Randall Munroe Is On The Case

Posted November 12, 2014 by Tom
Categories: astronomy, Science

Tags:

Just to add to the deliciousness of the day, xkcd is more or less live-cartooning the Rosetta landing on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.* (h/t @edyong209)

Nothing in my day promises to be as challenging/exciting as what that craft (and its controllers) are doing.  You?

Robert_Salmon_-_South_Sea_Whale_Fishing_II

*That link is a little wonky.  If the cartoon (number 1446) doesn’t come up, click on the random button at the top, and then click again on the xkcd logo.  Sorry.)

Image:  Robert Salmon (how cool is it that a whale-fishery artist goes by the name Salmon?), South Sea Whale Fishing II, 1831.  Connection to this post made obvious at the xkcd link, btw.

 

They Are Who We Thought They Were (Republicans And Their War On Our Kids)

Posted November 11, 2014 by Tom
Categories: climate, Republican knavery

Tags: , ,

Republican priorities are — not “becoming,” because they always were — clear. Facing the one unequivocal existential threat to the American way of life (for starters) over the next century, here’s the GOP response to the oncoming rush of human-caused global warming:

The new Republican Congress is headed for a clash with the White House over two ambitious Environmental Protection Agencyregulations that are the heart of President Obama’s climate change agenda.

Senator Mitch McConnell, the next majority leader, has already vowed to fight the rules, which could curb planet-warming carbon pollution but ultimately shut down coal-fired power plants in his native Kentucky. Mr. McConnell and other Republicans are, in the meantime, stepping up their demands that the president approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to carry petroleum from Canadian oil sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

At this point, Republicans do not have the votes to repeal the E.P.A. regulations, which will have far more impact on curbing carbon emissions than stopping the pipeline, but they say they will use their new powers to delay, defund and otherwise undermine them. Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, a prominent skeptic of climate change and the presumed new chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is expected to open investigations into the E.P.A., call for cuts in its funding and delay the regulations as long as possible.

Just to update your scorecard, here’s what the latest IPCC report confirms is at stake:

i) Risk of death, injury, ill-health, or disrupted livelihoods in low-lying coastal zones and small island developing states and other small islands, due to storm surges, coastal flooding, and sea level rise.37 [RFC 1-5]

ii) Risk of severe ill-health and disrupted livelihoods for large urban populations due to inland flooding in some regions.38 [RFC 2 and 3]

iii) Systemic risks due to extreme weather events leading to breakdown of infrastructure networks and critical services such as electricity, water supply, and health and emergency services.39 [RFC 2-4]

iv) Risk of mortality and morbidity during periods of extreme heat, particularly for vulnerable urban populations and those working outdoors in urban or rural areas.40 [RFC 2 and 3]

v) Risk of food insecurity and the breakdown of food systems linked to warming, drought, flooding, and precipitation variability and extremes, particularly for poorer populations in urban and rural settings.41 [RFC 2-4]

vi) Risk of loss of rural livelihoods and income due to insufficient access to drinking and irrigation water and reduced agricultural productivity, particularly for farmers and pastoralists with minimal capital in semi-arid regions.42 [RFC 2 and 3]

vii) Risk of loss of marine and coastal ecosystems, biodiversity, and the ecosystem goods, functions, and services they provide for coastal livelihoods, especially for fishing communities in the tropics and the Arctic.43 [RFC 1, 2, and 4]

viii) Risk of loss of terrestrial and inland water ecosystems, biodiversity, and the ecosystem goods, functions, and services they provide for livelihoods.44 [RFC 1, 3, and 4]

Many key risks constitute particular challenges for the least developed countries and vulnerable communities, given their limited ability to cope.

 

In case those near-term consequences aren’t motivation enough, consider the IPCC’s view of the longer term:

Hieronymus_Bosch_-_The_Fall_of_the_Rebel_Angels_(obverse)_-_WGA2572

Increasing magnitudes of warming increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts. Some risks of climate change are considerable at 1 or 2°C above preindustrial levels (as shown in Assessment Box SPM.1). Global climate change risks are high to very high with global mean temperature increase of 4°C or more above preindustrial levels in all reasons for concern (Assessment Box SPM.1), and include severe and widespread impacts on unique and threatened systems, substantial species extinction, large risks to global and regional food security, and the combination of high temperature and humidity compromising normal human activities, including growing food or working outdoors in some areas for parts of the year (high confidence). The precise levels of climate change sufficient to trigger tipping points (thresholds for abrupt and irreversible change) remain uncertain, but the risk associated with crossing multiple tipping points in the earth system or in interlinked human and natural systems increases with rising temperature (medium confidence).

There is hope, or would be, given smart climate policy — really, almost any climate policy

The overall risks of climate change impacts can be reduced by limiting the rate and magnitude of climate change. Risks are reduced substantially under the assessed scenario with the lowest temperature projections (RCP2.6 – low emissions) compared to the highest temperature projections (RCP8.5 – high emissions), particularly in the second half of the 21st century (very high confidence). Reducing climate change can also reduce the scale of adaptation that might be required…

But, of course, such an approach — reducing the impact of climate change by controlling carbon emissions, while planning for a higher-carbon future —  is precisely what the Republican party has vowed to block.

My son was born in 2000.  in 2050, at the threshold of that second half of his century, he’ll face the world we make for him now.  The Republican party is conspiring with their paymasters in ways that will make his world significantly worse than the one our parents’ generation left for us.  Potentially — see Oreskes and Conway on this — it could be horrifically degraded, my son and his generation and their kids confronting catastrophic failures in the systems that make modern life go.

Obviously, this means that despite the wretched feelings that remain from last Tuesday’s debacle, we gotta keep fighting.  We need the Presidency in 2016, and as much of the Senate as we can claw back — and, perhaps more important, all those local and regional governments in which it is possible to attempt global-warming policy jurisdiction by jurisdiction.  A hard slog.  But necessary.

At the same time, I do have one question:  Why do Republicans hate their children so?

Image:  Hieronymous Bosch, Hell (the world before the flood) — panel from the Fall of thRebel Angels triptych,

La Lucha Continua…With A Sideways Reason To Keep Fighting From The (A) Good Doctor

Posted November 6, 2014 by Tom
Categories: poetry, rare sincerity, The Good Fight, What I'm Reading Now, words mattter

Tags: , ,

Serendipity works sometimes.  My friend David Dobbs publishes a near-daily newsletter of three or four fascinating essays or articles to read.  (You can sign up here.) Today he took me to a writer I’ve only occasionally glanced at in the past, Sadie Stein, (may have to change that)  for a piece that comes to a climax with a vision of a young, fictionalized Joyce Carol Oates, TA-ing her first class.  Trust me; it’s worth a look. (It’s over at the Paris Observer, itself a venue I chance upon more than seek out — might want to change that too.)

Contemplating the various joys of full-body immersion in student fiction was fun, enough so that I clicked through to Stein’s archive, and there, just below the bon-bon of a post to which David had directed me, I came upon her entry for Tuesday.  Mostly (though not entirely) she hands the microphone over to William Carlos Williams, and a poem, which, thus acknowledged, I herewith steal:

Election Day

Warm sun, quiet air

an old man sits

in the doorway of
a broken house–

boards for windows
plaster falling

from between the stones
and strokes the head

of a spotted dog

George_Wesley_Bellows_-_Man_and_Dog_(1905)

The dog and the man deserve better.  The struggle continues. It will not end easily, as Tuesday’s results remind us.  But to mix references and speakers of very different histories, the arc of the moral universe is long.  But that we can conceive of the idea of justice allows us to bend that arc towards the just end.  (And yes, I’m feeling my Anselm just a bit today.)

Image:  George Wesley BellowsMan and Dog, 1905.

No. Those Clothes Don’t Make You Look Thin

Posted November 4, 2014 by Tom
Categories: ridicule, The Way We Live Now

Tags:

I’ve been saving this for a day when we need some comic relief.  Seems like this might be one.

About a month ago, the FTC cracked down on a product I had no hint could possibly exist. (Get offa my lawn!)

That would be caffeinated underpants.

No.  Really.

“The revolutionary new anti-cellulite iPant from Wacoal. …embedded microcapsules combine the best selection of active ingredients: caffeine, retinol, ceramides, vitamin E, fatty acids and aloe vera. Caffeine is a renowned active slimming agent that promotes fat destruction.”

The Norm Thompson online catalog has already been expunged of all claims of weight loss, but from the FTC documents:

Take up to 2” off hips and 1” off thighs in just weeks. The shapewear’s secret?  Caffeine. . . . Caffeine helps break down fat; botanicals flush out toxins.

Gustave_Courbet_-_The_Wrestlers_-_Google_Art_Project

Alas.  Obama’s jackbooted thugs over at the Federal Trade Commission have no respect for the genius of the free market:

The FTC…ruled that the trials relied upon to make these claims were faulty: they were unblinded, had no controls, and even then didn’t produce the results claimed.  After 28 days of wearing caffeinated britches, the average hip circumference reduction was less than 0.166 of an inch; the average reported thigh reduction was 0.125 of an inch.

Or, in blunter terms:

“Caffeine-infused shapewear is the latest ‘weight-loss’ brew concocted by marketers,” Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection said. “If someone says you can lose weight by wearing the clothes they are selling, steer clear.”

Words to live by.*

The two companies cited in the FTC complaint are paying smallish fines and ceasing and desisting.  As the Wired article linked above notes, however, there are other companies cockroaches out there selling this same scam.  There will be suckers.

With that, this thread — it is open.

*Not unlike this advice: If some Republican tells you they can raise revenue by cutting taxes, steer clear.

What — you thought I could avoid all politics today?

Image:  Gustave Courbet, The Wrestlers,  1853

 

Monty Python Was A Documentary

Posted October 31, 2014 by Tom
Categories: Music, Philosophy, The Way We Lived Then

Tags: ,

At least — those bits of mockumentary they’d sneak into the circus (think Kray brothers) may have to be reevaluated in light of the intro to this bit of (astonishing) rock history:

Have to say — I never knew about Clapton’s secret past as a stained glass designer.  But that narrator intro is a thing of beauty and a joy forever.  “The Cream” — priceless.

Condsider this my halloween treat to you.

Not Even Trying To Hide It

Posted October 30, 2014 by Tom
Categories: bad behavior, Republican follies, Republican knavery

Tags: , ,

Via TPM – Lindsay Graham (R-Who Can We Bomb Today) tells the one true beating heart of the GOP exactly what it wants to hear.  Speaking to the all-male, seemingly all-pale Hibernian Society fo Charleston SC, the Senator forgot a fundamental truth of modern politics:  there is no such thing as a private speech anymore.  Or maybe he just doesn’t care.  Whatever, here’s Lindsay, letting his freak flag fly:

“If I get to be president, white men who are in male-only clubs are going to do great in my presidency,” Graham says …as the audience laughs. (h/t Twitteratus @GrooveSDC)

Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_092

Leave aside the cosmic delusion there — is there any geographical location outside the confines of his head in which any sentient being thinks Graham could be elected president? — the glory and horror of this confirmed-by-audio (head over to TPM for a listen) lies with its utter, transparent, total honesty.  Graham speaks the core Republican truth.  The people they server are rich white men.  Full stop.

Please proceed, senator:

“I’ve tried to help you with your tax status,” the senator says in another recording. “I’m sorry the government’s so f*cked up.”

Because, of course, the only thing that the United States government really exists to do is to make sure rich white guys  capture more money.

Friends don’t let friends vote Republican.

Ever.

Oh — and one more thing:  if there is any remaining deluded teahadist out there who thought until now that the movement really had a chance to reclaim the GOP for the values of some mythic better America, you can apologize to the rest of us anytime.

Image:  Rembrandt van Rijn, Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild, 1661.

Annals of “If Anyone Was Offended” — Post-Racial America Edition

Posted October 29, 2014 by Tom
Categories: bad ideas, Race

Tags: , ,

Via TPM I came across this repulsive story:

Officials have confirmed that an offensive Halloween display at a Fort Campbell residence has been removed.

A ClarksvilleNow.com reader sent a photo of the display, which shows what appears to be a black family hanging from a tree in a yard on Litwin St.

The child in the display has a knife in its back and one of the figures holds a sign that is not legible in the photo.

Officials at the base got in touch with the resident, and, as reported,

[Public Affairs spokesperson Brendalyn] Carpenter said it was her understanding that the display was not intended to be offensive, but authorities deemed it could be interpreted as such.

Zero_Hour-_the_Mareth_Offensive,_1943._Cameron_Highlanders_Art.IWMARTLD3398

Pretty on-target deeming there, I’d say.

The display itself is ne plus ultra of the insult here — but that “not intended to be offensive” is in some ways the longer knife.  That someone could  say that is at once a display of enormous contempt for those who know what that little tableau actually means, and, if it were in any way a sincere expression of someone’s regret, testimony to the “airborne toxic event” quality of 21st century racism.  How much awful stuff does one have to simply accept as the natural order of things to be unable to  see that putting up a lynching diorama in your front yard is the work of a thug, a vicious and actually threatening act.

Worst of all:  this is done in the context of Halloween, which means whoever did this was ok with a bunch of little kids — many of them (army base and all) African American — walking by.

But, of course, John Roberts with his co-conspirators have told us that race is no longer an issue in this country, and he is an honorable man. So are they all honorable men….

Image: Jack Chaddock,  Zero Hour- the Mareth Offensive, 1943. Cameron Highlanders1943.  I have to admit that I was at a loss as to how to illustrate this post.  What image captures without celebrating the wretchedness?  So I’ve opted for this:  how to be offensive intentionally.


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