Author Archives: jad

A Fool Gets a Shrine

Former President Bush's library officially opened last week in Texas.

Former President Bush’s library officially opened last week in Texas.

Last week saw the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum – the 21st such structure erected to the memory of a former president in this country. While the act of erecting what amounts to a shrine to one’s legacy is something one might expect to be relegated to historical dictatorships in Ancient Egypt, at least former Presidents aren’t looked to as gods in their own right – even if some politics find themselves deified for decades to come.

As one would expect, the library is not merely dedicated to Mr. Bush and the events of his eight years in office, but they are conveniently whitewashed for the sake of future generations – the only thing helping Mr. Bush’s poll numbers these days being the actual distance in time between him and January of 2009. You will find plenty of exploitation of the September 11th terrorist attacks, but you’ll also find that since that time Mr. Bush kept the country safe so net-net, that’s a good thing. You’ll find a large painting of he and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair – his #1 ally on the international scene when it came time for the Iraq invasion. Mr. Blair can probably not even count on similar admiration back home, the monarchy at least providing the one good service of preventing chief executives being anything more than the mere politicians they should be.

There is no wing of the library dedicated to his opposition for a woman’s right to choose. There’s no shrine to squeezing as much bigotry and hatred toward same-sex couples as he could from the countryside, riding that national tide of religious-based ignorance to a victory in 2004. Speaking of victories, there’s also nary a peep of the circumstances under which Mr. Bush first assumed office – complete with the legally mystifying ”this counts today and then it’ll never count again” ruling by the Supreme Court in the 2000 Bush v. Gore case.

There is a war room though!

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Heat Wave in the Arctic, Cold Spring for the Rest of Us

In one part of the world in particular, April has started off extremely warm. Temperatures 8 – 11°C above average (14 – 20°F) have persisted for the first two weeks of the month, giving a taste of conditions more commonly found in May or even June weeks early. If this sounds familiar, it harkens back to another significant heat wave just last March in the central portions of North America. Whereas then the heatwave was centered over the midwestern United States, this heatwave is much further north – the shores of the Canadian Arctic.

Instead of the seasonable cold weather being where it “should” be, such anomalies in temperature dictate that the cold needs to go somewhere else. The somewhere else is south. Graphically, that looks like this:

Temperature anomalies for first two weeks of April 2013

Temperature anomalies for first two weeks of April 2013

Arctic air was forced south, and while you see a large chunk of above average temperatures dominating the arctic region, you see another area of significantly cool readings stretching from central Alaska through a large portion of non-Arctic Canada, down into the central United States. Widespread readings of 5 – 8°C (9 – 14°F) below normal were seen during this time. Coincidentally enough, this is where there have been a series of major snowstorms as of late, including an April 8 – 10th blockbuster that shattered snowfall records in Rapid City, SD, by a full 10 inches. (28.2″ the new record, 18″ the old in 2001)

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North Korea Would Really, Really, Really Like Your Attention

Returning to their role as professional Game of Chicken players, North Korea has once again led the world close to some sort of nuclear conflict with their powerful armada of nuclear missiles that have a range of wherever 90 seconds gets you. The bellicose rhetoric streaming from Pyongyang on a daily basis has been enough to crack the attention spans of western media in ebbs and flows. Few could blame the media, or the people paying attention to it for that matter, for thinking deep down this is just the latest in crying wolf from the Korean peninsula.

In late March, North Korea announced that it had officially scrapped the 1953 armistice agreement that ended open warfare between the North and South. It’s a card that the North has played multiple times since 1996 with no renewal of combat to follow on. The North has resorted to more provocative measures to earn a military response from the South and its western allies – more recently including the 2010 sinking of the Cheonan and shelling of Yeonpyeong Island. There have been three nuclear tests that have drawn international condemnation - in 2006, 2009, and February of this year – but again no military response.

The curious story of what a nation with military weaponry that has barely advanced beyond the best of what Communist countries had to offer in the 1960s and 70s really expects to gain from inviting some of the most advanced firepower on the planet to strike its territory continues to unfold – the current drama being latest chapter in a book that history has already written the ending for a few times: (probably) much ado about nothing.

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Japan’s Fukushima Still Bleeds Radioactivity

Problems with radioactive water containment continue at Japan's crippled Fukushima power plant.

Problems with radioactive water containment continue at Japan’s crippled Fukushima power plant.

This week marks one year and one month since the Tōhoku Earthquake, the resulting tsunami, and nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. It is a still ongoing disaster – setbacks making the road to full radioactive containment that much longer.

Questions have been raised about the effectiveness of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to handle the situation from day one, and the latest embarrassing setbacks have done nothing to reassure the outside world. Rats, of all things, are responsible for one of the more recent incidents at the plant:

A “rat-like animal” was the cause of a power supply problem that disabled cooling systems at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant last week. The rodent touched a switchboard and triggered a short circuit, Tepco Electric Power Company (TEPCO) said.

The 25-centimeter-long animal was found dead in the switchboard, a TEPCO official told Kyodo News.

The official said the company will take stronger measures to prevent small animals from entering the switchboard in the future.

The March 18 outage disabled nine facilities at the plant. TEPCO dispatched 25 specialists to deal with the problem, but it took 30 hours for technicians to repair the systems.

As for those “stronger measures to prevent small animals” from causing more power outages which could potentially release more radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean?

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Tar Sands Oil Flows Through Subdivision in Arkansas

The tiny town of Mayflower, AR – less than 20 miles to the northwest of Little Rock – has become the latest American scene of a significant oil spill. An Exxon pipeline carrying Wabasca Heavy crude from Alberta’s tar sands ruptured on Friday. The resulting leak of more than 15,000 barrels of oil overwhelmed a local stream and flowed through a neighborhood in this somewhat surreal video:

Pointing out that this oil is of the tar sands variety is an important distinction when it comes to the toxicity and impact. The oil that comes from deposits in North Dakota and Alberta is in the ground in a much more near-solid state, closer to quicksand than a free flowing liquid. To liquefy the oil for extraction and export, chemicals are injected into the sandy mixture. Chief among these chemicals are Benzene, Toluene (think paint thinner), and Xylene – though with any given tar sands operation you can get a wide variety of extra additives.

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North Pole Ice Cap’s Melting Season Starts off With a Bang

With the sun barely appearing over the horizon in the far northern latitudes, another unusually warm weather pattern has ushered in an impressive start to the North Pole Ice Cap’s melting season – a season that could potentially set new records for lack of ice. This dramatic satellite photo of a huge fracture in the ice cap was acquired by NASA on February 23rd:

Extensive sea-ice fracturing in the Arctic Ocean - February, 2013

Extensive sea-ice fracturing in the Arctic Ocean – February, 2013

The boxed off area points to a close-up that you can view here. The mass fracturing was caused by warmer temperatures being pushed into the Arctic by a high pressure system in January and was made worse by a series of strong storms that moved across the region in the first couple weeks of February. A similar pattern of intense storms helped drive total ice coverage in the Arctic to brand new record lows this past summer. The cracks above are up to 600 miles long.

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The Creeping Recovery, Continued

Job figures for the month of march will be released at the end of this week. The consensus is that job growth will continue at its slow, creeping pace – likely under 200,000 for the month just ended. For the time being, the United States remains a somewhat remarkable positive economic story in a world that is filled with continuous streams of troubling news from the European Union through Japan.

Visually, the continued improvement looks as follows:

Monthly Job Data Since The Great Recession

Monthly Job Data Since The Great Recession

Of course, there’s still a very long road to go until a full recovery.

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Glowing North Dakota

In 2012 NASA created a new version of the famous “Blue Marble” snapped by Apollo 17 in 1972. Using much more sensitive equipment than what was available in cameras in the 1970s, the 2012 Blue Marble offers a striking view of what our planet looks like from space. So sensitive and good were the cameras that NASA used on this project, they were also able to create for the first time the “Black Marble” – what our planet actually looks like at night. Spoiler alert: we glow.

The nighttime satellite view traces the economical and technological output of humanity across the planet. Many of the world’s coastlines are clearly outlined thanks to the bright lights of cities. Road networks and inland metropolises show up clearly, as do large-scale economic activities. Fishing fleets can be seen off the coast of the Canadian Maritimes, and even larger ones dotting the western Pacific Rim. One of the odder sightings, however, came from the middle of the North American continent. When comparing with nighttime photos from ten years ago, new and vast stretches of light were suddenly visible over otherwise uninhabited stretches of prairie lands.

The oil boom in North Dakota is clearly visible by night.

The oil boom in North Dakota is clearly visible by night.

Centered on the state of North Dakota, we see a stretch of light that rivals much larger cities to the south and east like Minneapolis and Chicago. What we have here isn’t a new megaopolis that grew from the grassland in the last ten years. Instead, we have clear evidence of the explosive growth of the oil industry in its 21st century form – dirty, deep under ground, full of fracking, and profitable.

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Winter 2012-13 A Precipitation Bust, Drought Expands Again

With meteorological winter basically half over, hopes for widespread changes in precipitation amounts across much of the United States have been all but dashed. While some of the cold that typically accompanies the depths of winter have made their return across much of the North American continent, the rain and snow producing storms that occur this time of the year have been relegated to the eastern third of the continent, most other places left to remain in the grips of a drought that have persisted as long as the latter months of 2011.

As of last week, 58.87% of the continental United States is experiencing at least a “moderate” drought – 40.29% seeing a “severe” drought, 19.39% “extreme”, and 6.31% “exceptional”. Graphically speaking:

Drought coverage as of January 15, 2013

Drought coverage as of January 15, 2013

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Rays of Tangible Hope

The lingering questions: will there be lessons learned. Will there be change?

The lingering questions: will there be lessons learned. Will there be change?

It’s far too early into the aftermath of the Newtown shootings to sit back and honestly believe that real tangible good things will come from this – things beyond well wishes, prayers, donations, hugs, and hope. Proclamations of this being a matter of chance and therefore unpreventable notwithstanding, it is possible to lower the chance and frequency of not just major acts of unspeakable violence but of the everyday substandards that we as a society either accept or feel powerless to stop.

Societal change isn’t nearly as scary, draconian, or dystopian as it can sound if left to the voices of the afraid and ill-informed. A crime as horrific as a mass shooting – whether the number of causalities numbers 2, 27, or 100, is still the end-result of a long game of cause and effect. It would be foolish to suggest that the government – or anyone, really – could possibly control every aspect of every cause to completely prevent the deranged from becoming so, but there are areas that can be positively influenced.

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