Friday, July 9, 2010

A Bozo Idea


Obama Decried, Then Used, Some Bush Drilling Policies

Choppy seas have limited the ability of 'skimmers' to collect oil in the Deepwater Horizon spill. Above, TMT Group's converted super tanker 'A Whale' in the Gulf on Sunday.

[gulfwellpromo]Less than four months after President Barack Obama took office, his new administration received a forceful warning about the dangers of offshore oil drilling.

The alarm was rung by a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., which found that the government was unprepared for a major spill at sea, relying on an "irrational" environmental analysis of the risks of offshore drilling.

The April 2009 ruling stunned both the administration and the oil industry, and threatened to delay or cancel dozens of offshore projects in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico.

Despite its pro-environment pledges, the Obama administration urged the court to revisit the decision. Politically, it needed to push ahead with conventional oil production while it expanded support for renewable energy.

Another reason: money. In its arguments to the court, the government said that the loss of royalties on the oil, estimated at almost $10 billion, "may have significant financial consequences for the federal government."

The U.S. Court of Appeals reversed its decision and allowed drilling in the Gulf to proceed—including on BP PLC's now-infamous Macondo well, 50 miles off the Louisiana coast.

The Obama administration's actions in the court case exemplify the dilemma the White House faced in developing its energy policy. In his presidential campaign, President Obama criticized the Bush administration for being too soft on the oil industry and vowed to support greener energy forms.

But, once in office, President Obama ended up backing offshore drilling, bowing to political and fiscal realties, even as his administration's own scientists and Democratic lawmakers warned about its risks.

Protons are smaller than we thought...could the entire universe be wrong?

By Alasdair Wilkins
Protons are smaller than we thought...could the entire universe be wrong?Protons are 0.00000000000000003 meters smaller than we thought. That sounds like nothing, but it means one of these things must be true: Undiscovered particles are lurking, quantum mechanics needs recalculating...or the universe is impossible. (Here's hoping it's the first two.)
The measurements find that the proton is actually about 4% smaller than what decades of previous experiments had found. This new data, the result of years of testing by a team of European physicists, has left scientists baffled. The mathematics of quantum mechanics rely on some fairly finely tuned values for the measurements of various particles, and unless this discrepancy can be explained the entire discipline is in danger of falling apart. Ingo Sick, a physicist at Switzerland's University of Basel, puts the matter in no uncertain terms:
"It's a very serious discrepancy. There is really something seriously wrong someplace."
Measuring the size of protons can't be done directly, but the laws of quantum mechanics provide a very effective indirect approach. The energy levels that electrons occupy in the atom are partially described by the size of the proton, and physicists have keyed in on this fact to arrive at incredibly accurate measurements of the proton radius. Before this experiment, that figure was thought to be about 0.8768 femtometers, a little less than one quadrillionth of a meter.
The new experiment substituted a different subatomic particles for the electrons. Instead, the physicists used the muon, which is very similar to the electron except about 200 times heavier. This much greater relative weight makes them much more sensitive to the effects of protons on their energy level. The research team fired muons at a cloud of hydrogen, displacing the electrons from the atoms and leaving the muons in their place. They then used lasers to figure out the muonic energy levels, and that's how they arrived at their impossible new figure.
How impossible? The measurement falls so far outside what the scientists expected that it actually took them six years to even notice it. The first two times they ran the experiment, in 2003 and 2007, they didn't find anything in the tiny range in which they thought the proton radius would be founding. They figured there was something wrong with their laser systems, but on the third try in 2009 they decided to expand the range of where they looked. They quickly found the energy signature far, far away from where they figured it would be.
These findings might mean some of the constant values of quantum mechanics are incorrect, which would entail some fairly major recalculating.

If I weren't white...


American Legacy: The Extrajudicial Killing of Unarmed Peoples by the State

One could write a tome on America, race, guns, and justice.  But here, a tome is unnecessary.  These are simple things, really.

Today, in Los Angeles, a jury convicted BART officer Johannes Merhserle of involuntary manslaughter.  Last year, Merhserle shot and killed an unarmed, already subdued black man in the back.  While Oscar Grant lay prostrate on his stomach, with another cop's knee on his neck, Merh tserle drew his pistol, and shot Grant in the back at point blank range.  Grant died in the hospital hours later.  

The death of unarmed civilians at the hands of trigger-happy police officers has become tragically routine.  

In the past year alone, the pages of newspapers around the country are plastered with the same sad story.  

Aaron M. Campbell, shot and killed by police officers in Portland, Oregon.  Unarmed.  While surrendering to police, walking backwards, hands in the air, police opened fire on Campbell with bean-bag rounds.  After being repeatedly struck in the back, Campell reached down to clutch his lower back.  The police officer on the scene immediately opened fire.  In 2007, that same officer was reprimanded for tasering a citizen journalist who was standing in his own front yard, recording the officer's activities.

Steven Eugene Washington was shot and killed by LAPD in March.  When police approached Washington for "looking suspicious", he approached them and - they say - appeared to reach for something around his waistband.  The cops immediately opened fire, striking him in the head.  He died instantly.  Steven was autistic and, his family said, afraid of stranges.  He was unarmed.  

In Virginia, a cop shot and killed David Masters during a routine traffic stop.  He was a retired Army Green Beret.  And he was unarmed. There's dash camera footage of the incident, but the Fairfax police refuse to release that footage to the media.  In fact, they refuse to say anything about the execution of David Masters:

The man who was shot and killed by a Fairfax County police officer Friday did not have a gun, police acknowledged Wednesday, and police again declined to say why the officer fired on the man.

The beat marches on.

Woman denied health insurance over one-cent shortfall

'If this is how you treat people, you need spiritual training'
A Colorado single mother of two suffering from leukemia says her health insurer discontinued her coverage because she was one cent short on her premium payment.

According to local news reports, La Rosa Carrington of Colorado Springs says it was her threat to take her story to the media that got North Dakota-based Discovery Benefits to change its mind about the cancellation. She says when the company notified her they were discontinuing her coverage, the letter didn't mention how much she was short.

The Colorado Springs Gazette reports:

"My medical bills are coming in like locusts, and you're holding up my benefits because of one red cent?" an incredulous Carrington said from her hospital bed last week as she recalled her conversation with a customer service rep at Discovery Benefits....

Carrington said she talked twice to a customer service representative, who told her it was policy that the penny be received before the benefits could be reinstated. Write a check or send a money order, Carrington said the representative told her.

"'I'm in the hospital receiving chemotherapy; I can't get you a money order,'" Carrington said she told the rep. "If this is how you treat people, you need spiritual training."

Carrington says she lost her job as an administrator at Alta Colleges in May, and since then she has been receiving benefits under COBRA, which allows her to keep her employer-provided health plan as long as she pays a larger share of the total premium.

Carrington says she calculated her new monthly premium herself, and sent Discovery Benefits a check for $165.15. But when she called to ask how much she was short, she was told the payment due was $165.16.

Let Steele Speak

by E.J. Dionne Jr.

Washington - It's easy to understand why Democrats want Michael Steele to stay in the news. The Republican National Committee chairman is a wonderful distraction, a constant source of gaffes, laughs, clarifications and denials.

But Steele recently scored a victory of sorts, even though you wouldn't know it from the coverage: His comments on Afghanistan got Democrats to recite GOP talking points from the Bush era. Of course, those can be turned against anyone in either party who dares to question the direction of the war.

The most incendiary words came from the indefatigable Brad Woodhouse, the Democratic National Committee spokesman, who accused Steele of "betting against our troops and rooting for failure in Afghanistan."

Woodhouse added: "It's simply unconscionable that Michael Steele would undermine the morale of our troops when what they need is our support and encouragement."

I have some empathy for Woodhouse, who must be weary of dealing with the other side's demagoguery day after day. He probably couldn't resist giving Republicans a taste of their own medicine. But this is dangerous stuff in a democracy and particularly perilous from a party that, less than two years ago, rightly insisted it could oppose the Bush administration's foreign policy on thoroughly patriotic grounds.

And Woodhouse's statement came shortly after 60 percent of House Democrats -- 153 in all -- voted for an amendment sponsored by Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., and two of his colleagues that would have required President Obama to present a plan by April for the "safe, orderly and expeditious redeployment" of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

The amendment, which drew support from nine Republicans, would also have allowed for a vote in Congress to stop additional war funding if withdrawal does not start by next July, when the administration has said it would begin reducing forces in Afghanistan.

It's thus not surprising that one person who took issue with Democrats who piled onto Steele was McGovern. "The reaction to Steele from some Democrats sounded like Dick Cheney," he said in an interview. "Democrats need to understand that our base is increasingly uncomfortable with this war."

Alvin Greene wants a Toy Story

Richard Adams's blog

Guardian interview with Senate candidate Alvin Greene reveals his economic policy: making Alvin Greene action dolls
Barack and Michelle Obama action figures
Life on the doll: Alvin Greene's plan for getting America back to work. (Pictured are Michelle and Barack Obama action figures from 2008.) Photograph: Reuters

My colleague Ed Pilkington makes the trip to South Carolina to interview the now famous Alvin Greene about his bizarre US Senate candidacy and Democratic primary election victory. Ed does unearth this gem from Greene's fertile brain:

It is clear, too, in the course of the two hours I spend with Greene that he has some pretty wacky ideas that, were he to win in November, would put him among the more unpredictable members of the Senate. At one point, he lurches off on his big idea for how to create jobs in South Carolina.

"Another thing we can do for jobs is make toys of me, especially for the holidays. Little dolls. Me. Like maybe little action dolls. Me in an army uniform, air force uniform, and me in my suit. They can make toys of me and my vehicle, especially for the holidays and Christmas for the kids. That's something that would create jobs. So you see I think out of the box like that. It's not something a typical person would bring up. That's something that could happen, that makes sense. It's not a joke."

Except that those sorts of things – plastic childrens' toys – are all made in China these days.

Paul plays with Ringo

M.I.T. doubles its 2095 warming projection to 10°F — with 866 ppm and Arctic warming of 20°F

Today's question:  How the heck does the Greenland ice sheet survive accelerated disintegration from projected 20°F warming by the 2090s?

I previously blogged on how the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Climate Change has joined the climate realists — the growing group of scientists who understand that the business as usual emissions path leads to unmitigated catastrophe (see "Hadley Center: "Catastrophic" 5-7°C warming by 2100 on current emissions path" and below).

Back in January, the Program issued a remarkable report in January, by over a dozen leading experts, doubling their 2095 warming projection to 5.2°C. The media mostly ignored it, which is no surprise, since the media generally ignores the realists in general (see U.S. media largely ignores latest warning from climate scientists: "Recent observations confirm … the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realised" — 1000 ppm).

Now, the MIT study has been published in a peer-reviewed journal — The American Meteorological Society's Journal of Climate (subs. req'd) — which obviously it makes it much more credible and high-profile.  Reuters has a good story on it, "Global warming could be twice as bad as forecast."  The study concludes:

The MIT Integrated Global System Model is used to make probabilistic projections of climate change from 1861 to 2100. Since the model's first projections were published in 2003 substantial improvements have been made to the model and improved estimates of the probability distributions of uncertain input parameters have become available. The new projections are considerably warmer than the 2003 projections, e.g., the median surface warming in 2091 to 2100 is 5.2°C compared to 2.4°C in the earlier study. Many changes contribute to the stronger warming; among the more important ones are taking into account the cooling in the second half of the 20th century due to volcanic eruptions for input parameter estimation and a more sophisticated method for projecting GDP growth which eliminated many low emission scenarios.

[Note:  That rise is compared to 1981-2000 temperature levels.  So you can add at least 0.5 °C and 1.0 °F for comparison with pre-industrial temperatures, which I did in the headline -- see "A (Hopefully) Clarifying Note on Temperature."]

The MIT press release calls for "rapid and massive" action to avoid this.

Men active around the household are more attractive, survey says

From: mX
Tony Abbott
Tony Abbott shows blokes everywhere how it's done. Picture: Ray Strange Source: The Australian

DOING household chores is a far better way to woo a woman than giving chocolate or flowers, a survey has said.

Just under half of the females surveyed by appliance group DeLonghi said helping around the house was the way to their heart admitting they'd be more impressed if their partner did the ironing than took them for a weekend away or a romantic candlelit dinner.

The results come alongside the revelation that women spend 5472 hours of their lives ironing, compared with 4680 hours for men, the Daily Mail reports.

A psychologist said the findings showed women were looking for a man willing to be more active in the household.

Cary Cooper, professor at the University of Lancaster, said women still thought men didn't pull their weight at home.

"Many women are still working the double shift, doing the household chores and having a career, whereas men still have a working role primarily," he said. "What women obviously want to see is somebody who will do the chores but also have an active domestic role in the family."

Extending unemployment


Attacks on census workers nearly triple since 2000


censusworker20091124 Attacks on census workers nearly triple since 2000

More than 500 incidents reported, up from 180 in 2000

WASHINGTON — More Americans chose to participate in this year's US census than in the 2000 survey, but workers going door-to-door to follow up have also faced more harassment, a US official said Wednesday.

Census Bureau Director Robert Groves said 72 percent of occupied US households had returned the mailed questionnaires dispatched as part of the decennial survey, up from a 67 percent response rate in 2000.

"This was a glorious success given that all survey professionals expected a lower rate," he said.

But the work of following up with those who chose not to respond proved more difficult than in 2000, with workers facing a rise in assaults and finding it harder to track people down at their homes.

Follow-up census workers went to some 47 million homes to conduct face-to-face interviews with people who failed to respond to the mailed questionnaires.

At around 22 percent of those homes, repeated efforts to elicit information failed, forcing surveyors to rely on a neighbor or building manager for information about the tenants. That was up from 17 percent in 2000.

"There are a lot of different reasons, this tracks trends in surveys," Groves said. "It's harder to get a hold of us than it used to be."

"And then there's a reluctance in that contrast between 17 and 22 (percent)... people who open the door, they're at home, and they say 'I don't want to do this.'"

The percentage of people who refused to fill out the form, compared with those who simply weren't at home, was not yet clear, Groves said. But the number of attacks on census workers appeared to be on the rise.

"I believe the up-to-date figure is now over 500," Groves said, cautioning that the figure included a wide range of incidents.

"Some of those are minor things. An angry duck attacked one of our enumerators and she has bites on one of her ankles, she will survive," he said.

But other cases were more serious, he acknowledged, and the figure appeared to be a substantial increase from the estimated 180 incidents in 2000.

"Others are horrible events, there have been carjackings, there have been assaults, folks have been shot at," he said.

Boehner Invites Lobbyists To Help Form GOP Agenda In Intimate Meeting At His Office

Boehner5A few months ago, House Republicans launched an effort called Americans Speaking Out, which purports to give average Americans the ability to offer their input on what Congress should do. It became quickly apparent that the enterprise was little more than a taxpayer-funded PR gimmick to help Republicans market their agenda for this fall's elections, even as they ignored any ideas they didn't already support.

Now, under the banner of Americans Speaking Out, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) has summoned advice from those who he truly seems interested in listening to: lobbyists. Roll Call reports that Boehner has invited "senior Republican lobbyists and top officials from several large trade groups" to a meeting at Boehner's office to discuss "their suggestions for a new GOP agenda":

The meeting is part of the House leaders' initiative called America Speaking Out, which is intended to draw broad input to create a new policy agenda for the party to launch in the fall.

An e-mail invitation sent to more than 20 trade representatives and obtained by Roll Call summoned guests to Boehner's second-floor office on July 16 "to discuss House Republican efforts to produce a new policy agenda with a small group of trade association leaders."

Republican Logic...