Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day Movies

Both Veteran's Day and Memorial Day lead to movie marathons on the pay channels revolving around the armed forces and war. Unlike Veteran's Day, Memorial Day always is part of a long weekend and the movie-thons tend to run three days.

Here's the problem. While Veteran's Day is to remember all veterans, Memorial Day is supposed to be about the fallen. Many of the movies that have been made and are being shown this weekend on AMC, TMC etc. do not reflect this sacrafice, rather they are either inaccurate, surreal (Apocalypse Now), comedies (!) or bio-pics about generals. 

I've come up with a list of movies that  I feel reflect the meaning of Memorial Day and demonstrate more accurately realities of war and sacrifice of those who fought:

We Were Soldiers
Tora, Tora, Tora
Saving Private Ryan
Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo
The Bridges at Toko-Ri
Flags of Our Fathers
United 93

Any others?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Saturday Santorum, May 28

The latest on the three-ring circus that is Rick Santorum:

First off Ricky, if you want to lecture on how the government should be fiscally responsible like ordinary folks supposedly are, you should pay your taxes on time.

If Santorum thought he already had Google issue,  it just got worse.

Not that Miley Cyrus's opinions influence anyone outside the Hannah Montana fanbase, but she doesn;t care for him

First Fox, now Salem Radio dumps the Rickster. Yeah I never heard of 'em either.

The man who wants to bring the country back to a time before it existed, i.e. the Middle Ages, squawks about how Obama is changing the definition of the US, whatever that means.

Here we go Bruins, Here we go!

It's about time, if they win the cup Jeremy Jacobs may be redeemed...maybe.
Don't touch it! (Reuters)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Talk About Convergence: Coast Guard and Climate Change.

Just after my two recent posts on the Coast Guard and climate change there's one on both over at the CG Blog. 
For something that's "not happening" it's funny that the military world is discussing it and planning for it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Coast Guard Example

Reading the CG blog I was alerted to the Naval Institute's Coast Guard Year in Review.  The smallest armed service with by far the smallest budget, the CG also has the most varied missions and provides a lot of bang for the buck if you will in regards to the services the public gets for their investment. One little tidbit that brightened my day was this:
The service also aggressively pursued Mayday hoax callers. In March 2010 a Holly Ridge, North   Carolina,  man agreed to pay $234,000 in restitution for costs associated with the Coast Guard District 5’s response to his hoax calls..
In another life I performed reserve duty at the First District command center, where I personally experienced how hoax mayday calls tie up resources and endanger lives.

It's funny that when I was in the guard didn't seem all the special and definitely taken for granted. Now that I've had the opportunity to compare it with other institutions my opinion of its abilities despite neglect has risen. The ability of the CG to get the job done despite limited resources was best demonstrated to the public during Katrina. The existence of such an agency gives lie to the quasi-religious axiom that "government can't do anything." The key is minimal bureaucracy, maximum flexibility and focus on operations and politics. Of course those very factors reduce the pork opportunities and voter awareness, the two things politicians pay attention to.

Ironically, the Coast Guard's failed attempt to revitalize its assets, known as the Deepwater Project, showed what happens when you outsource management (to Northrop Grumman in this case) of a government program with no oversight. One error in the 60 Minutes piece is that Deepwater began before 9/11 which goes to show the Clinton admin bought into the "privatization is best" mantra as much as the Republicans.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Snapshots of Current Extreme Weather in the American Heartland

The ongoing drought in West Texas is the worst on record and dust storm conditions have developed.

 At the same time to the east, the Mississippi River has been experiencing record flooding, including at places like Vicksburg, MS:

USGS stream gauge record for Vicksburg, MS (click for larger image)
 Historic RR station in Vicksburg, MS -CNN (click for a larger image).
And in between drought and flood, we are in the midst of a multi-day tornado outbreak which produced the deadly EF5 that tore the heart out of Joplin, MO and is now producing hail, heavy rains, hail and of course more tornadoes in Texas and Oklahoma:
Wedge tornado near Piedmont, OK, 5/24/11 - MSNBC (click for a larger image).
Again, any single extreme weather event cannot be attributed to climate change alone, but since climate is the expected weather based on avergaes, if extreme weather becomes the norm by definition the climate has changed.  Get that Inhofe?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Back to Marcellus News for Pennsylvania, May 15-22

Washington Cty. farmers Ron Gulla and Terry Greenwood attacked the gas drilling industry during a forum in Lancaster, blaming leakage from wells for contamination of their properties and loss of livestock.

Chesapeake was fined $1.1 million by Pennsylvania regulators, including $900,000 for contaminating the sixteen residential water wells in Bradford County.

Last Thursday was the deadline for drillers to stop bringing their contaminated wastewater to riverside treatment plants. Some operators have stopped drilling while they develop alternative plans.

A music video? Yeah that'll stop fracking.

Pennsylvania American Water, a commercial water supply corporation, say they have found no detectable levels of radioactive or volatile chemicals from fracking wastewater in any of their supply intakes.

According to a report released by the Department of Environmental Protection, a study found no emission levels that would pose a public health concern near gas drilling operations in Bradford, Lycoming, Sullivan and Tioga counties.

Washington, D.C.based activist group "Energy In Depth" is starting a Northeast Marcellus Initiative, a "grassroots education and outreach program also intended to mobilize supporters of responsible natural gas development in Northeastern Pennsylvania and southern New York." according to Citizens Voice.

Business and Operations
BP and Conoco canceled a plan gas pipeline in Alaska due to oversupply from gas shale deposits.

Enerplus will sell 91,000 acres of Marcellus holdings for $575 million.  But the company intends to remain in a  "concentrated, meaningful position" in the Marcellus, as it still holds 110,000 acres containing an estimated 2.3 trillion cubic feet of gas. (No indication whether that estimate is of recoverable reserves or not).

Exploration companies have begun drilling the Utica Formation, which underlies the Marcellus in westerm Pa. and is considered another possible source of shale gas.

Japanese owned Mitsui E&P USA is looking to expand into gas shale operations, including in the Marcellus Play.

Politics and Impact
State Sen. Tim Solobay had a Senate Policy Committee take testimony from the drilling industry, labor, environmental activists and others to assess the impact of Marcellus operations in the state.

The gas boom has created a demand for cell phone and internet service in the boonies.

The promise of wealth from natural gas production and the specter of contaminated water supplies from fracking waste is dividing Pennsylvania communities, and creating gas-related 'haves and 'have-nots' according to Reuters reports.

The Marcellus gas supply is making Pennsylvania attractive to three large multinational chemical companies according to Secretary of Community and Economic Development Alan Walker.
Exploitation of the Marcellus has transformed Wiliamsport into a boomtown.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Saturday Santorum: The Rickster Returns

Before the break, Donald Trump had pushed Santorum out of the news light and regrettably I had shutdown the Saturday Santorum. But then events and Obama bitch-slapped the Donald and he slinked away with his tail between his legs. So now the Rickster is back, with a vengance. 

To begin with, the greatest mind of the 13th century took torture survivor John McCain to task for not understanding the need and proper application for torture.  Just ask the people of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Now as a big proponent of legislating morality and what you do in your bedroom,  it only makes sense that he tipped off his sleazy colleague John Ensign that his affair was about to go public. Remember that Ricky is old school and knows that the rules you play by should depend on who are.

But don't think Santorum can't be fun, break out the Iron Maiden cause he's throwing a house party!  BTW the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette stole my idea...

I can see it now Santorum/Bachmann vs. Romney/Huckabee vs. Obama,

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Hollywood Studios and Theaters Slowly Killing Themselves.

Roger Ebert bemoans (correctly IMHO) the dearth of originality and the slew of crappy sequels being flushed into theaters by the major studios. As Ebert points out, much of this is due to reign of marketing types who push brands for a quick buck. This is not unique to the movie industry, even academic departments and whole universities subscribe to the branding and marketing concept. While I agree with him that there is something special about the big screen, I don't think Ebert, with his critics' access to special screenings, has to put up with the modern movie going experience: high prices, lobbies with the atmosphere of a T station and rude moviegoers. As more patrons flee to the comfort and lower expense of their own homes, the studios are pushing faster releases to DVD and pay-TV and even more branded sequels marketed for a quick buck. It's a vicious circle.  At the same time originality, production values and talent is migrating to the cable channels. Think The Wire, Breaking Bad, Band of Brothers etc. These trends do not bode well for the big screen.

But I think the future is not much brighter for cable and satellite. Prices continue to rise as channel and overall quality content decrease.  Much of the best of both TV and movies is now available on-line.  Netflix streaming now leads internet traffic in this US.  Just this morning I saw Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on ESPN promoting a basketball documentary that will be premiering on Netflix.

Just goes to show that no matter how dominant and powerful an industry or institution is, change and failure to adapt can sow the seeds of its decline.

Weather Extremes the New Norm?

I've wondered about this very thing because of the weather the past few years.  Remember that climate is not neccesarrily the weather on any give day, season or year, but what is expected or the norm.  So are the current extreme patterns a new norm and a shift in climate? It is according to a panel of officials and scientists put together by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe (Texas Tech) said, "It's a new normal and I really do think that global weirding is the best way to describe what we're seeing,"  Nikhil da Victoria Lobo of  the reinsurance firm Swiss Re is quoted, "Globally what we're seeing is more volatility."
I think we will only be sure if this is the case is unfortunately looking in our rearview mirror. It is disturbing to think that this change could actually be noticeable in the space of years rather than decades.  The irony is that while rapid change may get the public behind mitigation it would be an indication that the problem is much worse than expected.

While we're on this subject , here are the GISTEMP maps of surface temperature anomalies for March and April:
The warming in the Arctic this late winter/early spring is quite dramatic isn't it?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Opposition Repeats Itself

I recently bought the companion book to the Ken Burns' PBS series on the National Parks. One part recounts the struggle to add  Rockefeller's land donation to Grand Teton National Park over local opposition. There is a picture of the June 23, 1943 front page of the Jackson Hole Courier. One headline reads, "Noted Columnist Likens Jackson Hole Monument to Nazi Trick".  Yep, conservatives comparing expansion of a national park with voluntarily donated land to the vile Nazis as WWII raged!  So there really is nothing new under the sun.  It's like the genome of an organism, many of the codes are the same as other organisms, but they're expressed in different combinations or lay dormant for a time. So it is with society and politics and we shouldn't allow ourselves to be surprised or bullied when these themes pop-up as we go forward and address the challenges as I see them.

The Challenges We Face Redux

I've had time to mull over where to go here. I may reboot the whole thing in the future on Wordpress. One thing I've done is update my profile, and I'll explain my "recovering academic" description in a long-winded rant sometime this week (we're all entitled to a few of those). I'm also going to try a daily Marcellus news update, since a once a week or more post takes a lot of time to put together.  First and foremost though I want to restate and define the main theme I'm pushing.

Since I've started this little blog, I've refined the challenges I think we in America and the world will be forced to address in this decade.  There are, as always, many, but I think there are three big interconnected ones that are now prominent and will overshadow the others.

First of all, let's consider energy. People in 1811 lived much like those in 1511 or 1211. There were some major improvements in the technologies they used over those times, but the energy sources were largely the same: wood, water, wind, animal and human muscle power. All these were mechanical except for the burning of wood. In 1811 steam was first being harnessed. Compared to those people we live like gods today. I'm on a laptop in a room artificially lit with electricity, with cool and frozen food downstairs and a full larder of foodstuffs, some maybe transported long distances by wondrous machines unthinkable in 1811 or 1511. I even have one of my own. Not to mention all the amazing materials (paint, plastic containers, medicines etc.) that would seem miraculous to our ancestors. This amazing advance has literally been fueled by hydrocarbons long accumulated and buried in the crust, especially petroleum.  Crude oil is really an amazing substance. Being a liquid at surface temperature and pressure, it is easily transported in containers or pipelines. It is a stew of hydrocarbons that can be economically separated into substances as diverse as asphalt, diesel fuel, gasoline, white gas, petroleum jelly, baby oil, propane and paraffin wax.  We also use it as chemical feedstock to make plastics, rubber, medicines, etc. It is even our main source of sulfur and helium. Coal is still in heavy demand for generating electricity and natural gas is being used for transportation, heating, chemical feedstock and fertilizer feedstock. It is not an exaggeration to say these fossil fuels drive our entire modern civilization.

But these fossil fuels exist in finite amounts. There will be point for each where global production can no longer rise or remain steady and will begin to fall. With petroleum this has been called Peak Oil, a useful term ruined by various survivalist types who have latched onto it as the latest source for their apocalyptic fantasies. But it appears that production may have peaked in 2005-2008, a development that will impact the global economy, food production and geo-politics. It will also increase demand on the other fossil fuels. This energy crunch is my Challenge Number One.

Extraction and refining of fossil fuels creates many environmental problems, as does their use.  One byproduct of our massive use in the modern technological world is the constant increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, a gas that absorbs infrared light or heat energy.  As an effective greenhouse gas, its gradual and continuous increase will increase retention of heat in the atmosphere, land and sea. Since weather systems are just heat transfer mechanisms, increasing the heat will disrupt the long-term weather patterns and averages we call climate.  The recent extremes in weather around the globe may just be the beginning of instabilities in this system, such weather disruptions will impact the global economy, food production and geo-politics. Climate change and in particular near-term climate instability is my Challenge Number Two.

You'll notice I said that both the energy crunch and private and public expenses incurred by weather disruptions will impact the global economy. Add this on top of a poorly regulated market based not on production of goods but on financial transactions on transactions with socialized losses and privatized profits and we wind up with increasing income inequality and economic instability. This laisse-faire system promoted and accepted by those with pseudo-religious understanding of market economics hinders any attempt to address challenges one and two and will lead to political conflicts. Resolving this slash and burn economy is Challenge Number Three.

You can see that all these challenges are interwoven and it follows that they all must be addressed together or none will.  So in addition to my random observations, political rants and so on, watching the developments in these challenges will be the main focus of this blog.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Another Hiatus

With guests arriving and the garden awaiting, I will be putting the blog on vacation until May 16th. I will also be retooling a few things during the down time.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Freedom 7, 50 Years Ago Today

Fifty years ago the Cold War was in full swing.
Fifty years ago B/W television was the height of home entertainment and most people had a single rotary phone in their homes.
Fifty years ago you could still take a liner across the Atlantic.
Fifty years ago European nations still had colonies.
Fifty years ago the U.S. supplied much of its own oil and production was still rising.
Fifty years ago some people could not accept that an Irish-American Catholic was president.

And fifty years ago today, Alan Shepard became the first American to leave the atmosphere and travel through space during a brief suborbital ballistic flight in his Mercury 7 capsule.
The launch of Mercury-Redstone 3 carrying Freedom 7 (NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day)

President Kennedy would use the celebratory hoopla surrounding Shepards' flight to make his call for America to go to the moon. While that mission was accomplished, no one anticipated or could anticipate all the all the challenges, changes, crises and triumphs in the next 50 years.  So while we look at challenges facing us today, we must humbly remember that none of us can know what the results of these challenges will be. That does not mean we can ignore or deny these challenges, just that we must accept uncertainty as part of the package.
We should also look back at Mercury and remember what positive accomplishments we are capable of.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Dalai Lama is OK With Taking Out bin Laden

In response to a question during a speaking engagement regarding bin Laden, the DL said, "Forgiveness doesn't mean forget what happened. … If something is serious and it is necessary to take counter-measures, you have to take counter-measures."

OBL really rubbed people the wrong way didn't he?

I find it interesting that Stewart/Colbert, Andrew Sullivam, Ed Brayton, Maddow and Lawrence O' Donnell and now the Dailai Lama thought it was necessary, while the likes of Wonkette, PZ Myers, Micheal Moore and a host of assorted right-wing nuts did not.

I can also report from circles I travel in that it was a popular decision with a broad swath of college students and blue-collar folks.

'Nuf said for me.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Bin Laden Dead

It appears that we got Bin Laden, hiding in a mansion in Pakistan.

I guarantee that the from the right the wingnuts will try to spin this against Obama and the hand-wringers on the left will find something bad about this. The former can never say anything positive about the President and the latter can never say anything positive about the US or the American people.

But to hell with both of those groups. Bin Laden was the leader of some medieval thinking religious hate-mongers whose vile attack precipitated the events of the past horrible decade. His death closes it and will be a political game changer. Obama pulled a Lincoln and will have tremendous political capital, lets hope he spends it wisely.