Thursday, May 09, 2013

State of the Climate

Stop me if you've heard this one--summer ice melt in part of Antarctica is the most extensive in a thousand years. Arctic summer sea ice is melting faster than previously believed, and scientists now expect that it will be gone completely in 2050.

A Peruvian glacier has melted 1600 years worth of ice in the last 25.  Professor Wagstaff (author of the article in The Week) sees this as A Bad Omen.

NPR reports: "The Earth's wettest regions are likely to get wetter while the most arid will get drier due to warming of the atmosphere caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide, according to a new NASA analysis of more than a dozen climate models."

The LA Times, looking at the same report, emphasizes droughts in temperate areas, and includes a little interactive feature, "Your Take," asking the question: "Will we be able to limit the worst effects of climate change?" Yes? No?  Because why would we take the word of people who might know what they're talking about?

Health experts in the UK warn that the climate crisis could bring malaria and other nasty pest-borne diseases that now bedevil the tropics. California and Arizona are already seeing increases in the normally unfamiliar valley fever, due to persistent drought.  Yet another tree-killing insect is threatening new areas--this time in cities--because of climate heating.

And carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is zooming past the levels humanity has ever seen, and may hit the magic in a bad way number of 400 parts per million, this month.  Scientists, says the NY Times, are Alarmed.  Update: The 400 has in fact been reached, as reported on 5/10.

What's potentially even worse--yes, worse--is the CO2 stored in the oceans.  As hot as it's been getting, the oceans have actually lessened the effects of global heating over the past decade by storing more C02 than usual, but when it returns to its usual behavior--or simply has stored so much in its depths that it rises up and out--global heating will resume increasing, and probably faster.

The Arctic Ocean is already showing other effects of heating, such as higher acid content, that won't be reversed for thousands of years.

So back in March the Biggest Picture study so far was announced--covering some 11,000 years (here's a q and a explanation of the study)-- and this chart was widely (if briefly) disseminated.  Possibly because even chartphobics like me get the picture.

Looking at this and all the data, a no-nonsense, thoroughly rational scientist evaluated it and concluded: Compared to the past, what’s happening in the present is scary. The future is scary as hell.

Still, that spike at the end he said might be overstated, for various scientific, chartcentric reasons.  However he provides another chart that he says is probably more accurate, but is basically just as scary:

Look at the spike at the end. The big, and most importantly the steep, scary spike at the end. That’s not an artifact of the way proxy ages were computed, or how the reconstruction was done, or the effect of proxy drop-out as records become more sparse in the later period. It’s what the thermometers say. Ignore them at your peril. As scary as that is, what’s far more frightening is that it’s not going to stop.

He concludes (repeating himself a bit, but the bolding is his:)

In the span of a century or two, man-made changes to the atmosphere wiped out 5,000 years of natural climate change. People can argue about the uptick at the end of the Marcott reconstruction — I’ll do so myself — but for most who do so, it’s just an attempt to divert attention from the fact that global temperature really has increased in the last century, at a speed not seen in at least the last 11,300 years. We know this, thermometers have made it plain, only those in denial still deny it.
We are changing the climate rapidly — on the geologic time scale, in the blink of an eye. This is exactly the kind of rapid change which has caused extinction events in the past. What’s far more frightening is that it’s not going to stop.

So the argument against this overwhelming evidence is ever more obviously, I just don't believe it, science is divided (yeah, 99.9% v. cranks and folks on petroleum payrolls) and I'm just not...going to...listen.

Nor am I going to let anybody else hear about this.  Denialists and other reactionary GOPers have pretty effectively prevented the climate crisis from being taught or talked about in schools.Some two-thirds of public school students aren't learning about it in school.   That's the subtext of this NPR piece on a traveling climate education project.   But one barnstorming guy is not really much.  More may be on the way, as new nationwide science standards recommend teaching about the climate crisis--for the first time.

But we can look on the bright side--we aren't Saturn!  Not yet!  We may be having bizarre rain and snowstorms in the Midwest, fires in California way early in the season, etc.  But we don't get hurricanes anywhere near the size of the one pictured at the top (in a false color photo from the Cassini spacecraft), which is 30 times larger and has winds twice as fast as the biggest Terran hurricane.  On the other hand, it's only called a hurricane. Our hurricanes need water and Saturn has very very little.  Scientists don't have any idea how that works.  Unfortunately, they know all too well how stuff works here.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Political Grumbling

I've had better things to be depressed about than politics recently, but it's hard to go completely cold turkey.

And the news is not all bad: President Obama's approval is up, congressional GOPers are less than half of it,  most people believe they're to blame for screwing things up.  But of course that doesn't change anything.

Pew also analyzed the 2012 numbers and found that Romney got all of 17% of the non-white vote.  So expect voter suppression to get bigger.

Markey is way ahead in Mass Senate, and only a quarter of Pennsylvanians polled believe that Space Cadet Tom Corbett deserves reelection to the governorship.

On the other hand, there's that depressing congressional race in South Carolina, and the infuriating governor's race in Virginia, with one of the ace rabid right morons running against the Dem candidate Terry McAuliffe, a race which therefore pits a fanatical moron against a major asshole.  And I've seen him as an asshole even before all this emerged.  This is the best VA Dems could do?

So it's maybe time to shift focus and get depressed about climate.

Monday, May 06, 2013

It's Outa Here!

Well, before we get into this week's bad news let's talk some sports.

The NBA playoffs are going into their second round.  If you had to choose which of the three California teams would make it at least that far, it probably wouldn't be the Golden State Warriors and the classic shooting of Stephen Curry (pictured with Kobe), but that's the facts. The Kobe-less Lakers got decisively swept, but I was surprised they even made it to the playoffs at all.  I guess I'm not alone in believing Boy Buss's choice of coach was disastrous from the get-go.  It's not far under the surface in this diatribe by one of LA's leading sportswriters, and I heard it crawl into comments from Magic Johnson.

But even Phil Jackson may not have been able to save them from the repeat of an experiment that failed when he was there: bring in some aging superstars for a team that looks unstoppable, at least if you judge by old highlight reels.  Injuries and lack of chemistry killed that Karl Malone/Gary Payton experiment, and the same factors ruined this season.  Especially injuries.

Injuries to key players are the story for many teams.  Oklahoma, Golden State and Chicago got through the first round despite them, but that's probably it.  Everybody is competing to finally lose to Miami, which has played even better this year, despite injuries.  Right now they're pretty healthy so it's probably pretty safe to snooze through June.

The NFL had their draft, and for all the volumes of words wasted on it, nobody has any idea of who is really going to be helped decisively.  But even with a reputedly strong draft, I still see the Ravens as a lucky one month wonder.  The Steelers seemed to have a good draft, everybody says, but I'm afraid I don't understand how they get better with no help to the offensive line.

Which brings me to the only sport and only team I really enjoy watching, baseball as played by the San Francisco Giants.  In the early season they don't have their dominating starting pitching, but everything else is working as it was last fall.  Lately they're coming from behind a lot, with games being tied and won in the very late innings.  In that they remind me of my 1960 Pirates, and one of  Bob Prince's signature sayings when they squeezed out a come from behind victory: "We had 'em all the way!"

Another 1960 Pirates reference: Pablo Sandoval is the best bad-ball hitter I've seen since Smoky Burgess.

But mostly (as I've said before) they are so much fun to watch.  Especially at home, because even though I've been in that ballpark only once, it's an indelible memory.  The combination of what a great park it is with the great fans--I saw a game in the Barry Bonds era, when there was always excitement and a lot of winning--makes it so easy for me to feel like I'm there while watching it on TV.  So here's this story from this past weekend:

I watched the early innings of the Giants-Dodgers game on Saturday, when the Giants built a 5-1 lead.  Then dinner time and then Saturday night movie time, so I only glanced at the score to see them behind as the Dodgers had scored 9.  Then when our Netflix was over, the game was in the bottom of the ninth, tied 9-9, with Buster Posey up, the bases loaded and one out.  Basically there are only a few ways you don't win with this combination.  First of all, there's Posey, a great hitter, last year's MVP, who won the previous night's game against the Dodgers with homer in the last of the 9th.  Posey had at least a dozen ways to put the ball in play and win the game. He could win the game just by being walked. The only bad things he could do were to strike out or foul out, but the next batter would still come up with the bases loaded.  The worst thing he could do was hit into a double play.  Which is what he did, on the second pitch I think.

So the TV went off, and by the time I got to my computer to check the score--I was prepared to go to my cave to resume watching--the game was over, the Giants had won in the 10th, via a home run, by a player I had never heard of: Guillermo Quiroz.

Later I checked the recap, and found out he was the backup catcher and pinch-hitter, and that he hit it with one out in the 10th.  Much later, just before sleeptime, I turned on the TV--the Sportsnet Bay Area station often replays the entire game but I never know when--and there it was.  I saw immediately that I had turned it on with the score tied 9-9 and the bottom of the 10th.  I then saw there was one out, and I realized this was the guy.  I saw exactly one pitch--it was the home run ball.

What a moment!  The stadium was in delirium, and so was Quiroz.  It was a line shot to left field that he and everybody knew was gone right away.  He was ecstatic on the bases.  He took his cap off, exposing a big round bald spot on the top of his head.  Quiroz was a veteran journeyman with six major league teams that mostly kept him playing in the minors.  This was his first home run of the year.  He won a game with it in extra innings, at home, for the Giants, in very probably the oldest rivalry in major league baseball, the Giants and the Dodgers.

We were all part of a moment in that man's life he will never forget--and unlike a lot of such moments lately, this was one of joy, celebration, accomplishment, fulfillment, a dream come true.    

Sunday, May 05, 2013

American Taliban

The otherwise incomprehensible hysteria of rabid rightists about the imposition of Sharia law--which absolutely nobody is really trying to impose--is itself a signal of what's really at work.  Scratch a hysteric and you'll often find that what they fear is what they really want to do, at least in the cases where the opposites are the same.

This is one of them.  Rabid rightists in North Carolina introduced a bill to make Christianity the state religion. This is the equal and opposite of Sharia law, and it is the exact same thing: totalitarian rule by a fanatical sect that is as political as it is religious.

Absolute rule under the banner of a particular religious sect involves a number of factors, and we're seeing all of them in the states under GOPer rule.  First, imposing making that sect's beliefs the law.  Not just in blatant "establishment" but in turning its tenets into reality, as in the many laws restricting access to abortion to the point that it is completely inaccessible.  It's being pretty successful, including in states where it's quite a shock, like Virginia.

But the American Taliban is also political in the sense that it wants power, and will seize it in any way possible.  Thus the national template for voter suppression that has only accelerated since it was beaten back in 2012.  That it didn't work then is no guarantee at all it won't work especially in 2014.

This political power is expensive to get and maintain, so monied allies are necessary, not only the already rabid right billionaires in fossil fuels and banking, not only the direct beneficiaries of GOPer power like the incarceration industry and the gun manufacturers.  But those who are continuing to take over public functions through privatizing everything that government does or should do.  You can see a step towards this with the emergency managers in Michigan, and Florida's attempt to take away local power and vest it in the state government, where economies of scale are available to favored corporations.  Not to mention the imposition of American Taliban policies.

Finally, it seems the American Taliban is organizing its military.  The new National Rifle Association prez is even more outspoken and clear on this than the exec director, if that's possible. Apart from overt calls to arm and militarize against the government, there is the culture war being called for, and the clear attempts to de-legitimize any government not part of the American Taliban, like the administration recently elected by an historically healthy majority.  President Obama is the "fake President" to them--an especially inflammatory bit of rhetoric, given the racism of the rabid right.    

Despite their distance from what the American public in general wants, the GOPer state governments have gotten increasingly bold, not only internally (which they can do without the Washington-centric media noticing) but in revolt against the US Constitution as interpreted by the federal courts and the federal executive. Kansas passed a law preventing the federal government from enforcing its gun laws, the US Attorney-General notified its GOPer governor that the law was unconstitutional, but the governor is not backing down.  Some may see this as a second amendment test case, regarding any federal power to regulate guns and gun safety.  But in essence it is the American Taliban pushing for more power, in this case  illusory but consequential military power.

It's all an all-American mirror image of the Taliban, the Kymer Rouge, the Iranian fundamentalists, etc. back into history.  But this overt and blatant coalition--of reactionary religionists, political McCarthyites like Ted Cruz, Confederate states rightists and racists, reactionary billionaires and the merely amoral greedy--seems pretty new to the USA.

Kill the Poor

There's unfortunately nothing new in the Pew study of the US 'recovery' from the Great Recession, which showed that it was a spectacular recovery for the rich at the expense of everybody else (whose net worth actually dropped between 2009 and 2011), or in New York's analysis, based on its own more sophisticated criteria, that nearly half the city (all four boroughs) is in poverty.

It's against that backdrop however that we judge Washington's failure to support jobs while continuing to lay out corporate welfare, and in particular the very obvious move last week to lessen the pain of well-off air travelers while doing nothing for the poor, working families, elderly, local economies, etc. being materially and even physically hurt by the sequester.

I heard again a theory I hadn't heard in a long while, that now that a lot of labor is no longer necessary in the US, since its been either automated or outsourced, the powers that be are willing if not actively trying to starve those folks out.  The words "kill the poor" were spoken.  It's a forecast of the future I heard from radicals in the 1960s, but this time I heard it on PBS as a description of the present.  Specifically in connection with the incarceration industry, but more generally applicable.

Kill the poor is kind of a paradoxical policy for the GOP, given its white fundie southern base, but the imagery of poverty is racialized now--only black and brown people can be called poor with impunity.  So the policy is part of GOPer racism, if not the complete effect.  Apart from hatred projected onto President Obama, it is evidenced as well in the refusal to fund government functions and therefore government jobs--which owing to non-discrimination policies have been for some years a path to the middle class for black and brown workers who have taken great pains to educate themselves.  And don't think for a minute that isn't part of this hatred for government.

Kill the poor has become part of the increasingly bold savagery institutionalized in GOPer controlled state governments.  At least two states (Ohio and Georgia) have revived the debtors prison by jailing poor people who were unable to pay municipal debts.  As Jim Hightower pointed out, that these acts are unconstitutional under the US and state constitutions has not stopped anybody.

All of this as evidence is buried as fast as it mounts that thousands have been and probably still are being impoverished by banks foreclosing on mortgages--including those in which payments were up to date--and through credit card manipulation.

The wolf of the sequester turns out to be the wolf of the GOP and its corporate allies, aided and abetted way too often by others.