The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Washington snowed in

Washington today is getting its biggest snowstorm in three years:

A major snow storm pounded the Washington region overnight and this morning, dumping 20 inches of heavy wet snow in some locations and 8 or 9 inches elsewhere, causing power outages for nearly 200,000 consumers and disrupting travel by road, air and Metrorail.

And in a later story:

The snow swept in lazily yesterday afternoon and was expected to depart by midday today, giving residents ample time to dig out before the start of the workweek. Airlines canceled scores of flights. But schools and most workplaces were already closed, and it was too soon for most to make decisions for tomorrow.
As of 10 p.m. yesterday, reports to the National Weather Service ranged from four inches in Fairfax City to two inches at Camp Springs and less than an inch at Reagan National Airport. Most main roads glistened with moisture, but some were slush-streaked; medians were white.

I was actually in Washington for the 2003 storm. Not intentionally; I was on my way back to a client in Richmond, Va., from a party in New York and got stranded in DC for two days. This is partially because, at the time, the Commonwealth of Virginia (area: 110,771 km², 42,769 mi²) had almost exactly the same number of snowplows as the city of Chicago (area: 1,214 km², 469 mi²). And in 2003, Virginia got hit with 13 snowstorms to Chicago's two. This may prompt a longer entry on tax policy and the division of private and public responsibilities for snow removal, but not right now.

Anyway, here's what the city looked like on 17 February 2003, and what it will probably look like tomorrow:

Drowning the suit puppy in the bathtub

George Deutsch, the suit puppy who wanted to tell NASA scientists about science, has resigned:

George C. Deutsch, the young presidential appointee at NASA who told public affairs workers to limit reporters' access to a top climate scientist and told a Web designer to add the word "theory" at every mention of the Big Bang, resigned yesterday, agency officials said. Mr. Deutsch's resignation came on the same day that officials at Texas A&M University confirmed that he did not graduate from there, as his résumé on file at the agency asserted.

Oops.

Winter olympics without the snow

I've been watching the weather in Torino, Italy lately, and I've noticed it's awfully warm there. The Olympic Games start one week from today, but Torino's temperatures have stayed way above freezing. Last night's minimum temperature was 6°C (43°F), for example.

Are we looking at a repeat of the St. Moritz games of 1928, in which the speed skaters swam through 25°C (77°F) weather? Maybe we're heading toward a future where the Winter Games won't be possible below 2500 meters (8000 ft) or south of the 59th parallel. Think of it: "Welcome to the 2052 Games in Beautiful Barrow!

Phil saw his shadow; I didn't

It's Groundhog Day!

And it's official: Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, meaning another six weeks of winter. And he wrote a little poem about it, which is pretty impressive for a marmot. (You'll have to read the poem on the official Groundhog Day site.)

Also impressive, this rodent has been around for 120 years, as the FAQ explains:

How many "Phils" have there been over the years? There has only been one Punxsutawney Phil. He has been making predictions for over 120 years! Punxsutawney Phil gets his longevity from drinking "groundhog punch," a secret recipe. Phil takes one sip every summer at the Groundhog Picnic and it magically gives him seven more years of life.

I'm thinking it would make more sense to drink the punch every 6 years instead of every year, but maybe Phil is banking on the future.

Also, he's seen his shadow in 8 of the past 10 years, and though there is no record of his prognositcal success, I'm quite certain that winters have gotten milder recently. This makes me wonder if Phil isn't playing around a bit with the definition of "winter," and the two times he didn't see his shadow were in years when spring began not on March 20th, as usual, but on Mardi Gras.

I, by the way, didn't see my shadow, as it's a perfectly normal grey Chicago morning here. This is what it looked like at sunrise:

Round-up of sad news stories

Not that anyone is surprised, but Samuel Alito got confirmed an Associate Justice of the U.S. today.

Civil-rights activist Corretta Scott King died this morning.

Exxon reported a $36 billion profit in 2005, the largest corporate profit ever, making Exxon shareholders the largest beneficiaries in history of the ongoing environmental degradation of our planet.

And today is Alan Greenspan's last day as Federal Reserve Chairman, which actually may be good news for our children, since it's unlikely that incoming chariman Ben Bernanke will allow the structural imbalances in the U.S. economy that Greenspan encouraged to continue. More on that later.

Finally, the Oscar nominees were announced this morning, prompting me to send a very long, pun-filled email to Anne, which I will spare my loyal readers.

That is all.

An analogy about climate change

Imagine you're a fisherman in an English village sometime in the 10th century. You notice, on the horizon, some longboats. You get worried, because you know the Norse have raped and pillaged from Dover to York for many years, which always ends badly for those raped and pillaged.

You mention it to the lord of the manor, who asks, "how many boats?" You say you don't know; it could be two, it could be four, they're still a ways away. "Come back when you know for sure," he tells you.

Another villager runs in to tell the manor lord essentially the same thing: He has seen Norsemen coming, they're heading right for us, hadn't we better get the men at arms ready?

No, says the manor lord, and further if you challenge my authority again, I shall shackle you to the wall.

A third villager runs in, shouting that the Norsemen are coming, at least two boats with 160 men, they'll arrive within the hour.

The manor lord shackles the third man to the wall, and shortly thereafter gets a Norse battle axe through the skull.

This is, of course, an (admittedly bad) analogy to the Bush Administration's handling of the ongoing global warming crisis, which has just gotten worse. Scientists now have stronger evidence that we're heading to a "tipping point" where climate change will accelerate beyond our ability to adapt, never mind our ability to prevent it.

Notice I said "stronger evidence." Climatologists have, in fact, predicted this scenario for at least 20 years, and until Dubya our government was listening—sometimes with only half an ear, true, but that's better than now.

Our current administration just doesn't want to hear about climate change. Their prinicpal argument has been that since the actual degree of change is uncertain, we don't know what actions to take yet, so we should do nothing lest we do the wrong thing. This, of course, makes no sense, as the principal actions to take are quite obvious to anyone remotely paying attention.

As they have done with other bits of evidence they didn't like, they've exerted political pressure to squelch it:

"There's no agreement on what it is that constitutes a dangerous climate change," said [President Bush's chief science adviser, John H.] Marburger, adding that the U.S. government spends $2 billion a year on researching this and other climate change questions. "We know things like this are possible, but we don't have enough information to quantify the level of risk."
This tipping point debate has stirred controversy within the administration; [NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies director James E.] Hansen said senior political appointees are trying to block him from sharing his views publicly. When Hansen posted data on the Internet in the fall suggesting that 2005 could be the warmest year on record, NASA officials ordered Hansen to withdraw the information because he had not had it screened by the administration in advance, according to a Goddard scientist who spoke on the condition of anonymity. More recently, NASA officials tried to discourage a reporter from interviewing Hansen for this article and later insisted he could speak on the record only if an agency spokeswoman listened in on the conversation.

(Personal aside: the Washington Post article quoted above ends with this bit:

The small island nation of Kiribati is made up of 33 small atolls, none of which is more than 2 m (6.5 ft) above the South Pacific, and it is only a matter of time before the entire country is submerged by the rising sea. "For Kiribati, the tipping point has already occurred," Schneider said. "As far as they're concerned, it's tipped, but they have no economic clout in the world."

...which is interesting to me because my friend Danielle just got back from Peace Corps duty there.)

I chose the analogy to Norsemen because I'm just finishing up Jared Diamond's book Collapse, whose central thesis is that societies collapse primarily because of ecological changes combined with the societies' responses to them. Witness the Norse in Greenland dying out after 450 years, while the Inuit happily lived on to the present day.

Someday, when we spend half a trillion dollars to build seawalls around New York and Miami, we're going to look back on this Administration the way the French look back on Louis XVI.

Not SAD it's January 25th

Anne and I were discussing this morning how January is our least-favorite month. Apparently Cardiff University, Wales, professor Cliff Arnall agrees:

Arnall found that, while days technically get longer after Dec. 21, cyclonic weather systems take hold in January, bringing low, dark clouds to Britain. Meanwhile, the majority of people break their healthy resolutions six to seven days into the new year, and even the hangers-on have fallen off the wagon, torn off the nicotine patches and eaten the fridge empty by the third week. Any residual dregs of holiday cheer and family fun have kicked the bucket by Jan. 24.

Some good news. First, sunsets are 35 minutes later than they were a month ago (in Chicago, anyway; in Cardiff, Wales, they're fully 44 minutes later).

Second, if January 24th is the worst day of the year, then today is not the worst day. Unless, of course, you're one of the 80,000 people who dies today. More likely, you're one of the 6.2 billion people who won't die today, so things are looking up!

And Chicago today is sunny, bright, and above freezing, which is wonderful for this time of year.

Still, we're looking forward to May.