Weather or Not

With global warming, the weather is just the same, only more so

May 31st 2011

   I was pleased when I found a plug-in for my blog that gave the average levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.  I regard climate change to be the greatest threat humanity faces over the next century, and the levels attained, according to the display, were terrifying.  393.18 parts per million.
There was just one problem: it was wrong.  It was out of date, and badly so.
The  US government’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory at Mauna Loa in Hawaii, came out with a report this week that CO2 peaked last week at 394.97ppm. That set a new record for greatest concentrations of CO2.
To give the numbers some perspective, the ice core samples show that for most of the last millennium, CO2 levels stayed within a couple of points of 282ppm.  That was high by Holocene standards.  Over the previous 450,000 years, it usually ranged between 290ppm and 190ppm, in a cycle running between 100,000 and 125,000 years.  Big, dramatic falls were known to occur over the period of 10,000 years, usually triggering an ice age.  Over the past 450,000 years, the highest level recorded prior to the past hundred years was 314ppm, some 4,700 years ago. That may have played a significant role in humanity migrating out beyond the tropics.   Continue reading “Weather or Not”

Brinkmanship

Where even fools fear to tread

May 29th 2011

I came across a hilarious table today that Think Progress, the liberal web site, gleefully posted on their Yfrog page. ( http://yfrog.com/h7rjekp ) The table was a listing of projections of when Medicare would go insolvent, on an annual basis dating back to 1970, when the Hospital Insurance Trustees solemnly affirmed that Medicare was going to go bust in 1972.

The Hospital Insurance Trustees released this annual report, and in all but three of the subsequent years, declared that Medicare was on the ropes, and would go belly up in the sweet bye-and-bye. The length of time varied enormously. Two years was the lowest, but by 1975 they, with seeming reluctance, concluded that the Trust might last into the late 1990s. The previous two years must have shown sharp improvement, because those were two of the three years they didn’t make any forecast at all.

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The End of the World

There’s a new Last Airbender movie planned, so that’s not a bad thing

May 22nd 2011

Yesterday, about 6pm Eastern Time, three o’clock on a sunny warm afternoon, I took the dog for a walk. At no point during the walk did he vanish in a puff of smoke. Dogs will sometimes vanish if you don’t hold the lead tightly, but they don’t generally smoke, and my dog has never vanished in a puff of smoke before, so you might find it was odd that I thought he might fall into the habit now.

But it was the Rapture, and I read somewhere, or saw a movie, or something, that “all dogs go to heaven.” It’s one of those Leviticus things, along with “People who weigh more than 250 pounds shouldn’t wear thongs” and “Most sequels are going to be a disappointment.” I don’t know many people who would qualify to get Raptured, and the ones I do know probably wouldn’t consent to be walked around the block on a lead, so I had to use my poor dog as a lab rat. I figured being outside might help with the god rays or something.

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A Litter of Kittens

A Litter of Kittens
Hauntings from the past, joy in the present

May 21st, 2011

We were a bit slow in getting to the vet, and as a result, our youngest cat got pregnant. We believe the father was an orange and white tom, a pleasant cat who lives about 50 yards from here. The mother, Snickers, is a sweet, affectionate little tortoiseshell, and so we expect some nice kittens.

We should know in a day or so. I set up an old dog crate with blankets, food and water, and put a cardboard box with flaps in so she would have a little kitty cave in a warm, secure, dark place.

So naturally she had her litter late last night under my reclining chair. In a way, it was a compliment to our rat terrier, Rygel, since he sleeps on that chair at night. Obviously Snickers saw him as an ally and protector. (We’re still going to watch him with the kittens for the first couple of months, since, while not vicious, he is exuberant, and tends to pounce when playing).

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Obama and the Middle East

A good speech, with good intentions. But…

May 19th 2011

Barack Obama, focusing on the middle east, gave a speech today that would have reminded older Americans of the sense of what the country stood for in the days before the Kennedy assassination and Vietnam, before the deep national cynicism and before the methodical erosion of American dignity and pride by a far right monied faction determined to steal America for itself.

Had Eisenhower or Kennedy given a similarly-themed speech 50 years or so ago, it would have been a clarion call, and praised as a great speech in American history.

Even now, it is a damned fine speech, and if nothing else, it shows that Obama recognizes the value of the time when people referred to America as “the leader of the free world”, and it wasn’t said with a smirk, or based on America’s economy or military might. It was said because American ideals and commitment to freedom really were a beacon to the rest of the world.

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The Ten Year Itch

Scratching the surface

May 9th 2011

Anyone who has ever broken a bone, suffered a dislocation, or suffered other injuries to muscles or tendons knows that one of the first signs that it’s beginning to heal is that the affected area starts to itch. It’s usually a deep itch, the type you can’t scratch, and fortunately, not a constant annoyance. The injured person will scratch at it a bit, and when that doesn’t work, rub or massage. Or, if wearing a cast, he will get grumpy, and start marking the days on the calendar until the cast is due to come off.

It’s the same for cats and dogs, and one of the reason why injured pets are made to wear what the movie “Up” described as “the cone of shame”: the plastic Elizabethan collar that prevents pets from biting at injuries, or trying to pull off dressings.

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Osama bin Laden

A good death

May 3rd 2011

He had kind eyes.

They were brown and glowing, and seemed to be brimming with compassion, empathy, and a touch of mirth. They were the eyes you might expect to see in the face of a Buddhist monk, the lady who runs the local Toys For Tots program, or a Hollywood priest.

He was almost certainly the man responsible for 9/11, the worst crime ever committed on US soil, a crime that killed 3,000 people in one hideous day.

I know about the dangerous charm of sociopaths and demagogues, and so the eyes shouldn’t have been so jarring. The most lethal monsters in the history of the world were nice fellows, often jolly, and made people adore as well as respect them. The fires and deaths and screams would come later, after they had achieved unassailable power. Everyone knows about the power of Hitler’s oratory, but it was his ability to charm and create trust that put him in the position where he could become the horror he was. It’s downplayed in the history of the Third Reich, but there were literally millions of women in Nazi Germany in the 30’s who would have gladly abandoned their husbands and lovers and families for a chance to have his baby. Just as England had the far more benign “Beatlemania” thirty years later, Germany had “Hitlermania”. When Stalin died, millions of men who had been shunted into the Gulags on trumped up and Kafkaquese charges wept openly in their cells. They had lost, not just a leader, but a friend.

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Classless Action

Tony and the Gang declare open season on consumers

April 30th 2011

AT&T Mobility vs. Concepcion won’t be as utterly destructive of the American form of government as last year’s horrible Citizens United decision, but it does immense damage to consumers in America, and, like Citizens United, tips the balance of power, already wildly out of whack, to the corporations.

The vote to drastically limit the ability of consumers to file and pursue class-action suits was five to four, and I probably don’t need to tell anyone which five voted in the majority. Tony Scalia wrote the opinion, and said that companies could force buyers to sign arbitration agreements. He didn’t even bother to conceal his intent, adding, “Arbitration is poorly suited to the higher stakes of class litigation.” Which is the whole idea.

Class action suits result when a large number of people have been injured by the actions of a company or other entity. The injury can be relatively minor, as was the case in AT&T Mobility vs. Concepcion, where AT&T was accused of overcharging by $30 for cellphone service. Or it can be life threatening and affect millions. Eventually America will have a Bhopal or a Chernobyl sort of disaster, and class-action would be the only sensible recourse in the wake, when people would be trying to recoup major damages suffered.

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The Big Leak

Julian Assange may have killed the rationale for the Afghanistan occupation

July 26th 2010

In the long run, the little-noted news report that the Kepler space probe has produced evidence that terrestrial planets (small, solid, and cool, like earth) are widespread in the galaxy may prove to be a more important story than the announcement that Wikileaks had 90,000 US military documents detailing what a hopeless clusterfuck Afghanistan was, which has produced “Moon type” headlines around the world.

For the sake of humanity, I hope the Kepler story proves to be more important. It offers humanity a future; the Afghanistan story questions whether humanity is entitled to a future, or capable of surviving into it.

The Kepler story isn’t very sexy. It’s just slight variations of light in stars captured by a space camera. No images of steaming alien jungles with six-legged purple brontosauri munching palm fronds unconcernedly, or aerial shots of vast cities with flying cars and transportation pods. Just pinpricks of light that get slightly dimmer and stay that way for a while, and the amount it dims, times the length of time it dims, tells us how far out from the star the planet is, and how big it is. Even Spielberg would have trouble making that dramatic.

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