This could be the worst hurricane season since Katrina

The Atlantic storm season may be the most intense since 2005, when Hurricane Katrina killed over a thousand people after crashing through Gulf of Mexico energy facilities, the U.S. government’s top climate agency has predicted.

In its first forecast for the storm season that begins next Tuesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast 14 to 23 named storms, with 8 to 14 developing into hurricanes, nearly matching 2005’s record of 15.

Three to seven of those could be major Category 3 or above hurricanes, with winds of more than 110 miles per hour, the agency said, echoing earlier predictions from meteorologists for a particularly severe season that could disrupt U.S. oil, gas and refinery operations.

“If this outlook holds true, this season could be one of the more active on record,” said Jane Lubchenco, NOAA’s administrator. “The greater likelihood of storms brings an increased risk of a landfall.”

In addition to the risk that major hurricanes can pose to about one-quarter of U.S. oil production and more than a 10th of natural gas output offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, this year’s storms could threaten to complicate efforts to combat the environmental disaster of BP’s gushing oil well.

The hurricane season officially starts on June 1 and typically peaks between late August and mid-October. An average Atlantic hurricane season brings 11 tropical storms with six hurricanes, including two major hurricanes, NOAA said…

Private forecaster WSI and Colorado State University’s hurricane-forecasting team so far expect the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season to produce at least eight hurricanes, four of them major, posing a heightened threat to the U.S. coastline.

CSU forecasters are expected to ramp up their prediction for the 2010 season in a report due out on June 2.

“The numbers are going to go up quite high,” William Gray, the hurricane forecast pioneer who founded CSU’s storm research team, said on Wednesday. “This looks like a hell of a year.”

I wish the head-in-the-sand crowd would all move down to the beach for the season. Reality might finally have a chance to bite them on their unfounded skeptical fundaments.

Secret mistresses of Italian priests ask pope to scrap celibacy

Hail, hail, the gang’s all here!
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

Dozens of Italian women who have had relationships with Roman Catholic priests or lay monks have endorsed an open letter to the pope that calls for the abolition of the celibacy rule. The letter, thought by one signatory to be unprecedented, argues that a priest “needs to live with his fellow human beings, experience feelings, love and be loved”.

It also pleads for understanding of those who “live out in secrecy those few moments the priest manages to grant [us] and experience on a daily basis the doubts, fears and insecurities of our men”.

The issue was put back on the Vatican’s agenda in March when one of Pope Benedict’s senior advisers, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna, said the abolition of the celibacy rule might curb sex abuse by priests, a suggestion he hastily withdrew after Benedict spoke up for “the principle of holy celibacy”.

The authors of the letter said they decided to come into the open after hearing his retort, which they said was an affirmation of “the holiness of something that is not holy” but a man-made rule. There are many instances of married priests in the early centuries of Christianity. Today, priests who follow the eastern Catholic rites can be married, as can those who married before converting to Roman Catholicism from Anglicanism.

One signatory, Stefania Salomone, 42, an office manager, said the message to the pope had been endorsed by nearly 40 women registered with an online forum linked to Il Dialogo website. But such was the sensitivity of the issue that only three had published their names…

My family walked away from the Roman Catholic church almost 70 years ago – over the question of freedom to access means of birth control. I think it unlikely that the church is ready to engage intelligent dialogue on an even more demanding subject.

Living in the 21st Century, peering backwards at an ideology, superstition, rooted to the Dark Ages like a tumor clinging to an organ it has already sucked dry of life – I hardly see any reason for this attempt at dialogue except to illustrate the unwillingness of Papal princes to learn and grow into the real world.

ID cards to be scrapped within 100 days

In the UK, that is:

Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

The £4.5bn national identity card scheme is to be scrapped within 100 days, the home secretary, Theresa May, announced today.

The 15,000 identity cards already issued are to be cancelled without any refund of the £30 fee to holders within a month of the legislation reaching the statute book.

Abolishing the cards and associated register will be the first piece of legislation introduced to parliament by the new government. May said the identity documents bill will invalidate all existing cards.

The role of the identity commissioner, created in an effort to prevent data blunders and leaks, will be abolished.

The government said the move will save £86m over four years and avoid £800m in costs over the next 10 years that would have been raised by increased charges. An allied decision to cancel the next generation of biometric fingerprint passports will save a further £134m over four years. Savings to the public under the whole package will total £1bn…

A separate scheme under which identity cards are issued to all foreign nationals resident in Britain by 2015 run by the United Kingdom Border Agency is still to go ahead. Home Office ministers said yesterday this was a separate scheme for biometric residence permits for foreign nationals that was required by European Union legislation…

The deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, said: “The wasteful, bureaucratic and intrusive ID card system represents everything that has been wrong with government in recent years.”

My personal politics – like many, especially those I hope who take the time to learn rather than listen – are a mixture of progressive goals, fiscal conservatism, a touch of libertarian individual protectivism and a thoroughgoing distrust of professional politicians.

My feelings about ID cards are as mixed. I welcome their use to protect electoral, social and welfare rights. I resent being treated as a statistic. I fear misuse and political abuse from reactionary and cowardly governments.

But, then our nation’s history is a wee bit different from those on the other side of the pond.

2,000-calorie milkshake tops list of worst drinks

If this is your goal…?

A milkshake containing 2,010 calories — equivalent to eating 68 strips of bacon or 30 chocolate chip cookies — has topped a list of the 20 worst drinks in America compiled by Men’s Health magazine.

The Cold Stone PB&C milkshake, made with peanut butter, chocolate icecream and milk, contains 68 grams of saturated fat and 153 grams of sugar, according to nutritional details on the company’s website.

“In terms of saturated fat, drinking this Cold Stone catastrophe is like slurping up 68 strips of bacon,” the magazine said.

The second worst drink in America was listed as the Peanut Power Plus Grape from Smoothie King with a large cup packing 1,498 calories and the same amount of sugar as 20 Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups chocolate and peanut butter snacks.

McDonald’s large Triple Thick Chocolate Shake came in third with 1,160 calories or the equivalent of 13 of the fast food chain’s hot apple pies.

I can feel my arteries clogging up just reading about this.

Work hangovers set to rise as World Cup kicks off

The average Briton turns up to work with a hangover three times a month, according to a survey and the frequency is expected to increase during next month’s World Cup.

The charity Drinkaware found each day more than 520,000 people in Britain go to work hung over, with nearly one in five of those admitting that as a result they make mistakes and struggle to keep on top of their workload.

“An international sporting event like the World Cup will inevitably capture the attention of the nation and is a great time for people to come together, but hangovers at work are likely to increase,” said Drinkaware Chief Executive Chris Sorek…

While nine out of 10 people said they considered having a hangover at work unacceptable, two-thirds of the 1,085 adults questioned by pollsters ICM admitted they had joked with their colleagues or boss about having a hangover.

Of those who went to work hung over, seven percent have had to leave work early because they were too ill to carry on.

Then, you add in those too wasted to go to work.

Or, my style – call in sick to stay home and watch your favorite team.

Don’t let your cell phone distract you while driving

For police chief Clayton Leão Chaves it was supposed to be another day at the office. At around 9.40am this morning, he was making his daily journey to the police HQ in Camacari, a small city in Bahia state, and giving an interview to local radio on his mobile phone about the police’s struggle against local drug traffickers.

Then something went badly wrong.

“I heard some bangs,” one of the shows two presenters announced, perplexed, as the police chief’s voice disappeared.

“Something serious has happened to our chief. It can’t be anything else,” said his co-presenter, adding: “The chief was just talking to us. We don’t know what has happened. There is a lady weeping.”

According to local media reports, Chaves had been killed as he spoke to journalists from Bahia’s Lider FM radio station and to thousands of local listeners about attempts to improve security…

According to reports, the police chief’s car was ambushed by gunmen, who then fled in a white VW car…

Stunned, the show’s presenters urged police to rush to the scene. “Attention military police, attention colleagues of the police chief. Get to the Cascalheira Highway urgently. Something serious has just happened.”

Local radio presenter Marco Antonio Ribeiro told the G1 news site: “I was finishing the interview when the crime happened. We were meant to do the interview in the studio but he couldn’t make it. The interview was about his work combating drug trafficking in the region.”

Too real. There are some jobs that require an armored car – and not just for those worrying about political assassination.