The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

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.

First snow since December 24

Chicago got its first measurable snowfall since December 24th last night. As of 6 am CST/12:00 UTC, we have the following reports from area weather stations:

Station Snow
O'Hare 127 mm (6 in.)
Midway 102 mm (4 in.)
Milwaukee 127 mm (6 in.)
Rockford 127 mm (6 in.)

Sadly for cross-country skiiers, today's forecast calls for temperatures around 3°C (37°F), which is just warm enough to turn the snow into a heavy, soupy mess but not enough to ski along the lake.

Speaking of heavy, soupy, messy snow, I will now go shovel.

It's March..no, January...no...

It's 12°C (54°F) in Chicago right now. Fifteen degrees (25°F) above normal is great in January. I may have to open a window...or go outside...things we don't normally do around here mid-winter.

Tribune news roundup

The Chicago Tribune had several stories of interest this morning.

Meterologist Tom Skilling noticed more daylight, possibly because he reads my blog. Unfortunately, he got the number of minutes more daylight a little wrong, because he only looked at half the equation, and even still didn't subtract correctly. First, the difference between 4:23 and 4:50 is 27 minutes, not 28; second, sunrises got later before getting earlier, so we actually have 9 hours 35 minutes of daylight now, which is 26 minutes longer than December 21st's 9 hours 9 minutes.

Technology writer Steve Johnson has a primer on starting a blog, which wasn't any more or less than expected except it had a notice about the Chicago Blogger Meetup on February 21st. (Of course, http://www.chicagobloggers.com/ has nothing about the meetup, and Meetup.com mentions it for February 15th. I've emailed the author about the discrepancy.)

Finally a news item about a high-schooler expelled for a doodle, showing that McHenry County schools exemplify the Peter Principle in action:

The drawing is of a cross, with a spider web on one side and a crown at the top. In the middle of the cross are the initials "D.L.K." The teen, whose full name is Derek Leon Kelly, said the initials are his. School officials have alleged that they could stand for "Disciples Latin King," his mother said. The Latin Kings and Latin Disciples are rival gangs.

Forgetting Occam's Razor for a moment, I must ask, what's going on here? Even if he was drawing gang symbols, that's not the same as being in a gang--which is actually irrelevant, because freedom to assemble is in the same amendment as freedom of speech. Sure, expel him if he brings a weapon to school, or gets into an actual gang fight. But for drawing? That's just stupid.

Update, 11:26 CST/17:26 UTC: Steve Johnson replied as follows:

Suspect what you saw may have been an earlier, tentative date (or maybe a different meeting, but I don't think so).
Hey, if you blog about my piece (and I hope you'll take into account the severe restrictions of a 100-line limit), maybe I'll blog about the blogging. And so on, until the whole Internet crashes under the strain of extreme self-reference.

So, to clarify, any implicit criticism of his column I may have had should be directed rather at Tribune Co. for imposing an unrealistic size restriction on it, rather than at the writer, who did a good job with the space he had.

Let's hope the Internet can keep up with us...

Beautiful day in Chicago today

We seem to have gone from November to January to March. Last month was bitter cold and snowy; so far this month, temperatures have been unseasonably warm, and this weekend we actually had sun.

Raymond Park, Evanston, Ill., looking toward the First Congregational Church. Copyright ©2006 David Braverman.

Hurricane season finally ends--no, for real this time

Even though I previously reported that the 2005 Atlantic Hurricane Season had ended, it appears my entry of four weeks ago was premature. The season acutally ended today as Tropical Depression Zeta finally dissipated. Forecaster Stewart at the National Hurricane Center reports:

SHOWER ACTIVITY HAS CONTINUED TO DECREASE AND IS NOW LIMITED TO JUST A FEW SKINNY BANDS OF SHALLOW CONVECTION WELL TO THE EAST OF THE CENTER. AS SUCH... ZETA NO LONGER MEETS THE CRITERIA OF A TROPICAL CYCLONE... WHICH MEANS THAT BOTH IT AND THE 2005 ATLANTIC HURRICANE SEASON HAVE ENDED.
I SUPPOSE IT IS ONLY FITTING THAT THE RECORD-BREAKING 2005 ATLANTIC HURRICANE SEASON ENDS WITH A RECORD BREAKING STORM. TODAY... ZETA SURPASSED 1954 ALICE #2 AS THE LONGEST-LIVED TROPICAL CYCLONE TO FORM IN DECEMBER AND CROSS OVER INTO THE NEXT YEAR. ZETA WAS ALSO THE LONGEST-LIVED JANUARY TROPICAL CYCLONE. IN ADDITION...ZETA RESULTED IN THE 2005 SEASON HAVING THE LARGEST ACCUMULATED CYCLONE ENERGY...OR ACE... SURPASSING THE 1950 SEASON. SO... UNTIL THE 2006 SEASON BEGINS... UNLESS ZETA SOMEHOW MAKES AN UNLIKELY MIRACLE COMEBACK... THIS IS THE NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER SIGNING OFF FOR 2005... FINALLY.

This season was like a Beethoven symphony. Just when you think it's over, he throws another 64 bars at you.

 

And then another.