Methane

A couple of pieces on methane emissions paint an even gloomier picture of the future. One appears in this morning’s Seattle Times; the other in the New York Times

Methane has 30 times more climate impact than carbon dioxide. It has been buried in permafrost and in the ocean bottoms, but changes in temperature on land and in the sea have already released methane from the former and threaten discharges from the latter. Worse, methane emissions will accelerate the feedback loops: higher temperatures unleash methane deposits which increase temperatures, and so on. 

Here’s the NY Times Andrew Revkin:

A comprehensive new study of atmospheric levels of methane, an important greenhouse gas released by leaky oil and gas operations and livestock, has found much higher levels over the United States than those estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency and an international greenhouse gas monitoring effort. The paper, “Anthropogenic emissions of methane in the United States,” is being published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Now an excerpt from the Seattle Times‘ article:

Ounce for ounce, methane has an effect on global warming more than 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and it’s leaking from the Arctic Ocean at an alarming rate, according to new research by scientists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Their article, which appeared Sunday in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Geoscience, states that the Arctic Ocean is releasing methane at a rate more than twice what scientific models had previously anticipated.

Have a nice day.

IT woes

Those of you who “live” technology, whether as a programmer, systems analyst, a CTO, or someone with overall responsibility for deploying software applications both large and small can appreciate the challenges confronted by the Obama administration as it sought to successfully implement healthcare.gov last October. As we all know, that did not go well. Indeed, it sucked big time and is still a very large work in progress.

The fingers are out and pointed in all directions. But having some experience with the installation of enterprise systems—not as a technician, mind you—I can offer two takeaways from the administration’s fiasco, as chronicled in this comprehensive New York Times article.

First, it is imperative to have a systems integrator on board and in charge. Getting different applications to mesh properly is far from trivial; it requires an individual or group of individuals with prior hands-on implementation experience.

Second, and perhaps more important than the first, is to test, test, and re-test. You don’t want to encounter problems and glitches at the moment the system “goes live.”

The Obama administration, despite the significance of the Affordable Care Act in both practical and political terms, lacked the first and evidently failed to appreciate the value of the second, which it did not do. Instead, Obama himself made promises and gave assurances based on his profound ignorance of the inherent defects in healthcare.gov. He even proclaimed that shopping for insurance would be like a trip to Amazon. Not.

As I’ve written in these pages, we need presidents who view their jobs as missions of a quasi-sacred nature. Such a commitment puts family and fun at considerable distance from the task of “leading the free world,” a rather silly description, to be sure, but one that hints at the importance of the responsibilities and challenges confronting the occupants of the Oval Office. I like to believe that if Obama approached his White House position with such gravitas and sense of privilege he would have made certain that all was well with his signature legislative initiative before it launched.

Instead we got this:

HealthCare.gov, the $630 million online insurance marketplace, was a disaster after it went live on Oct. 1, with a roster of engineering repairs that would eventually swell to more than 600 items. The private contractors who built it were pointing fingers at one another. And inside the White House, after initially saying too much traffic was to blame, Mr. Obama’s closest confidants had few good answers.

Nevertheless, I suspect that the bugs will be eventually eliminated and citizens of the U.S. will be able to purchase insurance as they buy so many other things online, though the experience will fall far short of clicking a button on the Amazon website. After all, it took Jeff Bezos a couple of decades to get it right.

Amazon.com is now the world’s largest retailer, prompting a recent headline on the eve of yesterday’s Black Friday: Amazon versus everyone else. Imagine all the glitches Bezos had to overcome before delivering the most efficient shopping experience for the Rest of Us. And Bezos is as bright a computer scientist as there is, graduating Princeton summa cum laude in computer science and electrical engineering.

Obama, had he been paying attention, would have mandated a Bezos to oversee program launch. I, for one, hope that this mother of all glitches will not boost Republican fortunes in the next election. That will be a huge price to pay for keeping hands off.

Obama’s inconvenient visit

Okay, I realize that it’s not all about me, or my wife, or thousands of other people trying to head north through or from Seattle yesterday afternoon. But as we approached the freeway onramp after departing Benaroya Hall (Verdi’s Requiem, I should add), my wife and I were greeted by light meters, which control the volume of entering vehicles. Huh? The express lanes should have been open and traffic should have been flowing easily along I-5. After all, this was a Sunday afternoon. Ah, I said aloud, “Obama’s in town.”

Well, not quite. As the Seattle Times reported this morning, Air Force One didn’t set down at Sea-Tac until dusk, about a half hour or more later. But the cops and state patrol were tending the overpasses and not a soul was traveling the express lanes.

This was not an official visit by the president. He was in town briefly to raise lots of money from Puget Sound plutocrats, one of whom, Jon Shirley, formerly of Microsoft, hosted Obama in his modest 27,000-square-foot home in Medina. (My wife and I later wondered just how big that might be. I suggested 27 apartment units of a thousand square feet apiece, about the size of ours.) By the way, while we could have robbed from our retirement account to buy a couple of dinner plates, my wife and I thought $32,500 a bit steep for a meal and photo-op.

Had this been Kansas rather than Seattle Obama might have been confronted by the Tea Party faithful. Here, the protesters were all about the proposed Keystone pipeline. After all, Seattleites just put a socialist on their city council.

I like that.

When I was 17 [u]

Fifty years ago today I was seated in my high school German class when a student from “the office” entered the room, beckoning Herr Boyden. Upon receiving the message, Mr. Boyden then turned solemnly to us students to make an announcement. “President Kennedy has been killed.” What?

We were all of 16 or 17, this class of Guten Tags and other gutturals, too young to appreciate the fact and implications of Camelot struck down under a Texas sun. The weekend was filled with quiet grief and somberness all around, as we watched the televised scenes of Jackie, John-John, Caroline, horses, canons, soldiers, and the casket. Abruptly in the midst, we were taken to the Dallas police station to witness live the shooting of the alleged lone assassin by a man named ‘Ruby.’ Violence atop violence.

I always had my doubts that Oswald acted alone or was even part of the events on November 22, 1963. My former colleague, a PhD in physics, said that it was impossible for the fatal shot to have come from the rear, he having tested the lethality of bullets for the U.S. Army at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.  Oliver Stone’s JFK amplified my suspicions, and Fidel Castro recently conversed with The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg:

I asked Fidel why he thought Oswald could not have acted alone. He proceeded to tell the table a long and discursive story about an experiment he staged, after the assassination, to see if it were possible for a sniper to shoot Kennedy in the manner the assassination was alleged to have happened. “We had trained our people in the mountains during the war”—the Cuban revolution—“on these kind of telescopic sights. So we knew about this kind of shooting. We tried to recreate the circumstances of this shooting, but it wasn’t possible for one man to do. The news I had received is that one man killed Kennedy in his car with a rifle, but I deducted that this story was manufactured to fool people.”

He said his suspicions grew especially pronounced after Oswald was killed. “There was the story of Jack Ruby, who was said to be so moved by the death of Kennedy that he decided to shoot Oswald on his own. That was just unbelievable to us.”

I then asked Castro to tell us what he believes actually happened. I brought up the name of his friend, Oliver Stone, who suggested that it was the CIA and a group of anti-Castro Cubans (I used the term “anti-you Cubans” to describe these forces aligned against Castro) that plotted the assassination.

“Quite possibly,” he said. “This is quite possibly so. There were people in the American government who thought Kennedy was a traitor because he didn’t invade Cuba when he had the chance, when they were asking him. He was never forgiven for that.”

So that’s what you think might have happened?

“No doubt about it,” Fidel answered.

Whether or not Kennedy fell victim to Oswald or an elaborate conspiracy, whose participants have managed to keep quiet all these years, I share Chomsky’s misgivings about his legacy. He was as much a cold warrior as Nixon and LBJ and would likely have escalated U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia.

But we’ll never know, and JFK’s untimely death shook a nation and shattered what little innocence it may have had.

UPDATE (November 24, 2013):

Well, I slightly fudged on my age. I was 16 when Kennedy was killed. But the song says “When I was seventeen,” and not “sixteen.” Forgive me.

Also, I watched Nova‘s piece on using modern forensic science to answer key questions about the assassination, including whether or not a single gunman using the gun implicated in the shooting could have pulled this off. The conclusions:

  • the shots were fired from the School Book Depository Building with the rifle Oswald acquired online
  • the fatal shot came from the rear using the same rifle; it did not come from the front.

It’s the second conclusion that intrigued me most, given my former colleague’s opinion. A group of forensic pathologists and firearms experts, after reviewing the archival evidence, including x-rays and photographs of Kennedy’s skull, opined that the bullet entered from the rear producing extreme pressures within the cranial cavity that exploded the top and upper front of the president’s head. Fractures of the skull were consistent with rear entry. As for Kennedy’s head moving back and to the left, this could be explained again by the forces pushing outward from the skull interior and against Kennedy’s upper spine, creating a rearward jerk of the torso and head.

Nevertheless, if Oswald was the lone assassin, he pulled off a truly remarkable feat, given the type of rifle, the motorcade’s moving away from the building as the shots were fired, the partially obscuring trees, and the incredible accuracy required within a very short time frame.

Oswald himself claimed that he was a “patsy,” suggesting that he was being used by others. Jack Ruby’s gun made sure that Oswald would talk no more.

America sucks—a qualification

In a previous post I suggested that America sucks. I should explain.

First off, America is a country or nation or geographical location. The term ‘America’ is often used to describe the sum total of what and who exists within 50 states and includes our economic and political systems along with considerable real estate. Moreover, whether or not the expression ‘America sucks’ fits depends in large part on one’s point of view.

Truth be told, I’m doing okay, as is my family, including two grown children. We all have sufficient incomes on which to live comfortable lives with some left over to secure decent retirements. Well, then, if I’m okay then you’re okay. Right?

Not really, as I’ve written about on these pages on countless occasions. Millions of Americans struggle mightily to put food on the table and a roof over their heads. It bothers me that rampant economic insecurity exists at all in a country that is so rich in the aggregate. Take this chart, for instance. It shows the Gini index along with the share of income enjoyed by the top ten percent of Americans (data from Emmanuel Saez and FRED).

inequality and the rich

As the country has grown more unequal (the Gini ratio) those at the top increase their wealth, taking an ever greater share of the economy’s total income. Now think a moment about the red line and where it ends on the right. Just one in ten of us now capture half of all income. One of out of every two dollars made in America goes to that top 10th of households.  Again, these numbers bother me.

Yet, many of us don’t seem to care about such statistics. Perhaps we believe that we are brought into this world as individuals dependent exclusively on our own abilities and fortunes for survival. Few prosper; most do not. Such is life. This ideology promotes suspicion of government, which exists only to ensure property rights and common defense. Though, if I should care about someone else, I am free to help. If I want to join a group or exclude others from the ones to which I belong, I’m free to do so, and no government should say otherwise. Nor, of course, should the government confiscate my wealth to give to Those People. Besides, giving money or services to the destitute only encourages laziness and dependency, moral failings far worse than avarice.

I am describing, loosely, a collage of right-wing attitudes and beliefs that includes the Tea Party, libertarians, devotees of Ayn Rand, and the more conservative strains that still call themselves Republicans. I should probably add those who are apolitical, who avoid the ballot box and choose to ignore those outside their in-group—these are the solipsists.

I concede that one can get through life from birth to death without regard for the well-being of others. It’s also possible that this lifespan may be relatively free of misfortune. Lucky or God’s will. Take your pick.

In that same post linked above I shared my conflicted feelings about watching Bill Moyers’s television program. Each week he interviews people—some famous, most not—who cite appalling numbers quantifying the problems faced by many in America (and the world). The pictures they rhetorically paint make me angry or sad. Almost all of Moyers’s guests devote the majority of their daily lives in service to others, either directly or through advocacy. I am simultaneously disturbed and overwhelmed. What can I do? What should I do? What happens if I do nothing?

I may delude myself in believing that there was a time in America when the notion of commonweal mattered, a stronger sense of society among relative equals. Regardless, it’s dramatically clear to me, at any rate, that we are now a nation deeply divided by religion, race, socioeconomic status, and surely politics. In brief, we cannot agree. Instead, we argue and bicker and get altogether too angry with each other to solve problems collectively, with many of us condemning the very concept of public.

If I’m only slightly correct in this surmise, the future bodes ill.  The problems faced by the Rest of Us are many and acute requiring urgent, concerted action. They will not be resolved by Bill Gates or the Koch brothers or any of the plutocrats who must rely on exponential numbers to record their wealth. Indeed, their intrusions into education, energy, and the political arena as a whole only exacerbate the challenges.

But how depressing this all is. That is, if you care.