Friday, April 03, 2015

The Good Deal

Oooh--what are the politics of the Iran nuclear deal that President Obama announced Thursday?  What do Republicans say?  Why is this a dramatic whatever for the President?

How about: what's in the deal, and is it a good one?

At least one nuclear proliferation expert says it's an "astonishingly good deal" for the West, that it diminishes the Iran nuclear program to a face-saving minimum, and outlines inspection regimes that are close to ideal.

All of that is part of this detailed analysis--the good and the ugly--in Vox.  The New York Times and other paywalled sites quote global security and other experts in praising the deal.  The New Yorker covers all the bases.

As for the Republicans, Borowitz sums it up satirically:

“President Obama is hailing this framework as something that could enhance the prospects for peace in the Middle East,” McCain told reporters at the United States Senate. “For those of us who have looked forward to bombing Iran for some time now, that would be a doomsday scenario.”

On another doomsday scenario for Republicans--Obamacare Doomsday, the success of Obamacare that they must deny--a point by point refutation showing how the law is working by Jonathan Chiat.  Its interesting because it's not just the numbers, it's the complexities of the insurance system, which was the biggest practical gamble.  Yet the law turns out to be amazingly well designed to reform this for-profit system that itself still has no ethical validity.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

A Long Dry Summer (With Updates)

Every April 1, California state water scientists measure the snow pack near Echo Summit in the Sierra Nevada mountains. It's considered the end of the wet season, when the accumulated snowpack should be greatest--or at least as big as it is going to get until next winter.  As the snow in these mountains melt, the runoff supplies water for the dry months of summer.  This accounts for about 30% of the state's water supply.

For the first time since these measurements began in 1950, the Governor of California was present.  He was there because everyone could see the brown meadows which normally would be covered with snow.  But the measurements were even worse than expected.

In the photo above, the water official is explaining that the black tape indicates the snow level in 1977, the historic low until now.  The yellow tape measures where it was last April 1, almost as low.  The green or blue tape near his right hand is the average.  The pole beyond the photo's height shows the deepest snow recorded.

 On this April 1, the snow measured 5% of normal, the lowest figure since the measurements began.  Officially it's one to two inches.  Last year it was 27 inches.

Governor Brown was there to announce the first mandatory water rationing in California and U.S. history.  Except for sumptuous lawn maintenance, it didn't affect ordinary home water use directly, nor farmers nor many industrial uses.  Though the targets were still mostly low-hanging fruit (golf courses, watering of ornamental areas on public land etc.) the cutbacks did aim to reduce water use throughout the state by 25%.

The water situation differs regionally and geographically in this huge state.  Here in Humboldt, our reservoir is full, and that's the case in some other places, especially here in the north.  But even places with adequate water now face insecure situations in the summer.  The latest long-range weather forecasts show some changes coming, including perhaps a stronger El Nino.  But even so, California is unlikely to see much rain before fall.

What the governor's order will mean depends in part on implementations in individual municipalities.  But clearly at this point--with hotter average temps due to the climate crisis deepening our drought--we're in unknown territory.  The chains of change will reveal themselves, probably with many surprises.

We think naturally of drinking water first, and water that we depend on for urban civilized life.  Water for California agriculture, which is a national as well as local economic issue.  Water for various forms of mining and manufacture.  Water in the ecosystem: already it's feared that lack of water, and warmer water, may severely deplete salmon and other fish.

Brown added a coda to his announcement that put this all in perspective.  He noted that California has been inhabited by humans for ten or even twenty thousand years. "But the number of those people were never more than three or four hundred thousand, as far as we know."  They could adapt to drought, or move away from it.

 "Now we are embarked on an experiment that no one have ever tried, ever, in the history of mankind.  And that is 38 million people with 32 million vehicles, living at the level of comfort that we all strive to attain."

Updates 4/2: Another summary of new restrictions and previous cutbacks.  Probably the best summary remains the New York Times lead story.  The Times adds several stories today, including one focusing on home water use--the standard is 55 gallons per person but in LA actual use is closer to 70, with some places as high as 100.

 A view on pricing water higher, especially for large volume users.  The Washington Post explains and illustrates the assertion that the California drought is "a likely consequence of climate change, specifically the rising temperatures which are intensifying many of the processes causing the state to lose water at an alarming rate."  There are several stories around the web about this.

The Washington Post also focused on the growing crisis in California groundwater, being depleted at a rapid rate and at historic lows.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

April 1: A Retrospective

April 1 is almost over, and it's been the same mixed bag for April Fool's jokes. (Including, elsewhere, mine.)  Lately it's become the sanctioned day for satire as well as pranks.  Megan Gaber at the Atlantic is down on the day, pointing out rightly that the Internet has fuzzed even more the distinction between truth and truthiness:

"And the Internet, for better and very often for worse, does not tend to distinguish between stories and facts, between the earnest and the satirical. The World Wide Web is an epistemological free-for-all—which makes it wonderfully democratic, definitely, but which also means that lies can spread on its platforms with, often, as much ease as truths."

Certainly, well, true, with many seriously troublesome effects.  The Internet is a platform for attention on the basis of bizarreness, so it's not clear whether the world is stranger than ever, or we just know more about it.  I'd say for sure both.  But that so much that is accurate is crazy (and that's just the Google News page) does flavor April 1 satire, which depends on the possibility of it being true.

Or maybe it just does what satire does--get the imagination freed for a new perspective.  I have to say that most of what I read today just wasn't that funny or interesting in this way, except for some sly "news" from an unlikely source, a very earnest and specific environmental group, the Center for Biological Diversity.  Their jibes came in the usual email advisory, which lately has often been about wolves endangered by aggressive hunting practices in several western states.  So it took a second for the satire to register in the headline "Idaho Governor Caught Stealing Wolves From Yellowstone."

In order to appease wolf hunters running out of prey, you see.  The gotcha moment made a point, but that was just the first of several stories.  For my money, here's the best one, both for quality, amusement and making several really telling points, plus there's something charming about it that goes beyond the joke-- Exploding 'Wind Trains' Wreak Mild Breezes on Unsuspecting Towns:

Yet another American community is reeling after a train carrying wind energy from the Great Plains derailed this week, unleashing mild breezes in its wake. Two hats and one freshly raked pile of leaves were lost in the disaster.

Wind-by-rail transport has been on a dramatic rise in the years since new technology allowed midwestern gusts to be captured, stored and transported to wind refineries in New York and California. In 2015 alone wind has been spilled eight times along rail routes, including in Nevada, where an outbreak of chapped lips was reported, and in Indiana, where a toupee was carried into a stream and drowned.

"So many of these 'wind trains' pass right next to our schools," said Pat Gumpter of the National Association of Peeved Parents. "Our children could be assaulted, at any moment, by an unexpected blast of air."

Sunday, March 29, 2015


A windy Sunday at Clam Beach.  First time seeing wind surfers there--two close to shore, at least two more farther out.

But it was too windy for our outing.  We drove a little farther north and found a sheltered spot on Trinidad Beach.  Just right.


They are called the 60s, a single ten year lump to praise or blame.  But those of us who lived through them know that each year of that decade was different, had its own shapes and smells, and each was filled with momentous events sufficient for a decade, so the 60s were as crammed and as various as a century.

Those of us who were young then were a big part of those events--as participants, victims and instigators as well as observers and receivers.  Those events--those arcs and moods, revelations and confusions--marked us, influenced the flow of our lives in the crucial decades of our teens and twenties, and to one degree or another determined our fates.

And as this decade of fiftieth anniversaries for various events of the 1960s, it is well to look at the context of an entire year--like 1965.  There's a book about that year that centers on the music but includes other elements, called 1965: The Most Revolutionary Year in Music by Andrew Grant Jackson.  The possibly inflated claim of the title notwithstanding, it suggests how much was happening.

Slate further emphasized this recently by selecting a single week from 1965, that included the recently commemorated Selma march, but also the release of Bob Dylan's Bringing It All Back Home (almost every song was great, but one side of the albums also had Dylan singing his songs backed by a rock band--and that much was revolutionary.)

It was also the beginning of a less well remembered but vital at the time phenomenon, the first "teach-in" on the Vietnam war.  The teach-ins set a certain standard for debates on college campuses, and an anti-war movement grew out of factual information and reason as well as principle and emotion.  That kind of nuance is missing from the three-word, three-note push button references to elements of the 60s.

There's even more about this year at the blog The '60s at 50.

This Slate article and probably the book also bring to light another aspect of remembering the 60s, which is the 60s weren't and aren't the same for everyone. Some events may unite us in a single year, but the flavor of a year for each us depended on when we got "turned on" to a particular record or musicians, book or author, etc. and what our particular enthusiasms were, as well as those of our friends.

 The author's contention that "technology was the root cause underlying all the changes" may pander to today's worship of new technologies, but seems to me to be way overstated.  Yes, technologies like television and some invented drugs (The Pill, LSD) played big roles, but they were not the root cause of much of anything about 1965.  (It's also a stretch to call pharmacology "technology."  If it is, almost everything is.)  I will stipulate however that without electricity for microphones and electric guitars it certainly would have been a different year.