Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Lake That Ate Santa Claus (and some bad reporting?)

OK, so supposedly a fresh water lake has appeared at the North Pole and it is ENORMOUS and Santa Claus has been missing since and is presumed dead. OK, not really. The Giant Lake is really just a “pond” of meltwater on top of the polar sea ice, on the North Pole. But wait, actually, it is not really at the North Pole, it was photographed by some scientists who hang around the North Pole but this pond, which is small but was photographed with a wide angle lens, isn’t really exactly at the North Pole anyway, and these ponds form there all the time in the summer.

But really, even though they form all the time in the summer you can bet that fresh water ponding on the surface of the ice in the Arctic is way more common these days on average, than it was in the past because, in fact, arctic ice is melting a lot more than it was in the past. But the fresh water on the surface is not the point; the point is ice free sea surface in the Arctic, which has been at an all time high over the last few years. And this has caused serious concern that gas escape pathways will be opened up in the Arctic sea. This would mean that methane currently trapped in the form of methane hydrates on and beneath the surface of the world’s oceans, where they are near the surface in the Arctic, will be more easily released in abundance. Methane itself is a powerful greenhouse gas and could cause very rapid warming that would in turn increase the release of methane. Also, as methane is “oxidized” (i.e., chemically undergoes a similar process to burning but without the fire part) it turns into CO2 and water. This in turn uses up the area’s oxygen. If enough methane hydrate oxidizes in the Arctic sea that region could become anoxic (the oxygen to make the CO2 and Water from Methane Hydrate is taken out of the water or air where it happens) and lots of species could go extinct instantly. And it could even remove enough Oxygen from the air that …. OMG, that sounds pretty bad.

We can not say that “ponding” on the arctic ice is not related to global warming. Melting ice in the Arctic … every drop of it, or should I say every ice cube of it, melts because of heat and this heat is greater because of global warming. Some of that water in those ponds would not be there were it not for global warming. It is not like “nature” does some things (like, melt stuff) and “global warming” does some things and they are separated. Long gone are the days when we can, or should, say “you can’t attribute a specific weather event to global warming.” Rather, we need to say “you can’t remove global warming as a factor in any weather event.” Seriously. The former is an absolutely out and out lie. The latter is 99% true, something you should bet on if you don’t want to be wrong most of the time.

Still, the water on the surface of the ice is not of any great interest. I’m not sure, though, which is worse: Pointing out that the water is ponding on the surface of the ice and causing people to think this is important because it was mentioned in the Christian Science Monitor or some place, or spending a lot of effort explaining that this one thing some reporters said (but that no scientists have said) is not important and therefore (to some) GLOBAL WARMING IS A HOAX AIEEEEEEE!!!!1!!

(How likely that is to happen and how bad it would be is currently very much a matter of debate. But trust me, keep an eye on the methane hydrates. Even a low level of conversion into gas could be pretty serious stuff.)

Speaking of the Christian Science Monitor … this is the possible bad reporting part … I have a vague memory of a couple years back when somebody quoted themselves in some sort of science news story or blog or whatever. Is that what this is?

The part circled in red is simply the text of a previously posted item on the CSM web site. This story quotes this.

The photograph above, from the North Pole Observatory web cam, is of the pond, except since this photograph was taken just a few minutes ago it shows it as all frozen over again because these things come and go. Compare the photo to this one posted by Maggie Koerth Baker.

Stem Cells Approved By Vatican May Not Exist

… which would be really funny because … well, you clearly see why this is funny.

Christian groups and sects are often opposed to the use of biological tissue that would otherwise be discarded in research and therapy including “stem cell research.” This is because they think some of that biological tissue could be future parishioners, or because they watched too many Disney movies involving fairies. Or something. Anyway, there is this one kind of stem cell that exists among regular cells that can be extracted from the body of a living, breathing already signed up parishioners and the use of these stem cells to cure horrid diseases and such would not violate anyone’s sensibilities. So The Church has (more or less) said OK to that. The problem is, they, these stem cells, might not actually exist. From a news report in Nature:

Proponents of very small embryonic-like cells (VSELs) extracted from bone marrow say that the cells have the potential to transform regenerative medicine. A trial has begun in Poland, and cell-therapy company Neostem in New York is planning another in Michigan.

But in a major blow to the field, a paper published on 24 July in Stem Cell Reports suggests that the diminutive stem cells are not real1. Led by Irving Weissman, a prominent stem-cell researcher at Stanford University in California, the study is the fourth to refute the cells’ existence — and the most thorough yet.

It will be interesting to see how this works out.

Terry McAuliffe vs. Ken Cuccinelli

This is a very important political ad because it involves climate change and climate change denialism in the political process. This (involvement) needs to happen in every single campaign from now on, for every single office. This is a start. A slow start, but at least a start.

There is important context for this ad that you can get HERE from Peter Sinclair.

All we need to do to fix our system of education is …

… well, actually, you can start by shutting up.

Then, while you are sitting there quietly read this: Why Teaching Is Harder Than It Looks.

Then, add your advice about how we can fix our system of education to the comments below. But each suggestion must be paid for (with money) and fit into the schedule (by paying someone to do what you suggest instead of what they are at present required to do).

Which means, ultimately, there is one fundamental answer to improving our system of education: Throw money at it. For starters, stop taking money away from it. The, put more in.


Photo Credit: chrissuderman via Compfight cc

Al-Kadada evidence for 5,500 year old human sacrifice

This is a site in the vicinity of Meroe in the Sudan, and seem to date to a period of transition between foraging and farming. From The Telegraph:

In a graveyard in Al-Kadada, north of Khartoum, the archaeologists have dug up the tomb of a man and a woman facing each other in a ditch, with bodies of two women, two goats and a dog buried nearby.

The discovery of the group “confirms” excavations last year which found traces of the oldest human sacrifice ever identified in Africa, Jacques Reinold, a researcher for the French section of the Sudanese antiquities department, said.

What do you think about the interpretations being offered? Do you think that the earliest archaeological evidence of “human sacrifice” is likely to be one of the first instances of such behavior? What are the alternative interpretations of this find?

Photo is of rock art from Tadrart Acacus in Ghat District of western Libya, in the Sahara, part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, dating to between about 12,000 and 1,900 years ago.

“We Have To Shut It Down”

UPDATE: Mass Coal Plant Protest Happening Now FOLLOW: ?@oharjo #summerheat #coalisstupid #CloseBraytonPt @350Mass @efeghali for updates.

UPDATE Brayton Point Coal Plant Protest Live Streaming HERE.

This morning, Sunday, July 28th, there is an action happening in Southeastern Massachusetts. A group of climate activists are going to shut down a coal plant and replace it with solar panels and wind generators.

Obviously the solar panels and wind generators will be mainly symbolic because you can’t build a lot of large infrastructure while the police are bearing down on you. Indeed, local police have been depicted in the press as being ready to grab all the protestors and take them to “an undisclosed location.” Sounds ominous. Word from the street, by the way, is that the local police and authorities have been having reasonable discussions with the protesters, so while I would expect nearly 50 arrests or so, there won’t be a riot and no on is going to Guantanamo. But, an important point will be made. And you need to know the point.

This is a Summer Heat protest against, at the immediate and small scale, the operation of the Brayton Point coal plant, which is the largest fossil fuel burner in the Northeast. The protest calls “or Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and others to immediately close the Brayton Point coal plant and ensure a just transition for workers and host communities towards a healthy and sustainable future.”

This is not the first protest activity at this power point. In mid may, a boat was set up to interfere with a large coal delivery. From a piece in The Nation about Ken Ward and Jay O’Hara’s earlier activities:

Early on the morning of May 15 … Ken and Jay motored up to Brayton Point in a thirty-two-foot lobster boat, which they’d acquired and rechristened the Henry David T., flying an American flag and a banner that read #coalisstupid. They were about two hours ahead of the Energy Enterprise, and Jay, skippering, positioned the lobster boat in the ship channel along the pier—right where the 689-foot freighter would have to dock and unload. Intending to stay a while, they proceeded to drop a well-fastened, 200-pound mushroom anchor off the stern of the Henry David T.

Ken called the Somerset police and said they were there to carry out a peaceful protest. Sometime before 11 am, the Energy Enterprise came into view, followed close by multiple high-speed Coast Guard boats. As the freighter bore down on Ken and Jay, the ship’s captain made radio contact, ascertained their intentions, and advised them and the Coast Guard that he had ordered “defensive measures” on deck and was prepared to “protect” his crew. Meanwhile, from somewhere above them on the pier, Ken and Jay heard the distinctive chck-chck of a rifle, chambered and ready. When the freighter finally came to a stop, its prow loomed over the lobster boat. Coast Guard personnel boarded the Henry David T. and ….

The action is going to happen in about 31 minutes as I write this. Keep an eye on the news. Let every one know this is happening/has happened.

Oh, and to the protesters carrying out this action: Thank you for your service.

Gilberton, Pennsylvania Police Chief Mark Kessler

OK, watch this and answer a question for me. The question is, does our American love for free speech translate into ignoring this man’s behavior, or does our (seemingly less important) American love for freedom for all require that a person who behaves this way NOT be the chief of police of any governmental unit of any size, ever, anywhere?


If I lived in Gilberton, Pennsylvania, I’d probably start carrying around a gun to protect myself from the police chief. I wouldn’t do that because I love guns or really want to carry one around. I would do so because I consider myself a potential target of Chief Kessler’s, even now, living hundreds of miles away from him. It would be very hard for him to make more clear the fact that he is waiting for the opportunity to kill “libtards” when the opportunity arises, and it is abundantly clear from this video (and his other videos) that Chief Kessler is fully unhinged and should not be trusted with a weapon of any kind.

A little context from Hunter at Daily Kos:

Mr. Kessler has managed to accidentally shoot himself in the past. No, none of us are particularly surprised. Yes, Mr. Kessler has formed his own militia group in the event that federal law enforcement officials may at some point try to take his guns and therefore will need to be shot—but fear not, as he is very clear that you may only murder federal law enforcement officials with “just cause,” and there is nobody better at determining when there is “just cause” to start murdering people than a group of gun-hoarding conspiracy theorists agitated about the perceived power of the United Nations.

Police Chief Mark Kessler: Yeah, we’ve got to take away his guns.