No Nation Has a “Right to Exist” – Not Even Israel

One of the lines we hear over and over from defenders of Israel is that Israel has a right to exist. That’s bullshit. No nation has a right to exist. People have rights, at least according to the premises on which the United States was founded; nations do not.

Take a close look at the Declaration of Independence. Actually read it. If you understand what it says, and agree with it, then you know that individual human beings have inalienable rights, including the right to dissolve old nations and institute new ones.

Here’s the essence of that idea: “… to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Just the past century has seen plentiful instances of nations that have broken up and nations that been created by dissolving two old nations to fuse the territries into one.

The USSR was created in 1922, annexed a number of territories, and dissloved in 1991, ressurecting a number of small nations that had formally dissappeared for decades. As anyone following the news knows, the process of annexing and adjusting borders is still going on today. The czar’s Russia had no right to exist. The USSR had no right to exist. The new Russia has no right to exist, and neither does Ukraine. It’s all up to the consent of the governed, and their ability to shape a government that suits their needs.

Czechoslovakia was created as part of the remains of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (which had no right to exist). It was conquered by Germany in 1939 and vanished off the map. Then it was reconstituted at the end of WW II, then broken into two independent nations, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, in 1992. Czechoslovakia did exist, for two recent periods of history, but it apparently had no right to exist permanently. Neither do the successor states have any such right, though they do exist now.

Yugoslavia is another remnant of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that has a history somewhat like Czechoslovakia, but more convoluted. Today, the territory of the former Yugoslavia is the site of six nations created since 1992.

I certainly remember a time when there was a North Vietnam and a South Vietnam. I spent a year in South Vietnam as part of the US Army’s 7/15 Artillery. Neither of these nations had a right to exist. Today, there is only the nation of Vietnam.

Germany had no right to exist. East Germany and West Germany were separate nations for decades, with the peculiar arrangement of 3/4 of Berlin (West Germany) being inside East Germany. If I had not lived in Highland Park, Michigan (which is entirely surrounded by the city of Detroit) and visited Hamtramck, Michigan (another city entirely surrounded by Detroit), I might have thought it to be more peculiar. At any rate, both these Germanies are gone, replaced once again with a Germany, which still has no right to exist other than the consent of the people living there.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire is not the only Empire that has passed, and we do not have to go back to the Roman Empire to find another example. We can stick to the last century and still see numerous Empires that no longer exist. The Ottoman Empire, the Japanese Empire (Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere), and the German Empire (Thousand-Year Reich) are all gone, though their rulers all imagined these states had a right to exist.

The American Empire still exists, after it survived its own Civil War in the 19th Century. The government of the Confederate States of America asserted its right to exist for four years, but was not able to prevail.

To return to the beginning: Israel does not have a right to exist. The people living in Israel, Jews, Muslims, Christians, atheist and others, do have a right to life. Israel does not have a right to exist, aside from the consent of the governed. The governed includes the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, two territories where the government of Israel asserts its power.

When the supporters of Israel’s current government assert “Israel’s right to exist,” they are going against the founding philosophy of the United States. It does not matter that some of them are currently the President of the United States, or Senators, or Representatives. There may be “practical” reasons of great power politics for the United States to support Israel; or perhaps we should identify these reasons as venal, short-sighted and corrupt.

Either way, the whole idea of Israel having a right to exist is nonsense. When those governed by Israel do not consent, they have the right to alter or abolish that government, and the alterations could include abolishing the existence of Israel, either by breaking it apart or merging it with surrounding states or any combination of both – “in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

At least, if we stick with the spirit and the letter of the founding documents of the United States, that’s how we should think of the issue in this country. Supporters of the current Israeli government follow some different set of principles.


Not a Cough in a Carload

The next time you hear a proponent of fracking say something like, “Fracking has been done in Michigan for 50-60 years with no damage to the environment,” you should recognize that he is not trying explain things or inform you of the facts. He’s trying to baffle you with a gross misstatement of the facts.

Let’s suppose you’re talking to a guy who wants to purchase some land from you, near your house, to start a business. You would like to sell the land, but you’re worried about the possibility of an increase in traffic on your quiet street. You ask him about it.

He says, “Look, you’ve had several families living up the street from you for years. The kids with their bicycles and their buzzy little motor scooters have run vehicles up and down the road in front of your house a dozen times a day for years. Now we’ll be moving in. We’ll also be running our vehicles up and down the road a dozen times a day, so nothing much will change for you.”

This might sound reasonable, until you figure out the vehicles the new folks use range from pickup trucks with equipment trailers to fully loaded dump trucks and tractor-trailers. A dozen vehicles is by their definition just a dozen vehicles, but it is obviously not all the same to you, or to the kids who used to ride their bikes on the road.

That’s exactly the sort of distinction between historical “fracking” and modern, high-volume hydraulic fracturing the modern proponents are trying to obscure. It’s deceptive. It’s dishonest. What they are not telling you is much more significant than what they are telling you.

Historic “fracking” was done with 100,000 gallons of water or less, on vertical wells drilled into an already fractured layer of the earth. The wells could be anywhere from a few hundred feet deep to a couple of thousand feet deep. The chemicals added to the water are essentially acids. The purpose of the acids is to etch the fractured layer in the vicinity of the wellhead, opening up local fractures to improve the flow. The acids nutralize themselves by reacting with the rock. Typically with these shallow vertical wells, briny water mixed with natural gas flows up the well for years. The volume of briny water outflow adds up to much more than the amount of water injected for etching.

The modern, high volume version of fracking uses much more water; 5 to 20 million gallons, or possibly more, for each frack job. In round figures, this is from 50 to 200 times more water. This great increase in volume is the basis for comparing bicycle and scooter traffic to the same number of big industrial trucks.

Along with the water, modern frackers use a great volume of sand, pumped with the water as much as 5000 veet down and another 5000 feet horizontally. It’s pumped at extremely high pressure, to create numerous fractures in a previously unfractured layer of shale. The purpose of the sand is to hold the new fractures open when most of the water flows back up the wellbore.

In addition to water and sand, the solution pumped into the earth includes a bewildering mix of hundreds of different chemicals, some of which are both immediately toxic and long-term cancer causing. The fracking companies have been willing to tell us what some of these chemicals are. Others, they keep secret, claiming that the knowledge is “proprietary” and thus protected.

Fracking proponents will tell us not to worry because the chemicals constitute only a small percentage of the pumped solution; that 98% of it is harmless water and sand. This is another misdirection. 2% of 5 million gallons is 100,000 gallons of added chemicals. 2% of 20 million gallons is 400,000 gallons. Just the chemicals used in a modern frack job are more than the entire volume of water used in a historical fracking.

Additionally, the toxic chemicals are so strong in their effects on humans and animals that the entire pumped solution becomes toxic, in the same way that a drop of cyanide will turn a large cup of coffee deadly. So yes, the chemicals are a fit subject for concern, whether they get into the ground or surface water by any of a dozen possible routes or if they simply get into the air we breathe.

And then, of course, there is the traffic and the noise of a big industrial site and the disruption of land for drilling and pipelines.

Unlike the supposition of trucks above compared to bicycles and scooters, fracking traffic is not imaginary. The sand and chemicals and multi-thousand horsepower engines to run the pumps all must get to the fracking site by being hauled on trucks. The toxic flowback fluid after fracking has to be hauled out on trucks. The common estimate is a thousand trips with huge tank trucks, dump trucks, flatbed trucks and the like for one fracked well. It’s not unusual for one well pad to used for 8 wells, so that’s 8000 or so heavily loaded trucks beating up the local roads at all hours of the day and night. And we are not even counting the trucks that haul work crews to and from the site.

A fracking well site typically turns 5 acres of land into a muddy industrial parking lot, and then the pipeline to get the gas to market requires an indefinite number of miles of trenching outside the site. Even if no accident blows up the local school or poisons nearby wells, the whole operation is very likely to lower the value of properties anywhere within a mile or so of the site while it runs up local road repair bills.

It may well be true that histiorical fracking went on for decades with little or no harm to the area. On balance, modern high volume horizontal fracking costs more than it is worth for the local communities in which it occurs.

Corporations that do fracking are eager to convince these communities otherwise, in much the same way that cigarette companies once advertised, “Not a cough in a carload.” It must have been just a horrible coincidence that the Marlburo Man died of lung cancer. Communities that ban fracking will be better off in the long run than communities that tolerate it.

Solar Roadways for Rocky and Bullwinkle

The solar roadway is as impractical an idea as running cars on water or powering phones and computers with urine. These ideas are appealing, because we would like to think we can keep our industrial economy going without killing people to keep the oil flowing, or otherwise wrecking the earth. In reality, they are as as bad as the idea that vaccines are useless, except for causing autism.

The basis for a viral crackpot idea is that it sounds plausible to people who tend to believe what they read on the internet and see on TV. It’s much a much better practice to check the facts behind a plausible-sounding claim, and do a little critical thinking.

I’m an engineer who retired from over 30 years manufacturing solar panels. My inclination is to support solar panel applications that are known to work, and not to waste time or money on applications that are likely not to work. Solar roadways, if any are ever built, will be bad as roadways and poor producers of electricity.

First off, there has been no demonstration of a solar panel which will actually work as a replacement for paving. But let’s put that aside for the time being, and get some estimate of what it might cost if it is possible to manufacture a panel suitable for the purpose. Some math is unavoidable, but we can use round numbers and make it fairly painless.

Maximum Earth surface insolation equals approximately 1000 watts per square meter. That’s how much power the sun delivers through the atmosphere at high noon, directly below the sun. That’s what we have to work with.

Solar panel efficiency of 15% equals approximately 150 watts per square meter. There are roughly 10.6 square feet/square meter, so that’s about 14 watts per square foot.

A standard solar panel costs on the order of $14 per square foot. That’s a dollar per watt at 15% efficiency. A standard panel can actually be cheaper, but there’s no way a standard panel will last a minute with trucks driving over it. A paving panel will cost more than a dollar per watt, certainly not less.

Installation on a roof or ground mount is approximately equal to panel cost. Wiring for use also is approximately equal to panel cost. Installed cost then is approximately equal to $42 per square foot. Again, costs for a rooftop panel can be less, but the installation is for wind and rain, not for truck traffic.

Large-scale installation and mass production would tend to drive cost down. So would more-efficient panels, but there is a limit to efficiency, and whatever the starting efficiency, driving on the panels is not going to make them better. Design and production of panels robust enough for cars and trucks to drive on would tend to drive cost up.

In round figures, $40 per square foot is a reasonable starting estimate for the cost of replacing normal pavement with solar panels. It could be much more if design and build is especially difficult, but it could not be much less. We can put the range of possibilities at $30 to $60 per square foot. If the cost is significantly more than $60/square foot, solar roadways will not be built at all.

Freeway lane width equals 12 feet. A minimum freeway equals 2 lanes each direction. Pavement 48 feet wide x 5280 long x $30 to $60. This yields a cost of $7,603,200 to $15,206,400 per mile. In very round figures, that’s on the order of ten million dollars per mile of freeway, just to replace paving with solar panels.

Average daily production in watt-hours in Michigan is roughly 4 x maximum rating for a fixed solar panel oriented south and tilted up 45 degrees. A roadway surface is approximately flat, so the “4” becomes a “3” or less. For something like $10 million per mile, you get 48 x 5280 x 14 watts/square foot x 3 or less. That comes out to about 10 million watt-hours per day, or 10,000 kilowatt-hours – and that’s with no cars driving on the road during daylight hours.

10,000 kilowatt-hours is a power production equivalent to 2-3 thousand residential solar roof installations. Roof installations are something we know we can do for the same amount of money or less, with standard panels that are manufactured now, panels that are expected to last for 30 years or more with little or no maintenance needed.

Every car or truck that is on the road casts its shadow. That blocks production of 2000 to 5000 watts (varies with size of vehicle and angle of the sun) for however long the car is on that stretch of road. That is, the more the solar highway gets used as a road, the less electricity is produced. The pounding from cars and trucks ruins non-solar paving surfaces in 20 years, and applications of salt in the winter in Michigan makes the lifetime of pavement closer to 10 years. Salt is going to be especially bad for corrosion of electrical contacts and such. There’s no reason to believe solar roadways could last longer than 10 years.

The two uses – roadways and solar panels – contradict each other in more ways than one. For instance, a smooth glass surface is good for easy cleaning of solar panels. That would be terrible for traction – but a rough surface, good for traction, would collect dirt, lowering the panel’s electrical production.

Overall, from a practical engineering point of view, the solar roadway is just another bad idea. It might work in a cartoon, but not in the real world.