Archive for 2011 August

Congress cuts weather satellite funding in disastrous year

The weather in these United States has been truly frightful in the last couple of years, as this graph — provided to Congress with testimony from NOAA administrator Kathryn Sullivan last month — illustrates:

[The graph shows the number of events from last year, but this year will be worse, Sullivan said]

Yet as the demand for longer term forecasts, which are based on satellite observations, skyrockets, Congress is cutting back on the budget for satellite platforms. Sullivan warned:

Polar-orbiting satellites are the backbone of all model forecasts at three days and beyond; however, the launch of the next generation of NOAA's polar-orbiting satellites, the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), has been delayed by the FY 2011 appropriations process. As a result, NOAA is faced with a nearly 100% chance of a data gap in the U.S. civilian polar orbit, on which both civilian and military users rely, by late 2016 to early 2017 when the current polar satellites reach the end of their life expectancy. JPSS is a critical part of NOAA's future infrastructure needed to continue our path of forecast improvement – and to maintain what we have built over the last 30 years.

Specifically, the administration asked Congress for more money for NOAA and related satellite observation programs, about $6.5 billion, and instead Congress cut a little less than a billion from the budget, leaving the overall budget at about $4.5 billion.

NOAA chief Jane Lubchenko is not happy, and says that already the U.S. will be without a polar orbiting satellite for at least 18 months, starting in 2016. 

“Whether the gap is longer than that depends on whether we get the money”— $1 billion — “in the next budget,” warned Dr. Lubchenco, an environmental scientist. “I would argue that these satellites are critically important to saving lives and property and to enabling homeland security.”

Congress isn't listening; in fact, the GOP wants to fund disaster relief only if matching cuts can be made elsewhere, and may force victims of disasters in the Mid-West to wait as Hurricane Irene victims get immediate help, according to a front-page story in today's Los Angeles Times


But don't worry! Insiders agree: The GOP is the anti-science party. Er, not

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America’s top climatologist arrested at White House

Wish I could have been there to report on the tar sands protests, but…


Solve Climate News: What is motivating you to travel to the White House and risk arrest?

James Hansen: Einstein said to think and not act is a crime. If we understand the situation, we must try to make it clear. I decided six or seven years ago that I did not want my grandchildren to look back in the future and say "Opa understood what was happening, but he didn't make it clear."

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Hurricane Irene disappoints jaded New Yorkers

In the aftermath of the hurricane, came complaints about hype: Was Hurricane Irene a disappointment? 

Media analyst Howard Kurtz says yes. After all, Irene wasn't even a hurricane when it made landfall in NYC. Other New Yorkers are equally dismissive: A NYC gossip site called Irene The Sudden Sex Celebrity without Much Bang. Scallywag wrote: 

she’ll more than likely be the sexy hot dame that tantalized us and left us a smidgen disappointed that we didn’t get to experience the type of rude shock that we were told to look out for.

An anonymous texter had a similarly sexualized reaction to the storm: 

Last night in my drunkenness I bought hurricane supplies which included a jug of wine and a bouquet of flowers. Apparently I'm going to woo Irene. 

Even Susan Orlean, The New Yorker writer, saw the storm as beddable (on Facebook). 

If Irene were my boyfriend, I'd say enough with the foreplay, dude. The moment has passed. 

But Orlean, who is funny, was kidding. Her coworker Elizabeth Kolbert, after surveying the science on the did global warming cause Irene question? pointed out what needed to be said

When we add all of these risk factors together, we can say with a great deal of confidence that in the future, there will be more and more events like Irene. We can comfort ourselves by saying that this particular storm was not necessarily caused by global warming. Or we can acknowledge the truth, which is that we are making the world a more dangerous place and, what’s more, that we know it.

Maybe if Kolbert was looking at the natural world through the TV screen, for entertainment. she'd react differently. 

Hurricane Irene 2011: Weather Channel Streaker Disrupts Coverage (VIDEO)

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How to handle a hurricane: Katherine Hepburn

Back when stars were stars, and knew how to deal. 

1938 - Katharine Hepburn in Hurricane Wreckage-thumb-500x705-38946

From Roger Ebert's ever-surprising Journal and Twitter feed. 

[Note: pick taken after the l938 hurricane that devastated Long Island.] 

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Please Hear This: African song of the year

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to interview Lesley Clark, the artist and philanthropist known for her great work with nomadic tribes such as the Wodaabe and the Tuareg. 

She's having her annual "North African market" sale this Saturday at her gallery, with a presentation with the doctor who oversees the medical clinic she founded, a film, and other attractions, I am going myself; these tribespeople make some elegant things, and live, it seems, lives of a great stark beauty. 

This area of Niger, in central Saharan Africa, thousands of miles from the Horn of Africa, where a famine is gathering, but it suffered a famine of its own just five years ago, Clark said, and has been plagued by internal conflicts, along with threats of terrorism, uranium mining, and conflicts with nearby states. Ironically, as a result of the need young men feel to defend themselves, and take up arms if necessary, music has become a means of communication, and its led to a profusion of new bands. 

Anyhow! This is the best song you will hear from Arica this year. Okay? 

02 Amidinine 1

This is the band Tidawt, a Taureg group of three nomads, who really do live come from the Sahara, I understand, but since l994 have played concerts at Paris and around the world, including stints with Mickey Hart, and have toured with the Rolling Stones. 


If I'm wrong about the awesomeness of this song you must tell me, because your song will be utterly jaw-dropping, and I will want to hear it. 

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Nakedness and freedom, by a playwright and a poet

Before he became a famous writer, while living at home and working a menial job under the thumb of his cruel father, Tennessee Williams dreamed of freedom. He wrote: 

Now I’m back “home”. Which isn’t quite true. The world is my home. That is what I’ve just found out… but just the same I’ve got to stay here or so it seems and being here is very miserable. I hate brick and concrete and the hissing of garden hoses. I hate streets with demure or sedate little trees and the awful screech of trolley wheels and polite, constrained city voices. I want hills and valleys and lakes and forests around me! I want to lie dreaming and naked in the sun! I want to be free and have freedom all around me. I don’t want anything tight or limiting or constrained. 

How curiously similar this vision of freedom is to an idea found in a wonderful new poem by Jane Hirschfield, one of the best poets in the country today, arguably, and in person a demure, quiet presence:    

I Ran Out Naked in the Sun

I ran out naked
in the sun
and who could blame me
who could blame

the day was warm

I ran out naked
in the rain
and who could blame me
who could blame

the storm

I leaned toward sixty
that day almost done
it thundered

I wanted more I
shouted More
and who could blame me
who could blame

had been before

could blame me
that I wanted more

Jane Hirshfield

[From a new book called Come, Thief, via Poetry Daily]

Perhaps nakedness in the sun is freedom, pure and simple. 

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Jeff Masters: Irene on track to hit New York City

Dr. Jeff Masters:

Irene is forecast to move to the northwest, passing over the northwest Bahamas by Thursday evening, then curving to the northeast. Irene then makes landfall in the US near or at the Outer Banks Saturday afternoon, then traveling along the mid-Atlantic coastline of the US. Sunday, Irene may make secondary landfall anywhere from New Jersey to Long Island and the southern New England coastline. In my opinion, New York City may be significantly impacted by Irene. It is also important to note that the windfield of Irene is expected to be large, affecting areas distant from the immediate track of Irene's center. Tropical storm forces winds are expected to be found out to at least 150 miles away from Irene's center on Friday afternoon.

NHC is forecasting for Irene to become a Category 4 storm (winds faster than 130 mph) by Thursday morning.


The storm surge (rise in water) could be 10-15 feet, Masters warns, which would put a good deal of lower Manhattan under the surface. 

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Gladwell: Owning an NBA team like owning a Van Gogh

From a fascinating new longform site devoted mostly to sports, Grantland, the famous analyst and writer Malcolm Gladwell argues

Pro sports teams are a lot like works of art. Forbes magazine annually estimates the value of every professional franchise, based on standard financial metrics like operating expenses, ticket sales, revenue, and physical assets like stadiums. When sports teams change hands, however, the actual sales price is invariably higher. Forbes valued the Detroit Pistons at $360 million. They just sold for $420 million. Forbes valued the Wizards at $322 million. They just sold for $551 million. Forbes said that the Warriors were worth $363 million. They just sold for $450 million. There are a number of reasons why the Forbes number is consistently too low. The simplest is that Forbes is evaluating franchises strictly as businesses. But they are being bought by people who care passionately about sports — and the $90 million premium that the Warriors' new owners were willing to pay represents the psychic benefit of owning a sports team. If that seems like a lot, it shouldn't. There aren't many NBA franchises out there, and they are very beautiful.

The best illustration of psychic benefits is the art market. Art collectors buy paintings for two reasons. They are interested in the painting as an investment — the same way they would view buying stock in General Motors. And they are interested in the painting as a painting — as a beautiful object. In a recent paper in Economics Bulletin, the economists Erdal Atukeren and Aylin Seçkin used a variety of clever ways to figure out just how large the second psychic benefit is, and they put it at 28 percent.7 In other words, if you pay $100 million for a Van Gogh, $28 million of that is for the joy of looking at it every morning. If that seems like a lot, it shouldn't. There aren't many Van Goghs out there, and they are very beautiful.

Gladwell goes on to argue that NBA owners should be happy with the psychic benefits of their teams, and not expect them to make money on a day in and day out basis, but a San Antonio sportswriter doesn't buy it, and knows the NBA owners won't either.    

Gladwell concludes that an NBA owner is losing money “only if he values the psychic benefits of owning an NBA franchise at zero — and if you value psychic benefits at zero, then you shouldn’t own an NBA franchise in the first place. You should sell your ‘business’— at what is sure to be a healthy premium — to someone who actually likes basketball.”

But Gladwell makes no allowance for the economic upheaval of 2008 disrupting the dynamics of psychic benefit theory. Some NBA owners who love basketball just as much as Cuban have been badly buffeted by the recession. The owners of some of the 22 teams reported to have lost money last season no longer can easily afford the psychic benefits they once were willing to absorb.

Trouble is, there’s no reason to expect those owners will soon sell their teams to basketball-loving billionaires willing to treat teams like Van Goghs or Picassos just so NBA training camps will open on time. They would rather crush the players union to get new terms that guarantee profit.

In Las Vegas, they're eager to take bets on the season, but not on whether the season will be played, period. Probably for reason. NBA union chief Billy Hunter is willing to bet the season will be cancelled, and Madison Square Garden's stock was just downgraded due to that likely possibility. 

Could be a very long off-season. 

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Poll: Rick Perry disses climate science, loses moderates

The governor of Texas, Rick Perry, has jumped into the race for the Republican nomination for President, and — according to Public Policy Polling — instantly made it a two-person race. They say he's looking like "the favorite" for the nomination. 

This has alarmed moderate Republicans, all three or four of them, including Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, but maybe believers in the theories of evolution and global warming should be reassured.

In our current state of economic misery, all GOP candidates are within striking distance of Obama, but according to PPP, Perry loses the moderates, which dooms his chances.

In our first national poll pitting the two Obama leads Perry 49-43. That six point advantage is pretty comparable to Obama's margin of victory over John McCain. Perry has certainly come on strong with Republicans but independents view him negatively already by an almost 2:1 margin, 29/55, and Democrats pretty universally give him bad ratings at a 10/71 spread. As a result Obama leads Perry thanks in large part to a 24 point advantage with independents at 56-32. 

David Frum, a conservative and former speechwriter for George Bush, has written that disbelief in human-caused climate change has become "a litmus test" for GOP candidates for President, and Rush Limbaugh agrees, telling Romney that he can say "bye bye" to the nomination for proclaiming his faith in science. 

Strange that an issue that has so little salience to the American people, according to lots of recent polling, should become so — apparently — decisive. 

Too good to be true? 

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How dogs came to be one of the family

Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker delves at length into the latest theories of how dogs came to be members of our human family. 

Feifferdog Dogs, we are now told, by a sequence of scientists and speculators—beginning with the biologists Raymond and Lorna Coppinger, in their 2001 masterwork, “Dogs”—domesticated themselves. They chose us. A marginally calmer canid came close to the circle of human warmth—and, more important, human refuse—and was tolerated by the humans inside: let him eat the garbage. Then this scavenging wolf mated with another calm wolf, and soon a family of calmer wolves proliferated just outside the firelight. It wasn’t cub-snatching on the part of humans, but breaking and entering on the part of wolves, that gave us dogs. “Hey, you be ferocious and eat them when you can catch them,” the proto-dogs said, in evolutionary effect, to their wolf siblings. “We’ll just do what they like and have them feed us. Dignity? It’s a small price to pay for free food. Check with you in ten thousand years and we’ll see who’s had more kids.” (Estimated planetary dog population: one billion. Estimated planetary wild wolf population: three hundred thousand.)

[It's a wonderful piece, as is usually the case with Gopnik, and for once the magazine puts the whole piece on line…and even includes one of a wonderful set of cartoons by the great Jules Feiffer.]


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