Saturday, September 28, 2013

Welcome to Pittsburgh

For the first time ever, one of the great "new" baseball parks on the continent will host playoff baseball.  By defeating the Cincinnati Reds in the first two games of their series in Cincinnati, the Pittsburgh Pirates have clinched home field advantage for their one-game playoff with those same Reds on October 1.

It will be the first playoff game played in PNC Park, which opened in 2001.  A few years ago it was named the best ballpark in baseball, and is generally regarded as in the top 2 or 3.

Congratulations, Pirates.  It's been a long time coming.  Playoff baseball, welcome to PNC Park--and welcome back to Pittsburgh.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Later Word: Eyes Wide Shut, Careening Towards the Tipping Point

Several news outlets zeroed in on another statement from the IPIC report.  The LA Times story is an excellent example.  Their headline: Experts set threshold for climate-change calamity: Researchers say an emissions tipping point for the planet may be 25 years away:

The world's leading climate scientists have for the first time established a limit on the amount of greenhouse gases that can be released before the Earth reaches a tipping point and predicted that it will be surpassed within decades unless swift action is taken to curb the current pace of emissions.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated that once a total of 1 trillion tons of carbon dioxide are emitted into atmosphere, the planet will exceed 3.6 degrees of warming, the internationally agreed-upon threshold to the worst effects of climate change.

"We've burned through half that amount" since preindustrial times, Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University who reviewed the report and is a co-author of the panel's upcoming report on the effect of climate change, said in an interview. "Because the rates of emissions are growing, it looks like we could burn through the other half in the next 25 years" under one of the more dire scenarios outlined in the report.

Under the least dire scenario, that limit could be reached by the end of this century.

Calling climate change "the greatest challenge of our time," panel co-chair Thomas Stocker said humankind's fate in the next 100 years "depends crucially on how much carbon dioxide will be emitted in the future."

But this is the tipping point for utter catastrophe, for thousands of years.  As other statements in the report affirm (noted in the Early Word below), effects from greenhouse gases already emitted will continue, and continue to get worse in the coming decades.  Attacking the causes now may save the far future, while humanity is simultaneously dealing with the ongoing effects of past pollution.

Early Word

First words on the release of the IPCC report, giving 95% certainty and as official as conclusions get to what we've been saying around here for awhile:

'Leading climate scientists said on Friday they were more certain than ever before that mankind was the main culprit for global warming and warned the impact of greenhouse gas emissions would linger for centuries.

A report, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), played down the fact temperatures have risen more slowly in the past 15 years, saying there were substantial natural variations that masked a long-term warming trend.  It said the Earth was set for further warming and more heatwaves, floods, droughts and rising sea levels as greenhouse gases built up in the atmosphere. The oceans would become more acidic in a threat to some marine life.

"As a result of our past, present and expected future emissions of carbon dioxide, we are committed to climate change and effects will persist for many centuries even if emissions of carbon dioxide stop," co-chair Thomas Stocker said.

The U.N.'s top climate official, Christiana Figueres, said the report underscored a need for urgent action to combat global warming. Governments have promised to agree a U.N. deal by the end of 2015 to restrict emissions. "To steer humanity out of the high danger zone, governments must step up immediate climate action and craft an agreement in 2015 that helps to scale up and speed up the global response," she said.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Hot Water

Tomorrow we'll see what the UN panel has to say about it, but in advance of that there's more consensus that the "pause" in global temp rise has a lot to do with carbon--and heat--being captured in the oceans.
For example, here's a detailed analysis from Real Climate.

This set of phenomena may be lessening some effects of global heating on land but hot oceans have bad effects,too, notably on fish.  We're noticing a decline in what's available and higher prices for what is, and this is a coastal area with professional as well as lots of amateur ocean and river fishing.  The major impact is detailed here.

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"How many of us would be willing to settle when we're young for what we eventually get?  All those plans we made...what happens to them?  It's only a handful of the lucky ones that can look back and say that they even came close...So before they clean out that closet Mr. Kirby, I think I'd get in a few good hours on that saxophone."

Kaufman and Hart
You Can't Take It With You

Circus of Disgrace

I've been trying to ignore the latest round of disgrace in Congress over the federal budget and the debt ceiling.  (As apparently have others, as evidenced by the only slightly satirical Borowitz headline: In Poll About Debt-Ceiling Crisis, Americans Totally Excited About New iPhone.)  I do note that 2 years after the first attempted shakedown, the White House is repeatedly characterizing it for what it is: blackmail, extortion, holding the American people hostage.  (One WH aide quoted today saying we're not negotiating with people with a bomb strapped to their chest.)

The House GOP maniacs forcing these crises issued what Jonathan Chiat charactrized as their ransom demands for passing the bill that says yes Congress will pay its debts after all. As Jonathan Chiat writes: "It’s Mitt Romney’s 2012 economic plan. Almost word for word, in fact... The fact that a major party could even propose anything like this is a display of astonishing contempt for democratic norms. Republicans ran on this plan and lost by 5 million votes. They also lost the Senate and received a million fewer votes in the House but held control owing to favorable district lines. Is there an example in American history of a losing party issuing threats to force the majority party to implement its rejected agenda?"

WH Press Secretary Jay Carney quipped that he was surprised it didn't include a birther bill.  But like a lot of absurdity we've become all too used to, at the core this has a price in people's pain, suffering, illness and forced death: specifically the horrifying and cynical efforts to prevent Americans from getting better and more affordable health care.

The Affordable Care Act exchanges open on Oct. 1, with generally lower premiums offered that before and that anyone predicted, including the CBO.  But there have been glitches and delays in parts of it.  Jonathan Bernstein in his blog suggested possible real world reasons for these and asked the political scientists and other professionals who read his blog for the information they had, since reporters don't seem to do that kind of reporting anymore.  In several of the responses, it seems that the delays and glitches are often caused deliberately by GOPer governments in the states actually trying to make it harder for people to get health care, and congressional GOPers trying to subvert the program partly by denying it enough funding.

We all know that politics more often brings out the worst than the best in people who hold office.  But the price of their illusory power and cheap perks is the health and happiness of many people, most of them in the lower depths of the 99%.  It's sick and sickening.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"Now with the invention of computers and the Internet, it's as if there is a new substitute for reading, writing and thinking.  There's not.  A mass movement is being created that is even more susceptible to different forms of Nazism."

Jim Harrison


The Pittsburgh Pirates have made it to the postseason for the first time in 21 years.  And (especially given the sorry state of the Steelers) Pittsburgh is paying attention.  They've coined a new word for the Bucs future: Buctober.

  At worst (and most likely) they'll be playing the Wild Card game on October 1.  As of right now, it would be in Pittsburgh, but there are four crucial games left, 3 with their opponent in that game, the Cincinnati Reds.  If the Reds finish ahead of them, I suppose they may just stay in Cincinnati, where their last game of the regular season will be played.  There's still a mathematical chance they can win the division, but St. Louis is two games ahead and keeps on winning.

As for this latest long drought, it's not unfamiliar for the Pirates, one of the oldest professional teams in baseball.  (Humboldt State U. is boastfully celebrating their centennial this year.  When this school opened the Pirates had been playing baseball for 30 years.)  Their greatest game World Series victory in 1960 was their first world championship since 1927.  So we're kind of used to this.  And we know to savor the moment.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Colorado Rain: It Doesn't Have to Be a Butterfly

How does Arctic ice contribute to torrential rains and killing floods in Colorado?

Prospects for a climate crisis made climate science prominent.  As it turns out, it is the most comprehensive set of scientific methodologies and disciplines attempted so far.  It involves fairly elementary physics and chemistry, but also very sophisticated ideas and techniques.  The behavior of clouds, of air currents, the oceans (temperature, depths, interaction with carbon, etc.) are very complicated scientific (and mathematical) problems.  Chaos theory is only a generation or so old, and it is crucial to all this.  There are even newer constructs trying to find the keys to complexities.

At both the theoretical and practical levels, the physical sciences that bear on climate and the effects of the climate crisis are robust.  They are impressively prepared, though crucial gaps remain.  They are making real progress on clean energy, including low cost and relatively low tech forms.  There are some good ideas for dealing with carbon, and some very big, very bad ones.  In tragic contrast, our political behavior is barbaric.

The complexities of climate are better understood now, though explaining those very complexities invites skepticism that's easy for know-nothings to exploit.  But for those who really want to understand what might be going on, there are at least tentative explanations.

So what about the droughts, fires and especially the rains that came to Colorado?  In an NPR interview, Rutgers researcher Jennifer Francis first described what was different about the Colorado rains:

For one thing, the floods that they usually have this time of year are typically more of the flash flood variety, whereas the one that occurred last week was a very long lived event for Colorado. It spanned a few days. Normally, they just come and go. And the amounts of rain are just really staggering. I mean, usually, in the month of September, say, Boulder, Colorado, would typically get about two inches. They got nine inches in just one day. And over the whole week, it added up to about 17 inches. And this can be understood in the perspective of their typical amount of rain they get for the whole year, which is only 20 inches.

Then what was different about the weather patterns that led to the floods:

There was a large swing in the jet stream northward up over the whole western half of North America. So there was this big swing northward in the jet stream and then, south of that, was what we call an upper level low. So the jet stream was bringing in moisture from the Pacific while the lower level winds were actually from the southeast bringing moisture in from the Gulf of Mexico.

And so we had moisture at two levels in the atmosphere, which made for a very, very large amount of water vapor available. So as that wind came in from the southeast at low levels, it hit the Rocky Mountains, was lifted by the mountains so it then cools and condenses and it wrings that moisture right out.

And because there was this large swing in the jet stream and this upper level low, this configuration we call a blocking pattern. And it's called the blocking pattern for the very good reason that it means that the weather patterns are stuck. The block means that it's blocking things from changing. And so we were in this pattern for several days and we've been seeing these sorts of blocking patterns quite a lot in the last couple years."

Blocking patterns occur naturally but Francis said the reasons we're see more of them and are likely to keep seeing them in the future has to do with Arctic ice.  The first is related to the years of drought in the West:

But in the summertime and in this period of years that we're in right now in particular, we've had a prolonged drought in the western half of North America. And we think this is at least partly related to the fact that, of course, sea ice is disappearing, the Arctic is warming very rapidly, we're losing the snow cover much earlier on high latitude land areas, so in the far northern part of North America, and this causes the soil underneath to be able to dry out and warm up much faster in the spring, which kind of gives a jumpstart to the warming season of summer.

So we think this might be contributing to the jet stream taking these very large northward swings because that soil, once it dries out, is able to heat up much more and it kind of creates a bulge or a dome of hot air. And this sort of contributes to the jet stream taking these sorts of patterns."

The effect of less Arctic sea ice is a change in the behavior of the jet stream.

"...because the Arctic is warming much faster than the areas farther south and it's that temperature difference between the Arctic and areas farther south that really is what drives the west to east winds in the jet stream. So we are, in fact, seeing those west to east winds of the jet stream slowing down and we believe it's related to this differential warming of the Arctic.

And once the jet stream does slow down, it tends to take a wavier path as it goes around the Northern Hemisphere so bigger swings to the north and south, which, you know, we're starting to see that happening more."

Francis added that scientists are intently studying this new behavior for clues to future weather, because the jet stream often determines it for a given area.  It was a factor, she says, in the path of the destructive hurricane Sandy on the U.S. East Coast.

And it's those waves in the jet stream that create the weather that we feel down here on the surface. So where you're located relative to different parts of these waves determines what kind of weather you're in. But what we are seeing is an increasing frequency of these northward bulges, which we call ridges, occurring in the North Atlantic, in particular.

You can think about Sandy, for example, when Sandy came along, there was one of these very strong ridges or blocking patterns in the North Atlantic and that's what helped steer her into the East Coast. And we also see them becoming more frequent in the western U.S. and other areas as well. So it does seem that we're starting to see some patterns emerge that will help us make longer term predictions in the future."

Sunday Baseball: Big Games

The first game of the Pirates home series with the Cincinnati Reds was like a horrific flashback for me and I'm sure many old time fans.  The last good Pirates team was one out--and even one strike--from going to the World Series in 1992, with a comfortable lead in the 9th.  Then a Pirates infielder muffed an apparently routine ground ball, and the Atlanta baseball team scored several runs to win the game and the National League pennant in an agonizing third of an inning.  The images of that inning are etched in many Pittsburgh souls. By the start of the next season, the exodus of the team's stars was well underway, and they didn't have another winning season for twenty years, until this season.

The game on Friday was way too reminiscent.  The Pirates were playing for at least a top wild card berth, with some hopes for the division title.  St. Louis was in first by a game.  The Reds were breathing down the Pirates neck in third.  After that, the closest team was more than 20 games back.  But the Pirates had the game in hand, with timely hitting, homers and brilliant starting pitching.  They had a 3 run lead with their closer on the mound for the top of the 9th, and yes, there were two outs, and at times, the Reds were down to their last strike.  But an infielder's error led to a run, and after several foul balls on a 3-2 count, an infield hit scored two more to tie it.  The Pirates did nothing in the bottom of the 9th or the 10th, and in between a solo home run gave the Reds the game.

It was the second time in three days that the Pirates second-half closer had blown a save with 2 outs in the 9th.  They'd been bested 3 out of 4 by San Diego, and so had little margin for error.  That Reds victory meant the two teams were tied.

Nobody can yet be sure how devastating that 9th inning will be, although the Pirates did come back Saturday to win over the Reds 4-2--and even better, with the Reds having a man on and the tying run at the plate in the 9th, they held firm.  A. J. Burnett had another brilliant start, and this one wasn't wasted--the good news being that first-half closer Jason Grilli was back to close it out, after being out from injury.

Sunday's game with Cincy is pretty important.  It's the last home game of the Pirates' season--the next 3 are in Chicago and the final 3 in Cincinnati.  I'm not good enough at math to figure out the permutations, but the most likely outcome remains that the Pirates will play a one-game playoff--with the Reds. The Atlanta team (who they could wind up playing this year for the NL crown) was the nemesis for the 90s Pirates.  Let's hope the Reds aren't the Atlanta of this era.

Beat 'em, Bucs!

(Meanwhile the Steelers looked sorry against another Cincy team.  They have yet to win a game this year, including preseason, and now 2 reg season losses against lesser teams.  They may not win one for awhile--teams know how to beat them, and so far the Steelers don't have an answer.)    

Closer to Ross St., the Bay may get a new champion--the Oakland A's are on the verge of clinching their division.  While some individual SF Giants players have had an exciting September, the team is still wobbly, and is currently giving the Yankees hope for making the playoffs.  Giving up the all-time record breaker for grand slams to a guy who is probably not in Lou Gehrig's league as a human being is not a highlight of the season.