Saturday, October 1, 2016

Friday, September 30, 2016

Friday, September 2, 2016

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Friday, January 15, 2016

Short Takes

ISIS claims credit for the attack in Jakarta that killed seven.

President Obama took his SOTU tour to Louisiana.

Anglicans suspend entire U.S. Episcopal church over marriage equality.

Goldman Sachs to pay $5 billion in mortgage settlement.

The Oscar nominations were announced.

Tropical Update: A hurricane in January?  I blame Al Gore.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Sunday Reading

Why The Benghazi Committee Was An Embarrassment — Charlie Pierce on the spectacle.

As a public service, I would like to give the voters of Alabama’s Second Congressional District a preview of one of the campaign commercials they are going to see next fall, when Congresswoman Martha Roby is running for re-election. There is going to be a serious movie-trailer in-a-world musical introduction and then a clip of Ms. Roby thundering at Hillary Rodham Clinton, “I don’t know why that’s funny. Did you have any in-person briefings? I don’t find it funny at all…The reason I say it’s not funny is because it went well into the night when our folks on the ground were still in danger, so I don’t think it’s funny to ask if you’re alone the whole night.” And then, Martha Roby – Not Afraid.

Paid For By The Committee To Re-Elect The Clueless.

What you will not see is Hillary Rodham Clinton’s finally breaking into the gale of laughter she’d been suppressing for about seven hours, and those members of the gallery still conscious enough to laugh guffawing right along with her. This is because if you watched the hearings in real time, you would realize, in context, that in her outrage, Ms. Roby looked like nothing more than an angry nun who’d reached for her ruler only to realize that someone had switched in a vibrator on her. It was that kind of day. It was that kind of night. Well, if nothing else, HRC’s stalwart performance scared Lincoln Chafee right out of the presidential campaign. Feel the O’Malleymentum!

[…]

The reason that Thursday’s hearing looked so grotesque was not simply that it was a partisan dumbshow. It looked grotesque in the first place because what was being investigated was nothing. The Marine barracks really was destroyed. The Khobar Towers really did blow up. The Reagan administration really did sell weapons to the mullahs. What Gowdy and his merry band of meatheads was trying to find out already had been explained by a number of different investigations, and it still was unclear what Thursday’s hearing was supposed to be getting at. The other reason is that, for two midterm cycles now, the Republican base has been sending lightweights to represent it in a federal government that the base has grown to hate. Say what you will about Cheney, in terms of partisan political warfare, the man is a heavyweight. Instead, we got Roby, inadvertently stumbling into a wilderness of punchlines, and Lynn Westmoreland, who appeared to be lifted whole from Sam Drucker’s store and plopped behind the committee table, and angry red balloons like Mike Pompeo and Peter Roskam. Even chairman Gowdy is in Congress only because Bob Inglis proved too much of a liberal for a district down in the home office of American sedition. The Tea Party people are electing each other now. The problem with Thursday’s fiasco was not that it was partisanship per se, but that it was an obviously amateur theatrical.

Dear United States:

Please stop electing morons.

Sincerely,

America.

Category 5 — Robinson Meyer in The Atlantic explores how Hurricane Patricia gained strength so fast.

Patricia got extremely strong, extremely fast. Late Wednesday evening, it was merely a strong tropical storm, with peak winds of 65 miles per hour. By the following morning, it had become a category-one hurricane; and by Friday morning, it had exceeded records.

How did it intensify so quickly? Falko Judt, a meteorologist at the University of Miami who studies hurricane intensity, said the intensification wasn’t entirely unexpected. It’s just that almost everything that could go the cyclone’s way, did.

The two major factors that govern hurricane intensity, Judt said, are ocean temperature and wind shear. The ocean-surface temperature was very warm under Patricia—it was measured at 31 degrees Celsius, or more than 87 degrees Fahrenheit—which provided the storm with a lot of fuel. At the same time, wind shear was very low, which meant that wind was blowing in the same direction across multiple levels of atmosphere and there was little frictional drag on the storm.

Judt said that these two factors were aided further by very high humidity locally.

“It’s not totally unexpected to me that it intensified so quickly,” he told me. “Everything looked toward it becoming a strong hurricane. It’s just incredible how strong it got.”

What drove that strength?

Judt said that he thought El Niño played a large role. El Niño is a Pacific Ocean-spanning climate phenomenon, in which the eastern part of the ocean, near the equator, becomes warmer than usual. The central and western Pacific in turn become cooler. The effects of the climatological phenomenon are felt across the globe, which causes droughts in Australia and Ethiopia and deluges in California.

“The largest signal of El Niño is around the equator, so it tapers off at higher and lower latitudes. But Mexico is still close enough that it feels the effects,” he said.“It’s always hard to attribute one single storm to a larger phenomenon like El Niño, but it most likely did play a role.”

The Cat’s Tale — Ferris Jabr in The New Yorker on our relationship with felines.

“The cat does not offer services,” William Burroughs wrote. “The cat offers itself.” But it does so with unapologetic ambivalence. Greet a cat enthusiastically and it might respond with nothing more than a few unhurried blinks. Later, as you’re trying to work, it will commandeer your lap, keyboard, and attention, purring all the while. A cat will mew at the food bowl in the morning and set off on a multiple-day trek in the afternoon. Dogs are dependent on us to the point of being obsequious, but cats seem to be constantly reëvaluating the merits of our relationship, as well as their role in domestic life. “Are cats domesticated?” is one of the most frequently Googled questions about the animals, based on the search engine’s autocomplete suggestions.

It’s a question that scientists have been asking, too. The latest answer, based on insights from recent archeological discoveries and genome-sequencing studies, is that cats are semi-domesticated. Conventional wisdom holds that the ancient Egyptians were the first people to bond with the cat, only four thousand years ago. In 2004, however, a team of French researchers working in Cyprus unearthed the ninety-five-hundred-year-old remains of a human and a cat buried side by side. Last year, an analysis of cat bones and teeth from a fifty-three-hundred-year-old settlement in China indicated that the animals were eating rodents, grains, and the leftovers of human meals. It appears that, following the advent of agriculture, wildcats in the Near East and Asia likely began to congregate near farms and grain stores, where mice and rats were abundant. People tolerated the volunteer exterminators, and wildcats became increasingly comfortable with people. Whether this affiliation began five or ten millennia ago, the evidence suggests that cats have not been part of our domestic domain for nearly as long as dogs, who have been our companions for perhaps forty thousand years.

At first, the cat was yet another opportunistic creature that evolved to take advantage of civilization. It was essentially a larger version of the rodents it caught. Somewhere along the line, people shifted from tolerating cats to welcoming them, providing extra food and a warm place to sleep. Why? Perhaps because of the cat’s innate predisposition to tameness and its inherent faunal charm—what the Japanese would call kawaii. Look up photos of the thirty-eight or so wildcat species and you might be surprised at how easy it is to picture one curled up on the couch. Dogs likely initiated their own domestication, too, by prowling around campfires in search of food scraps. Whereas our ancestors quickly harnessed dogs to useful tasks, breeding them to guard, hunt, and herd, they never asked much of cats. We have also been slow to diversify cat breeds. Many dog, horse, and cattle breeds are more than five hundred years old, but the first documented cat fanciers’ show didn’t take place until 1871, at the Crystal Palace, in London, and the most modern cat breeds emerged only within the past fifty years.

This relatively short and lenient period of selective breeding is manifest in the cat genome, Wesley Warren, a geneticist at the University of Washington, in St. Louis, said. In a study published last year, Warren and his colleagues analyzed DNA from several wildcats and domestic cat breeds, including an Abyssinian named Cinnamon. They confirmed that, genetically, cats have diverged much less from their wildcat ancestors than dogs have from wolves, and that the cat genome has much more modest signatures of artificial selection. Because cats also retain sharper hunting skills than dogs, abandoned felines are more likely to survive without any human help. And in some countries, feral cats routinely breed with their wildcat cousins. “There’s still a lot of genetic mixing,” Warren said. “You don’t have the true differentiation you see between wolf and dog. Using the dog as the best comparison, the modern cat is not what I would call fully domesticated.”

Doonesbury — Doctor, doctor.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Friday, August 21, 2015

Short Takes

Jimmy Carter is “at ease” with his future fighting cancer.

Israel hits back after rockets attack from Syria.

Three firefighters died in the wildfire in Washington state.

Explosion reported at New York high school.

Stocks fall on jitters over weak Chinese economy.

Tropical Update: Hurricane Danny will be in the Lesser Antilles this weekend.

The Tigers beat the Rangers 4-0.

Happy birthday, SJW.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Monday, December 1, 2014

Made It Through Another Season

It’s December 1.  That means that as of midnight (ET), the Atlantic hurricane season is officially over until June 1.

This is the ninth year we in South Florida have gone without a major hurricane.  The last one of any note here in Miami was Wilma in October 2005.  I am sure there are all sorts of meteorological reasons why we’ve not been hit while others have (e.g. Irma, Sandy), but whatever it is, I’m glad we can get rid of our stash of Dinty Moore and Nature Valley bars for a while.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Nellie vs. Butch

What’s in a name?  If it’s a hurricane, it could be the difference between life and death.

People don’t take hurricanes as seriously if they have a feminine name and the consequences are deadly, finds a new groundbreaking study.

Female-named storms have historically killed more because people neither consider them as risky nor take the same precautions, the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concludes.

Researchers at the University of Illinois and Arizona State University examined six decades of hurricane death rates according to gender, spanning  1950 and 2012.  Of the 47 most damaging hurricanes, the female-named hurricanes produced an average of 45 deaths compared to 23 deaths in male-named storms, or almost double the number of fatalities.  (The study excluded Katrina and Audrey, outlier storms that would skew the model).

The difference in death rates between genders was even more pronounced when comparing strongly masculine names versus strongly feminine ones.

“[Our] model suggests that changing a severe hurricane’s name from Charley … to Eloise … could nearly triple its death toll,” the study says.

Frankly, I think that anyone who judges a hurricane’s threat based on the name given to it deserves whatever karma has in store.  All I need to hear is the word “hurricane” and I’m on alert no matter what its cognomen is.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Short Takes

Larry Summers backs out of the Fed chair race.

It’s still raining in Colorado, slowing rescue efforts.

U.N. inspectors submit report on Syria’s chemical weapons.

G.O.P. expresses guarded support for President Obama’s leadership on Syria.

The New Yorker gets a nip and tuck.

Tropical Update:  Hurricane Ingrid is a Cat 2, heading for the Gulf coast of Mexico.

The Tigers beat K.C. 3-2.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Short Takes

No deal yet over the budget as Congress goes on break.

Russian summit could be in doubt now that they’ve given Snowden asylum.

U.S. to close embassies in Muslim areas on Sunday.

Cleveland kidnapper gets life plus 1,000 years.

R.I.P. Douglas Case, aka Doghouse Riley, good blogger.

Tropical Update: Hurricane Gil is moving west in the Pacific.