Pacific Ocean temperatures predict US heat waves 50 days out

The formation of a distinct pattern of sea surface temperatures in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean can predict an increased chance of summer heat waves in the eastern half of the U.S. up to 50 days in advance.

The pattern is a contrast of warmer-than-average water coming up against cooler-than-average seas. When it appears, the odds that extreme heat will strike during a particular week — or even on a particular day — can more than triple, depending on how well-formed the pattern is.

The findings were published in…Nature Geoscience. The lead author is scientist Karen McKinnon of the National Center for Atmospheric Research…

“Summertime heat waves are among the deadliest weather events, and can have big effects on farming, energy use and other critical aspects of society,” said McKinnon. “If we can give city planners and farmers a heads-up that extreme heat is on the way, we might be able to avoid some of the worst consequences…”

For the study, the scientists divided the country into regions that tend to experience extreme heat at the same time. They then focused on the largest of the resulting blocks: a swath that stretches across much of the Midwest and up the East Coast, encompassing important agricultural areas and heavily populated cities.

The researchers looked for a relationship between global sea surface temperature anomalies — waters warmer or cooler than average — and extreme heat in the eastern half of the U.S.

A pattern popped out in the middle of the Pacific, above a point roughly 20 degrees north latitude. The scientists could find the particular configuration of ocean water temperatures, which they named the Pacific Extreme Pattern, not only when the eastern U.S. was already hot, but also in advance of that heat.

RTFA for beaucoup details of the study. I’m looking forward to someone writing a broader relation of the whole process. Fascinating stuff.

FDA agrees with doctors, not Republicans, on abortion pill.

On Wednesday, the medical abortion pill got a new label from the Food and Drug Administration—one that finally reflects the way doctors have been prescribing it for years. In the process, Republicans lost at least one strategy that they’ve used to block women’s access to abortion.

In the political tug-of-war over this pill — as in most every fight over abortion — legislators have inserted themselves into consummately routine aspects of medical practice. In this case, they interfered with the common and totally legal practice of off-label prescription, in which doctors use the most up-to-date medical information and their own best instincts to dictate how patients should use a drug, deviating from often outdated FDA guidelines. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 1 in 5 prescriptions written are for off-label use. That didn’t stop Republicans from banning it in the case of the abortion pill, mifepristone, when best practice evolved beyond the guidelines that the FDA wrote upon first approving the drug in 2000.

Mifepristone (brand name Mifeprex) terminates pregnancy by blocking the necessary hormones; doctors prescribe it with a second pill, misoprostol, which induces contractions to start what resembles a heavy period. When the FDA originally wrote the protocol for the drug, it specified a dose of 600 milligrams. Over the years, however, doctors have found that a 200-milligram dose is just as effective and causes fewer unpleasant side effects… Republicans…passed laws in six states — still in effect in North Dakota and Ohio—that forced practitioners to stick to the FDA guidelines or stop offering the procedure altogether.

The new FDA guidelines vindicate doctors, embracing the 200-milligram regimen and reflecting several other changes in the way practitioners have been prescribing the drug that broaden women’s access to abortion…

The new label for mifepristone also says that the drug should be “ordered, prescribed and dispensed by or under the supervision of a healthcare provider who prescribes and who meets certain qualifications.” Crucially, the guidelines do not contain the word physician. Here, the FDA has given at least subtle backing to the argument that women’s health groups—and the World Health Organization—have been making for years: that midlevel providers, such as midwives and nurse practitioners, should be able to administer medical abortions….As abortion clinics across the country continue to close because of targeted GOP legislation, expanding the circle of who can prescribe this pill could be invaluable for many women.

Good news for everyone who wants their healthcare to be guided by modern medicine, sound science – instead of Republican politicians, pundits and populists mired in the backwaters of history and hysteria.

Pentagon on the way to wasting a historic amount of taxpayer dollar$


May as well give ’em their own printing press for money…

Waste at the Pentagon is nothing new. But recent revelations suggest that it may be reaching historic levels.

The Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction has uncovered scandal after scandal involving U.S. aid to that country, including the creation of private villas for a small number of personnel working for a Pentagon economic development initiative and a series of costly facilities that were never or barely used. An analysis by ProPublica puts the price tag for wasteful and misguided expenditures in Afghanistan at $17 billion, a figure that is higher than the GDP of 80 nations…

It’s not just about Afghanistan, though. Back in the United States, wasteful spending abounds. A Politico report on the Pentagon’s $44 billion Defense Logistics Agency notes that it spent over $7 billion on unneeded equipment. Meanwhile, Congress is doing its part by inserting its own pet projects into the budget, whether or not they are top priorities in terms of defense needs. The most notable example is the F-35 combat aircraft, which at $1.4 trillion over its lifetime is the most expensive weapons project ever undertaken by the Pentagon. Despite the fact that the plane is far from ready for prime time, Congress stuffed 11 additional F-35s into the defense bill that was signed by the president last month…

During the Reagan military buildup of the 1980s, tales of $600 toilet seats and $7,600 coffee makers convinced Congress and the public that the Pentagon had more money than it knew what to do with, and that the time to curb spending had come. But overspending on routine items – such as the Army’s recent expenditure of $8,000 on a gear worth $500 – continues. In fact, because the Pentagon can’t pass an audit, the department doesn’t even know for sure how much it is overpaying on basic items, or how much excess equipment it is purchasing.

The common thread uniting the C-5 scandal of the 1960s, the spare parts scandal of the 1980s and today’s array of wasteful expenditures is that they all came on the heels of major military buildups. When there is too much money to go around and no one is minding the store, spending discipline goes out the window…

What can be done to get the “fat” out of Pentagon spending? For starters, the department needs financial incentives to get its books in order. Members of Congress…have put forward bills designed to press the Pentagon to become audit ready as soon as possible.

But the best management tool is to put the Pentagon on a tighter budget, so it is forced to make some tough choices. No one, hawk or dove, should sit still for the waste of tens of billions of tax dollars. Waste doesn’t defend us. On the contrary, spending too much on the Pentagon just subsidizes bad choices.

It’s time for Congress, the president and the presidential candidates of both parties to speak out about Pentagon waste, and put forward concrete plans for reining it in. Otherwise, our era may have the dubious distinction of being the golden age of Pentagon waste.

Even though I can vote for Bernie or Hillary – one because it’s a good choice, finally – the other because we need at least a centrist defense of the Constitution to protect the rights we’re supposed to have – Bernie’s more likely to come down on the principled side of this question.

In front of most American audiences, the middle ground still plays well. Regardless of material reality. Hillary will stick with historic Liberal Democrat copouts. The kind that brought us everything from VietNam to Iraq.

So be it.

Want a little extra sidebar? Col. Lawrence Wilkerson was a heavy-duty military jock for George W Buch. And has a conscience about it. Read what he has to say.

15 Liters of water – Om Malik

Om at Taj Mahal

When California was amidst a drought, I decided to implement a three minute shower limit so as to minimize my water usage. A typical shower is about eight minutes long and takes up about 17 gallons or 65 liters of water. So a three minute shower consumes about six gallons Of water. I embraced other water saving changes, but the short shower was the one which I thought made the most sense on an individual level. It has become a habit since, only to realize that I could do more.

When I came to Delhi to visit my parents, I had to use a bucket of water to take a bath. Water is a real luxury around the world. You remember that when you open the taps and there isn’t a drop in sight. And that is why you figure out how to bathe with a bucket of water. This is what you learn as a child and it remains for you forever. It didn’t take me long to remind myself – a good bath needs about 15 liters of water. That’s about 3.96 gallons of water. I will remember that next time I open the shower tap!

March 30, 2016, New Delhi

Worth remembering no matter where we are in the world.

Thank you, Om.

Fewer ear infections for US babies – and why?

Can't you see I'm busy

Increases in breastfeeding, decreases in parental smoking, and vaccination against pneumonia and influenza were linked to the reduced incidence of ear infections among U.S. babies in their first year of life…

Rates of acute otitis media have dropped significantly since the 1980s and 1990s, reported Tasnee Chonmaitree, MD, of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, and colleagues.

Nearly half – 46% – of the 367 babies followed between 2008 and 2014 had an ear infection in their first year of life, compared with around three out of five babies in studies conducted 2 and 3 decades ago, they wrote in Pediatrics.

Breastfeeding exclusively for 6 months or more was associated with a significantly lower risk for upper respiratory infection, while day care attendance and having multiple siblings were both associated with an increased risk for the infections in the study.

Ear infections remain the leading cause of physician visits, antibiotic use, and surgery among babies and young children. The findings suggest that factors such as the introduction of pneumococcal conjugate vaccines for infants, increased breastfeeding, and declines in infant secondhand smoke exposure have all contributed to lower ear infection incidence…

“These findings are reassuring,” she said. “Breastfeeding specifically was shown to be associated with a lower risk for common cold, which leads to ear infections.”…

Chonmaitree said the introduction of the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine almost 2 decades ago, and the recent recommendation that babies receive the influenza vaccine starting at the age of 6 months, may have had the biggest impact on AOM incidence.

Reduced exposure to secondhand smoke from parents is also a likely contributor to lower AOM rates, although the study was too small to show this, she added.

All good science and healthful findings. Now, if we could convince the political hacks of America that helping folks to raise healthy children is good for the nation, our economy, our future, they’d back off from the stupidity of [their side of] class warfare and lose budgets and regulations that confine healthy pediatrics only to those who can afford it.

Frost maps back to 1916 illustrate the history of climate change

LgLastKillingFrost1916
Click through to the article – interactive maps at the bottom of the article
[Interactive goodies may not work on mobile devices]

Published in a 1936 Atlas of American Agriculture, put together by the United States Department of Agriculture, these 1916 maps of the average dates of first killing frosts in fall and last killing frosts in spring were initially intended to help farmers plan their planting schedules. Now, the maps offer a rough gauge showing how much these dates have shifted over a century.

The preparers of these maps, William Gardner Reed, Charles Franklin Brooks, and F.J. Marschner, compiled data from a then-relatively-new network of Weather Bureau stations and agricultural colleges. The trio notes that of 4,000 such stations, 700 were able to offer data that covered every year between 1895 and 1914. Insets show dates of the first and last killing frosts in the year of 1914.

On a website charting indicators of climate change, the Environmental Protection Agency offers a few graphs showing how the growing season in the continental United States has lengthened between 1895 and 2015, with most of the upswing taking place in the past 30 years. While stipulating that a lengthening growing season could have positive effects on yield for some farmers, the EPA notes that “overall, warming is expected to have negative effects on yields of major crops.” A long season “could limit the types of crops grown, encourage invasive species or weed growth, or increase demand for irrigation.”

Of course, a shift in frost dates affects the life cycles of nonagricultural flora and fauna, as well. Longer summers, writes the EPA, could change “the function and structure” of a region’s ecosystems, encouraging some species to reproduce more vigorously, and inhibiting the success of others.

Certainly a major shift in my neck of the prairie. The maps recommend safety from the last killing frost a month later than anything I’ve experienced in the decades I’ve lived in Santa Fe county.

Branson and Boom out to build the next-gen supersonic plane

The next supersonic airplane could be built in metro Denver. And Richard Branson is banking on it.

Boom Technology Inc., a startup which departed Silicon Valley for Arapahoe County, has set up shop in a Centennial Airport hangar to develop a 40-seat aircraft that can travel to London from New York in 3.4 hours.

Branson’s Virgin Galactic has committed to provide development services for Boom and signed an option to buy 10 planes. Boom also said it has inked a similar deal for 15 planes with an unnamed European carrier…

Boom unveiled its design last week. If all goes as planned, the sleek little plane would use proven technology — carbon fiber composites, propulsion systems and airframe materials — to hit speeds of Mach 2.2, or 1,451 miles per hour, but burn fuel far more efficiently than the Concorde, which was mothballed in 2003.

At that pace, passengers could travel from New York to London in 3.4 hours, cutting flight time by more than half…

“Richard Branson has long expressed interest in developing high-speed flight and building high-speed flight R&D,” Virgin Group officials wrote in response to questions Monday. “We can confirm that The Spaceship Company will provide engineering, design and manufacturing services, flight tests and operations and that we have an option on the first 10 airframes. It is still early days and just the start of what you’ll hear about our shared ambitions and efforts.”

RTFA for early development schedule, prototype and goals. This is a class of passenger carrier which I think could fill a profitable, useful niche.

Republicans obsessed with Planned Parenthood expand their witch hunt

The federal investigation into the unfounded claim that Planned Parenthood profits off of fetal tissue donations has taken an even darker turn.

A House committee led by anti-abortion Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) is on the verge of issuing 17 subpoenas to medical companies to gather the names of medical researchers, graduate students, laboratory technicians, and administrative staff who are in any way involved in fetal tissue research…

According to Blackburn: “We are going to review the business practices of these procurement organizations and do some investigating of how they have constructed a for-profit business model from selling baby body parts…”

The committee was John Boehner’s personal witch hunt against Planned Planned based on propaganda from scumbags [now indicted] who produced a counterfeit anti-abortion video.

The researchers and technicians in question fear this attack could effectively halt critical research that depends on fetal tissue samples — including researching cures for the Zika virus, Parkinson’s disease, HIV, and many other fatal conditions. Of course, many also fear that making the researchers’ names public could seriously endanger their lives.

Rep. Jerrod Nadler has warned her of the serious implications of her witch hunt…”The committee has no rules in place to protect the names of those subpoenaed — raising the possibility of Congress effectively painting targets on the backs of scientists and researchers for no particular reason other than the Republicans’ desire for a culture war,” he said…

The looming subpoenas are especially unsettling for universities, whose lead researchers and students are at risk. Some schools and organizations have blacked out the names of the researchers in documents already requested by the House committee — but this new round of subpoenas wouldn’t allow for this security measure.

Congressional Republicans are notorious for their 14th Century religious hangups, dedication to myth and ignorance. That they use their majority in Congress – undeserved and ill-acquired – to assault constitutional protections in parallel with witch hunts against women’s rights and science in general is especially contemptible.