I ushered a wedding once where the bride side was filling fast, and the groom side was sparsely populated. We were scolded to even things out before the church tipped over. It's funny!

Astro said...

The rest of the 'capsize' video leads me to conclude that he wasn't being humorous. He left the impression that he was serious and didn't correct that impression when he had the opportunity.

The Drill SGT said...

Third, the only conceivable source is the underground decay of uranium and thorium, which verrrry slowly produce helium over millions of years, particle by particle. There is no way to hurry the process up, and the supply is obviously finite and decreasing remorselessly every year.

Sooner or later we're going to solve the Energy positive Nuclear Fusion problem and then we'll be in a surplus again for Helium. Fusion power plants will take hydrogen, broken out of water and fuse two together forming one Helium atom, plus enough power to sustain the plant (with a surplus).

We can do fusion now, but we aren't power positive, though the energy calculus shows its a huge power positive operation in theory.

The private sector can provide Helium now. Just not at the low price the Feds give it away at.

bagoh20 said...

Watch the island video. I think he was having a slow motion stroke. He clearly wasn't able to make a joke on purpose. Either that, or he is the best at faking a diminished capacity since Foster Brooks.

The Drill SGT said...

PS: You don't find Helium, one atom at a time in a thorium ore. It is a byproduct of natural gas deposits. (where it has been accumulating for those millions of years under a rock dome.

The Drill SGT said...

PPS, the Helium stockpile was created to avoid the Zeppelin Gap. 1912 I think. Congress tried, starting in the 30's, to get us out of the Helium business. It is a study in how all government programs are undying, once they get started.

Hagar said...

Mr Johnson needs to hold up a card with "/sarc" when he does these things in order for some people to get it.

Tim said...

Politics distorts.

Politics distorts everything.

This is a pretty good example of that.

It's an externality to our ceaselessly expanding politicization of everything, required by the need to ceaselessly expand government to address all forms of needs, wants and wishes.

bagoh20 said...

I have a $600,000 "laser" that uses Helium. It is indispensable for a lot of industrial and scientific processes, but given enough time, that could probably be engineered around, but we will never find and alternative to create that hilarious high voice. Regardless, we have to try. We need a government program here somehow. That much I do know.
For the children.
If it saves one life.
It's an investment that will actually save money.
The Europeans have been doing it for years.
The science is settled.

traditionalguy said...

Hank Johnson gets elected as an assertion that ignorant people need some respect too. It maybe better that the Voting Rights Act mandates Hank Johnson a specially drawn safe district that keeps his voters happy that someone like them is being heard. We call that Democracy.

Scott M said...

Were there any riders or admendments worth debating in the bill? You have to watch and make sure the Dems aren't trying to sneak in hopping assistance for crippled frogs in every new proposed law.

Ann Althouse said...

"Watch the island video. I think he was having a slow motion stroke. He clearly wasn't able to make a joke on purpose. Either that, or he is the best at faking a diminished capacity since Foster Brooks."

From Johnson's Wikipedia page: "In December 2009, Johnson revealed that he had been battling Hepatitis C (HCV) for over a decade, which resulted in slow speech and a tendency to regularly get "lost in thought in the middle of a discussion".[30] Johnson said that he learned he had the disease in 1998 but did not know how he contracted it. HCV-induced liver dysfunction often leads to Hepatic encephalopathy, a cause of confusion. Symptoms are often reversible with treatment.[31] The disease damaged his liver and led to thyroid problems.[30] He was treated with a combination of ribavirin and interferon at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.[30] In February 2010, Johnson successfully completed an experimental treatment for Hepatitis C, which resulted in restored mental acuity, weight gain and increased energy.[32]"

The tip-over-and-capsize question was asked in 2010.

Ann Althouse said...

Before entering Congress, Johnson practiced law for 25 years.

His wife is a lawyer.

The assumption that he's dumb is not a good one.

I do think he's not in good health, however. I was surprised to see he was born in 1954. He seems a couple decades older.

ricpic said...

When your liquid He boils off
Way down in Kingston town, mahn,
When your liquid She boils off
Ay-oh, mees-a-day mees-a-day mees- a-day-oh, mahn.

Scott M said...

We can do fusion now, but we aren't power positive, though the energy calculus shows its a huge power positive operation in theory.

To my knowledge (and I've been researching this lately for a book), we're not even at "breakeven". Just last fall, one of the most promising fusion projects, that of the National Ignition Facility in Livermore CA, had to admit to Congress that everything is working like it's supposed to...except they haven't created any mini-stars yet. No ignition.

Nonapod said...

Sooner or later we're going to solve the Energy positive Nuclear Fusion problem and then we'll be in a surplus again for Helium. Fusion power plants will take hydrogen, broken out of water and fuse two together forming one Helium atom, plus enough power to sustain the plant (with a surplus).

The problem is the more desirable fusion reactions actually mostly require helium, specifically helium-3 (which is an isotope that much rarer than even garden variety helium). They all called aneutronic reations, meaning a minimal amount of neutrons are produced.

Scott M said...

The problem is the more desirable fusion reactions actually mostly require helium, specifically helium-3 (which is an isotope that much rarer than even garden variety helium).

There's a huge deposit of He3 just on the other side of the L1 point. If we could figure out how to make fusion work with He3, it sudden becomes commercially viable to go get it and let economies of scale start driving the price down.

ITER, by the way, is probably 30 years from figuring out how to make tokamaks work, so, again, we're a good space away from power-positive.

William said...

A conundrum like unto that of an Athenian who asks you to believe him when he tells you all Athenians are liars......The statements are so staggeringly dumb that one would like to believe that they were hyperbolic and said for effect. But on the other hand, his way with words--using "least widest" for narrowest--doesn't inspire trust in his perspacity. Ii suppose it's possible for an ignorant man to feign ignorance, but he doesn't look like the kind of guy who takes irony supplements with his diet......Whatever the results of the helium debate, there will be other sources of hot air to elevate our balloons.

betamax3000 said...

I thought he was referring to breast implants.

Scott M said...

I thought he was referring to breast implants.

True...those do tend to flip over and sink when you get too many people on them.

betamax3000 said...

If all the women of Guam with breast implants stood on one side of the island it would be sexy.

JPS said...

Controlled fusion is such a frustrating topic. I was very excited about the possibilities when I read about it in the '80s, and the possibility of essentially limitless energy, combined with recycling at the atomic level, was only 30 years away.

Today, though I haven't followed developments closely, I believe it's just about 30 years away.

Lem said...

I started out making a serious effort at making a connection to something and then it turned out to work beast as a parody.

edutcher said...

Just because we may have to conserve helium doesn't mean the people from his district aren't as big as pack of idiots as we think they are.

The Law of Stopped Clocks, etc.

Chip Ahoy said...

So neon is lighter than oxygen so it vibrates your internal voice things more lightly and the result is higher voice.

Just see all those little dots floating up right through all the other dots and right out of the atmosphere out into space.

Conversely, a gas that is heavier vibrates your internal voice things more heavily and the result is lower voice. Xenon voice. That guy sticks his face right in there and breathes it. What a loon. He's the guy who's fun at parties but ends up in hospital.

Smilin' Jack said...

Hydrogen bombs make lots of helium, and a good nuclear war would solve a lot of other problems, too.

Smilin' Jack said...

Controlled fusion is such a frustrating topic. I was very excited about the possibilities when I read about it in the '80s, and the possibility of essentially limitless energy, combined with recycling at the atomic level, was only 30 years away.

Today, though I haven't followed developments closely, I believe it's just about 30 years away.



Controlled thermonuclear fusion is only about 20 years away, and it always will be.

The Drill SGT said...

I ought to correct myself. We do in fact know how to do nuclear fusion, power positive, and produce Helium. Known it for 50 years or so... The best example is the 30 Megaton Hydrogen Bomb. The science, as they say, is settled. Just a problem for those engineer types to figure out how to keep it in a bottle :)

carpenter work, not science....

SJ said...

The fact that good arguments exist for the preservation of Helium doesn't mean that Rep. Johnson has those arguments in mind when he asks questions about balloons.

Nonapod said...

If anyone's interested there was a pretty good QA up on Slashdot regarding the current progress of fusion research by some researchers from the MIT Alcator C-Mod Tokamak

damikesc said...

Hank Johnson is mind-bogglingly stupid. A thoroughly moronic dunce.

Before entering Congress, Johnson practiced law for 25 years.

His wife is a lawyer.

The assumption that he's dumb is not a good one.


Because dumb lawyers do not exist?

Having read academic articles from law faculty, that is an assumption that evidence does not remotely back up.

Larry J said...

Ann Althouse said...
Before entering Congress, Johnson practiced law for 25 years.

His wife is a lawyer.

The assumption that he's dumb is not a good one.


A high percentage of politicians at all levels are lawyers and many of them aren't very bright. It idea that just because someone is a lawyer, they're intelligent is unfounded.

campy said...

Johnson can't be dumb. He's not a member of the Stupid Party.

john said...

Ann Althouse said...
Before entering Congress, Johnson practiced law for 25 years.

His wife is a lawyer.

The assumption that he's dumb is not a good one.


Wack! That ball's outa here!

Such a nice soft fat pitch doesn't even need a windup to explain. Thanks, Ann.

bagoh20 said...

""Johnson revealed that he had been battling Hepatitis C (HCV) for over a decade, which resulted in slow speech and a tendency to regularly get "lost in thought in the middle of a discussion"."

As someone who has also battled Hep C for over that exact same time period, and who also did that antiviral regime for a year, I can say this is a bullshit excuse. That was not his problem there.

bagoh20 said...

Oh, he's a lawyer? Well that might be an excuse I can buy.

edutcher said...

An ex-cop once told me, "There's an old saying among cops: You can tell the guys who got As in law school, they became defense attorneys; the guys who got Bs in law school became prosecutors; the guys who got Cs in law school became judges".

"What about the ones who got Ds?", I asked.

"They went into politics".

Cedarford said...

The Drill SGT - Sooner or later we're going to solve the Energy positive Nuclear Fusion problem and then we'll be in a surplus again for Helium. Fusion power plants will take hydrogen, broken out of water and fuse two together forming one Helium atom, plus enough power to sustain the plant (with a surplus).

1. The obvious problem is that fusion, which fuses minute amounts of hydrogen, produces only minute amounts of helium if and when we ever get commercial fusion power plants developed. No ready source of helium there. Even if the few pounds mass that would be made (acc to calcs) in a commercial fusion plant per year were somehow economically collectable from the high temp, high pressure plasma.

2. Ironically, the need to reserve helium is envisioned in large part because it is a critical and irreplaceble substance needed for superconducting magnets that will be essential in fusion plasma confinement...and fusion plants are envisioned to need close to what the Large Hadron Collector needed for it's superconductors 90 tons mass liquid helium.

3. The reason the government is "dumping" helium on the market is that the Reaganites ordered it dumped on the market from the reserve as a prelude to "privatization". Not heeding warnings from researchers, strategists, and high end medical product manufacturers in the 1980s.

4. There is no great confidence that the "genius of the market" can provide all the helium we want - anymore than the genius of private enterprise can assure adequate whale or ocean fishery stocks to meet whatever market demand is there.


bagoh20 said...

And if you go to work, speak and question sharp people at a congressional hearing on important issues when you know you have significant diminished capacity, how exactly is that excusable, and proof of being "smart"? If I know I'm a mess, and I show up to work to manage the nuclear reactor, my screw ups are OK because I can't help it?

Chip S. said...

What's truly depressing is that even with a tendency to regularly get "lost in thought in the middle of a discussion" Johnson was the better candidate against Cynthia McKinney, who's just nuckin' futz.

Martinkh said...

So when a white man like Romney says something, all kinds of things are read into it, but when a seriously stupid black says something seriously stupid, all the white liberals come up with excuses and "he was only kidding". Patronizing blacks by excusing the dumbest of them (or as we often see the most violent of them) is a form of racism, you know.

bagoh20 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bagoh20 said...

I should give him a break on the Hep C. For some it doesn't significantly effect liver function, but if his liver was not functioning well, then he could be pretty foggy, but that is no excuse for doing a hearing when you can't even think straight. He has family and staff to help, and constituents to respect. I think he just looked around and said: "half these people are more messed up than me anyway."

John said...

Helium can also be distilled from air. It generally isn't because it is expensive to do.

Back in the 60's, when I was in the Navy, I had to learn about distillation of air. Mainly for oxygen and nitrogen used in aviation. However the Navy also distilled argon and helium out of air.

Just drove by the old LOX plant at the former Roosevelt Roads Naval Station last Thursday. Completely abandoned and overgrown but it looks like the equipment is still there.

John Henry

Martinkh said...

PS
Obama was supposedly a Lawyer, same with his wife, and neither of them are brilliant. As a matter of fact, they both surrendered their law licenses for unknown reasons.

With Affirmative Action, how smart does a black man have to be to get a law degree? Be able to read "A Cat in a Hat" on the first pass?

John said...

I could not tell from his speech whether Johnson supported or opposed getting the govt out of the helium business.

He was reading the speech, for what seemed like the first time, and could not even read it very well. He seemed to lose his place several times.

In all honesty, he sounded like he might have been drunk when he was reading it.

I see no reason not to close the program tomorrow.

John Henry

edutcher said...

Sad to say, people like Hank Johnson are why the old segregationists believed there was but a "Talented Tenth" among blacks who were capable of any real achievement on their own.

John said...

Re distillation:

I think helium can also be distilled from liquified natural gas. I think the fraction of helium is higher than in air.

(But I could be wrong)

John Henry

Cedarford said...

Nonapod - The problem is the more desirable fusion reactions actually mostly require helium, specifically helium-3 (which is an isotope that much rarer than even garden variety helium).

For anti-nukes and greens forced to admit the only way their anti-fossil and anti fissile energy program will work with Sacred Solar and Wondrous Wind...especially after politics forced them to discard "Miracle Ethanol Green Power" after 3rd World food riots...is to plug in "fusion that breeds no evil radioactive stuff" into their grand plans.

Unfortunately, He3 fusion is the most difficult fusion to achieve requiring far higher temps and pressures (energy investment) than tritium =-deuterium, D+D, D+Lithium. As well as making the least amount of energy from each reaction.
Meaning it is the least likely form of fusion that could become commercially viable, as it is by far the worst candidate to achieve energy breakeven.

And of course, the utopians neglect the stuff, unlike other common and cheap and readily obtainable fusion precursor candidates, has no real supply. And proposed "possible" sources of the stuff are only proposed in not yet technologically feasible schemes. But if they magically were technologically possible - would entail absurdly expensive "space mining" projects. As realistic as Newts 10,000 person Lunar colony by 2030.

Kelly said...

The best part of the tip over and capsize video is the reaction of the General, or non reaction you might say. The fact that he didn't show a hint of condescension or eyerolling shows how disciplined our military is.

bagoh20 said...

Sarcasm is a double edged sword. It's best if delivered with a serious demeanor, but you have to make sure you you aren't the kind of person who people would expect to actually believe what you're saying.

I bet over 50% of all lawyers believe Guam can be capsized by a Justin Bieber appearance on the beach.

Kelly said...

This might also suggest that sarcasm has no place in public debate. I'm all for it on blogs, but it doesn't always translate well.

Smilin' Jack said...

And is Hank Johnson dumb? Surely, his world-without-balloons speech isn't dumb.

Maybe not Guam-dumb. There are levels of dumbness.

Before entering Congress, Johnson practiced law for 25 years.

His wife is a lawyer.

The assumption that he's dumb is not a good one.


Gosh, I wish I'd gone to law school, so I could learn to make arguments as convincing as that.

bagoh20 said...

"I bet over 50% of all lawyers believe Guam can be capsized by a Justin Bieber appearance on the beach."

BTW, that is NOT intended as sarcasm. All you need is some case to have created a precedent one time, and it's fact. A lawyer somewhere will site Johnson's Guam statement as proof of a long accepted theory, and he'll win with it.

SteveR said...

I'm disinclined to doubt that scientists and engineers can solve the challenge of using a controlled fusion reaction to generate electrical energy. May not be that soon but before we use Dilithium crystals I think.

Cedarford said...

John said...
Re distillation:

I think helium can also be distilled from liquified natural gas. I think the fraction of helium is higher than in air.

(But I could be wrong)


=================
That is basically the only source.

But people do need to know that only a few natural gas fields have recoverable quantities of helium. And unfortunately, the richest of those very few on Earth were discovered in Texas and Oklahoma almost 95 years ago, and they are mostly depleted.

A few fields in Morocco, Algeria, and one off Qatar has viable helium yield, but nothing like the rich 1%-2% helium yield of the old mostly used up American deposits. Russia has a couple of fields in Siberia that have low amounts and they invested in a recovery plant back in the Soviet days, because they worried they could need liquid helium for physics and military use, and not get it from America.

Consider its prevalance in natural gas fields like gold in igneous vein deposits. Very rare to encounter in minable amounts.
Worse, because most gold can be recycled. Helium once it goes into Earths atmosphere, is on a one-way journey to be swept into outer space by the solar wind.

(BTW - I don't know if it is true or not, but as all harmless inert helium is is alpha particles that used up their formidable ionizing radiation energy and finally came to rest - some scientist claimed that if a helium ballon was filled with full energy alpha particles in the Mall of America - the balloon would detonate with the force of over 100 tons of tnt and if the explosion effects were ignored and each person in the Mall breathed in a minute part of the balloon's contents, it would kill all the thousands in the Mall from radiation poisoning.
But he also said in his article be very happy for alpha decay, because it has provided the energy to keep our Earths magnetic field going. No magnetic field - dead planet. )

Colonel Angus said...

Before entering Congress, Johnson practiced law for 25 years.

His wife is a lawyer.

The assumption that he's dumb is not a good one.


Why not? Joe Biden has a law degree and is dumb as a stump. Being a lawyer doesn't necessarily inure that person with intelligence.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Ann,

Before entering Congress, Johnson practiced law for 25 years.

His wife is a lawyer.

The assumption that he's dumb is not a good one.


It's not an "assumption"; it's a fact. Look, either he believed what he said about Guam possibly capsizing (in which case I've met rocks smarter than he), or else he thought it appropriate to show off his celebrated deadpan wit on a US general in a Congressional hearing on a serious subject. In which case he is still an idiot.

Unknown said...

Helium is a byproduct of liquefying natural gas. If the environuts don't succeed in choking off supply by getting fracking banned, and if LNG production is not constrained by politicians banning its export, we will be awash in Helium.

The congressman can then go back to proposing funds for increasing the weight of Guam's keel.

Jay said...

Ann Althouse said...
Before entering Congress, Johnson practiced law for 25 years.

His wife is a lawyer.

The assumption that he's dumb is not a good one


Yes, because everyone who attends law school is able to speak intelligently on topics outside of the law.

Really. They are.

I mean, it isn't as if you beclown yourself when you start talking race or anything, Ann.

Scott M said...

I'm all for it on blogs, but it doesn't always translate well.

...I don't get it.

Jay said...

This Congressman can barely speak a coherent sentence but I guess I'll ignore that because he went to law school.

Oh, and his wife!

Aaron said...

"Fourth, the economics are stupid, because the 1990s Federal law said to sell off the reserve as fast as possible, so the Federal government has been dumping He at far less than the cost to actually supply it for years and years. Not surprisingly, all these wrong economic signals have built up a whole economic structure built on them -- built on sand, so that once those signals reset to reality, you are going to have significant disruption."

Apply the same argument to steel, to breaking up AT&T way back when, to breaking up the airline cartels, etc.

The commenter admits the problem is due to the government, but yet, like Breakback Mountain he just can't seem to quit government control.

Protect me from sin, but not just yet.

Do you know what would make everyone use helium responsibly and not for baloons or other industrial uses where an alternative could be developed?

A market price that signaled its true value.

And then you would find:

Frivolous uses would decline rapidly.

Companies would find ways to use less of it, freeing up suppy.

Companies would find ways to use alternatives.

Companies would find new sources.

But of course that would mean people like bagoh20, who normally seems to like markets, would have to pay more, so suddenly, its all "we need the government to ration this stuff at a subsidized price!!!!"

The solution is to rip the band aid off, and then within a year or two everything will be sorted out.

If this stuff is so rare and so valuable that after balloons have been made too expensive, then the next layer of products will go. If that is someone's laser cutter because we need it more in MRI machines, well, so be it.

Chip S. said...

Before entering Congress, Johnson practiced law for 25 years.

His wife is a lawyer.


He was a partner in the Johnson and Johnson Law Group LLC. I suppose it would be rash to guess that it was a husband-and-wife operation.

The law school Johnson attended boasts a student body w/ an avg. LSAT score in the 33d percentile. I didn't realize it was possible to get into any law school w/ a score like that.

That explains the real estate attorney I know.

Pastafarian said...

I've met an awful large number of stupid lawyers, Althouse. I'd say the average IQ of lawyers is quite a bit lower than the average IQ of engineers, or journeyman tool and die makers, or diesel mechanics.

I hate to pop your balloon like that, but yeah, this guy could be clinically diagnosed to be mentally retarded.

That's why some of us would like to see some non-lawyers in government: Neurosurgeons, say.

I wonder what the difference is, between this idiot Johnson stumbling through this speech like he's never seen it before, mocking an obviously critical issue of conservation of a finite resource; and Carson, who was eloquent, clear and relaxed.

One guy you defend, the other you accused of having a speech writer, as if he wasn't capable of writing his own speeches.

bagoh20 said...

"But of course that would mean people like bagoh20, who normally seems to like markets, would have to pay more"

I pay full price no matter who controls it. I pay for the subsidy, as well as the product. Then I pass it on to you.

bagoh20 said...

"One guy you defend, the other you accused of having a speech writer, as if he wasn't capable of writing his own speeches."

That creamy hippy chick center oozes to the surface when certain people come up.



traditionalguy said...

Law is a skill that requires critical analysis and competitive communications arts>

But a black lawyer in Atlanta in the 1980-1990s was really a political function. There was little required beyond knowing who to fix things for and how to look stupid enough in public to attract Ghetto voters who want one of their own at the top.

The designers of Pigford corruption relied on that same response to their scam:" we are too stupid to know any better, but you dare not think that about a Black Leader."

Bruce Hayden said...

A couple of small points. Helium is likely a lot more important now than it was back when the reserve was created. But it appears that our reserves are being squandered to raise short term money. One problem that isn't mentioned is that a lot of the helium leaks out of this country, and is used by companies around the world. Somewhat maybe like the rare earths that China seems to control, and maybe we could start trading helium for those rare earths, leaving the rest of the world to fend for themselves. Japanese, lacking those, along with pretty much any other natural resources, would, of course, be SOL. Limiting use this way could stretch out our reserves quite awhile, while giving our industries a competitive advantage. Won't be done, of course, because so many large companies have outsourced so much now, and they are likely the ones who drove that 394-1 vote (i.e. "crony capitalism" at work).

Next, the problem with fusion research is that it is government funded and government managed. And, the government greatly prefers mega-projects, but at some point, the projects become their own source of justification. Think NASA and its failure in recent years doing what most of us would consider its core function, space exploration, and, esp., manned space flights, while concentrating on Muslim sensibilities, etc., while private space travel is rapidly becoming reality.

Had some dealings last year with the Livermore NIF project, where they blatantly stole technology from a client, hid the theft, then was thrown out of court and likely bankrupted by the CA courts running the statute of limitations against them on the theft of their trade secrets, despite their not knowing of the theft (i.e. they rejected the Discovery Rule, and ran the SoL from the time of theft, and not from the time of reasonable discovery of the theft). Gave me a very sour taste, with blatant misconduct by both DoE personnel, the primary contractor, and several layers of subcontractors. Apparently business as usual in that department. No wonder they can't get ignition.

Finally, Cederford pointed out that those OK and TX gas fields that have the most Helium are mostly played out. Not sure if this is completely true - a lot of secondary and tertiary work is going on throughout those states, using fracking, horizontal drilling, water flooding, etc. somewhat reinvigorating a lot of fields that were considered played out.

AllenS said...

Ann Althouse said...
Before entering Congress, Johnson practiced law for 25 years.

His wife is a lawyer.

The assumption that he's dumb is not a good one.


For your informationm, Kermit Gosnell is an American physician.

Your assumption that he's smart just because he was handed a degree is not a good one.

Sigivald said...

Granted that helium has many scientific/industrial uses, sure.

Why does that mean the Government needs a program for it?

You'd think that a valuable commodity would be exactly the thing you would not need the State to encourage the collection and sale of...

(But of course, one needs the State for all possible things, when one is a Legislator.)

Stephen A. Meigs said...

As I mentioned at end of last helium post, consensus is apparently that helium once it goes into atmosphere will leave after a time of residence averaging about one million years. So there is not much helium in atmosphere--not nearly as much as in natural gas fields above alpha-decaying radioacative substances, where the helium can potentially have built up for billions of years (the earth is ~4 billion years old), and where it won't be much diluted. I think I read somewhere (perhaps not very definitive source) that only a few ounces of He are getting created on earth through radioactive decay each second. A million years is still a fairly long time in human terms, so the atmosphere is 6 parts per million by volume He, a non-trivial amount. The physicist I linked to at the last post said helium would cost 10,000 times more if obtained by liquifying the other components of air. I do think our government would be wise to buy and store Helium. Of course the worst is selling what is already stored, but I do think market forces care insufficiently about the long-term, and will tend excessively to just focus on obtaining natural gas for fuel, letting the helium excessively go wasted. I am reminded somewhat of the wasteful way many of the early pioneers in the American colonies harvested pecan trees--by cutting down the largest specimens when they had pecans on them.

And as a poster mentioned, if fusion takes off, it is likely to need huge quantities of helium for superconducting magnets to produce the magnetic fields needed to constrain plasma in sufficiently small space. The amount of helium produced would be trivial in comparison. E.g., obviously a hydrogen bomb still produces less helium by mass than the mass of the fusion precursors on the bomb.

I wonder if there are helium pockets not associated with natural gas? It would make sense to me such might exist in the right places (above alpha-emitting rocks).

ed said...

@ Aaron

"If this stuff is so rare and so valuable that after balloons have been made too expensive, then the next layer of products will go. If that is someone's laser cutter because we need it more in MRI machines, well, so be it."

It would help if you knew anything about what you are opining on.

The helium in balloons is the waste helium that has already been used and that cannot be cleaned, separated or otherwise returned to a 100% helium state and is contaminated with too many other elements to be used for any other purpose.

Stephen A. Meigs said...

Er, actually I think it might actually have been that every second the earth naturally emits a few ounces (67 grams I think it was) of helium into the atmosphere.

Stephen A. Meigs said...

The helium in balloons is the waste helium that has already been used and that cannot be cleaned, separated or otherwise returned to a 100% helium state and is contaminated with too many other elements to be used for any other purpose.

I don't believe this. Helium liquifies at a lower temperature than anything else and doesn't combine with anything. It can always be obtained from a gas containing it merely by subjecting it to very cold temperatures and taking off what is left over--that is how it is obtained from natural gas, as a byproduct of liquifying the gas. True, the purest helium isn't going to be wasted in balloons, but surely it's much easier to obtain pure helium from helium cylinders used for balloons than from any helium rich natural gas field. Unless perhaps (but I doubt it) it is very contaminated with something else that has a fairly low melting point and is thus more expensive to liquify off (nitrogen maybe?) it would seem a profitable source of helium even in our messed up economy. Where is your source?

Cedarford said...

Sigvald - You'd think that a valuable commodity would be exactly the thing you would not need the State to encourage the collection and sale of...

The free market is limited by short term thinking. The value of the limited helium is in longer timespans for anticipated future technology the market cannot price properly in the present. And the private sector is exceptionally unwilling to invest in something and just keep it, pay cost of storing it and pay interest on payment of helium reserves to recoup their investment 40-60 years from now.

================
Unknown said...
Helium is a byproduct of liquefying natural gas. If the environuts don't succeed in choking off supply by getting fracking banned, and if LNG production is not constrained by politicians banning its export, we will be awash in Helium.


You do not understand the facts about the scarcity of viable helium sources in all the natural gas fields. You also do not understand the economics of natural resource extraction of trace minerals, gases, etc.

====================





Chip S. said...

And the private sector is exceptionally unwilling to invest in something and just keep it, pay cost of storing it and pay interest on payment of helium reserves to recoup their investment 40-60 years from now.

And your evidence for this incredible generalization is....what, exactly?

It wouldn't be held for 60 years w/o any cash flow. It would be sold off gradually. As with any nonrenewable resource, the only real issue is determining the rate of extraction over time.

It's especially funny that you think somehow that the government discounts the future at a lower rate than private owners.

bagoh20 said...

"And the private sector is exceptionally unwilling to invest in something and just keep it..."

Wine, whisky, art, stocks, bonds, antiques, memorabilia, etc, etc.

Cedarford said...

Chip S -
It wouldn't be held for 60 years w/o any cash flow. It would be sold off gradually. As with any nonrenewable resource, the only real issue is determining the rate of extraction over time.

More ignorance of market forces. The driver is the extraction of the (present) more valuable natural gas from those special fields, not the "hidden hand of the market" focus on the (presently) less valuable helium. The helium, if subject to private market forces, would be discarded and vented off to get the natural gas extracted as cheap as possible, or if the prvate company wishes to invest in a hugely expensive fractional distillation plant that would kill their nat gas profit margins, but would have a mimor revenue source of helium sold at spot price until it is gone. It would no more be stored for the long term and not marketed - as rare earths - outside government stockpiling.

The other approach would be to regulate to bar use from those special nat gas fields, much as we bar people, freedom lovers! though they may be, from killing eagles and whooping cranes that may be on their precious private property - except as regulations permit. That would entail treating the extant helium supply as a strategic reserve or holding it, like with national parks and protected species from exploitation as a legal "Trust for future generations".

The amount held would have to be estimates of critical military and industrial uses outside superconductors, then a separate set aside of tonnage needed for future anticipated superconductor usage.

Nor is building and maintaining infrastructure for a strategic stockpile of a bulky commodity such as helium, - "like" investing in a few pieces of art or a few thousand wine bottles stored in a handy cellar by private collectors for 60-100 years. The former has huge carrying costs, the latter..negligable costs.

Chip S. said...

Cedarford, when you learn the difference b/w a coherent argument and a baseless assertion, I'll be happy to explain the errors in your "analysis".

Mitch H. said...

That bill makes my head ache. It reads like someone wanted to give the appearance of having passed a bill for auctions while hiding a mechanism for continued looting of the helium reserve at arbitrarily-set prices by a favored class of designated cronies, designated by executive action at the secretarial level. I *think*.

But I suck at bill-reading, so maybe I'm reading it wrong.

BTW, as to the intelligence of lawyers... Slow Joe is a lawyer. In fact there used to be a story that all the clever corporate lawyers of famously corporate-lawyer-heavy Delaware got together, and decided to cut down on a continued source of irritation in court and other proceedings by kicking the long-winded and foolish Biden upstairs into the Senate, where he'd be out of their collective hair.

Stephen A. Meigs said...

It's simple genetics that explains why the selfish instincts of people don't care sufficiently about the future when it comes to investments. A monetary advantage to yourself benefits your self. A monetary advantage to your great-great-great-great grandchildren, say, benefits people only 1/64 as related to you as yourself. So selfishly people with helium would sixty-four times prefer to sell helium now rather than keep it for that generation (say by letting their great-great-great-great grandchildren sell it), notwithstanding that to the society as a whole the benefit may be the same no matter when it be used. It's the same reason I don't believe in inheritance taxes--they unduly punish the unselfish, who tend to save more.

John said...

Edutcher

It was not the white segregationists who came up with the idea of the "talented tenth".

I believe the idea originated with GW Carver, WEB DuBois was a big proponent of it and the NAACP (A/K/A National Association of Certain People) was founded on that basis.

John Henry

Chip S. said...

...selfishly people with helium would sixty-four times prefer to sell helium now rather than keep it for that generation...

A variant of this argument has been made in the well-known and highly controversial Stern Review on climate change, which argues for a super-low threshold rate of return to justify incurring huge costs to mitigate climate change.

If this analysis is a good argument for government management of helium reserves, then it's also a good argument for government subsidies to investments of all types. There's nothing unique about exhaustible natural resources in this regard.

Personally, I don't think that ultra-high real interest rates pose a big problem right now.

Amartel said...

They're all corrupt morons until they prove otherwise, and even then the question should remain open.

Hank Johnson has done nothing to prove he is not a moron. Any excuse to spend taxpayer money.

Mitch H. said...

Steven Meigs, "caring" is not a value which tends to maximize value or economy. In point of fact, emotive intensity about things not in your immediate self-interest is rather a detriment in that regard.

In every case I can think of where one's ancestors' great wealth and accomplishment became a detriment to their descendant, that descendant was a complete and utter tool whose downfall was entirely due to entitlement, decadence, arrogance, or inability to accept their failure to live up to the example of their ancestry. No-one in the history of the world has ever cried out "my great-grandfather's short-sighted pursuit of great wealth left me the ownership of a vast tract of ruined land", but many are the towns whose political short-sightedness left them with outskirts darkened under the shadows of ashpiles, suburbs lined with brownfields, or cowering under precarious dams holding back lakes of slurry waste.

Or, taking another tack, think of the great western preserves, aggregated in the public interest by well-intentioned, well-meaning, mostly disinterested progressives of the Rooseveltian persuasion. They are, across the modern American West, an accumulation of mis-managed tinderboxes, scabrous, fire-prone, where they have not been rented out to rent-seeking plunderers eager to waste that which they cannot by law own.

Personal and self-interested ownership is the essence of conservancy; the politically mediated commons, be it managed by the ever so altruistic, disinterested and well-intentioned, is nevertheless a curse bringing mis-management, waste, and dissolution.

caradoc said...

Astro Said: "The rest of the 'capsize' video leads me to conclude that he wasn't being humorous. He left the impression that he was serious and didn't correct that impression when he had the opportunity. "

He was joking. If you can't tell that now even with another example of how straight a face he can keep, you should have a doctor look at your funny bone.

ken in sc said...

Hey John Henry, now I have to add another place to my list of places I spent time that are no longer there. Chanute AFB, Myrtle Beach AFB, Clark AB, Norton AFB, and now Roosevelt Roads NAS. There are probably a few others I don't know about, not to mention MAC, TAC, and ATC which no longer exist.

BTW, my step-daughter is a partner in a world-class big law firm. She has a JD, of course, and a Masters in tax law. Her undergraduate degree was in theater, costume design. After graduation, she worked in a real estate office in DC. She realized that she was smarter than most of the lawyers she was dealing with. She applied for law school and that's how she got where she is now. Not all lawyers are smart, but she is.

AllenS said...

Tell me, cara doc, are you a funny bone specialist? Do you know doc Gosnell? If so, tell him that I said hi.

Thanks.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

caradoc,

He was joking. If you can't tell that now even with another example of how straight a face he can keep, you should have a doctor look at your funny bone.

Then he was a frakkin' idiot that thought it would be double-plus-funny to waste time poking fun at a general in a Congressional hearing on a serious topic. On what planet is that intelligent?

Somebody said...

Cedarford, think twice before accusing others of "ignorance of market forces." It's possible you are the one who is ignorant.

Look, there may be a reason for laws to promote conservation of helium, but your posts sound like the special pleading that always comes from those with a vested interest: "My industry is special; we really deserve trade protections, subsidies, price supports, exemptions from anti-trust laws," and so on and on and on.

MrCharlie2 said...

I find Rush Limbaugh funny for the most part, but I have noticed for years that he willfully takes a quote far from it's context in order to make someone sound like an ass.

Sometimes I think that sums up the whole current state of conservative rhetoric. And the yahoos just eat it up (and if you think I mean you, I probably do). That's what they mean by the party of dumb.

Partridge said...

I will be seeing Star Trek: Into Darkness.

But let's be clear about what it actually is.

"Star Trek: Version 4" would have been awesome. I look forward to it.

That's not what Abrams is doing. What JJ Abrams has actually done is "Star Trek: Remake of Version 1" which necessitated adding time travel elements so that he could erase previous story history.

Why? There was no need. The only explanations are money and a pure lack of imagination. It's not as if the series couldn't handle a complete change in crew for the Enterprise...

Chip S. said...

It turns out that Hank Johnson really does care about balloons. Or things that look like balloons.

He follows the twitter feed of "PublishedModel/PartyHost" Angelface Montana (@LadyDimeDivaXoX).

Solely to make sure she never sets foot on Guam, no doubt.

Dust Bunny Queen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dust Bunny Queen said...

"It's time to ponder whether the tip-over-and-capsize question was deadpan humor."

I say it is time to parse every nuance and every action (fingers in the eyes deflected by the axis of the palm); delve into the deeper meanings in the psychological and sociological implications of the the Three Stooges. Let us analyze in the true sense of ANAL every utterance of the Three Stooges and divine a higher meaning to make us feel good about watching that dreck.

>.....OR....maybe they are just silly pratfall jokes that make us laugh at people who are less than optimally intellectually gifted people. CLOWNS. Bring in the clowns. Unfortunately most of them are in the House and Senate already.

Simon Primer said...

He was NOT being sarcastic or making a joke. He was dead serious.

How can a successful lawyer be that dumb?

Affirmative action, it's not just a good idea, it's the law.



Dad said...

A little gooogle search you will find that Johnson and the Admiral are friends who enjoined doing dead pan humor. The He is just a follow up. YOU BEEN HAD.

Simon Primer said...

Dad,

Maybe you can provide the link for the Congressman and Admiral comedy act.

Do they perform at corporate functions and weddings?

Punditarian said...

Unless I am mistaken, Representative Johnson has chronic hepatitis C. He is probably cirrhotic. His comments are not the result of deadpan humor, nor is he stupid. He is probably encephalopathic, and his delerium waxes and wanes at times. The outbursts under discussion occur when his brain is particularly clouded.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

So have him take an IQ test. Then we'll know. Why speculate?

Chip S. said...

Dad, I found two such stories. One was an embellishment of the other.

Both were dated April 1.

Peter said...

Nobody is as dumb as I think Hank Johnson is.

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