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Climate Change

In the wake of Harvey and Irma, it’s time to take a look at climate change. The usual bad actors are out there, trying to downplay the damages the storms did. Ann Coulter was so egregiously nasty in her approach that she actually drew a reprimand from White House Chief of Staff Kelly.

Since the storms did do enormous damage, the carbon apologists have gone to their first fall-back position—don’t talk about it. They’ve tried telling us that now is not the time to discuss climate change, and that by doing so “liberals” are engaging in the most shameless of political opportunism.

The problem with that is there is no better time than now. So let’s talk about it.

Harvey and Irma were both extraordinary storms, created by unusual meteorological and temperature related situations. They wound up as unique, with Harvey stalling and dumping up to 55” of rain on south Texas and Louisiana. Irma became a cat 5 where no storm had become a cat 5 before, and raked nearly all of the northern coast of Cuba—several hundred miles—before finally turning north as a Cat 3 and hitting Florida as “only” a Cat 4.

These are unique storms. However, they are also harbinger storms.

Because the climate and the oceans are warming, we will see more and more “unique” situations like this. I will guarantee it.

There’s two changing factors critical to the formation of tropical storms (there are others, such as the Coriolis Force, but they are constants).

First is the temperature of the water. For a tropical system to form, a sea surface temperature of 26.5°C (79.7°F) is required. Further, that temperature has to reach a depth of about 50 meters (164 feet) because these storms churn the water up to that depth. If a storm is on disturbed water that is now only 25°C at the surface, the storm will peter out and die.

This is a constant, world wide. Since the overall average temperature of the oceans is 16°C, there’s only limited areas where such storms can form.

However, the warmer the sea surface temperature, the more energy the storm can take from that warm water (and warm water has far more energy than warm dry air—about 10,000 times as much), and the more powerful a storm can become.

The oceans are warming: Between .2°C and .4°C, depending on location. The warming is most intense in shallow waters, such as the Gulf of Mexico and there’s actually been some cooling in the polar regions with cold fresh water spilling from Antarctica and Greenland. Areas of water about 26.5°C are spreading, and those areas subject to seasonal variation are staying warmer longer. Vast tropical regions such as the West Pacific and the Gulf often average well above 30°C, sometimes all the way up to 35°C, or 95°F.

So, more energy for tropical storms to spawn in, lasting longer, and over a wider area. What do you suppose happens next?

Then there is air temperature. It’s not a significant factor as a source of energy, since the energy required to warm air is, as noted, only about 1/10,000th that of water. But it does have one very significant contributing factor: water vapor. There’s a formula called the Clausius-Clapeyron equation that tells us that when air is in the range of -50°C to 100°C (which pretty much covers all of Earth’s climate except for extremely cold regions), the capacity of the air to hold water vapor increases by about 7% for every degree Celsius. The warmer the air, the more vapor it can hold.

And the air is overall getting warmer. We know that, too. There is no doubt.

One last factor: moist air is lighter and less dense than dry air. Thus it takes less energy to get it up to a given speed like, oh, say, 200 kilometers an hour. 125 miles an hour. That’s a Cat 3.

Now, climatologists don’t like to say global warming will cause more hurricanes, and that they will be stronger. Part of the reluctance stems for not being able to point to a time frame, and because climate is a massively complicated science, they are aware that feedback mechanisms can and almost certainly will affect any predictions they make—in either direction. So they don’t.

But I’m not a climatologist. And I’m not going to make a specific prediction.

But the science is clear: as global warming continues, the area that can support tropical storm formation will increase. With greater area to form, that means more storms. And because the water and the air are warmer, they will flourish. Tropical depressions will be more likely to become tropical storms, and tropical storms will be more likely to become hurricanes. And because they have more energy and more moisture, more monsters like Harvey and Irma will develop.

Scientists have to qualify their projections because some feedback mechanism they don’t know about might affect the climate. But without such an unknown mechanism, this is what will happen. No ifs, ands, or buts.

I understand why they take that approach, but in terms of day-to-day reality, they are, like the rest of us, in the position of a man standing in a pool of gasoline, tossing lit matches and hoping there is something overlooked in the chemical nature of gasoline that will prevent it from catching fire.

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Solstice 2016 – Hope in a Hopeless Year

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Solstice 2016 sunset, Santa Barbara California

Solstice 2016

Hope in a hopeless year

December 21st, 2016

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

 

Every year, I write a piece to coincide with the winter solstice. The theme, always, is that of hope. It’s always darkest before the cliché, the sun will return, so quit shivering and throw granny on the fire.

But this was 2016.

Big Deaths are supposed to come in threes, not thirties. In just this one year, we lost a sizable chunk of the people we admired, enjoyed, who enriched our lives with courage, or talent, or drive. They shaped us, perhaps made us a little bit better than we might have been. I could fill out the rest of the piece just naming the people who died we all wish were still with us. Mohammed Ali and Gordie Howe are dead, and Tucker Carlson is alive. Yes, Virginia, the Universe is fucking random.

They could have saved time and trouble by just lowering the flag to half-staff on January 1st (death of Dale Bumpers) and leaving it there until at least this week (John Glenn).

In America, the country has, in its past, seen fit to elect illiterates, morons, cutthoats, goosesteppers, egomaniacs, sex fiends and fascists. But until now, we’ve managed to avoid electing someone who combined all those features into one gruesome package.

Oh, wait. Americans did avoid electing him. But rigged elections in two or three states, plus the Electoral College, defeated the popular will. It’s a sign of things to come that in the month following the election, there were 1,200 hate crimes committed in Trump’s name—against transgendered, women, blacks, Moslems, and Jews. It didn’t matter who you are: if you aren’t white and male and Protestant, you are now at risk.

Then there’s the matter of Russian involvement in the election. A lot of people look at endless American efforts to stymie popular will in elections around the world and argue that turnabout is fair play, and perhaps it is. But this particular one has made the world a far more dangerous place for everyone.

Trump, or as I call him, President-Select Putnik the Putznik, was the cherry on a poisonberry pie.

Aleppo. Milan. Paris. Nice. Orlando. The Mexican Drug War. Yemen. The Kurds. Sinai. South Sudan. The Ukraine. Somalia. The Philippines (blessed with a vicious madman of their own). Boko Haram. And of course, George W. Bush’s ongoing legacies, Iraq and Afghanistan. Americans don’t like to discuss Iraq, hopefully out of a sense of shame. So most people don’t know there was a terror attack in Baghdad in the same month as the slaughter in Nice, but which killed four times as many people and injured three times as many. I’m sure the victims of such attacks in Iraq scream just as loudly, bleed just as profusely, and die just as horribly as the victims in France did. But Americans don’t count them, because they were the result of an American oopsie called Bush.

This was the year we realized that any hope of avoiding major damage from climate change was gone, and the best we could manage now was to try to avoid utter catastrophe. Naturally, our captains of industry spent billions trying to dissuade us from such precipitous action.

Northern California saw a crippling drought washed away by copious soaking rains as Southern California struggled with the Big Dry like a bug on a pin. But that was nothing compared to the climatic horrors visited on north Africa, large parts of Asia, and even the Arctic, which saw ice melting in November as the ice cap continued a death spiral. As vast as the damage humans have done to the environment is, climate change is on the verge of doing more damage than all the rest combined.

Things have gotten so bad that Putnik has upped his daily presidential briefings from one per week to three. He may even pay attention to some of them.

So no doubt about it, 2016 was an absolute shit year. It was a leap year which only prolonged the misery.

So how does all this tie in with a Solstice message? Is the message changing? Will I suggest you all run out and top yourselves because there’s nothing to be done for it?

Well, no.

The fact is, I lived through a year that was even shittier, and chances are quite a few of you did, too.

Remember? It was a year we elected a man that many believed was temperamentally and morally unqualified to be President. It was the year we learned the American military wasn’t invincible, but could get its collective ass kicked by a small country armed with fifty-year-old technology and lots of resolve. It was the year a major river caught fire, and the space program appeared dead in the water – or dead in the vacuum, if you will – following a catastrophe the year before. People were just beginning to wonder if it was really a good idea to burn leaded gasoline in cars. Two of the most important men in American history were assassinated.

Ah. The nickel just dropped, didn’t it? Yes, I’m talking about 1968. Kennedy and King were assassinated. Nixon was elected. The Tet Offensive made it clear that the war was not going well, and the government was lying—a lot—about what they were doing there.

You say the Chinese just seized an oceanographic drone and took two days to return it? In ’68, the North Koreans seized the USS Pueblo, and held it and its crew for nearly an entire year.

Putin and the Russians may be bad actors now, but 1968 saw brutal repression in Czechoslovakia, Russia sent nearly a quarter-million troops in to crush the “Prague Spring”.

A lot of people think that it wasn’t until after the Nixon resignation that the GOP decided ethics were for losers, but Nixon more than made up for any decency and honesty the GOP once possessed, impeding the Paris Peace Talks and boasting of a “secret plan” to end the war. Five years later and over a million deaths passed, he reached an agreement with Hanoi that was the very same terms he sabotaged in 1968.

Disgusted by the behavior of state police and armed corporate thugs at Standing Rock? You should have seen Mayor Daley’s pigs in action. Journalists called it a police riot. This was back in the days when the talking heads on TV were actual journalists, and not just overpaid fascist clowns.

Somebody even shot Andy Warhol.

There were differences. We didn’t have nearly as many mass shooting back then, but the overall murder rate was far higher. The Black Panthers were a lot angrier and more strident than Black Lives Matter, unfortunately for the same sad reasons that confront BLM today.

We did have several terrifyingly close calls with an intercontinental thermonuclear war, but we didn’t learn about those until much later.

NASA chose to have a capsule with a pure oxygen atmosphere and thousands of yards of electrical wiring. The resultant inferno barbequed three astronauts on the launching pad during a live exercise. A year later, people were still wondering if the space program could recover.

Yeah, 1968 sucked. I posit it was worse than 2016, although I admit our outlook now at year’s end is grimmer than it was in 1968.

In December, two brighter signs appeared that year. Unemployment dropped to 3.3% (as is often the case, the country prospers during Democratic administrations, and this unemployment level was reached after a 10% rise in federal taxes and a boost in the minimum wage.)Finally, on the Solstice of that year, Apollo 8 was launched to orbit the moon and take a picture that forever changed how we saw our world. Two months later Standard Oil would paint the beaches of Santa Barbara black, and this would forever change how we cared for our world.

We survived 1968. We may have been a bit more tired, a bit more cynical, a bit worn around the edges, but we survived. Kids born that year learned to dream just as kids had before. The wounds healed.

We don’t have great economic news or Apollo 8, but there are signs of hope. If Trump doesn’t destroy us, he’ll destroy the plutocracy and the system of lies and corruption that put him in office. Yes, it will boil down to us or him.

There was good news in sports. The Cubs finally made the World Series, and won in an incredibly dramatic world series. The Cleveland Indians were equally deserving. Maybe next year, Cleveland. In the meantime, enjoy your NBA championship. Oh, and next time you get in the World Series, have Charlie Sheen throw out the first pitch. You know what music to play.

In the Premier League, Leicester City won for the first time since…oh, never. Founded in 1884, they had made the finals four times over those 131 years, only to be turned away each time. Meanwhile, just to show some symmetry, in the Canadian Football League (Motto: more yards per down needed) we saw a third year team, the Ottawa Rouge et Noir, win the championship, having appeared in it twice in their three years of existence. That’s a bit like seeing the eight year old who absolutely butchered “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” on the triangle in rehearsal get a scholarship to Juilliard because someone else made a typo on their application. For Juilliard, the kid played it in a way that would make Mozart groan in envy.

Lost in the political miasma are the amazing scientific advances and discoveries. If we survive our leadership, people will live longer, healthier, and with an amazing access to all the world’s knowledge—assuming they don’t sewerdip in the slime of fake news instead.

We survived 1968, a year of horrors.

We’ll survive 2016. I believe that.

Don’t lose hope. Never lose hope.
1968 chronology available at:

http://cds.library.brown.edu/projects/1968/reference/timeline.html

Return to Oz: In Australia, $7.75 an hour is for children

Return to Oz

In Australia, $7.75 an hour is for children

 

© Bryan Zepp Jamieson

February 26th 2013

 

About 18 months ago, I wrote about Australia’s minimum wage laws, and with Congress poised to reject out of hand a presidential suggestion that the minimum wage should be raised to $9 an hour in the world’s richest country, it’s time to revisit Australia.

I wrote at the time, “Australia passed the Fair Work Act of 2009, which took effect in the form of the National Employment Standards on January 1, 2010. The act covers roughly 2/3rds of Australia’s workers (about 27% of the workforce are deemed “casual workers” defined by a tautology; they are called casual workers because they are paid as casual workers). Some of the provisions are, by American standards, utterly amazing.”

The minimum wage was $569.90 per week, then. Now it’s $606.40, based on a 38 hour work week, or $15.96 an hour. “Casual employees” (part timers) get a minimum of $21.66 an hour, which encourages employers to hire full-time workers and save money.

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Astrosmash – Space is out to get us

Astrosmash

Space is out to get us

 

© Bryan Zepp Jamieson

February 15th, 2013

OK, it’s official. The ZNN news service has just announced that this morning’s meteoroid strike in Chelyabinsk, Russia, has knocked earth off its axis, with the result that the south pole will be constantly facing directly toward the sun. No more sunrises and sunsets.

But it’s a moot point, because it also knocked the earth out of orbit, and it is now receding from the sun. Folks are advised to exhale as much as they can in order to increase the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere so we can stay warm. It’s a little-understood factoid that CO2 actually warms the air. Radioactive chemical reactions or something.

But that’s not important. Earth may be spiraling out of control toward the stars, some of which are a surprisingly long way away, but it’s going to collide with Pluto. That will warm us up. That’s the good news. But it will kill anything left alive after the mutant space radiation sickness.

Oh, did I forget to mention the mutant space radiation sickness? The meteorite had radioactive space germs on it, some sort of space flu but with plutonium, and it’s going to drive us all insane. We will believe in Republican economic policies, with the result that 99% of us will starve before we hit Pluto. That’s the not-so-good news.

Be sure to pass this along to any NRA survivalists you know. They’ll immediately spend the next three months in caves and remote cabins shivering in fear until their food runs out, and be out of our hair for a while. By the time they reappear, naked, shivering, and no longer toilet trained, Chelyabinsk will have fixed up the damages done by the meteoroid (mostly broken windows) and hopefully all the injured will have made full recoveries.

 

What happened there isn’t really that uncommon. Earth gets hit by objects that size two or three times a century on average. Most hit in uninhabited regions, in the oceans or in the millions of square miles where humans are sparse or nonexistent, such as the polar regions or the Sahara. A bigger explosion, generally believed to be a meteor strike, hit in Siberia in 1908. We know about it because the sound traveled half-way around the world, and because we later discovered several hundred miles of forest that had been flattened by the blast. Nobody was hurt in that one.

Oh, darn. I just gave away the whole plot of my next novel. Oh, well. I did it for science.

This meteor will get far more attention (and panic) than that far bigger one just 105 years ago, because hundreds of video cameras caught it, and because people were hurt—about 1,000 people, mostly by flying broken glass—and because at least one building suffered major structural damage.

The strike did beat some pretty impressive odds anyway. Everyone was watching an asteroid that passed within 17,500 miles of earth this morning, at 1125 PST. By astronomical standards, that’s frighteningly close. Think of it being like having a 50-caliber round nick your earlobe. Disconcerting.

The odds of two such events at once have to be in the range of billions to one. Indeed, my immediate response was the belief that this had to be a preceding outrigger of 2012DA14, the asteroid in question. It’s not too unusual for asteroids to have clusters of other, smaller rocks around them. But Russia was on the wrong side of the planet at the time, and in the wrong hemisphere. Analysis of the meteoroid showed that it came from an entirely different direction. Completely unrelated.

What are the odds of such events in one day? Billions to one.

I felt a chill when I heard that it struck in Chelyabinsk. That was the locale of what at the time was the world’s worst nuclear accident (since exceeded by Chernobyl and Fukushima) at the top-secret Soviet plant at Mayak. It didn’t hit in any of the irradiated areas, and other nuclear plants in the region report no significant problems, so it’s ok to exhale again.

We’ve known for the better part of a century now that the solar system is something of a shooting gallery. We’ve come from disbelieving that stones could fall from the sky to realizing that not only are many features of the Moon and Mars the result of objects striking them, but that quite a few of our own planet’s features are the result of such strikes. Oh, and one big strike sixty-six million years ago is why we don’t have any dinosaurs about. We’ve had the strike in Siberia, and more recently, the spectacular collision between parts of the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet and Jupiter which resulted in earth-sized explosions on the giant planet’s face. Something else hit Jupiter just six months ago with the force of a large nuclear weapon. We still don’t know what that was all about.

Most of the debris in space that might hit us lies between us and the sun. We know it’s there, and we track some of the bigger ones that we know about. Chances are for every one we know about, there’s thousands we haven’t spotted yet. Space is big. Even the space scopes—Hubble, Kepler, and this year’s Gaia—can only cover a tiny fraction of one percent of the sky at any given moment, so they aren’t likely to notice an object big enough to do damage, like this morning’s. Or even something bigger. The one that hit this morning was from inside our orbit. They are hard to predict over a long period of time because as they pass near Mercury, Venus, or Earth, that affects their orbits, and they affect one another in small but sometimes significant amounts.

What are the odds of something really big hitting us, say in the next ten years?

Millions to one against.

But the odds of the two events happening on the same day were even more stacked, more improbable. That should make anyone pause to consider.

We need to work on a more comprehensive way of tracking near earth objects. We might not be able to do anything about something really big that comes our way, but we can deflect smaller stuff that is big enough to cause significant damage.

And we need to keep working to get humans off earth and on other planets. As Heinlein said over half a century ago, we can’t keep on just keeping all our eggs in one basket.

Today’s events show that high odds don’t preclude the possibility that we may be the universe’s next omelet.

SOTU 2013 – Obama brings it

SOTU 2013

Obama brings it

© Bryan Zepp Jamieson

February 12, 2013

I nearly skipped watching the State of the Union speech tonight. They are usually perfunctory affairs, filled with partisan bragging and dutiful applause, wherein a bored-looking president recites that the state of the union is good and we really need to solve some problems, and the members of his party applaud while those in the opposing party sit on their hands and look stern. Like far too many elements of the marketing-driven politics of America, it has become something of a kabuki dance, as formal and as scripted as an 8th century Japanese play. Meetings of the old Soviet politburo must have been like this.

Additionally, I’m still disgusted over the assassination memo. Not much in the way of decent human values there. Is Obama nothing more than a mirror reflection of Vladimir Putin or Wen Jiabao? A thug, posturing as a statesman?

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“Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation”

“Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation”

He looked at me funny. Kill him.

 

© Bryan Zepp Jamieson

February 5th, 2013

 

Back on February 19. 1942, Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing police to round up and throw American citizens into concentration camps because one or more of their ancestors came from Japan.

Even the most fervent admirers of FDR regard this as a shameful blot on his record, a moment of weakness and cowardice from a man who assured the nation it had nothing to fear but fear itself. It was illegal, it was immoral, and it violated the very heart of the Bill of Rights.

There aren’t many apologists around these days for that action, but the few that remain argue that America was facing the greatest threat of her existence from Japan and Germany, and what’s more, those countries had concentration camps and things far worse than concentration camps. That’s true: Hitler and Japan were huge threats, they were utterly vile, and they represented a standard that America was expected to exceed. For the hundred thousand plus Americans who were locked up indefinitely without trial, their property seized and their lives ruined, “We’re not as bad as Hitler” must have seemed scant comfort. In 1943, in a photo-op that would have made Joseph Goebbels moan in envy (and probably did) Eleanor Roosevelt allowed herself to be photographed at the Gila River concentration camp, where she paid a “surprise” visit, surrounded by clean, well-dressed, beaming concentration camp inmates.

That shameful time brings us to 2011, and a 16-page memo entitled “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen Who Is a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qaeda or An Associated Force.” Basically, this document lays out an Obama policy that anyone accused by the administration of being a member of or supporting al-Qaeda or any other group that scares the administration can be assassinated.

The government can kill anyone they accuse of being involved with the wrong people. They don’t need proof. They don’t need evidence. Just an accusation by any high administration official will do. The order goes out, and the accused dies. In fact, in Yemen, Obama has taken up killing off children of the accused, just in case. They killed an American in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki, and then they targeted and killed his 16 year old boy, because a teenage orphan four thousand miles away has to be at least as big a threat to America as the Japanese Navy, or the Nazi U-boats.

That the administration had been targeting and killing people based on gossip, who may or may not be members of outfits that don’t like America, has been pretty well known. Some were Americans. But the administration had always denied that any formal decision to do this had ever been made, and that the deaths were more or less incidental to larger, more legal policies.

They claimed there was no memo. They lied. NBC published it yesterday. http://msnbcmedia.msn.com/i/msnbc/sections/news/020413_DOJ_White_Paper.pdf

The paper is a frightening document, at least as terrifying as the Nuremberg Laws of 1935. It simply states that based on the unsupported opinion of any senior member of Obama’s administration, they have the right to murder you without warning, let alone without due process. And they can kill your family, too. There’s no “minimum requirement.” That’s explicitly stated right at the beginning. The administration needs NO threshold to decide that you must die. If they feel like it, you’re dead, your house blown up by a drone. Just like that. Just by writing this, I might meet that fate.

In amazing verbiage, the memo calmly states that it does not violate international or American law, including laws against assassination. It asserts that the administration has a constitutional mandate to protect Americans by murdering some of them. Just enough to set an example, you understand.

It uses “imminence” as a rationale, the same ruling that permits a police officer to use lethal force if a suspect presents an immediate and real threat to bystanders. It’s a well known fact, of course, that police never overstep this directive and exceed their authority. And politicians are even more moral and circumspect than police. Therefore abuse is inconceivable.

You did know that, right?

The document attempts to figleaf itself by iterating that it must be on foreign soil that these assassinations are carried out. It’s hard to understand how some clown with a bazooka can be an imminent threat to the security of the United States when he’s four thousand miles away. “Foreign soil” – wink, wink, nod, nod, a wink’s as good as a nod to a blind drone, eh?

The document goes on to justify itself by citing Supreme Court decisions, Geneva Convention rules, international and national laws, almost as if any of these things did justify this policy. In fact, none of them do. Not even the ones that deal with treatment of foreign soldiers and other adversaries during conditions of declared war.

This document lays bare the utter moral, ethical and legal depravity behind the so-called “war on terror.” It shows the cowardice and fear that informs US efforts to deal with people who don’t like America and might throw rocks. It is shameful, as shameful as the incarcerations in World War II, as shameful as My Lai or Andersonville.

It’s a disgrace to America, and it’s a disgrace to Obama.

Obama must renounce and abjure this document and the policy it represents, and he must do it now.

If he cannot, he doesn’t belong in the White House. He belongs in prison as a war criminal.

 

Decline and Fall

Decline and Fall

Some nations do it better than others

 

© Bryan Zepp Jamieson

February 3rd 2013

 

One of the huge advantages of the Internet is that you can, with little effort, read foreign media and talk directly to people abroad and get opinions that are often much franker than you would get if you were speaking to the person face to face. (The downside to that is obvious and well-known. But many people don’t realize there’s some good things in that, too.)

An amazing number of people in America still believe that America remains a shining beacon of liberty to the world, an amazing experiment in self-governance that made America the richest and freest country on Earth. You hear this especially in the immigration debate, where it’s assumed that millions stream across the border each year in order to take advantage of the good life that America offers to all.

Seen from the outside, the vision of what 21st century America is is entirely different.

For starters, it isn’t even called “America.” It’s “The US”, “The States” or sometimes, “The USA”. Even people kindly deposed towards this country see it without the filter of decades of propaganda and flag-waving, and they certainly don’t see it as an expression of God’s will. (No sensible American does either, but that’s another story.)

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