Antarctica’s retreating ice may re-shape Earth’s geopolitical boundaries


Click to enlargePeter Convey on his way to the office

From the ground in this extreme northern part of Antarctica, spectacularly white and blinding ice seems to extend forever. What can’t be seen is the battle raging thousands of feet below to re-shape Earth.

Water is eating away at the Antarctic ice, melting it where it hits the oceans. As the ice sheets slowly thaw, water pours into the sea – 130 billion tons of ice per year for the past decade, according to NASA satellite calculations. That’s the weight of more than 356,000 Empire State Buildings, enough ice melt to fill more than 1.3 million Olympic swimming pools. And the melting is accelerating.

In the worst case scenario, Antarctica’s melt could push sea levels up 10 feet (3 meters) worldwide in a century or two, recurving heavily populated coastlines…

Here on the Antarctic peninsula, where the continent is warming the fastest because the land sticks out in the warmer ocean, 49 billion tons of ice are lost each year, according to NASA. The water warms from below, causing the ice to retreat on to land, and then the warmer air takes over. Temperatures rose 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the last half century, much faster than Earth’s average, said Ricardo Jana, a glaciologist for the Chilean Antarctic Institute…

Robert Island hits all the senses: the stomach-turning smell of penguin poop; soft moss that invites the rare visitor to lie down, as if on a water bed; brown mud, akin to stepping in gooey chocolate. Patches of the moss, which alternates from fluorescent green to rust red, have grown large enough to be football fields. Though 97 percent of the Antarctic Peninsula is still covered with ice, entire valleys are now free of it, ice is thinner elsewhere and glaciers have retreated, Peter Convey of the British Antarctic Survey said…

A few years back, scientists figured Antarctica as a whole was in balance, neither gaining nor losing ice. Experts worried more about Greenland; it was easier to get to and more noticeable, but once they got a better look at the bottom of the world, the focus of their fears shifted. Now scientists in two different studies use the words “irreversible” and “unstoppable” to talk about the melting in West Antarctica. Ice is gaining in East Antarctica, where the air and water are cooler, but not nearly as much as it is melting to the west.

“Before Antarctica was much of a wild card,” said University of Washington ice scientist Ian Joughin. “Now I would say it’s less of a wild card and more scary than we thought before…”

“Changing the climate of the Earth or thinning glaciers is fine as long as you don’t do it too fast. And right now we are doing it as fast as we can. It’s not good,” said Eric Rignot, of NASA. “We have to stop it; or we have to slow it down as best as we can.”

I understand how short-sighted most folks are. After all, if our politicians only think ahead to the next election, if corporate CEOs only think ahead to the next quarter, if the average person thinks long-term planning means paying off your car – or maybe a home – 100 years or 1000 years is beyond comprehension. But, scientists, especially in a discipline like climatology have to think in geologic time and those wee chunks like 1000 years happen in the blink of an eye. Look over the edge of your TV set, folks. Read, search, include some real science in whatever you add to your thinking life.

Cripes, I remember the first ice geologist I met. I was only 20 and working as a tech in a non-ferrous metals research lab. And with all of his qualifications, the only job he could find here in the States was investigating stress-corrosion cracking – even though he had practically defined the discipline during the couple of years he spent in Antarctica during the International Geophysical Year.

I got to spend lunchtimes with him and a few other scientists from the lab who didn’t mind including in a kid who could only afford to go to engineering night school.

He taught us all about geologic time. He tried to teach us about ice.

Copper busted for using stolen license plate — ignored 500+ tickets

oliu

A police detective faces felony charges for using stolen license plates to avoid tolls on Florida’s Turnpike.

Sweetwater police detective Octavio Oliu surrendered Thursday, more than a year after he was suspended from the tiny, scandal-ridden department in Miami-Dade County…

Sweetwater Mayor Jose Diaz said 42-year-old Oliu had been on unpaid leave…

The investigation began in August 2013 when a highway patrol trooper stopped Oliu’s SUV. The trooper ran a computer check of the Michigan license plate and found it had been reported stolen.

Oliu is accused of racking up over 500 SunPass toll violations and red-light camera citations.

He’s charged with official misconduct and organized scheme to defraud.

What’s his claim for innocence? He was working undercover? He didn’t notice he had a Michigan plate on his car?

Har!

Musical jobs between government and corporations still the favorite dance in DC

image
Pilot programs and speed-up started in 2002

In 2004, Elsa Murano stepped down from her post as chief of the US Department of Agriculture division that oversees food safety at the nation’s slaughterhouses. Two years later, she joined the board of directors of pork giant Hormel, a company that runs some of the nation’s largest slaughterhouses. Murano received $237,000 in compensation for her service on Hormel’s board in 2014 alone.

This is a classic example of the “revolving door” that separates US government regulators from the corporations they regulate. It’s hardly the most shocking thing I gleaned from the whistleblower-protection group Government Accountability Project’s recent exposé of conditions at three hog-slaughter facilities associated with Hormel. But it’s interesting to think about in light of GAP’s allegations, found in sworn affidavits filed by four USDA inspectors stationed in Hormel-owned plants. Three of the inspectors chose to remain anonymous; the fourth, Joe Ferguson, gave his name.

Their comments focus on three Hormel-associated plants, which are among just five hog facilities enrolled in a pilot inspection program run by the USDA. In the regular oversight system, USDA-employed inspectors are stationed along the kill line, charged with ensuring that conditions are as sanitary as possible and that no tainted meat ends up being packed for consumption. In the pilot program, known as HIMP (short for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points-based Inspection Models Project), company employees take over inspection duties, relegating USDA inspectors to an oversight role on the sidelines.

What’s more, the HIMP plants get to speed up the kill line—from the current rate of 1,100 hogs per hour to 1,300 hogs per hour, a jump of nearly 20 percent. The five plants rolled out the new inspection system around 2002, USDA spokesperson Aaron Lavallee said. That’s when Murano, now on the Hormel board of directors, ran the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. If the privatization-plus-speed-up formula sounds familiar, it’s because the USDA ran a similar experimental program for chicken slaughter for years. After much pushback by workplace and food safety advocates and media attention (including from me), the USDA decided not to let poultry companies speed up the kill line when it opened the new system to all chicken slaughterhouses last year…

All four affidavits offer blistering critiques of the hog version of the pilot program. Three themes run through them: 1) company inspectors are poorly trained and prepared for the task of overseeing a fast-moving kill line involving large carcasses; 2) company-employed and USDA inspectors alike face pressure from the company not to perform their jobs rigorously; and 3) lots of unappetizing stuff is getting through as the result of 1) and 2)…

…The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, of course, continues to defend the pilot program. But then there’s its cozy ties to industry—in addition to Murano’s leap to Hormel, FSIS’s then-chief of staff flew the coop to the National Turkey Federation in 2011, and another high official bolted to work for meat processor OSI Group just this month. Given the tasty meat-industry opportunities that evidently await the USDA’s food-safety administrators, I take FSIS’s defense of the HIMP program in the face of these sworn statements with about as much salt as you might find in a slice of Hormel’s signature product, Spam.

RTFA for all the unappetizing details.

Our government’s standards for bureaucrats continue as the sloppiest excuse for honesty and integrity in the Western world. The revolving door for regulatory managers is as porous as the shuttle-dance between Congress and corporate lobbying.

Yes, I’m old enough to remember when American conservatives were as diligent as American liberals at fighting for honesty in government. While I’m not always certain of the level of dedication coming from the vaguely Leftish members of the Democrat persuasion – today’s Republican conservatives have clearly established their only target in so-called government reform is to bring government to its knees. A position already well-populated by most members of Congress before their corporate masters.

Wyoming rakes in more than $4.4 Million from taxes on wind-power


Click to enlargeDave Showalter

More than $4.4 million was generated from taxes on wind production across Wyoming in the last fiscal year, according to the state Department of Revenue.

Albany, Carbon, Converse, Laramie, Natrona and Uinta counties share in $2.7 million with the state’s portion of the revenue at slightly more than $1.7 million…

This year’s taxes from wind-generated electricity are the tip of the iceberg to state and local coffers. When the Chokecherry Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project’s 1,000 wind turbines come online, they could eventually bring in more $10 million in revenues annually, from wind generation alone.

Coupled with property taxes and the sales and use tax, Chokecherry promises to be a financial boon to Carbon County, said Kara Choquette, communications director for the Power Company of Wyoming…

“This represents a very significant and positive financial impact for the county, all of the public entities that get a portion of the property taxes and all of the cities and towns that get a portion of the sales and use tax.” Choquette said. “Along with the generation tax, it’s in the hundreds and millions of dollars. That’s a pretty significant increase over what Wyoming is getting now from all of the wind turbines combined.”

We have much of the same potential plus more solar – especially in downstate New Mexico. Of course the state engineer’s office made the determination that we could be a net power exporting state in wind-generated electricity 20 years ago. Our beloved PNM took no notice.

Congrats to Wyoming for making this growing infrastructure part of a larger picture beyond public utility executives patting themselves on the back.

Of course, we’re all farting around – dawdling behind Colorado when it comes to doing something sensible like legalizing marijuana. A renewable resource that slows traffic, generates income for the state and jobs for the young at heart – and brings miles of smiles.

Port na bPúcaí

The lovely Irish folk tune Port na bPúcaí (The Music of the Fairies) had mystical beginnings and it’™s said that the people of the Blasket Islands heard ethereal music and wrote an air to match it, hoping to placate unhappy spirits. Seamus Heaney’s poem The Given Note tells of a fiddler who took the song out of wind off mid-Atlantic:

Strange noises were heard
By others who followed, bits of a tune
Coming in on loud weather
Though nothing like melody.

Recent research suggests that, rather than fairies, the islanders may have been hearing the songs of whales transmitted through the canvas hulls of their fishing boats. Humpback whales pass through Irish waters each winter as they migrate south from the North Atlantic, and their songs seem to resemble the folk tune.

Ronan Browne, who plays the air above on Irish pipes, writes, In the mid 1990s I went rooting through some cassettes of whale song and there in the middle of the Orca (Killer Whale) section I heard the opening notes of Port na bPúcaí!”…

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Nevada Republican says cancer is a fungus – just wash it away

Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore (R) wants to reform the rules of end-of-life medical care so that more cancer patients can simply flush out their disease using baking soda.

Fiore, who is also CEO of a healthcare company, told listeners to her weekly radio show on Saturday, that she will soon introduce a “terminally ill bill,” to allow more non-FDA-approved treatments for those diagnosed as having terminal illnesses.

As first reported by Jon Ralston, Fiore told listeners: “If you have cancer, which I believe is a fungus, and we can put a pic line into your body and we’re flushing, let’s say, salt water, sodium cardonate [sic], through that line, and flushing out the fungus…These are some procedures that are not FDA-approved in America that are very inexpensive, cost-effective.”

The American Cancer Society warns that while cancer patients whose immune systems are weakened by high doses of chemotherapy can sometimes contract fungal infections, “there is no evidence that antifungal treatment causes the patients’ tumors to shrink.” Cancer Research UK dismisses the claim that sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) can cure cancer as a debunked “persistent cancer myth.”

Although Fiore’s views on cancer are particularly fringe, the bill she is backing is gaining traction in a number of states. At least five states have now passed similar legislation that allows patients to use drugs not cleared by the FDA, dubbed so-called “right to try” bills.

What passes for American conservatism, nowadays, seems more and more to be populated by lemmings who never studied any science in their whole lives. That is in addition to those who fear science, hate science, dare not study science because they might be struck by lightning from an angry old white guy on a cloud.

Leading state legislatures to pass legislation not only foolish and stupid; but, dangerous to human life is becoming an Republican specialty.

Geeks + Democrats = Net Neutrality


Yes – there’s still the risk of Big Money court battles ahead

Senior Republicans have conceded…that the grueling fight with President Obama over the regulation of Internet service appears over, with the president and an army of Internet activists victorious.

The Federal Communications Commission is expected on Thursday to approve regulating Internet service like a public utility, prohibiting companies from paying for faster lanes on the Internet. While the two Democratic commissioners are negotiating over technical details, they are widely expected to side with the Democratic chairman, Tom Wheeler, against the two Republican commissioners.

And Republicans on Capitol Hill, who once criticized the plan as “Obamacare for the Internet,” now say they are unlikely to pass a legislative response that would undo perhaps the biggest policy shift since the Internet became a reality…

The new F.C.C. rules are still likely to be tied up in a protracted court fight with the cable companies and Internet service providers that oppose it, and they could be overturned in the future by a Republican-leaning commission. But for now, Congress’s hands appear to be tied.

The F.C.C. plan would let the agency regulate Internet access as if it is a public good. It would follow the concept known as net neutrality or an open Internet, banning so-called paid prioritization — or fast lanes — for willing Internet content providers.

In addition, it would ban the intentional slowing of the Internet for companies that refuse to pay broadband providers. The plan would also give the F.C.C. the power to step in if unforeseen impediments are thrown up by the handful of giant companies that run many of the country’s broadband and wireless networks…

“We’ve been outspent, outlobbied. We were going up against the second-biggest corporate lobby in D.C., and it looks like we’ve won,” said Dave Steer, director of advocacy for the Mozilla Foundation, the nonprofit technology foundation that runs Firefox, a popular Web browser, referring to the cable companies. “A year ago today, we did not think we would be in this spot.”

The net neutrality movement pitted new media against old and may well have revolutionized notions of corporate social responsibility and activism. Top-down decisions by executives investing in or divesting themselves of resources, paying lobbyists and buying advertisements were upended by the mobilization of Internet customers and users.

Our beneficent Telecom rulers and their Republican flunkies will not stop pimping their case, of course. The lies they constructed as part of their agitprop during the campaign to influence the FCC will become a plank in the Republican campaign for the White House in 2016.

Should they win full control of the United States government – those of us who stay behind in the GOUSA to fight a rear-guard action against the building of a Brave New World of Corporatism [Mussolini felt that sounds better than fascism] will no doubt be relegated by law to dial-up, standard def and B&W TV. And flip phones.

John Podesta still wants to reveal the truth about UFOs – whatever that means

John Podesta, former senior advisor to Barack Obama, former Chief of Staff to Bill Clinton, and future chair of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign is offering some reflections on his most recent stint in the White House.

Number one on the list — aliens.

Podesta was out of the big-time politics game briefly early in the Bush years, and lent his considerable prestige to a coalition pushing the oddball cause of greater disclosure of federal information about UFOs.

Soon afterwards, he founded the Center for American Progress which quickly emerged as a key pillar of center-left infrastructure in Washington. I worked for a while at CAP, and can testify that while there were a lot of in-house jokes about Podesta and UFOs (including an alien-themed holiday party one December) there was approximately zero institutional effort expended on the cause.

But in a personal capacity, Podesta continued to lend a hand. He participated in a couple of UFO-themed TV shows and wrote the forward to a book about UFOs that was published in 2010.

Then he went back to the White House where, once again, there was no progress on the UFO disclosure front. It’s genuinely too bad. As a former Chief of Staff, Podesta presumably has had access to highly classified information and knows what he’s talking about when he says the public deserves to know what’s in these files. I hope — though I don’t actually expect — that he’ll use his influence in the emerging Clinton campaign to push this in a more serious way.

I wouldn’t expect that either. There are more relevant questions to consider for a presidential election.

There have been a few straight-arrow pilots, military and otherwise, in my life’s experience who share Podesta’s views about UFOs. I have no reason to doubt them. But, current science is all I have to go on – and the Fermi Paradox among others convinces me these folks bumped into something other than extra-terrestrial intelligence.

Currency manipulation leads to unintended consequences

Switzerland’s decision to lift the cap on the franc’s value against the euro has had unexpected consequences – in the form of intercepted pizza deliveries.

Swiss people looking for a bargain have been dialling up restaurants across the border in Germany, but now the authorities have had enough…

Uli Burchardt, the mayor of Constance, which borders Switzerland to the northeast, told the publication that German vans have been stopped by Swiss customs officials after it was discovered they had been delivering up to 60 pizzas at a time. And fast food is not the only thing the Swiss have been seeking elsewhere, as people cross the border to do their weekly shop and even visit the dentist.

Cripes. There are dentistas in Mexico who have public school contracts in Arizona and California.

Following the decision to lift the €1.20 cap last month, the franc shot up by 40 per cent against the euro. The franc also rose 30 per cent against the dollar and 15 per cent against sterling. In short, the Swiss can now get more for their money.

However, there is concern that businesses will be negatively impacted by the strong franc. Eurozone companies that buy their products in Switzerland are at risk of being priced out of the market, while Swiss businesses situated on the border may find themselves passed over in favour of their perceived better-value eurozone counterparts.

Interesting – and eventually acceptable when the situation stabilizes. Not out of line with long-term commerce in cross-border towns along the US-Canadian border or the US-Mexican border.

Of course, hypocrites in government can’t pass up an opportunity to whine for domestic political advantage. So, both the White House and Congress whine about so-called Chinese currency manipulation when the biggest fraud in Asia comes from the Bank of Japan. As it always has.