Whenever she opens her mouth

June 27, 2011

After the Republican presidential candidates’ debate, observers of the pageant opined that Michelle Bachmann had little command of history (as usual, in her case), but a great command of turning phrases that telegraph to particular interest groups that she is one of them.  For example, somewhere in the debate Bachmann sneaked in a claim that “we are the head and not the tail.”  This was said to be a cryptic shout out to fundamentalist Christians, a reference to Deuteronomy 28.13.

So, if Bachmann is so thoughtful, so careful to send coded messages to her supporters, one may wonder:  What group is she giving a shout out to, here, in her appearance in Waterloo, Iowa:

Nominally, one might think she’s sending a note to all of us in the John Wayne fan club.  But some of us in the fan club remember that Marion Mitchell Morrison  (John Wayne’s non-screen name) was born — in Iowa, true — but in Winterset, in the southern part of the state.

Waterloo was the home of another man who was born with the name “John Wayne.”  But that was John Wayne Gacy, the serial murderer who moved to Waterloo, Iowa in the middle 1960s.

Oy.  Wrong John Wayne to affiliate with Waterloo, or even to remind Waterloo residents about.  History that is, regretfully, bogus.  Or voodoo history, depending on whether one thinks Bachmann is conscious, not on drugs, and meant what she said.

Bachmann told CBS News that she’s running because “People are tired of being told things that aren’t so.”  Practice what you preach, Ms. Bachmann?

Sunday I watched Bachmann vs. CBS’s veteran report Bob Schieffer.  Schieffer asked her about her tendency to tell extremely tall tales — like her claim that the Obama administration had failed to approve any oil leases, when the total approved at that point was 270 leases.  Bachmann went off on a tangent.  Schieffer asked the question a second time.  She went on another tangent.  Schieffer asked a third time, a third tangent.

History challenged, veracity challenged: Every time Michelle Bachmann opens her mouth, it’s an adventure.


Blame global warming for wild weather? NASA says, “Blame La Nada”

June 27, 2011

Here’s what NASA said:

What’s to Blame for Wild Weather? “La Nada”

Such sheets of fire, such bursts of horrid thunder,
Such groans of roaring wind and rain, I never
Remember to have heard; man’s nature cannot carry
The affliction nor the fear
… from Shakespeare’s Tragedy of King Lear

June 21, 2011: Record snowfall, killer tornadoes, devastating floods: There’s no doubt about it. Since Dec. 2010, the weather in the USA has been positively wild. But why?

Some recent news reports have attributed the phenomenon to an extreme “La Niña,” a band of cold water stretching across the Pacific Ocean with global repercussions for climate and weather. But NASA climatologist Bill Patzert names a different suspect: “La Nada.”

“La Niña was strong in December,” he says. “But back in January it pulled a disappearing act and left us with nothing – La Nada – to constrain the jet stream. Like an unruly teenager, the jet stream took advantage of the newfound freedom–and the results were disastrous.”

Wild Weather (La Nina, 558px)

The blue and purple band in this satellite image of the Pacific Ocean traces the cool waters of the La Niña phenomenon in December 2010. (from Ocean Surface Topography Mission (OSTM)/Jason-2 satellite, Credit: NASA JPL)

La Niña and El Niño are opposite extremes of a great Pacific oscillation. Every 2 to 7 years, surface waters across the equatorial Pacific warm up (El Niño) and then they cool down again (La Niña). Each condition has its own distinct effects on weather.

The winter of 2010 began with La Niña conditions taking hold. A “normal” La Niña would have pushed the jet stream northward, pushing cold arctic air (one of the ingredients of severe weather) away from the lower US. But this La Niña petered out quickly, and no El Niño rose up to replace it. The jet stream was free to misbehave.

“By mid-January 2011, La Niña weakened rapidly and by mid-February it was ‘adios La Niña,’ allowing the jet stream to meander wildly around the US. Consequently the weather pattern became dominated by strong outbreaks of frigid polar air, producing blizzards across the West, Upper Midwest, and northeast US.”1

The situation lingered into spring — and things got ugly. Russell Schneider, Director of the NOAA-NWS Storm Prediction Center, explains:

“First, very strong winds out of the south carrying warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico met cold jet stream winds racing in from the west. Stacking these two air masses on top of each other created the degree of instability that fuels intense thunderstorms.”

Extreme contrasts in wind speeds and directions of the upper and lower atmosphere transformed ordinary thunderstorms into long-lived rotating supercells capable of producing violent tornadoes.2

Wild Weather (La Nada, 558px)

This satellite image, taken in April 2011, reveals La Niña’s rapid exit from the equator near the US coast. The cool (false-color blue) water was gone by early spring. (from Ocean Surface Topography Mission (OSTM)/Jason-2 satellite, Credit: NASA JPL)

In Patzert’s words, “The jet stream — on steroids — acted as an atmospheric mix master, causing tornadoes to explode across Dixie and Tornado Alleys, and even into Massachusetts.”

All this because of a flaky La Niña?

“La Niña and El Niño affect the atmosphere’s energy balance because they determine the location of warm water in the Pacific, and that in turn determines where huge clusters of tropical thunderstorms form,” explains Schneider. “These storms are the main energy source from the tropics influencing the large scale pattern of the jet stream that flows through the US.”

In agreement with Patzert, he notes that the very strong and active jet stream across the lower US in April “may have been related to the weakening La Niña conditions observed over the tropical Pacific.”

And of course there’s this million dollar question: “Does any research point to climate change as a cause of this wild weather?”

“Global warming is certainly happening,” asserts Patzert, “but we can’t discount global warming or blame it for the 2011 tornado season. We just don’t know … Yet.”3

What will happen next? And please don’t say, “La Nada.”

Author: Dauna Coulter | Editor: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA

End Notes

(1) Other atmospheric factors also contributed to the inflow of frigid polar air, says Patzert. One of the most significant was a weakening in the whirlpool motion of the air around the North Pole. As a result of this weakening, more cold air flowed away from the pole and down toward the states. Climatologists call this an “arctic oscillation.”

(2) Imagine a paddle wheel oriented like a Ferris wheel and placed in winds that that are much stronger at the top than at the bottom. The wheel will spin in the direction of the strong winds above. This spring, these strong, turning winds led to ongoing rotation of the supercells themselves. So we ended up with intense rotation and updraft close to Earth’s surface — conditions ripe for strong tornadoes.

(3) On May 26, 2011, Patzert posted a comment about this topic on Andrew Revkin’s The New York Times’ DOT EARTH Blog, “Demography, Design, Atom Bombs and Tornado Deaths.” See comment 6 at this URL.

Looks to me as if the people at NASA are saying we should go slow, and not rush to blame our weather woes on climate change. Climate change “skeptics” should be so skeptical.


“When we’re telling whoppers about Obama and government, please don’t pester us with the facts” Department

June 27, 2011

First:  American Elephant, a blog that insults pachyderms with its mendacious ways, stretches for ways to complain about President Obama.  In a recent post, the author tried to poke ill-humored fun at Obama and companies he’s visited over the past couple of years.  It’s the headline that caught my attention:

“President Obama has never held a private job, but picks the winners and losers for the economy”

The premise is false, of course — it’s based on that Republican smear meme that Obama and his cabinet lack experience in the private sector, a smear that breaks down quickly if anyone looks at the biographies of the cabinet.  Obama also comes from the private sector, though when confronted with the facts the meme spreaders tend to make rash and foolish claims like “the Catholic church is public sector” and “lawyers all work for the government.”

Conspiracy theory cartoon by Chris Madden

Cartoon by Chris Madden, via TV Tropes

I left a response there, but don’t expect the blog owner to show the decency of allowing it through moderation:

President Obama worked for a private group providing services to people below the poverty line, and then he worked for a very large private law firm, while teaching at the privately-run University of Chicago.  He had never worked for government until his election to the Illinois State Senate (is that salaried?).

You should probably correct the headline.

As if.  Not only is the headline wrong, but the evidence doesn’t support the second premise, and there are other serious problems with the claims and arguments advanced there.  True American elephants probably take to drink to try to forget what’s being done under their name.

Second, and probably third:  There is the minor kerfuffle of the hoax report out of Pakistan that nuclear power plants in Nebraska are either near meltdown, or already melted down, and you don’t know about it because President Obama ordered a news blackout to avoid panic but at the same time condemning hundreds of thousands of Midwesterners to radiation poisoning deaths.  It’s an absurd story on several fronts and several levels — news of the flood plight of the power plants has been reported around the world, for example — but those bent on being suckered by every conspiracy claim to come down the pike, or bent on criticizing President Obama no matter how much they must twist the fact to do it, cannot be dissuaded.

Take for example this odd blog:  A discussion of the imagined meltdown quickly disintegrates into defense of holding on to birther views despite Obama’s release of his “long form” birth certificate (no good information goes un-urinated upon).  Then discussion veers off into all sorts of paranoia — UN “control” of U.S. lands, occupation of several states by rogue Transportation Security Agents (you didn’t hear about it due to the news blackout, most likely), Obama’s being controlled by or controlling GE (‘didn’t GE have something to do with the design of those nuclear reactors?’), Army Corps of Engineers plots to flood the Midwest (????), Obama’s overturning the Constitution through the use of executive orders (which no one there can find at the moment, but they’re sure they exist, somewhere . . .  gee, did we misplace it?) including a wholly imaginary order to take over all rural lands in the U.S. (why?), and complaints that the U.S. is not deporting U.S. soldiers or their families quickly enough.

Such a ball of delusional paranoia and errors of history, law, and other facts!  One might imagine these people so involved in tracking down misinformation and distorting real information that they forget to kick their dogs.  (Seriously, I’d tend to think these people could be helped by having a dog or a cat, except for the very real fear I have they’d forget to feed the creatures; like a drowning person, fighting all efforts to save them.)

Our nation has a collective inability to deal with the facts of too many situations, because too many people simply deny the facts in front of our collective national faceJonathan Kay’s recent book, Among the Truthers, gets at the problem — you can imagine how strongly any of these bloggers and commenters would resist even reading Kay’s book.  It’s not that they seek information to make good decisions on policy, but that they seek the misinformation to justify their paranoid claims that “we are all really, really screwed!

As with the blogs noted above, we witness the birth of voodoo history, bogus history, and intentional ignorance.

There is a great danger from these cesspools of willful ignorance.  As more people refuse to grant credence to facts, to reality, it becomes more difficult to muster a consensus on what to do about any particular problem.  Wildfires and drought in Texas this year already wiped out more than three-fifths of the state’s wheat harvest; floods in the upper Midwest will surely do serious damage to wheat crops there.  We face a shortage of the surpluses of wheat the nation has used to bring peace and vanquish hunger around the world for the past 60 years — think of our “sale” of wheat to the old Soviet Union, stopping the starvation death toll under 10 million and indebting the USSR to the U.S. and the non-communist West — a debt the USSR never could pay off, and a debt which was the hammer to start the crumbling of the foundations of Soviet Communism.  In short, we have a wheat supply problem, caused in no small part by weather extremes that are, mostly likely, aggravated by global warming.

Can we agree to take action?  Probably not, not so long as so many people deny that warming is happening and throw every roadblock in the path of action, in the name of “preventing government takeover.”

As a nation, we have problems with flood control, and emergency preparedness, and the management of undeveloped lands and farm lands — not to mention the many urban problems we face.  What are the odds we can get a consensus on any of those problems, at least enough of a consensus to take constructive action?

For want of a nail, the horseshoe was lost, begins the old saw.  We can’t even get agreement that horseshoes should be nailed to a horse’s hoof — how can we get the consensus to make sure there are enough nails to do the job?


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