Will monster wildfire seasons become the new normal?


Harley looks just like our Sheila

In the end, Ira and Carolyn Hodge drove out with some photos, their clothes, their horse and their dog, Harley.

Their home took seven years for them to build and contained everything they owned – vehicles, mementos from their parents, memories. All of it was reduced to fine ash when the fire swept down the high sides of the densely forested gorge that bottoms out at Canyon Creek in Grant County, Oregon, six hours’ drive east of Portland.

“It was a monster,” Ira says. “A beast.”

He and Carolyn were helping a neighbour hose down their house when it became clear the fire was moving with astonishing speed towards them. “We had five minutes to get out,” Ira recalls. They tossed the few things they had gathered in their car, rounded up their frightened horse and fled over a wooden bridge that burned behind them.

Ira has since talked to experts who came up to survey the damage. They said that the flames may have reached 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit – hot enough to melt copper and aluminium. They sifted through the rubble and there was almost nothing left.

Harley recovered just one possession: a charred bone he had buried somewhere in the yard.

When you drive south out of John Day, up into the canyon towards the Malheur national forest, the flattened homes and the blackened Douglas firs and ponderosas tell this summer’s story.

Wildfires are capricious, and some houses are untouched. But those that the fire found were razed, and the forest it burned will take decades to recover.

Thirty-six homes were destroyed in Grant County on 14 August. That night, the Canyon Creek Complex fire became the most destructive in Oregon for 80 years. The national media glanced and moved on, but the fire is still burning on just over 105,000 acres. That’s about 10 times the size of Manhattan.

In Oregon as a whole, there are 11 large fires burning on 435,799 acres. In Washington there are 14 burning on 900,000 acres. This season – which is still in full swing – has seen 1,422,880 acres burned in the two states, or 2,223 square miles, an area just a little smaller than the state of Delaware.

More than 11,000 firefighters are still in the field. Firefighting resources in the American west are completely committed, and both states have called out their national guardsmen to help contain the blazes. Firefighters have come from as far away as Australia and New Zealand to pitch in, and three firefighters died while in duty.

RTFA. These fires have become an annual national emergency. People are to blame, habits and carelessness are to blame, short-term weather is often to blame and, yes, climate change plays a significant role.

That may be hard to understand for someone who has never had their home or community threatened by a wildfire; but, it is true.

I do not count climate change deniers as relevant. It’s hard to count them as useful citizens of Earth.

Whale whisperers


Click to enlargeAnuar Patjane

Diving with a humpback whale and her newborn calf while they cruise around Roca Partida … in the Revillagigedo Islands, Mexico. This is an outstanding and unique place full of pelagic life, so we need to accelerate the incorporation of the islands into UNESCO as a natural heritage site in order to increase the protection of the islands against the prevailing illegal fishing corporations and big-game fishing.

Amazing photos – at the gallery containing this, the 1st Place winner in NatGeo’s Traveler Competition. And also click on the link just under the photo above to go to Anuar Patjane’s photos.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Icelanders have a bigger heart than their government anticipated


A double rainbow at Skogafoss waterfall in Iceland

Thousands of Icelanders have called on their government to take in more Syrian refugees – with many offering to accomodate them in their own homes and give them language lessons.

Iceland, which has a population of just over 300,000, has currently capped the number of refugees it accepts at 50.

Author and professor Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir put out a call on Facebook on Sunday asking for Icelanders to speak out if they wanted the government to do more to help those fleeing Syria. More than 12,000 people have responded to her Facebook group “Syria is calling” to sign an open letter to their welfare minister, Eygló Harðar.

Speaking on Iceland’s RÚV television, Bjorgvinsdottir said her country’s attitude was being changed by the tragic news reports. “I think people have had enough of seeing news stories from the Mediterranean and refugee camps of dying people and they want something done now,” she said…

Many of those posting on the group have said they would offer up their homes and skills to help refugees integrate. “I have clothing, kitchenware, bed and a room in Hvanneyri [western Iceland], which I am happy to share with Syrians,” one wrote. “I would like to work as a volunteer to help welcome people and assist them with adapting to Icelandic society.”

“I want to help one displaced family have the chance to live the carefree life that I do,” another wrote. “We as a family are willing to provide the refugees with temporary housing near Egilsstaðir [eastern Iceland], clothing and other assistance. I am a teacher and I can help children with their learning.”…

The Facebook Syrian letter says it best: “Refugees are our future spouses, best friends, or soulmates, the drummer for the band of our children, our next colleague, Miss Iceland in 2022, the carpenter who finally finished the bathroom, the cook in the cafeteria, the fireman, the computer genius, or the television host.”

Would your city, your state, your nation do the same? Ot would it build a wall?

Canadians can’t stop laughing over Scott Walker’s border wall proposal

PeaceGarden
Click to enlargeObviously, we need a wall here…

Former Toronto mayor Rob Ford says Canada has no plans to invade the United States – and that Americans can rest assured the threat from the north is receding.

There is no need, the ailing mayor and most cackling Canadians seem to agree, for the 5,000-mile wall along the Canadian border that presidential candidate Scott Walker suggested this week is “a legitimate issue” on the campaign trail to the White House…

“I don’t have a problem with the States,” the outspoken former mayor declared in a brief interview with the Guardian on Monday evening, as he limped toward Toronto’s Rogers Centre to watch the city’s surging Blue Jays baseball team play the Cleveland Indians, a rival visiting from the far side of unfortified Lake Erie.

Most Canadians, the former magistrate known for smoking crack added, are similarly well-disposed toward their southern neighbours – and understand full well that such an endeavour would be nearly impossible anyway…

“It’s ludicrous and hilarious,” a Blue Jays fan named Neil from Toronto said of Walker’s fleeting flirtation with a norther border wall. “But that’s the Republicans.”

Bonnie, from nearby Milton, could not stop laughing at the mention of Walker’s name. “He’s a nutcase,” she exclaimed. “They can’t afford healthcare, but they can afford walls.”…

Defending the US-Canadian border would – hypothetically, of course – require a wall 8,891 kilometres long, with 2,475 kilometres devoted to protecting Alaskan wilderness and even more wall running down the middle of the Great Lakes.

Citing preliminary estimates made by the US Department of Homeland Security for the cost of a southern wall with Mexico, the Toronto Star estimated the cost of a Walker-style wall at “north of $18 billion (US)”…

Cheerfully channeling Sarah Palin, Mike Bradley boasted that he can see America from his window in the Canadian border town of Sarnia, where he is mayor. But to him and others who have watched the increasing militarisation of the formerly undefended border over the past decade, Walker’s comments were no joke.

“This is just ongoing,” Bradley said, citing examples of unexpected hostility on the northern border since 9/11 including plans to launch observation balloons, proposals to charge fees for crossing the border, and live-fire exercises by US coast guard patrol vessels armed with machine guns.

The difference between ignorant and stupid requires that “stupid” work at defending their beliefs. So, what Canadians call the world’s longest undefended border is just one more opportunity for nutball militarists to resolve a paranoid delusion with guns.

Vegetation is essential for limiting city warming effects

Cities are well known hot spots – literally. The urban heat island effect has long been observed to raise the temperature of big cities by 1 to 3°C, a rise that is due to the presence of asphalt, concrete, buildings, and other so-called impervious surfaces disrupting the natural cooling effect provided by vegetation. According to a new NASA study that makes the first assessment of urbanization impacts for the entire continental United States, the presence of vegetation is an essential factor in limiting urban heating.

Impervious surfaces’ biggest effect is causing a difference in surface temperature between an urban area and surrounding vegetation. The researchers, who used multiple satellites’ observations of urban areas and their surroundings combined into a model, found that averaged over the continental United States, areas covered in part by impervious surfaces, be they downtowns, suburbs, or interstate roads, had a summer temperature 1.9°C higher than surrounding rural areas. In winter, the temperature difference was 1.5 °C higher in urban areas…

The study, published this month in Environmental Research Letters, also quantifies how plants within existing urban areas, along roads, in parks and in wooded neighborhoods, for example, regulate the urban heat effect…

The northeast I-95 corridor, Baltimore-Washington, Atlanta and the I-85 corridor in the southeast, and the major cities and roads of the Midwest and West Coast show the highest urban temperatures relative to their surrounding rural areas. Smaller cities have less pronounced increases in temperature compared to the surrounding areas. In cities like Phoenix built in the desert, the urban area actually has a cooling effect because of irrigated lawns and trees that wouldn’t be there without the city…

At the human level, a rise of 1°C can raise energy demands for air conditioning in the summer from 5 to 20 percent in the United States, according the Environmental Protection Agency. So even though 0.3°C may seem like a small difference, it still may have impact on energy use, said Bounoua, especially when urban heat island effects are exacerbated by global temperature rises due to climate change.

I grew up in a southern New England factory town. What changed it from being as much of an environmental disaster as most – was the struggles for Keynesian solutions like the CCC during the Great Depression included the transformation of vacant brownscapes into parks. Sufficiently done that the city began calling itself a park city. Every neighborhood acquired a little more life, more human friendliness, with the addition of a greenscape of grass and trees.

Secret Service agent bound for prison for stealing what he was investigating


Carlos Amarillo/Shutterstock

A former U.S. Secret Service agent pleaded guilty to money laundering in connection with the theft of $820,000 in bitcoins in the Silk Road website probe.

Shaun Bridges, 32, a forensic analyst involved in the federal investigation which shut down the drug marketplace website, was the second agent caught stealing digital cash. He pleaded guilty to money laundering and obstruction of justice charges during a San Francisco federal court hearing Monday.

During the probe, Bridges used his access authority to move 20,000 bitcoins to an account he controlled. The majority of transactions on the Silk Road website were made using bitcoins, a payment method not involving any government-backed currency.

The website was shut down in 2013. Its operator, Ross Ulbrecht, received life imprisonment in May for operating the site, and former U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agent Carl Force pleaded guilty in July to three charges in connection with the theft of more than $700,000 in bitcoins…

Bridges is scheduled to be sentenced in December.

I would sentence the dude, tomorrow. He’s already pleaded guilty as charged. Are we supposed to let someone from law enforcement disappear into the judicial fog and maybe be allowed a kinder, gentler sentence?

Does watching TV kill you or just an indicator for a sedentary life?


QPR fans don’t even get to jump up and celebrate often

People who spend more than 5 hours a day watching television appear to be at an increased risk of suffering fatal pulmonary embolism…

In a study that included more than 86,000 people in Japan who were followed for about 20 years, the risk of pulmonary embolism was 6.49 times higher for people who spent 5 hours or more in front of the tube compared with people who watched TV less than 2.5 hours a day…

In reporting his findings…at the annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology, Toru Shirakawa said that the greatest risk was observed in people ages 40-59. In the overall population of 40-79 years, however, the risk still was 2.36 times greater for people watching TV for 5 hours or more…

Shirakawa told MedPage Today that people who watch a lot of television fall into the same category as the so-called ‘economy class syndrome’ in which people on long-haul flights who do not move around are at risk of clotting.

“The association between prolonged sitting and pulmonary embolism was first reported among air raid shelter users in London during World War II,” said Shirakawa. “Nowadays, a long haul flight in an economy class seat is a well known cause of pulmonary embolism that is called ‘economy class syndrome’.”

His study was the first attempt to prospectively assess a possible association between prolonged television watching and fatal pulmonary embolism…

Christi Deaton, PhD, RN…Professor of Clinical Nursing at the University of Cambridge, England, agreed that common methods of preventing clotting on airplanes – getting up frequently, keeping hydrated – would apply to people who watch a lot of television.

“That kind of immobility –watching television for long hours – is dangerous,” she told MedPage Today. “It is very consistent with data relating to airplane flights or just our sedentary lifestyles. We need to move around more.”

I agree. You should get up once in a while for another beer. Or a piece of cheese.

Asylum seekers enter Norway in the Arctic – from Russia – by bicycle

Norway Arctic border crossing
Click to enlargeStorskog Boris Gleb border crossingCornelius Poppe/AFP/File

As Europe grapples with record-breaking numbers of migrants, a trickle of asylum seekers from Syria and the Mediterranean region have found an unlikely route: Through Russia to a remote Arctic border post in Norway, partly on bicycles.

Police Chief Inspector Goeran Stenseth said…that 151 people have crossed the border this year near the northeastern Norwegian town of Kirkenes, 2,500 kilometers northeast of Oslo.

He said that most of the migrants are from Syria, with some from Turkey and Ukraine, and that they mainly cross in motor vehicles although some have resorted to arriving on bicycles because the Storskog border post is not open to pedestrians, in line with a Norwegian-Russian border agreement.

“There have been about 100 during the past two months, at least 50 in July and looks like August will be much the same,” he told The Associated Press. “But the conditions will be bad soon. It’s getting colder by the day … Soon no one will be able to bike, that’s for sure.”

Woo-hoo! Probably be snowing there, next week. I’ve done a few not-so-legal border crossings in my life; but, none this far North.

Meanwhile, the Mother of Invention still rules.

North Dakota first to give coppers armed drones


Lucky intern gets to volunteer as test subject for drone taser

It is now legal for law enforcement in North Dakota to fly drones armed with everything from Tasers to tear gas thanks to a last-minute push by a pro-police lobbyist.

With all the concern over the militarization of police in the past year, no one noticed that the state became the first in the union to allow police to equip drones with “less than lethal” weapons. House Bill 1328 wasn’t drafted that way, but then a lobbyist representing law enforcement—tight with a booming drone industry—got his hands on it.

The bill’s stated intent was to require police to obtain a search warrant from a judge in order to use a drone to search for criminal evidence. In fact, the original draft of Representative Rick Becker’s bill would have banned all weapons on police drones.

Then Bruce Burkett of the North Dakota Peace Officer’s Association was allowed by the state house committee to amend HB 1328 and limit the prohibition only to lethal weapons. “Less than lethal” weapons like rubber bullets, pepper spray, tear gas, sound cannons, and Tasers are therefore permitted on police drones…

And as we all know…

Even “less than lethal” weapons can kill though. At least 39 people have been killed by police Tasers in 2015 so far, according to The Guardian. Bean bags, rubber bullets, and flying tear gas canisters have also maimed, if not killed, in the U.S. and abroad.

RTFA for a great deal of pro-and-con discussion. Not all of it very bright. But, when today’s class of state legislators in involved with corporate lobbyists, I’m surprised when any mention of civil liberties is allowed to creep into a question.