Irene gaining steam, poses real threa to US east coast

NWS track and NOAA sea surface temperatures (19 Aug - 21 Aug). Click image for latest on Irene

Hurricane Irene reached Category 2 status yesterday and may see further intensification today. The current storm track profile is shown above super imposed on next NOAA’s latest sea surface temperature data. Irene is forecast to track over water in the 28° to 30° C range (84° to 86° F) all the way to North Carolina. A small deviation from the centerline to the north and east will bring Irene over the DC metro region in 28° to 29° C water, warm enough to sustain a major hurricane, Saturday to early Sunday.

Forecasting hurricane movement is not an exact science. Eyes wobble, collapse, recycle; five days translates to an average error of 250 miles. In this case, 250 miles means the difference between a major hurricane that makes landfall in Florida, SC and NC and/or buzzes up the east coast, to one that barely brushes the seaboard and curves harmlessly out to sea. It all depends on the magnitude and location of that projected turn off the coast of Florida. The latest premiminary data suggests Irene has slowed down a few miles per hour, and if that continues it could mean she will turn a few dozen miles sooner.

The latest intensity forecast models for Irene will be out shortly and I’ll try to update at that time.

Update 11 AM CDT: Via Jeff Masters:

Latest microwave data suggests that Irene does not have full eyewall; a gap exists in the south side. With wind shear now a moderate 10 – 20 knots, Irene may have trouble intensifying today. The hurricane is embedded in a large envelope of moisture, and wind shear is expected to remain moderate, 10 – 20 knots, for the next four days. With water temperatures very warm, 29 – 30°C, these conditions should allow for intensification to a Category 3 storm sometime in the next two days. Satellite loops show that Irene is steadily growing in size, which will protect the storm against major disruption by wind shear. The storm is lacking much development on its southwest side, where the presence of Hispaniola is interfering with development. Once Irene pulls away from Hispaniola tonight, intensification is more likely.

I’ll add, there’s damn near a fleet of aircraft and spacecraft now heading to and from this storm or watching it closely. We’ll have quite a bit of data coming in over the next 48 hours.

Irene takes a bead on Florida & east coast

Irene's projected track as of 8 AM CDT. Click image for latest NWS updates

If I had to second guess expert storm forecasters, I’d guess — and please not the word guess here — that this storm will curve a little more quickly east than the center track shows and miss the Florida peninsula. Maybe some rain and wind to Florida’s space coast up through Jacksonville. If it does that, it could easily barrel into the DC region. Imagine several million residents packed up in cars fleeing, roads congested, occasional breakdowns, kids standing on the side of the road. In fact we don’t have to imagine because that’s what happened in Houston a few years ago when Rita came to visit. So guys, if you’re in that area, have your plans made ahead of time and be ready to beat the rush.

But aside from my random guessing, here’s what the models say via Jeff Masters as of an hour or two ago:

The most popular solution among the models is to take Irene to the northwest through the Bahamas on Wednesday and Thursday, then into the Southeast U.S. coast in South Carolina or North Carolina on Saturday. Irene would then travel up the mid-Atlantic coast, arriving near Long Island, New York on Monday morning as a strong tropical storm or Category 1 hurricane. One of the models proposing this solution is our best model, the ECMWF. However, we have two other of our very good models suggesting a landfall near Miami on Thursday night is likely (the GFDL and UKMET models.) NHC forecaster Stacy Stewart gave some good reasons in this morning’s discussion to favor a track close to the east coast of Florida, but just offshore. Last years’ worst performing major the model, the NOGAPS, predicts that Irene will pass out to sea, missing the Southeast U.S. coast.

Science makes strange bedfellows

OK, when I wrote a few days ago that there wasn’t one idea offered by the Teaparty that hasn’t failed or won’t work, I was wrong. W-R-O-N-G. It turns out there’s an organization called Teaparty In Space that’s tracking government pork being divvied up under the disguise of NASA funding and who are enthusiastic about newspace. And they are indeed not the least bit afraid to call out Republicans who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk:

With Senator Kay (TX-R) Bailey Hutchison’s press release last week we now know the full roster of senators who are pushing for a $38 billion dollar “bailout earmark” or Space Launch System (SLS). Clearly, these same senators are not interested in fiscal responsibility, limited government, free markets, or an affordable space program for that matter.

Good for them! It’s a pretty spiffy looking site too. Why don’t progressives have something like this? I can sure think of someone who could run it for a most reasonable fee (Cough cough). The answer is progressives are always short on money. I keep waiting for my George Soros hate-America check, but so far it hasn’t shown up.

It’s nice to see this nascent movement on the right freaking side of an issue for once, especially a science issue. Hopefully, this one oasis of common sense and love of science will grow and affect the wider movement. Hey, a blogger can dream!

Libya may have a republic … if they can keep it

So went Ben Franklin’s famous line. I’m too lazy and rushed to look it up and see if it’s legit or part of the crazy history created by sociopaths to keep the gullible nut burgers in line. It applies either way, because Libya appears to be on the doorstep of national independence.

The vast majority of Libyans live on or near the coast

Libyan rebels swept into Tripoli and captured two of Qaddafi’s sons as the battle to end his 42 years of autocratic rule arrived at the doorstep of his presidential compound. President Barack Obama said Qaddafi must recognize he “no longer controls” Libya as celebrations broke out in Tripoli’s Green Square, the location for pro-government rallies in recent months.

Welcome Libyans, to the club of nations that had to fight and die to throw off a brutal tyrannical rule. You have very good company including Mexico, Philipines, Poland, France, Italy, and of course the United States, and well, pretty much most of the western world at one time or another.

Back when those 13 little colonies first got word the British were throwing in the towel, one of the first things they did was start feuding bitterly and enacting Sedition Laws. Congress argued so voraciously it sometimes came to blows. Factions arose, joined, splintered, and reformed. Eventually the nation almost blew apart in the Civil War.

Republics are not easy to keep. But Libya has a shot at one. Libya is not over-populated, they have high quality crude reserves already developed, they have a fertile coast and, for a desert nation, a surprising amount of arable land. They’re also tribal, local, heavily influenced by religion, of diverse origin, and in general organized more on the coastal city-states weakly controlling vast wild territories model than on a competent central government. Maybe I’m a hopeless romantic, but that sounds familiar doesn’t it?

Libya has a chance, the next year or two will be absolutely critical to what kind of nation they become. Right now hopes are high and the future uncertain. If the transitional government can indeed transition into an albeit messy but functional and growing government that greatly improves the lives of regular citizens, then NATO, the EU, and yes the Obama administration, will have out neocon’ed the PNAC neocons for about what Bush’s Iraq blunder cost in a single week, and without losing a single US service member.

Sinkholes on Mars

Taken by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in July 2011. Click for more.

Man that’s cool. It’s a sandpit on Mars that seems to lead to an underground cavern. Phil Plait has the scoop:

In the distant past, Mars was geologically active. Rivers of lava ran across the surface. If the surface of the lava hardens it can form a roof, allowing the lava underneath to continue flowing; these are called lava tubes and there are bazillions of them in Hawaii, for example. Eventually, the source of the lava chokes off and the lava flows away, leaving the empty tube underground. If the roof is thin in one spot it can collapse. Sometimes that just leaves a hole, but apparently in this case it was under a sand field. Some of the sand must have fallen into the chamber below and eventually blown away, leaving the pit and the hole. The pit is located not too far from Pavonis Mons, a known (long-dead) Martian volcano.

Mars was once thought to be dead as a doornail, geologically and biologically. The jury’s still out on the latter, but Mars does undergo a little more surface geology than some scientists initially thought. In addition to ancient lava tubes and occasional impacts, more modern superficial features rise and fall with the interaction of subsurface water, wind, and the planet’s wandering axis.

The earth is locked into a tight range of obliquity thanks to our largish moon, we’re currently tilted over at 23 1/2 degrees giving us seasons like the horrid summer we’re suffering through in Texas right now. Mars is pretty close to that mark, about 25 degrees, so it has earth-like seasons too. They just last almost twice as long because the Martian year is about 1.88 earth years. Mars even has a near 24 hour day!

But Mars lacks a large moon. Its obliquity could vary wildly over the course of several tens of millions of years, theoretically between zero and 180 degrees! That would mean Mars rolls on its side, one pole pointing to the sun for half its long year, the other in darkness. Water ice and maybe other substances build up where sunlight is scarce. Right now that means near the poles and inside craters in the shade provided by the rims. But all that changes if Mars keels over, the water sublimates away leaving spaces that collapse, it may even cause briny sandy muddy Mars-slides, and some of it relocates elsewhere causing frost heaving and other surface phenomena.

Come to think of it, an exposed lava tube would be a pretty good place for ice to congregate, and the walls would be easy to seal against the harsh Martian cold and lethally low pressures. Water, shelter, with sunlight and soil nearby … that sand pit and others like it could be the future home of real Martians, the kind who came by way of earth.

Is there room for science in the GOP?

Anyone who’s watched politics over the last few decades in America has seen a powerful shift in the Republican Party away from science (And sanity in general) in favor of rigid hard-right ideology and magical thinking. Jon Huntsman, former Utah governor and current long-shot GOP 2012 presidential contender, spoke out on that regrettable trend last week:

“When we take a position that isn’t willing to embrace evolution, when we take a position that basically runs counter to what 98 of 100 climate scientists have said, what the National Academy of Science has said about what is causing climate change and man’s contribution to it, I think we find ourselves on the wrong side of science, and, therefore, in a losing position,” Huntsman told ABC’s “This Week.”

It would be nice to see Huntsman do better, but among likely conservative primary voters he’s in the low single digits. I don’t think there’s room in the Teaparty run GOP for a candidate who recognizes basic science. That genie got loose, some might say it was intentionally let out and encouraged to roam wildly, and it ain’t going back in the bottle anytime soon.

They love me, they really love me

Image courtesy of Daily Kos' Saturday hate-mail-a-palooze. Click image for more hate mail.

Every Saturday Daily Kos published some of the funnier hate mail we get. Markos calls it the hate-mail-a-palooza. One of the best began with Dear Liberal Fuckstick. But this one received last week may be be another instant classic:

Bet your pretty pisseed off that Michelle Bachmann Won the Iowa poll?! you wanted to get your secret liberal plant Romneye to win so thst the election would be between two leftist assholes? Guess waht? Romney got fucking DESTROYED!! If you thinkthat AMERICAN consrevatives ar going to nominate some leftwing homo lover from TAXACHUSETS your seriousky fucking mistaken!!!
You keep attakcing Bachmann becuase your FUCKING AFRAID!!! Well guess what! Bachmann will win and you SHOULD be fucking afraid you fucking sissy little quer! your taxpayer funded “job” sucking cock for the goverment will be cut! your Special fucking tax breaks for faggots will also be cut! NO MORE TAXPAYER FUNDED ABORTIONS!!! NO MORE TAXES!!! Guess what DailyFAG? Fuck you DailyFAG!!! I bet your boyfriend Romney will let you suck his cock if you ask nicely! that shuld make you feel better! Yum yum romney-cock!!!!

No idea if it’s legit or something a friendly reader made up for fun. But it’s a good time to remind readers that bloggers here reserve the right to republish any email sent, typos and mangled sentences intact, right up to and including your email address.

I’m living the Texas miracle

Texas Governor Rick Perry plans to run on jobs, presumably the same jobs conservative economic policies demolished, but we all know facts and direct inference hold no sway on what was once the Grand Old Party. It turns out that the job picture in Texas is not quite as rosy as Perry would like to spin:

But there is a wider set of categories in which no one presumes to see Texas miracles. Those have to do with social issues such as Texas’ high rate of people without health insurance, high levels of poverty and lagging education levels. For example, of the five most populous states, Texas had the highest poverty rate in the 2009 census update, with 15.5 percent of residents below the income threshold.

Texas is doing slightly better than other states for two reasons: they’ve been swiping jobs from other states by dangling subsidies and tax breaks for wealthy business owners while offering terrible conditions for wage earners, and ballooning the roster of low level state employees (Neither one would work as a national job strategy, especially for a politician hell-bent on cutting government spending). The end result is an employment rate that’s a little better than the national average and a giant population of workers with no other option except near starvation wages.

I’m one of them. I’m living the “Texas miracle”. I work for one of the best software companies in America, I came with a college degree and 20 years of experience as an entry-level employee, mid level manager, and successful senior executive in the field I currently work in. I make about $24,000 a year and there are virtually no chances, at least where I work now, for a meaningful promotion any time soon.

Multiply me by millions of other Texans and you get the picture. There’s a lady with a master’s degree in electrical engineering who did her thesis on NASA solar panels working with me for the same hobby job wage. And we’re lucky, she and I are among a handful of temps, about a dozen out of 300, who worked a graveyard shift with no benefits — no health insurance or vacation time, not even one sick day allowed – and earned a full-time job with the client company that hired us on.

What’s it like to try and live on $1400 month take home at age 50? Millions of people do it, but I can’t. I end up drawing on savings built up over three and a half decades of hard work or depending on projects like this blog for a few extra bucks. Even then every month is a struggle. Minor car or computer repairs, a trip to the dentist, that’s all it takes and I’ll have zero disposable income for weeks, barely able to cover rent on my tiny studio apartment without dipping into a retirement account. It’s survival, and without expensive luxuries like kids, I’m able to survive better off than most. But on that kind of pay there’s no way to take on new car payments or cover a mortgage, much less contribute to retirement. All the things people need to be able to do to create sorely needed demand and knock the country out of this deep hole Bush Republicans dug.

The Texas miracle. Miraculous, why it sounds almost heavenly! Trust me, if this is heaven you don’t wanna see hell. This miracle feels a lot more like a curse.

A short history of the Teaparty

Via the always excellent Digby, a fascinating, in-depth pair of articles from a regular attendee of Teaparty functions in the upper midwest confirm what I’ve observed more loosely among several friends in Texas and Florida. The Teaparty was quasi-independent of traditional Republican culture war dogma, at first anyway. But no more. That movement is long gone:

I concluded that trying to figure out what they wanted was a dead end because what they wanted was simply to complain—that the Tea Party “is not a group of listen and respond; this is a group of respond and respond.” Two years of Tea Party functions later, and I finally know what the Tea Party wants: A Christian nation.

Back in 2008 when AIG became the people’s insurance company, the ancestors of todays whacky teabaggers had already coalecsed around Ron Paul. The Texas congressman had carved out a niche for disaffected conservatives fed up with George Bush’s serial cluster-fucks. Especially Iraq, the biggest foriegn policy blunder since Vietnam.

Paul railed against foriegn intervention, and built up his credibility among younger voters by dismissing conservative opposition to gay rights and the endless, hopeless War on Drugs. By the time Bush handed Wall Street hundreds of billons in taxpayer dough and trillions in no interest loans, Paul was well positioned to capitalize on the GOP’s sudden affection for socialism — socializing the losses that it. And well they should have been. It was the biggest heist in history, where the very people who ruined the economy were rewarded with a trainload of cash which they promptly used to fund a generous round of bonuses for themselves. In 2008, after Obama won by a landslide, Republican was almost a dirty word. Conservative policies had failed on every level, in full view of the entire nation. That’s when the Teaparty as we know it was born, even the term Teaparty was coined in early 2009.

Then a funny thing happened. Key Teaparty leaders were bought out by traditional conservative money bags pushing traditonal conservative policies, those that didn’t cooperate were marginalized. In two short years the movement was completely coopted, the anger was expertly channeled away from GOP bank bailouts and constitutional violations, and focused back onto the usual on boogey-men of deficit spending, abortion, and Obama the Kenyan Marxist. The religious right walked right in, hand-in-hand with the usual suspects, apologetics in hand, and before you know it the same people who had been up in arms about bankstas and big government Republicans were lining up in droves to cut Wall Street taxes and enact the very same policies that fueled Teaparty anger in the first place. Most were whipped into such a fury they didn’t even notice the bait and switch.

The proto-Teaparty started out saying how much they loved the Constitution, a claim they stll make when they’re not trying to pass laws on what women can do with their uterus or who can marry who, leaving them with a sticky problem today. The religious right wants a sort of theocracy, a Christian nation, with a specific neo-medieval fundamentalist Protestant flavor of faith empowered above all others. Something that is about as Unconstitutional as possible. But they’re well on their way to getting around that obstacle by creating a comprehensive fake history, similar in some respects to the fake science of creationism, where democracy and the Constitution all derived from the Bible. A topic fellow FTB’er Chris Rodda covers brillianty at This Week in Christian Nationalism.

Watching what happened to a once semi-soveriegn movement that made some credible points over the last two years has made me appreciate my own rising star, the progressive netroots. Unlike the Teaparty, we were kept at arms length, or plain shut out, by nervous democrats after supplying a big part of the energy, money and votes that put them in power. There was a time when that stuck in my craw, politics can be ugly and so many democrats have no spine. But now I see some glimmerings of a silver lining: they were tricked and now they’ve been had. We got to keep our independence and our integrity, the Teaparty has already lost both. Along the way they’ve been made the scapegoats while the wealthy and powerful quietly harvested the economic and political benefits, leaving the vast majority of grass-roots activists who poured their heart and soul in to the original movement with absolutely nothing to show for it.

Rick Perry thinks we’re teaching creationism in Texas?

A schematic of natural selection acting on mutation, one of the chief theoretical mechanisms explaining the observed evidence for common descent

This is going to be a fun election season. TPM is reporting Teaparty darling Rick Perry told a questioner in New Hampshire “”Here your mom was asking about evolution. And you know, it’s a theory that is out there — it’s got some gaps in it. In Texas we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools. Because I figure–” … I have sympathy for politicians. It is grueling, they’re working crazy hours subject to endless hassle, and they have to be up and energetic all the time. So I can understand a gaffe. 

For the record, creationism is not taught in Texas K-12 schools. Outside of the occcasional fundamentalist teacher freelancing, it’s not taught in any public K-12 schools in the United States. Teaching creationism is illegal. It has been struck down several times, most recently in Edwards v Aguillard in 1987, and even ‘teaching the controversy’ was kicked in the ass in 2005 in Kitzmiller vs Dover Area School District. In the latter case, a republican judge appointed by President George W. Bush, John E. Jones III, wrote a blistering response against the creationists. That’s a ruling Rick Perry should probably take the time to read before answering any more questions about evolution or science education in Texas or anywhere else.

The part about Texas teaching both sides may have been a gaffe, maybe, but Perry’s underlaying pseudoscientific view is sincere. He’s a religious opportunist through and through, a card carrying member of the anti-science right, who happens to be up to his eyeballs in extreme right-wing dogma for a very good reason: The man is competing for votes from social conservative voters, the kind of voter for whom scientific ignorance isn’t a shortcoming, far from it, it’s badge of freaking honor to be worn proudly and openly for all to see. This is the same guy who believes or pretends to believe — I’m not sure which is worse — that NASA is leading a global conspiracy to mislead the world about the global warming. Motivated by research grant money or some stupid shit. Perry is a clown, but he may prove to be a very dangerous clown.