Thursday, May 21, 2015


"When you’re on deck, standing your watch, you stay vigilant. You plan for every contingency. And if you see storm clouds gathering, or dangerous shoals ahead, you don't sit back and do nothing. You take action -- to protect your ship, to keep your crew safe. Anything less is negligence. It is a dereliction of duty. And so, too, with climate change. Denying it, or refusing to deal with it endangers our national security. It undermines the readiness of our forces.

It’s been said of life on the sea -- “the pessimist complains about the wind, the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” Cadets, like you, I reject pessimism. We know what we as Americans can achieve when we set ourselves to great endeavors. We are, by nature, optimists -- but we’re not blind optimists. We know that wishful thinking in the face of all evidence to the contrary would set us on a course for disaster. If we are to meet this threat of climate change, we must be realists. We have to readjust the sails."

President Obama
graduation address, US Coast Guard Academy

Meanwhile, California Governor Jerry Brown announced a multi-state agreement to set and meet goals to reduce carbon pollution:

The agreement includes the states of Oregon, Washington and Vermont, as well as the provinces of British Columbia and Ontario in Canada, the states of Baja California and Jalisco in Mexico, and the British country of Wales. Also involved are states and provinces in Brazil, Germany, and Spain.

"We will strive to bring more states into this agreement," Brown said at the event.

Although the terms are not legally binding, by signing the agreement the leaders are committing to specific targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. At that point, emissions would either need to be at least 80% below 1990 levels, or less than 2 metric tons per capita.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Best of What's Still Around: Message in a Bottle

Sting's songs are, as he says, "muscular."  They can be done in all kinds of ways and still keep their integrity.  He's proven this point with a lot of them, by doing them in different styles and with different instruments and bands behind him. Lately he's taken to singing one of his best and most popular, "Message In A Bottle," originally recorded with The Police in 1979, with just his voice and an acoustic guitar (as at the end of his Ted Talk.)

Probably the first time he did this was as an encore to his first concerts after leaving the Police.  The gestation of the band that recorded his first two solo albums with him is chronicled in one of my favorite movies called Bring On the Night, that builds to their first concert in Paris. I saw it in a shopping mall theater when it came out in 1985 or so, watched it on cable TV, taped it off cable, bought the VHS tape on sale and most recently the DVD.  This version of "Message" --with just his electric guitar--runs with the end credits of the movie, but it's one of my favorites mostly because of the gentle French voices singing along.  The lyrics make it one of the most appropriate songs to sing along to.

From an encore to the song that began the concerts on the 2008 Police reunion tour. Its joyous power with the biggest three-piece band that's ever existed, and the bond with the audience are evident in this contrasting version.  This audience for the concert in Japan is actually a little muted compared to others, but the video is HD--and free.  

Update (sort of): There were actually two stories in the news today about messages in bottles that were found--one 21 years later, another 40 years later.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Day of Infamy

A kind of coda to the beginning of the U.S. in World War II from Roosevelt and Hopkins.  Even in my childhood in the 1950s, the story of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was powerful and unequivocal.  The surprise or "sneak" attack, the destruction and damage to the large battleships and the deaths of some 2,000 sailors could still provoke outrage and anger.  Iconic photographs and Hollywood movies kept the imagery alive.

The series of defeats to Allied forces in the Pacific immediately after the U.S. entry reinforces what seems obvious: in just 90 minutes, the U.S. Pacific Fleet was largely destroyed.

Military historians since then, both American and Japanese, suggest this attack didn't turn out to be as damaging to U.S. capabilities and the early course of the war as it appeared.  It turned out that the three most important ships in the fleet, the aircraft carriers Enterprise, Lexington and Saratoga--the only carriers the US had at the time--weren't in port, but safely out at sea. Though battleships were the "prestige vessels" in public perception, they would turn out to be less important than aircraft carriers.

The Japanese hoped the attack would demoralize Americans but after FDR named December 7 "a day that will live in infamy," the opposite happened.  The attack was used to motivate American resolve for the rest of the war.

What's interesting however is that even at the time, the White House knew that apart from the deaths and injuries, the US military capability had not suffered as badly as it appeared.  The weakness that led to those early defeats had their source in the isolationist votes in Congress. Here are some relevant passages from Roosevelt and Hopkins:

“There was fortunately a minimum of crying over the milk spilled at Pearl Harbor. The swift destruction of the ultramodern Prince of Wales showed that would have happened had the antiquated battleships of the Pacific fleet attempted to operate in the enormous area controlled by Japanese air power west of the international date line and north of the equator, Roosevelt said in February [1942,} “The only way we could use those ships if we had them now would be for convoy duty in case the Japs ever started using capital ships to break the life line to Australia.” 

 This, however, never happened, because American and Australian air power was established and maintained over that life line and the Japanese were reluctant to risk their own battleships within its range. American weakness in those days could not be attributed to what happened at Pearl Harbor, where the enemy could have done far more serious damage had he attacked the vital installations of the base itself rather than the defensively huddled battleships; the weakness was the obvious result of years of puerile self-delusion which had manifested itself in such errors of calculation as the refusal to appropriate funds even for dredging the harbor at Guam.”

Historians also agree with this assessment that destroying the base itself would have hurt more, possibly extending the war by another year.  The Japanese had a plan to do so, but US resistance (including planes from the Enterprise) convinced them to call off the third wave of their attack.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Weekend Update

A few stories from the past week, notably linked.

The War on Trains (and Infrastructure in General): In the wake of a major train crash on the highly traveled eastern corridor that could have been prevented by equipment that has since been installed but wasn't before because Congress won't appropriate enough money, Adam Gopnik's NewYorker piece  on why it's happening, why it matters and especially what trains are all about, is definitely worth a read.  (Some more specific political/ideological reasons for infrastructure opposition here. )

Antarctica Preview: Ice Sheet to Collapse in Five Years or Fewer:  From NASA: "Ice shelves are the gatekeepers for glaciers flowing from Antarctica toward the ocean. Without them, glacial ice enters the ocean faster and accelerates the pace of global sea level rise. This study, the first to look comprehensively at the health of the Larsen B remnant and the glaciers that flow into it, has been published online in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters." Conclusion? A new NASA study finds the last remaining section of Antarctica's Larsen B Ice Shelf, which partially collapsed in 2002, is quickly weakening and likely to disintegrate completely before the end of the decade." 

I've read a little about glaciers collapsing and was amazed at how fast it can happen (but then so were scientists.)  This study suggests the nature of that speed: After the 2002 Larsen B collapse, the glaciers behind the collapsed part of the shelf accelerated as much as eightfold – comparable to a car accelerating from 55 to 440 mph.

El Nino Looks Real.  According to Jeff Masters' blog at Weather Underground: The robust El Niño event anticipated for more than a year is finally coming to fruition, according to the latest observations and forecasts. NOAA's latest monthly analysis, issued on Thursday morning, continues the El Niño Advisory already in effect and calls for a 90% chance of El Niño conditions persisting through the summer, with a greater-than-80% chance they will continue through the end of 2015.

The blog notes this is pretty unusual. "Forecasters and computer models alike have been confounded by this event."  That's partly because stuff is happening out of its usual season.  That's climate change for you, it changes things."If this El Niño event does intensify, as models strongly suggest it will (see below), it'll be one for the record books. There are no analogs in the database for a weak event in northern winter that becomes a stronger event by summer. Persisting into northern fall will also greatly raise the odds of this becoming a rare two-year event."

So if it happens, what will happen?  Nobody knows really.  Could mean more rain this winter for California, and then again, maybe not.  It has however meant rain for southern California last week, which is weird.  But that's climate change for you, things get weird.