Thursday, March 23, 2017

Short Takes

Five dead in attack outside U.K. Parliament.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) says there’s “more than circumstantial evidence” on Trump/Russia connection.

GOP healthcare bill in doubt.

Tough questions for Neil Gorsuch on Bush torture policy.

Arctic winter sea ice drops to lowest level ever recorded.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Not Talking About It Doesn’t Make It Go Away

Via the Tampa Bay Times:

The Trump administration has instituted what it described as a temporary media blackout at the Environmental Protection Agency and barred staff from awarding any new contracts or grants.

Emails sent to EPA staff since President Donald Trump’s inauguration on Friday and reviewed by The Associated Press detailed specific prohibitions banning press releases, blog updates or posts to the agency’s social media accounts.

The Trump administration has also ordered what it called a temporary suspension of all new business activities at the department, including issuing task orders or work assignments to EPA contractors. The orders were expected to have a significant and immediate impact on EPA activities nationwide.

Similar orders barring external communications have been issued by the Trump administration at other federal agencies in recent days, including the Agriculture and Interior departments.

Staffers in EPA’s public affairs office are instructed to forward all inquiries from reporters to the Office of Administration and Resources Management.

“Incoming media requests will be carefully screened,” one directive said. “Only send out critical messages, as messages can be shared broadly and end up in the press.”

A review of EPA websites and social media accounts, which typically include numerous new posts each day, showed no new activity since Friday.

This is how we now deal with climate change and global warming: don’t ever talk about about and it will go away… as if it ever existed in the first place.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Another Fox Guarding The Chicken Coop

Via the New York Times:

President-elect Donald J. Trump has selected Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general and a close ally of the fossil fuel industry, to run the Environmental Protection Agency, signaling Mr. Trump’s determination to dismantle President Obama’s efforts to counter climate change — and much of the E.P.A. itself.

Mr. Pruitt, a Republican, has been a key architect of the legal battle against Mr. Obama’s climate change policies, actions that fit with the president-elect’s comments during the campaign. Mr. Trump has criticized the established science of human-caused global warming as a hoax, vowed to “cancel” the Paris accord committing nearly every nation to taking action to fight climate change, and attacked Mr. Obama’s signature global warming policy, the Clean Power Plan, as a “war on coal.”

Mr. Pruitt has been in lock step with those views.

“Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind,” he wrote in National Review earlier this year. “That debate should be encouraged — in classrooms, public forums, and the halls of Congress. It should not be silenced with threats of prosecution. Dissent is not a crime.”

No, dissent is not a crime.  But poisoning our air, water, and soil is and there will be generational consequences when the Everglades turn into strip mines, the Great Lakes become a sewer, and the earth literally trembles in Oklahoma — his home state — from fracking.

So far Trump has nominated an attorney general who is against equal rights, a Secretary of Education who is opposed to public schools, a HUD secretary who is against fair housing, and now this.

Well, maybe this is part of his genius plan to fix immigration: make the country so uninhabitable that no one wants to come here.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Short Takes

Hillary Clinton campaigned in Miami with Al Gore.

Kinky: Donald Trump says the “shackles are off.”

Federal prosecutors will file contempt-of-court charges against Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Native Americans dug in for the long haul to protest the pipeline in North Dakota.

The death toll from flooding in North Carolina reached 22.

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 smartphone has flamed out.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Short Takes

Syria ceasefire takes effect.

Clinton campaign explains mishanded health scare.

President Obama will veto the bill that allows 9/11 families to sue Saudi Arabia.

Brazil ratifies Paris climate agreement.

The UN reports that Iran has kept to the nuclear arms agreement.

Kansas, Georgia, and Alabama must remove proof-of-citizenship from voter ID according to a federal court.

The Tigers beat the Twins 4-2.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Short Takes

Death toll from Louisiana flooding reaches 10.

Convicted Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane resigns.

Aetna Insurance drops out of Obamacare.

July was the hottest month on record.

North Carolina wants the Supreme Court to put a hold on voter I.D. ruling.

R.I.P. John McLaughlin, 89, right-wing ex-priest Nixon apologist turned TV pundit.  Bye-bye.

Tropical Update: There’s a wave coming off Africa that could develop into something.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Short Takes

House Democrats sit-in for a vote on gun control.

North Korea fires off two ballistic missiles.

Bernie Sanders: “It doesn’t appear I’ll be the nominee.”

Colombia and rebels agree to a cease-fire in 50-year conflict.

Michigan A.G. sues two companies over Flint water crisis.

The Tigers beat the Mariners 5-1.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Short Takes

President Obama commuted the sentences of 61 people convicted of non-violent drug offenses.

No charges filed in the Minneapolis shooting of an unarmed man by two police officers.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee banned non-essential state travel to North Carolina because of the recently-passed LGBT law.

Ice sheet forecast suggests disastrous sea level rise by 2100.

F.D.A. eases abortion pill access.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Dangerous Waters

Not only are the sea levels rising around Miami, the water itself is dangerous.  Via Eye on Miami and the Miami Herald:

…water sampling in December and January found tritium levels up to 215 times higher than normal in ocean water. The report doesn’t address risks to the public or marine life but tritium is typically monitored as a “tracer” of nuclear power plant leaks or spills. County staff concluded the findings are “the most compelling evidence” that canal water has spread into the bay.

That’s from the Turkey Point nuclear power generating plant that’s about twenty-five miles south of Miami on the coast of Biscayne Bay.  It’s supposed to be a closed system, which means the water that’s used to cool the reactor doesn’t get out into the bay, but apparently that’s not the case.

On the up side, at least we’ll be able to see when the sea levels rise… from the glowing water.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sunday Reading

Reasoning with Scalia — Bruce Hay clerked for Justice Scalia and lived to tell the tale.

In the two weeks since his death, many have spoken about Antonin Scalia’s undeniable impact on American law.  As attention shifts to filling the vacancy he has left on the Supreme Court, I would like instead to talk about his less appreciated impact on contemporary physics. But first, a bit of background.

Antonin Scalia generally detested science. It threatened everything he believed in. He refused to join a recent Supreme Court opinion about DNA testing because it presented the details of textbook molecular biology as fact. He could not join because he did not know such things to be true, he said. (On the other hand, he knew all about the eighteenth century. History books were trustworthy; science books were not.) Scientists should be listened to only if they supported conservative causes, for example dubious studies purporting to demonstrate that same-sex parenting is harmful to children. Scientists were also good if they helped create technologies he liked, such as oil drills and deadly weapons.

His own weapon was the poison-barbed word, and the battleground was what he once labeled the Kulturkampf, the culture war. The enemy took many forms. Women’s rights. Racial justice. Economic equality. Environmental protection. The “homosexual agenda,” as he called it. Intellectuals and universities. The questioning of authority and privilege. Ambiguity. Foreignness. Social change. Climate research. The modern world, in all its beauty and complexity and fragility.

Most of all, the enemy was to be found in judges who believe decency and compassion are central to their jobs, not weaknesses to be extinguished. Who refuse to dehumanize people and treat them as pawns in some Manichean struggle of good versus evil, us versus them. Who decline to make their intelligence and verbal gifts into instruments of cruelty and persecution and infinite scorn.

I worked for him early in his tenure on the Supreme Court. He had visited my law school when I was a student, and I was smitten by his warmth and humor and sheer intellectual vibrancy. When I applied for a clerkship at the Court, my hero Justice Brennan quickly filled all his positions, so Scalia became my first choice. He offered me a job and I thought I’d won the lottery. I knew we differed politically, but he prized reason and I would help him be reasonable. A more naive young fool never drew breath.

I can attest to the many nice things people have said about the Justice. He was erudite and frighteningly smart. He said what he thought, not what was expedient. He was generous to friends and family. He loved his clerks and helped them get dream jobs. And we returned the favor by not thinking about what we were doing, then or afterward. What I took for the pursuit of reason in those chambers was in fact the manufacture of verbal munitions, to be deployed against civilian populations. From the comfort of our leather chairs, we never saw the victims.

Anyway, about his contribution to physics. I am close to one of the victims of his operation, a transgender woman named Mischa Haider, whom I got to know during the course of her work on a Ph.D. in physics at Harvard. She’s an extraordinary polymath — gifted violinist, writer and novelist; fluent speaker of a half-dozen languages; math genius. And physicist. Her intellect would have made our brilliant Justice want to hide his head in a bag, to borrow his charming words from last year’s marriage equality ruling. Those who have any doubt about trans mothers should meet Mischa’s children.

Since coming out as trans a few years ago, this remarkable woman has suffered a debilitating depression. Partly from the transphobia she encounters daily at the allegedly enlightened Harvard; from the constant stares in public; from the indignity of worrying about things the rest of us take for granted, like walking in the street or using a public bathroom without fear of taunts or violence, or taking her children to the park without fear of being humiliated in front of them.  And from the pain of rejection by family and former friends who, despite her prodigious achievements, are somehow ashamed to be associated with her.

Beyond all that, it’s her knowledge of what the “culture war” means for trans women across the country, women who are shunned by their families, who are often unable to get jobs and therefore live in poverty, who face shocking levels of assault and murder (2015 was a record year), who attempt suicide at a rate greater than 40 percent. Who are generally excluded from the protection of antidiscrimination laws. Who, on the contrary, are at this moment the subject of dozens of pending pieces of transphobic legislation around the country, such as bills to stigmatize trans children by forcing them to use separate locker rooms at school or to jail trans women for using public bathrooms that match their identity. The drumbeat of organized hatred, calling to mind yellow stars and separate drinking fountains and worse, makes my friend feel like a nonperson, unwelcome in her own country. All this, for the crime of not matching someone else’s idea of how women are supposed to look.

She’s decided to leave academic physics after finishing the doctorate. She has become too absorbed in the struggle for equality – for being accorded the most basic human dignity – to think of anything else. She could not live with herself, she tells me, if she did not devote her talents to helping the many trans women whose lives are decimated by the bigotry and ignorance of those around them. Bigotry and ignorance inflamed by demagogues like Antonin Scalia, whose toxic rhetoric has done so much to incite and legitimate fear of gender nonconformity and elevate it to the level of constitutional principle. She is resolved to become a trans rights activist.

So that is Antonin Scalia’s contribution to physics. To drive a woman with a luminous mind from the study of quantum theory and statistical mechanics and condensed matter, and into the urgent project of safeguarding vulnerable people from the inhumanity he dedicated his life to spreading. An inhumanity that survives as his true legacy, safeguarded by deluded acolytes and admirers.

Scalia passed away in his sleep at a luxurious hunting lodge. He died as he lived, gun at hand, dreaming of killing helpless prey from a position of safety and comfort. May his successor on the Court have a loftier vision of law, and of life.

Bernie’s Bumpy Road — Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker on what lies ahead for Sen. Sanders.

What Bernie Sanders is trying to accomplish is ludicrous. His age (seventy-four), political label (socialist), disposition (grumpy), and aesthetic (rumpled) make him the most improbable Presidential candidate of 2016 not named Trump. At the start of the race, the gap between Sanders and Hillary Clinton when it came to name recognition, élite Party support, polling, and fund-raising was nearly as wide as it could possibly be between two candidates vying for the nomination. Sanders has been maddeningly vague about how he would pass what would be the most ambitious and expensive Democratic agenda in modern history. When he’s forced to talk about foreign policy he seems hesitant and uncertain. Nearly every answer involves some reference to his opposition to the 2003 Iraq War.

And yet his campaign against Hillary Clinton has defied all expectations. Iowa was essentially a tie, and in New Hampshire he defeated her by twenty-two points. Saturday in Nevada, he kept the race close, losing by just five points in a state where he started behind by fifty-four points in the state’s first poll last year. While raw vote totals have not been reported for Iowa and Nevada, which hold caucuses, it’s certain that if the first three states were combined, Sanders has won many more votes than Clinton has so far in 2016.

Sanders has also already fared better than two recent Democratic insurgencies: Bill Bradley’s 2000 campaign against Al Gore and Howard Dean’s campaign against half a dozen Washington insiders, in 2004. But there’s been only one successful Democratic insurgency in recent decades—Barack Obama’s, in 2008—and Sanders is not on the same trajectory. There were two major components to Obama’s success. First, Obama expanded the Democratic electorate. This started in Iowa, where turnout hit a record in 2008 when Obama attracted young voters, independents, and even Republicans to caucus for him. If the traditional Iowa electorate of a small number of older Democratic partisans had shown up, Clinton would have defeated Obama. After Obama won Iowa, he opened a crucial second front against Clinton when he began to win over non-white voters. Even after building that strong coalition, he barely defeated Clinton; depending on how you count, she ended up winning more over-all votes than Obama.

Sanders has been expanding the electorate, but not by enough, and the over-all turnout numbers in 2016 are not meeting or exceeding the Obama milestones. Sanders is dominant with young people and political independents—according to the latest figures, he won voters between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine by eighty-two to fourteen in Nevada—but it’s not enough to make up for his deficits among other groups. The Nevada results show Sanders is having trouble breaking into traditional Democratic constituencies, like African-Americans and older voters, especially among women. Clinton won African-Americans by seventy-six per cent to twenty-two per cent in Nevada. Voters over forty-five years old made up sixty-three per cent of the Nevada electorate, and Clinton won that group by more than two to one.

There was one bright spot for Sanders in the Nevada results. He appears to have cut into Clinton’s support among Hispanics. As with other groups, it was younger Hispanics who came out for him. The more well known Sanders is among younger voters of all races and backgrounds, the better Sanders performs. His problem is that, as the total number of primaries held accelerates over the next few weeks, he might not have enough time for voters to get to know him, and, even given his impressive fund-raising, he might not have the resources to truly compete in dozens of states.

Nevada is a quirky state—it has a transient, overwhelmingly urban population—and the outcome there shouldn’t be over-interpreted. Sanders could still pose a challenge to Clinton for many weeks to come. Insurgencies usually fail, but they often tell us something about the shape of politics in the near future. Clinton may defeat Sanders’s millennial army in the primaries, but to succeed she and other Democrats will need its support for years to come.

Florida Flush — Lake Okeechobee’s dirty water hits the beaches.  By Sarah Rathod in Mother Jones.

Just in time for tourist season, both of Florida’s coasts are being flooded by dark, polluted water that’s killing ocean creatures and turning away would-be swimmers, fishermen, and other visitors.

Last month was South Florida’s wettest January since 1932. Because of the heavy rain, the water levels in Lake Okeechobee in central Florida rose to about a foot above what’s normal for this season. On top of that, water managers began to pump dirty water from flooded farms into the lake, adding more pollution to a body of water that already contains fertilizers and other chemicals from the state’s cattle and sugar industries. At the same time, officials began to worry that the rising lake waters would put stress on its aging dike, so they decided to drain the lake toward the east and west coasts. Some 70,000 gallons per second flowed into the St. Lucie River and the Caloosahatchee River all the way through to the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. And as the toxic runoff spreads, it’s threatening sea grasses and oyster beds and adding to harmful algae growth.

Now the tourism industry and small businesses on the coasts are worried they’re going to see their business slump as a result of the pollution. Local politicians are calling on Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency, and mayors are traveling to Washington, DC, to demand action from Congress and the Army Corps of Engineers. And Floridians are snapping pictures of the polluted water and dead sea creatures and sharing them on social media.

According to David Guest, managing attorney of the Florida branch of the environmental law group Earthjustice, the pollution is not going to end anytime soon. He blames lax regulations, not the unseasonable rain, for the current crisis. “The lake is basically a toilet,” Guest says. Florida’s powerful sugar industry has stood in the way of the state purchasing land south of the lake that could be used to build a waterway to direct dirty water to the Everglades, cleansing it along the way.

According to John H. Campbell, a spokesman for the US Army Corps of Engineers, state and federal officials are unable to divert the polluted water south to the Everglades at the moment. The marshes between the lake and the Everglades are too flooded, and it could be a matter of weeks or even months before the water levels come down. In the meantime, the polluted water will keep being diverted to the coasts, where Florida’s tourism industry lies. “We really don’t have any other options,” Campbell says. “That’s all we can do.”

Doonesbury — Seemingly Happy.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Monday, January 11, 2016

Poisoned Water

It is not news that the water in Flint, Michigan, has been poisoning the citizens for almost two years since the city was forced to stop buying water from Detroit and had to take it from the cesspool that is the Flint River.  The city has since switched back to getting its water from Detroit until the pipeline to Lake Huron is completed, but the damage is done:  lead is in the water from corrosion to the pipes and people are getting sick.

That’s not the worst part.  The state knew about the hazard to the people almost as soon as they started pumping water out of the river, but the unelected “emergency manager” of Flint — appointed by the governor to run the city during its financial crisis — did nothing about it.  Governor Rick Snyder (R) knew about it as well, but it wasn’t until last month that he took it seriously.  Jordan Sargent at Gawker:

Among the most crucial questions of all are: Who should have known that the water in the Flint River was unsafe, who did know, and when did they know? That includes Synder, the governor, who is now apologizing for the crisis while also attempting to distance himself from it at the same time. At a press conference on Thursday, Snyder essentially plead the fifth on what he or his office might have known and when, but incriminating documents regarding his administration’s knowledge of the crisis have already been uncovered.

On Wednesday, NBC News reported that researchers at Virginia Tech who have been studying lead levels in Flint’s water received, via a Freedom of Information Act request, an email sent by Snyder’s ex-chief of staff Dennis Muchmore in July of 2015 expressing his concern about Flint to a “top health official.” In the email, Muchmore wrote:

“I’m frustrated by the water issue in Flint. I really don’t think people are getting the benefit of the doubt. Now they are concerned and rightfully so about the lead level studies they are receiving. These folks are scared and worried about the health impacts and they are basically getting blown off by us (as a state we’re just not sympathizing with their plight).”

It would be hard to conjure a more damning piece of evidence than this. Snyder didn’t declare a state of emergency regarding the water crisis until this week, but at least five months ago his top deputy was complaining about the administration having “blown off” the residents of Flint who were “scared and worried about the health impacts” of the water they were being asked to drink.

What needle does the governor conceivably thread here? At best, Snyder can plead complete ignorance—of the decision to temporarily pull water from the Flint River, of the water’s toxicity, of its effect on its consumers, of what his administration may have known. Though that might be the first step to protecting himself legally, it would paint him as a deeply negligent governor, one whose special “emergency manager” program directly led to an environmental disaster and who had no connection with a chief of staff who was trying to stop that disaster from becoming even worse.

The other reality would be that Snyder knew that Flint’s drinking water was perilously toxic but just decided not to do anything about it. Flint ended up pulling from the Flint River for 18 months, starting April 2014 and ending in October 2015, when it once again began buying water from Detroit. In that period of time, the city and state, as directed by Snyder, could have taken any number of opportunities to disconnect Flint’s water supply from its poisoned river, but did not.

Estimates to replace the damaged pipes and water system in Flint are running into the billions of dollars, and the healthcare issues will be with the city and the citizens for years.  So who will pay for it?

Whey To Go

According to this piece in ThinkProgress, a byproduct of cheese production can be used to generate electricity.

Technically, the power station — located in Albertville in the southeastern part of France — uses whey, a byproduct leftover from the production of the town’s famous Beaufort cheese. Whey is the liquid that is released from the curds during the cheese-making process, and it’s the same liquid that often rises to the top of yogurt products. It is mostly water, but is also contains things like proteins and milk sugars. It’s incidental to most cheese-making processes — the curds are what eventually becomes the finished cheese product — and is often considered a waste product by cheese makers. Unfortunately for cheese producers, the process of making cheese results in a lot of residual whey — for every pound of cheese, a producer is normally left with about a gallon of whey.

When bacteria is added to whey, however, they begin to digest the sugars. That, in turn, produces methane, a biogas that can be captured and used as fuel. In Albertville, that methane is then fed through a machine that heats water to 194 degrees Fahrenheit, which in turn generates electricity. According to the Independent, the Albertville plant is able to produce an estimated 3,000,000 kilowatt hours of electricity annually. That electricity, according to the Telegraph, is eventually sold to French energy giant EDF.

Knowing the French, they probably have a great wine to go with it.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Sunday Reading

Miami Subs — Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker on the rising tides on Miami Beach.

The city of Miami Beach floods on such a predictable basis that if, out of curiosity or sheer perversity, a person wants to she can plan a visit to coincide with an inundation. Knowing the tides would be high around the time of the “super blood moon,” in late September, I arranged to meet up with Hal Wanless, the chairman of the University of Miami’s geological-sciences department. Wanless, who is seventy-three, has spent nearly half a century studying how South Florida came into being. From this, he’s concluded that much of the region may have less than half a century more to go.

We had breakfast at a greasy spoon not far from Wanless’s office, then set off across the MacArthur Causeway. (Out-of-towners often assume that Miami Beach is part of Miami, but it’s situated on a separate island, a few miles off the coast.) It was a hot, breathless day, with a brilliant blue sky. Wanless turned onto a side street, and soon we were confronting a pond-sized puddle. Water gushed down the road and into an underground garage. We stopped in front of a four-story apartment building, which was surrounded by a groomed lawn. Water seemed to be bubbling out of the turf. Wanless took off his shoes and socks and pulled on a pair of polypropylene booties. As he stepped out of the car, a woman rushed over. She asked if he worked for the city. He said he did not, an answer that seemed to disappoint but not deter her. She gestured at a palm tree that was sticking out of the drowned grass.

“Look at our yard, at the landscaping,” she said. “That palm tree was super-expensive.” She went on, “It’s crazy—this is saltwater.”

“Welcome to rising sea levels,” Wanless told her.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, sea levels could rise by more than three feet by the end of this century. The United States Army Corps of Engineers projects that they could rise by as much as five feet; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts up to six and a half feet. According to Wanless, all these projections are probably low. In his office, Wanless keeps a jar of meltwater he collected from the Greenland ice sheet. He likes to point out that there is plenty more where that came from.

“Many geologists, we’re looking at the possibility of a ten-to-thirty-foot range by the end of the century,” he told me.

We got back into the car. Driving with one hand, Wanless shot pictures out the window with the other. “Look at that,” he said. “Oh, my gosh!” We’d come to a neighborhood of multimillion-dollar homes where the water was creeping under the security gates and up the driveways. Porsches and Mercedeses sat flooded up to their chassis.

“This is today, you know,” Wanless said. “This isn’t with two feet of sea-level rise.” He wanted to get better photos, and pulled over onto another side street. He handed me the camera so that I could take a picture of him standing in the middle of the submerged road. Wanless stretched out his arms, like a magician who’d just conjured a rabbit. Some workmen came bouncing along in the back of a pickup. Every few feet, they stuck a depth gauge into the water. A truck from the Miami Beach Public Works Department pulled up. The driver asked if we had called City Hall. Apparently, one of the residents of the street had mistaken the high tide for a water-main break. As we were chatting with him, an elderly woman leaning on a walker rounded the corner. She looked at the lake the street had become and wailed, “What am I supposed to do?” The men in the pickup truck agreed to take her home. They folded up her walker and hoisted her into the cab.

To cope with its recurrent flooding, Miami Beach has already spent something like a hundred million dollars. It is planning on spending several hundred million more. Such efforts are, in Wanless’s view, so much money down the drain. Sooner or later—and probably sooner—the city will have too much water to deal with. Even before that happens, Wanless believes, insurers will stop selling policies on the luxury condos that line Biscayne Bay. Banks will stop writing mortgages.

“If we don’t plan for this,” he told me, once we were in the car again, driving toward the Fontainebleau hotel, “these are the new Okies.” I tried to imagine Ma and Pa Joad heading north, their golf bags and espresso machine strapped to the Range Rover.

Frontier Gibberish — Charlie Pierce on the poll results of GOP voter sediment sentiment.

To paraphrase The Master, data don’t talk, they swear. And the latest from PPP is cursing up a storm.

OK, I think it’s hilarious, too, that 30 percent of Republican primary voters want to bomb Aladdin’s hometown. More startling to me are the following:

1) That Marco Rubio’s unfavorable numbers are exactly the same (34 percent) as Donald Trump’s. Which makes Rubio seven points more unpopular than Ted Cruz, whom nobody likes except his mother, and she could be jiving, too. And that, in a head-to-head hypothetical, Cruz crushes Rubio, 48 percent to 34. Xenophobes have long memories, Marco.

2) That 80 percent of Republican primary voters favor banning gun sales to people on the no-fly list, not that it will matter.

3) That 46 percent of them want a database kept of all Muslims in America.

4) That just as many of them believe that Muslims danced on rooftops on 9/11 as do not believe that this thing that didn’t happen didn’t happen.

There isn’t much I can say that wasn’t said better by the citizens of Rock Ridge.

Fifty Years of “Fiddler” — Eric Grode of the New York Times gathers recollections of the legendary musical as it is revived yet again on Broadway.

So many Velcro-affixed bottles. So many fake beards (plus a few real ones). And so, so many daughters. As the sun rises Sunday, Dec. 20, on the latest Broadway “Fiddler on the Roof” revival, this one starring Danny Burstein as the beleaguered milkman Tevye, we look back at 51 years in Anatevka. The original leading man (Zero Mostel) and director (Jerome Robbins) were often barely on speaking terms, but that 1964 Harold Prince production went on to a record-setting run. We asked veterans of that “Fiddler” and of the incalculable number of professional, amateur and student productions that followed to recall their experiences. Here are edited excerpts.

Harvey Fierstein

Replacement Tevye in the 2004 Broadway revival

I grew up in New York, and my mom was very culturally minded. Theater tickets were $2 for the balcony in 1964, and my mom would often buy four tickets in the front row of the balcony for her, my father, me and my brother. One day, the curtain went up — and it was a stage full of Jews. My life was never the same after that.

Adrienne Barbeau

Replacement Hodel in the original production

I had sent my photo and résumé to Shirley Rich, who was Hal Prince’s casting director, and I got a call one Friday to come in the following Tuesday for what was an absolutely grueling four-hour audition. I was auditioning against the woman who was understudying the role at the time, but I remember getting this psychic message from my grandmother, who had survived the Armenian genocide, that I would get it. And I got it!

Bette Midler

Replacement Tzeitel in the original production

Maria Karnilova, who played Golde, was the most brilliant actress I have ever seen. I watched her every night in the wings and could never figure out how she did it. But the person who showed me the most kindness was Joanna Merlin, who was the original Tzeitel, who suggested me to replace her when she left. (The second time. It’s a long story!)

It was a perfect storm of talent, and universal themes: the pull of tradition and family, the struggle to retain your human dignity in the face of terrible odds. And of course, everyone knows a Yente, even if they’re not Jewish.

Carolyn Mignini

Replacement Sima in the original production

At the five-minute call, Adrienne Barbeau and Bette Midler and I would meet in the enclosed house onstage and sing ’50s and ’60s songs to warm up.

Josh Groban

Tevye at Los Angeles County High School for the Arts

I was a late bloomer, and I still couldn’t grow a beard, even in 12th grade, so I had to wear the fake beard and glue it onto my face every night. I just had the best time. I’m not a good dancer, so a lot of the moves for Tevye were right in my wheelhouse, just kind of dramatically, sluggishly moving. It’s a wonderful memory, because it was the first time that I really felt I fit in.

Danny Burstein

Tevye in the current revival

In 1986, I believe, I was lucky enough to be in a production with the great Theodore Bikel. I played Mendel, the rabbi’s son. It was especially memorable to me, because it was directed by Sheldon Harnick’s brilliant brother, Jay Harnick. Jay gave me one of the greatest pieces of direction I’ve ever gotten. I was playing Mendel for laughs. He wanted it real. He pulled me aside and said with a warm smile, “Danny, dare to be disliked.” In other words, play the show. Tell the story — and the story isn’t always about you.

Michael Cyril Creighton

Ensemble at St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington, N.Y.

I went to Catholic high school, so naturally I played a young Jewish boy in the chorus. Admittedly, I was pretty bummed I didn’t get to glue on a beard. They did, however, make up my face for the back of the auditorium: chestnut brown eye shadow with white highlights. I found it difficult to keep my clip on Hasidic curls in place while alternating my arms and legs during “Tradition.” And while quite a few curls ended up on that stage floor during the run, boy, did my eyes pop. In the current production I believe my roles are being played by a small woman.

Doonesbury — Misplaced modifier.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Sunday Reading

Can We Do It? — Robinson Meyer in The Atlantic looks at the promises and the challenges in the Paris climate change agreement.

With the swing of a gavel on Saturday, the world’s nations adopted the first international agreement to limit the causes of anthropogenic climate change. For the first time in history, more than 150 countries have promised to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide they emit into the atmosphere and to increase these reductions over time.

If ratified, the agreement will include a greater swath of countries than any previous pact, encompassing not only the rich, northern nations that put most of the carbon into the atmosphere, but also the rapidly developing southern states whose emissions could soon dwarf the rest of the world’s.

The document also nods to a more ambitious ultimate goal than any previous agreement. While reinforcing the long-stated international aim of keeping the rise in average global temperatures below two degrees Celsius, it encourages a new push to cap warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“If adopted, countries have united around a historic agreement that marks a turning point in the climate crisis,” said Jennifer Morgan, who directs the climate program at the World Resources Institute, after the final text was announced.

In order to get to this point, national negotiating teams had to resolve many intricate and complicated issues central to international climate diplomacy. But if you have only been following the talks somewhat, you may be more interested in a de facto question posed by Venezuela’s lead climate negotiator, Claudia Salerno. Two hours into the most acrimonious public meeting that occurred during the talks, a nearly four-hour plenary on Wednesday, she described her hope for after the talks.

“I want to go back home, and look my daughters in the face, and say, ‘It’s all going to be fine,’” she told the other negotiators. “‘You’re going to be fine.’”

Venezuela, a petroleum producer, does not have a spotless climate record, and Salerno has pulled stunts at the climate talks before. But in her way, she was stating the prime question behind our roiling crisis. It was the only question that people asked me when I said I had been covering the Paris talks all week:

Are we going to be okay?

The answer is more complicated than yes or no.

[…]

Over the past half decade, more money has been committed to renewable energy than ever before, and the prices of solar and wind energy have fallen precipitously. But in order to halt climate change, many more billions will need to be expended. Research and development budgets, at both governments and companies, must quadruple or sextuple in size. And meanwhile investors must divest themselves of investment in fossil fuels.

The Paris agreement is meant to spur that great re-investment, by signaling the imminent end of the fossil-fuel business and the fantastic opportunity in renewable energy. It hopes to address the boardrooms of the world and say: Keep it up.

Which is good, because in no way are the emissions reductions that countries have made right now adequate. The carbon dioxide cuts specified at Paris will not keep the planet to 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming; they will not even keep it to two. If these cuts were made and no more, the world would warm about 2.7 degrees by 2100. That’s better than the track we’ve been on for a long time, but it is still a catastrophic event.

Everyone knows this. Christiana Figueres, the UN’s lead climate change negotiator and the impresario of Paris, told The New Yorker earlier this year that, “If anyone comes to Paris and has a eureka moment—‘Oh, my God, the [national cutbacks] do not take us to two degrees!’—I will chop the head off whoever publishes that. Because I’ve been saying this for a year and a half.”

The hope of the Paris talks is that it will not matter, that future technological advancements and reduction commitments will get us below the line. And part of the success of the talks is that there will likely be future cutbacks. Because, in a larger sense, the Paris talks have sounded a new era in how the world—as a global system of nation-states—manages climate change.

Time To Worry About Trump — John Cassidy in The New Yorker.

For months now, there has been a disjuncture at the heart of the Republican Presidential race. The opinion polls have had Donald Trump leading handily, but the pundits and prediction (or betting) markets have been saying that it is unlikely he will win the nomination. Even today, this is true.

A new CBS News/New York Times poll shows Trump pulling further ahead of his rivals, with the support of thirty-five per cent of likely voters in the G.O.P. primaries. The survey placed Trump’s nearest challenger, Ted Cruz, almost twenty percentage points behind him. Other recent polls have produced similar results. The Real Clear Politics poll average shows Trump at 30.4 per cent, Cruz at 15.6 per cent, and Ben Carson at 13.6 per cent.

But if you go to online betting sites, where people can wager real money on this stuff, you will get a very different impression of the race. Marco Rubio, who got just nine per cent in the CBS News/Times poll, is still regarded as the strong favorite to land the nomination. At some bookies, the odds of Rubio winning are just 5/4, meaning you have to wager forty dollars to win fifty. Trump is the second-favorite, but gamblers can still obtain odds of 3/1 (or even 4/1) on him being the candidate. Predictwise, an online site that combines information from the betting markets and the polls, reckons the likelihood of Trump winning is just twenty per cent, whereas the probability of Rubio winning is forty-one per cent.

How can these numbers be explained? A bit of history is instructive. At this stage in 2003, Howard Dean was leading John Kerry in the polls by eight percentage points. In mid-December, 2007, Hillary Clinton was leading Barack Obama by eighteen points, and on the Republican side Rudy Giuliani had a five-point lead. On December 11, 2011, the Real Clear Politics poll average showed Newt Gingrich with a twelve-point lead over Mitt Romney: 32.8 per cent to 20.8 per cent. None of these leaders went onto win a nomination, which suggests the national polls shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

Moreover, the arguments for Rubio can sound compelling. He’s young and fresh-faced, a good communicator, and the other contenders in the moderate-conservative lane—Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kasich—are all struggling. If they eventually drop out, much of their support could go to Rubio. Arguably, the senator from Florida also has the background, and political skills, to pick up some ultra-conservative voters: when he was elected to the Senate, in 2010, he was widely perceived as a Tea Party candidate. Right now, nobody else in the Republican field looks capable of putting together such a coalition.

Except for Trump, that is.

Even though early polls often turn out to be unreliable, it’s hard to ignore the fact that he’s been leading in them for five months now. If this is a blip, it is a very extended one. And during the past few weeks, two things have happened which also suggest it is time to reassess Trump’s prospects. First, more evidence has emerged that he isn’t just picking up the support of furious white men in pickup trucks who see the country slipping away from them: his support is a good deal broader than that. And second, the murderous attacks in Paris and San Bernardino have changed the dynamics of the Republican race, bringing the threat of terrorism to the fore. So far, Trump appears to be the principal beneficiary.

Take New Hampshire, where polls show Trump well ahead. A new CNN/WMUR survey of people likely to vote in the G.O.P. primary, which takes place on February 9th, shows him garnering support from virtually all corners of the Republican Party. To be sure, he gets his highest favorability ratings from men, self-identified conservatives, and people who didn’t attend college. But among self-identified moderates, forty-seven per cent have a favorable opinion of Trump, compared to forty-three per cent who view him unfavorably. Among women, forty-nine per cent think positively of Trump, and forty-three per cent have a negative opinion. Among college graduates, fifty-eight per cent express a favorable opinion of him, and thirty five per cent a negative opinion.

So much for the angry-white-guy thesis. At the national level, a recent Quinnipiac University survey of Republicans and Republican leaners produced similar findings. Trump was ahead among voters who described themselves as Tea Party members or extremely conservative, but also among those who described themselves as moderate or liberal. When the pollsters asked Republicans if there were any candidates for whom they definitely wouldn’t vote, Trump was the most popular choice. Twenty-six per cent of respondents ruled out backing him. That confirms he’s a polarizing figure, but it also implies that he hasn’t necessarily reached his ceiling.

And now there is the fear of terrorism to consider. Since the November 13th attacks in Paris, Trump’s poll numbers have risen steadily. While many commentators are outraged by his calls for religious profiling, registries of Muslims, and, most recently, an outright ban on Muslims entering the United States, Trump’s strident language clearly resonates with many Republicans, and even some non-Republicans. In the CBS News/Times poll, seventy-nine per cent of Americans said they believe another terrorist attack is very likely or somewhat likely in the next few months, the highest figure since 9/11. And eighty-nine per cent of the people polled said they are concerned about the threat of homegrown terrorists inspired by foreign extremists.

In terms of inspiring confidence on this issue, Trump ranks highest among the Republican candidates. Seventy-one per cent of Republican primary voters are very confident or somewhat confident in his ability to handle the threat of terrorism, the CBS News/Times poll found. Other surveys have produced similar findings. Asked which candidate could best handle ISIS, forty-six per cent of registered Republicans sampled in a recent national poll from CNN picked Trump. Ted Cruz came in second, but he was trailing Trump by thirty-one percentage points on this key issue.

As of yet, it is too early to say exactly how the furor over Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims will play out. The CBS News/Times poll was carried out largely before he issued his statement on Monday. What scattered evidence there is, such as a Fox News poll from South Carolina and another new poll from New Hampshire, both of which did some sampling on Tuesday, suggest Trump is maintaining—and perhaps even extending—his lead among Republicans. “The question that people have been asking this week is whether the comments that Donald Trump made earlier this week would hurt him,” said Steve Koczela, the pollster who carried out the latest poll in the Granite State for the public-radio station WBUR. “And what this poll shows is that in New Hampshire that certainly was not the case.”

Appearing on Fox on Thursday, Frank Luntz, the G.O.P. pollster who a few days ago conducted a focus group with Trump supporters that received quite a bit of attention, said it is “time for the Republican establishment to accept the fact that Trump is not only a viable candidate, but this lead is real.” Notwithstanding the fate of previous primary front-runners, the same point could be applied to pundits and everybody else. Right now the question isn’t whether Trump could win the Republican nomination; it’s: What is it going to take to stop him?

Armed and Quite Possibly Dangerous — How easy is it to get a concealed carry permit?  Tim Murphy of Mother Jones finds out.

According to the state of Utah, I earned the right to carry a concealed handgun on a Saturday morning in a suburban shopping center outside Baltimore. Toward the back, next to a pawnshop and White Trash Matt’s tattoo parlor, is the global headquarters of Dukes Defense World, a mom-and-pop firearms instruction shop certified by the Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification to teach nonresidents firearm safety as a prerequisite for obtaining a concealed-carry permit.

My achievement doesn’t make sense for a number of reasons. One, I don’t live in Utah. I’m a resident of Washington, DC, a city that holds concealed handguns in roughly the same esteem as working escalators. I’ve never shot a gun. And in distinctly un-Utahn fashion, I’m nursing a hangover. Fortunately, none of that matters here. After four hours at Dukes Defense, I have a completed application and a snazzy graduation certificate for my wall. Sixty days after my application is processed, I’ll be able to carry a concealed weapon in no fewer than 32 states. It’s great for road trips.

Over the last two decades, Utah’s concealed-carry permit has emerged as a de facto national ID for handgun owners. It typifies a new era of arming Americans in public: 40 states now recognize some or all out-of-state permits, and 8 have made it legal in all or some circumstances to carry a concealed handgun without any permit at all. In April, the Senate came just three votes short of passing a measure that would have mandated reciprocity for concealed-carry permits—including the ones Utah so freely hands out—nationwide.

As part of a National Rifle Association-backed movement to roll back concealed-carry restrictions, in the mid-1990s Utah became a “shall issue” state. That means it grants concealed-carry permits unless it has a compelling reason (such as a felony record) not to do so. Licensees don’t need to demonstrate proficiency with a handgun, and they don’t even need to set foot in the Beehive State. They just have to take a class on firearm safety and pay a processing fee (approximately $50) and some of the cheapest renewal fees in the business (as little as 75 cents every five years).

The result has been a boom in out-of-state residents seeking permits and the birth of a cottage industry catering to them. As of June, nonresidents held more than 60 percent of Utah’s 473,476 valid concealed-carry permits. Maryland alone has 33 Utah-certified instructors. One, Mid-Atlantic Firearms Training, boasts “No Firearm Qualification Needed”; another, Semper Fidelis Consulting, touts its NRA ties and its convenience. (It makes house calls.)

My instructor is Kevin Dukes, a 20-year Army veteran who runs Dukes Defense World with his wife, Jenny. He’s ready for battle in cargo pants, a black polo, hiking boots, and black-rimmed hipster glasses that match his gray goatee. A handgun is on his hip. A black-and-white portrait of shotgun-pumping Hatfields—icons of responsible gun ownership if ever there were—sits in the corner. Across the room is a table with a paper invitation that will be his first topic of discussion: “Join the NRA.”

The pitch is straightforward. It costs just $35 to sign on with America’s top gun lobbying group, and membership comes with $2,500 of insurance in case anything happens to your piece. Dukes concedes that not everyone is a fan of the NRA’s politics, but in his view the group puts together smart training programs and its aim is true—”320 million people a year are being saved by guns, because they’re not being killed,” he tells us.

[…]

Utah lawmakers’ latest idea is to eliminate the requirement for a permit within the state’s borders entirely—what’s known as “constitutional carry.” In March, Republican Gov. Gary Herbert vetoed such a bill, but gun lobbyists are planning to make another push. Constitutional-carry-type laws already exist in eight states, including Arizona, where former Rep. Gabby Giffords’ assailant was exercising his legal right to carry a Glock 19 and high-capacity magazines. When I asked Carrick Cook, a spokesman for the Arizona Depart­ment of Public Safety, what it takes to carry a concealed handgun in Arizona, his response was brief: “Pretty much nothing.” (Residents in constitutional-carry jurisdictions may need to get a permit if they want to cross state lines with a weapon, but that’s usually a formality.)

As Dukes walks us through a long list of precautions, it’s clear that he’s passionate about safety. It’s equally clear that I don’t know the first thing about how to responsibly handle a firearm, let alone carry one in public. Jenny invites us to come up front to practice loading a handgun with fake rounds. When my turn comes, I struggle to load more than a few before they’re ejected halfway across the room. But that’s not going to stop Utah from giving me a permit.

A few weeks after my graduation, I call up Dukes. My application is still being processed, but a question has been nagging at me: What did a seasoned instructor think about the fact that pretty much anyone could walk in and get a Utah permit without demonstrating a lick of proficiency with a gun? While he seems disappointed that I signed up for the class with no actual desire to protect myself, he hardly hesitates: “The Constitution doesn’t say you need it.”

Doonesbury — Anybody can do it.