Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Dyatlov Pass: a chilling mystery solved?

A story that windfarm opponents will understand

It starts out like a horror movie. Deep in the mid-winter of 1958/59, a low-ranking army officer in a remote region of the USSR receives a phone call informing him that a group of hikers has failed to return from an expedition. He is asked to lead a search. His team arrives by helicopter on the exposed slopes of Otorten Mountain (Dead Mountain) and eventually discover a tent partially covered in snow. It is empty. Apart from a rip in the side of the tent, nothing looks disturbed or unusual. Most of the group’s clothing and all of its outdoor gear is there. In that barren environment, with the nearest dwelling miles away, what reason could the hikers have had to leave the protection and warmth of their shelter? The searchers discern tracks of nine people going away from the tent and none returning. They follow the tracks and soon find the first bodies.

The missing group of hikers were university students from Sverdlovsk, central Russia. Hiking and skiing was a popular recreation in mid-century USSR, enjoyed by members of all professions and both sexes on an equal basis. In January 1959, a team of seven men and two women, all aged between 20 and 24, set out on an ambitious trek in the sparsely populated Ural Mountains. They were led by an experienced hiker and skier, Igor Dyatlov. All had experience of climbing, hiking and snow travel. The team members knew each other well and had previously undertaken expeditions together. They were well equipped and planned their route in advance.

When they arrived in the region, they met an older hiker who asked to tag along. He was an army veteran who had planned to ski in the area and had found he could not coordinate with his own group. The students agreed to let him join them. Just before the final leg of the expedition, Yuri Yudin had to withdraw due to a painful attack of rheumatism. He decided to return and said goodbye to his nine companions. Yudin was the only member of the party to survive.

The party entered the wilderness and never returned.

As searchers discovered bodies, each find deepened the mystery. The bodies of the hikers were widely dispersed and all were poorly dressed. Only one had a hat and all were missing shoes. Two students were found at the treeline, frozen beside the remains of a camp fire made of cedar branches pulled from a tree. They had died of hypothermia yet there were unburnt branches next to them. Some of their clothes had been cut. Other hikers seemed to have been attempting to return to the tent when they died. Five bodies were found but deep snow and absence of tracks hampered the search for the remaining four hikers. There was no hope of finding them alive.

Investigators studied the hikers’ diaries and photographic film in their cameras. It seems the expedition was a model of its kind. Dyatlov was a stickler for discipline and the expedition had followed guidelines to the letter, keeping meticulous records. On their last day the hikers had experienced bad weather and camped early near a ridge on the flanks of Dead Mountain. It was calculated that whatever had happened to the group must have taken place after dark, between the pitching of the tent and the evening meal.

Had the camp been attacked? There were local Mansi tribesmen who herded reindeer and hunted in the local forests. Perhaps an animal had attacked. Forensic analysis of the tent showed that it had not been ripped but cut – from the inside. What had so alarmed the students that they had slashed their way out of the tent in order to run out – half-clothed – into a moonless night of strong winds and drifting snow? It seemed incomprehensible to investigators that the group had considered it safer to run away from the camp rather than remain there.

    What so alarmed the students that they slashed their way out of the tent in order to run out – half-clothed – into a moonless night of strong winds and drifting snow?

When the May thaw came, the remaining four bodies were discovered, compounding the mystery further. In a snow-choked ravine four bodies were gathered on and near a bed of matted branches and with loose items of clothing nearby. They were marginally more warmly clothed than the others, but all lacked shoes. Autopsy revealed that three of them had sustained life-threatening, blunt-force trauma injuries. Some of the clothing was radioactive. Relatives later described the bodies as having orange skin and grey hair. The authorities closed the investigation as unsolved and made efforts to ensure that the incident did not get wide publicity. By this time there were eye-witness reports circulating of bright, unexplained lights seen in the night sky.

The mystery of Dyatlov Pass (as the mountain pass came to be named, in honour of the group) has lasted decades, lately gaining worldwide attention online. The suppression of files by authorities has been interpreted as evidence of a cover-up. That is hardly a persuasive line, as the USSR was a secretive police state where the concealment of problematic (and even mundane) information was standard procedure. It seems that all of the Dyatlov files have been released through official and unofficial channels since the late 1980s.

American documentary filmmaker Donnie Eichar investigated the mystery, travelling to the site in search of new evidence, as well as examining investigation reports and interviewing people, including Yudin. In Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident, Eichar gives us a glimpse of the Khrushchev thaw, when paranoia and the fear of arbitrary arrest of the Stalin era lessened and an atmosphere of hope and the promise of broadened horizons inspired youngsters such as the Dyatlov group. Eichar presents the last days of the group through diaries and photographs. The last journey was a happy one, it seems: photos showed students smiling and mugging for the camera, at other times working earnestly. We get a feeling for the characters involved: the tough and responsible Igor Dyatlov, the vivacious romantic Zina, the argumentative Party-faithful Lyuda, and the others. It makes their gruesome and puzzling deaths all the more troubling.

Eichar applies logic and evidence when evaluating and then disposing of competing theories.

Attack by Mansi tribesmen or others: The Mansi were peaceful and hospitable, had no history of attacking visitors and had no reason to threaten the group. Plus there was no track evidence of anyone approaching the tent.

Animal attack: There were no tracks. Why would the group abandon the relative security of the tent to run away?

High winds: Was a member outside and blown into the darkness by strong wind, which led the others to attempt to rescue that person? It is improbable such a large and experienced group would have behaved like that. Strong winds would have been enough to blow away the tent, too.

Avalanche: It is atypical terrain for avalanches and an avalanche would have untethered the tent.

Secret weapons testing: None in the area, apparently. Radioactive dispersal would have affected all of the party members and their equipment, not just a few items of clothing. (Eichar fails to mention that lamp wicks at the time were commonly made of ceramic gauze treated with radioactive thorium. They were very fragile and liable to crumble to dust if damaged.) Discoloured skin and hair of the ravine group could be attributable to partial mummification over a period of three months exposed to the elements.

The idea that a romantic intrigue led to a violent dispute is very implausible. By all indications, the group was largely harmonious and sexual tension was confined to platonic flirtation and crushes. There were no drugs present and the only alcohol was a small flask of medicinal alcohol, found intact at the scene. The group had even sworn off cigarettes for the expedition. While conspiracy theorists might have a worldview shaped by Hollywood teen-slasher movies, the Dyatlov group acted as a conscientious team in a hostile environment. The group was experienced enough to realise that they were in dangerous conditions and that anything that threatened group cohesion would endanger all of them. The coroner described the massive injuries sustained by one as equivalent ‘to being hit by a car’ – hardly consistent with a fist fight.

What Eichar deduces is that it is the decision to cut the tent and flee that is the crux of the mystery; everything before and after that event is explicable and logical. It was that act of apparent near madness to abandon their only shelter that was critical.

Eichar supports the theory recently proposed by Yuri Kuntsevich, head of the Dyatlov Foundation, a Russian organisation dedicated to the memory of the party and to resolving the mystery. Scientists have identified a naturally occurring phenomenon called infrasound. Just as wind moving over sand dunes can produce perceptible humming, wind colliding with topographic features can produce low-frequency waves ranging from audible to sub-audible. Tests of infrasound on subjects have induced powerful feelings of nausea, panic, dread, chills, nervousness, raised heartbeat rate and breathing difficulties. Scientists believe the ridge below which the tent was located might have generated vortices producing audible and sub-audible infrasound on a windy night such as that of 1-2 February 1959.

Eichar sets out in a final chapter what sudden panic and a confrontation with an unknown weather phenomenon might have led to, tying together a compelling narrative that explains almost all of the facts. It is hard to read the last chapter without feeling both satisfaction at watching a criminal case being resolved and deep sympathy for the hikers in their terrible final hours. There are a few loose ends: does the final photograph taken by the group (an indecipherable blur) have any significance? Although there seems no connection between the group’s fate and the lights, the nature of the lights goes unaddressed. Could it be that wind rumble was mistaken by Dyatlov for an approaching avalanche and that he ordered them out? That said, Eichar’s engrossing and disturbing narrative is the most persuasive theory so far and offers a rational solution to a mystery that has troubled people for decades.


U.S. Surgeon General: 'Climate Change Could Expose More People to Triggers That Cause Asthma’

And it MIGHT expose us to flying pigs as well

“Climate change could expose more people to triggers that cause asthma,” Surgeon General Vivek Murthy video-tweeted Thursday while answering questions from Americans @Surgeon_General.

“Climate change, as it turns out, has a number of impacts on health,” Murthy tweeted when asked about “the less obvious or more subtle impacts on our health due to climate change.”

”Human health is affected, for example, through extreme weather events, through wildfire and decreased air quality, and through diseases transmitted by insects, food and water. Many times people think about the direct health impact that extreme weather and issues like asthma and heat stress, but there are also other impacts that warmer temperatures can have on human health.

For example, warmer temperatures can increase the likelihood that insect-borne diseases, like dengue and chikungunya, might make their way further north into the continental United States as temperatures become warmer and the climate becomes more favorable for tropical organisms to survive.”

But the nation’s top public health official stopped short of President Obama’s assertion earlier this week that blamed climate change for his daughter Malia’s asthma.

And he did not cite climate change or asthma among his top two priorities as surgeon general even though the White House is planning a May 12 summit on the health impact of climate change.

“Obesity & tobacco are two of the biggest health risks I want to focus on. #AskTheSurgeonGeneral – VM”, Murthy tweeted.

The nation’s youngest ever surgeon general expounded on mental health (“In a given year, less than half of the people diagnosed with a mental illness receive treatment.”); vaccinations (“We need to ensure that as many people are vaccinated as possible in order to protect our children and the country.”); and provided college students with “tips for staying healthy in college on the cheap.”

Pointing to the “social determinants of health” included in the Healthy People 2020 initiative, Murthy tweeted that “making the U.S. the healthiest nation in one generation starts with ensuring equity across our communities.”

“Today we understand better than ever before that our health is not just determined by what happens in the doctor’s office or the hospital. It’s also determined by important factors in our community. It’s affected by where we live, where we work, where we play, where we eat, and how we get around,” the surgeon general tweeted.

“We’ve made a special commitment to address these social and economic factors that put people at greater risk for both chronic and infectious disease through the Affordable Care Act, which has already extended critical preventive services to millions of the most vulnerable Americans.”

However, Murthy avoided questions on a wide range of other topics ranging from Lyme disease, pelvic surgical mesh, and medical marijuana to gun safety, pit bull attacks and e-cigarettes, leading one exasperated Twitter participant to remark: “Way to read the teleprompter…could you be any more scripted? #smh.”

Other Twitter users were equally unimpressed. “OMG, 44 seconds of embarrassing left-wing CO2 insanity from Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy” another tweeted in response to the surgeon general’s remarks on climate change.

“When can we do to stop the epidemic of unconstitutional nannying in our #Republic?” another participant wanted to know.


Seven of 10 Doctors See Effects of Climate Change on Patients!

Are we sure it's not due to fluoride or acid rain?

Just within the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen Congressional Republicans join with Democrats to buy into the idea that the federal government knows how to pay doctors for “quality” and “value.” It is the main concept behind the misconceived Medicare “doc fix” bill that the Senate will consider this week. If adopted, it would add $141 billion to the national debt in ten years and increase federal control of the practice of medicine.

So, if we are going to surrender even more of this power to the federal government, it might be interesting to see what the Obama administration thinks is important:

“The challenges we face are real, and they are clear and present in people’s daily lives,” said senior presidential adviser Brian Deese in a telephone conference call with reporters on Tuesday. Seven in 10 doctors are seeing effects on their patients’ health from climate change that is “posing a threat to more people in more places,” Deese said. (Bloomberg Politics)


"… the Administration has “unveiled a series of ground-breaking hackathons, crowdsourcing efforts, and partnerships with private industry that highlight just how much the administration is betting on big data to help us mitigate the impact of the changes in our environment.” (Washington Post)

If the Obama administration really thinks that seven of 10 doctors are seeing the effects of climate change on their patients, we can expect forthcoming “quality indicators” based on your carbon footprint, which your doctor, if he wants to be paid, will be compelled to enter into your Electronic Health Record.

(Actually, the entire effort is not quite as ridiculous as I’ve described. For example, drones will be used to collect mosquitoes to test for viruses. And they did manage to mention Ebola.)


Harvard Professor’s Latest ‘Heresy’ Throws Water on Obama EPA’s Climate Policy

Is Harvard University law professor Laurence Tribe trying to become the liberal who is most despised by other liberals?

It might sound odd to hear such a question asked about an academic who once mentored a young Barack Obama about the nuances of constitutional scholarship, who liberals once embraced as a potential nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, and who represented Al Gore in the former vice president’s Supreme Court lawsuit against George W. Bush following the 2000 presidential election—but consider the evidence.

Exhibit A. In 2008, Tribe wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, arguing that the Second Amendment protects an individual right that is more fundamental than any collective right to keep and bear arms as a member of a state militia or national guard unit. The piece was noteworthy for its iconoclasm and eloquence, but it was hardly the first shot the esteemed professor ever fired in the intellectual battle over gun rights.

In fact, some believe that Tribe’s earlier scholarship on the topic, notably his revisions to his famed treatise on the U.S. Constitution, was critical to the legitimization and mainstreaming of the individual-rights interpretation of the Second Amendment among the law school professoriate and also helped secure subsequent legal victories for that view.

Some might have thought (or hoped) that Tribe’s challenge to liberal orthodoxy was a one-off case of ideological heresy, never to be replicated with other subjects dear to the hearts of progressives, but now comes this:

Exhibit B. Tribe is now representing Peabody Energy, the nation’s largest coal company, in its legal challenge to recent federal restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions at coal-fired power plants. In comments filed last December, Tribe, his Harvard colleague Carl Loeb, and Peabody argued that the Environmental Protection Agency overstepped its legal bounds with its Proposed Rule on carbon emissions (79 Fed. Reg. 34830) and claimed that if it goes into effect, this would eliminate coal generation in 12 states.

“It is a remarkable example of executive overreach and an administrative agency’s assertion of power beyond its statutory authority,” they wrote. “Indeed, the Proposed Rule raises serious constitutional questions.”

Next week Peabody and counsel will have their day in court, as the Supremes hear oral arguments, but already the sparks are flying. Tribe has been called a “traitor” who “sells his soul to big coal” and “hates your lungs” and is helping to “kill the planet.” Tribe, to his credit, has taken the higher ground, highlighting critical legal and constitutional principles at stake.

In testimony before a House subcommittee last month, Tribe said: “EPA is attempting an unconstitutional trifecta: usurping the prerogatives of the States, Congress and the Federal Courts all at once. Burning the Constitution should not become part of our national energy policy.”

Whether or not the rule of law survives the latest assault by the executive branch’s regulatory apparatchicks, it’s heartening to know that there are still independent thinkers willing to risk ostracism by their former supporters in order to uphold cherished ideals.


Dysfunctional Politics, Red Tape ‘Turning EU Green Energy Into Zombie Industry’

The EU’s dysfunctional political system is turning clean energy companies into a “zombie industry” of the living dead, the head of one of the bloc’s biggest green power groups has warned.

Manuel S├ínchez Ortega, chief executive of Spain’s Abengoa, said EU politicians are taking so long to decide what sort of energy mix they want, especially in the biofuels sector, that companies do not know if they should keep struggling on or shut down completely. “It’s ridiculous.”

“It is better to be alive or to be dead, but the other state no one likes,” he said. “The EU is creating a zombie industry for clean energy” thanks to bureaucratic delays.

“There’s a dysfunction in politics in Europe. People ask me ‘How is the bureaucracy in Latin America? How is the bureaucracy in Africa?’ I say it’s much better than Europe.”

The EU launched a range of subsidies and other measures mandating the use of biofuels more than a decade ago, prompting a wave of investment in an industry that was generating revenues of €15bn by 2011.

But concerns that making fuel from crops would drive up food prices and boost demand for farm land, increasing the problem of deforestation, led politicians to rethink their policies three years ago.

A vote to limit crop-based biofuels is due in the European Parliament this week but Mr Sanchez said the long delays meant Abengoa had been forced to put plants on hold in Germany, France and the UK.

A similar lack of clarity was damaging other sectors such as solar power, he said, affecting renewable energy investment across Europe. Abengoa has biofuel, solar power and water treatment operations in more than 85 countries. It derives around 20 per cent of its revenues from Europe, down from more than 50 per cent a decade ago.


Australia's renewable energy investment grinds to a halt

Still the lucky country.  No more waste of precious investment funds

Australia's large-scale renewable energy industry has entered an investment freeze, with just one project securing finance in the past six months amid political uncertainty, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The lone venture in the first three months of 2015 was worth just $6.6 million and following a complete drought during the December quarter, BNEF said. The project was a floating solar photovoltaic (PV) plant being developed in Jamestown, South Australia, by Infratech Industries.

The Australian large-scale clean energy industry has become practically uninvestable.

For the year to March, investment totalled $206.9 million, which was 90 per cent lower than the previous 12 months, the consultancy said.

"Investment has been stifled by policy uncertainty for over 13 months since the Abbott government's [Renewable Energy Target] review was announced on 17 February 2014," BNEF said. "The Australian large-scale clean energy industry has become practically uninvestable due to ongoing uncertainty caused by the government's review."

Pressure remains on the Abbott government to compromise over its plans to cut the current 2020 target by more than one-fifth to 32,000 gigawatt-hours a year by decade's end. The renewable energy industry, business groups and Labor have settled on a reduction to 33,500 gW-hours in a bid to resolve an impasse with the government.

"The government is determined to ensure the Renewable Energy Target is on a sustainable footing by recalibrating the target to a realistic and achievable level, which will ensure renewables continue to contribute to Australia's energy mix," a spokeswoman for Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane said.

The 32,000 gW-hour offer "would see around 23 per cent of Australia's energy coming from renewables by 2020, and would lead to a doubling of large-scale renewable generation", she said.

Jobs go

The dive in investment comes as the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimated that more than 2000 jobs had been lost in the industry over the past two years. Some 12,590 people were employed full-time in the wind, solar and other renewable energy industries last year, down from almost 15,000 two years earlier.

The chill descending over the large-scale end of the sector has so far not extended to smaller-scale investments, such as rooftop solar panels. Australia added about 195 megawatts of new solar PV capacity in the March quarter, about 7 per cent more than a year earlier, Bloomberg said.

The consultancy also noted that Banco Santander, the world's third-largest clean energy lender, departed the Australian market in the March quarter in another sign of waning investor interest.

Globally, investment in clean energy totalled $US50.5 billion ($66.3 billion) in the first three months of 2015, down 15 per cent on a year earlier, Bloomberg reported last week. Weaker investment in China, Brazil and Europe accounted for the slowdown.

The government has said the electricity sector is already oversupplied because of a drop in power demand. Advocates of renewable energy say the government faces sovereign risk issues by unilaterally changing investment targets that affect existing projects.



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1 comment:

C. S. P. Schofield said...

"Seven of 10 Doctors See Effects of Climate Change on Patients!"

How many out of ten believe in UFOs or the Tooth Fairy?