All posts by Greg Laden

Elizabeth Warren’s Native American Heritage

In the early days of the 1972 election, President Richard Nixon, seeking re-election, faced a number of potentially tough challengers, and the strongest one may have been Senator Edmund Muskie. Among all the possible Democratic candidates emerging at the time, Nixon wanted to run against the one he saw as the weakest, George McGovern.

So he arranged that.

The Nixon dirty tricks team (which included at least one person active in recent years on the Trump dirty tricks team) fabricated a letter supposedly written by Muskie that served to discredit him as a candidate. That was one of several different fraudulent moves made against Muskie and other candidates.

The Democrats dutifully tossed Muskie and all the other candidates under the bus and ran George McGovern against Richard Nixon.

1972 election results:

47,168,710 votes, 520 Electoral votes: NIXON
29,173,222 votes, 17 Electoral votes: McGOVERN

The following presidential election was won by outsider Democrat Jimmy Carter. It is generally recognized that Carter’s win was in large part due to the country being tired of cheating Republicans, following the Watergate affair. The hit job on Muskie and other candidates was not forgotten, but had been absorbed into the larger array of illegal and unethical activities by the Republicans.

Owing largely to the Iran Hostage crisis, the country lost faith in Carter, and elected Ronald Reagan in 1980. Another significant factor was a third party candidate, Anderson, who took away mainly Carter votes.

Reagan was re-elected in 1984.

The 1988 election required that the Democrats get a strong candidate to run against Reagan’s vice president, George Bush. They did. The up and coming, popular, and highly qualified Gary Hart was the obvious candidate, and from early on was assumed to be the nominated one, and a likely next president.

But then something bad happened. Gary Hart was taken out of the running. The National Enquirer ran a story placing Hart in the company of a loose woman on a suspicious boat called “Monkey Business” in the Caribbean. There was even a photo of the woman, Donna Rice, siting on Hart’s lap.

The Democrats quickly tossed Hart under the bus, and put forward Mike Dukakis as their candidate. Let me note that Dukakis was a very good governor of Massachusetts, and would have made a good president.

This may or may not be a side story: When Dukakis was running, there was a famous photograph taken of him in a tank wearing a too-large helmet, looking goofy. This appeared to disqualify him as president to a lot of voters.

Also during the primary, came the “Willie Horton” affair, a racist ploy to make Dukakis look like he was weak on crime.

This led to further weakening of Dukakis’s campaign.

We now know that the Hart Monkey Business monkey business business was a setup by Lee Atwater, a Republican dirty tricks guy. We also now know that the racist and inaccurate Horton attack ads were Atwater work as well. (See Was Gary Hart Set Up?)

48,886,597 votes, 426 Electoral votes: BUSH
41,809,074 votes, 111 Electoral votes: DUKAKIS

Then a few other elections happened.

The 2016 election was probably won by Republican Trump in part because of the discrediting of the Democratic candidate, Clinton, using lies and misdirection. There are also some who would argue that Sanders should have been the candidate, but efforts to keep him out of the race caused Clinton to win the primaries. I’m pretty sure that is not true, but if you happen to think it is true, do check on the possibility that Sanders’ campaign was damaged at least in part by outside nefarious forces of Republican or Puto-Russian origin. Just in case.

Anyway, you can imagine how different the world would be today if Muskie had been elected president. Or Hart. Or Dukakis.

Today, we are seeing this happening again, I think.

Elizabeth Warren, the most viable current candidate to represent the Democratic Party in 2020, according to many, had made a reference in the past to her own heritage. Her heritage, her right.

The Racist Republican Don the Con Trump used that opportunity to attack “Pocahontas” Warren. Democrats thought this was despicable.

Much more recently, just now, Warren happens to have done a DNA test of her heritage, and found out the interesting, quaint, and largely unimportant fact that what her family had been telling her all along, that many generations back she had a Native American ancestor, is likely true given the genetic markers in her DNA. As is her right, she made this public.

What Senator Warren did is this: She challenged a made up, racist, insulting accusation made by Don the Con Trump, with a fact.

The result? Repeated outcries BY DEMOCRATS that this was not a good communications move, and therefore ELIZABETH WARREN IS NO LONGER QUALIFIED TO BE PRESIDENT.

Excuse me, fellow Democrats, but I have something for you:

FELLOW DEMOCRATS JUMP THROUGH THIS HOOP AND ELECT TRUMP IN 2020

To the people who are jumping on this Never Warren She Did DNA OMG!!!!! bandwagon, many of whom are friends or colleagues whom I truly respect: Please think about the damage you are doing, and fucking stop doing it.

Thank you very much, that is all.

Learn SQL and Tell Stories With Your Data

First, let’s get this one thing out of the way. How do you pronounce “SQL.”

Donald Chamberlin, the co-developer of SQL, pronounces it by saying the letter out louse. Ess Cue Ell. However, many computer science teachers prefer “sequel” and in at least one poll, the latte won out. One of the most common implementations of the database language is mySQL, and that piece of software is officially pronounced “My Ess Cue Ell” and not “Mysequel.”

I myself have never once uttered the word “sequel” when referring to this database system. I have also never once uttered either the term “Jiff” or “Giff” in relation to *.gif files. They are, to me, “Gee Eye Eff” files. I admit, however, to calling *.jpg files “Jay pegs” even when they are not *.jpeg.

But I digress. We are here to talk about a new book, on SQL.

The book is Practical SQL: A Beginner’s Guide to Storytelling with Data by the award winning journalist Anthony DeBarros. DeBarros is as much of a writer as he is a database geek, which gives this book a pleasant twist.

The book provides what you need to know to create databases and set up relationships. But don’t get excited, this is not a dating book.

See, a “database” isn’t really a thing, but a collection of things. Normally, at the root of a database is a set of tables, which look like squared off sections of spreadsheets, or highly organized lists, if you lay them out. But then, the different fields (columns) of the tables are related to each other. This is important. Let’s say you have a table of individuals in your club, and each individual has a set of skills they bring to the table. It is a model railroad club, so you’ve got engineers, artificial vegetation experts, landscape sculptors, background and sky painters, and so on. Also, each club member has a known set of days of the week and hours that they are available to meet or to manage some event you are having. Plus, they each have lunch food and drinks preferences for when you order out. Three of the members drive wheelchairs. And so on.

You have a table of dates and times that will be when your club will meet over the next year. You have a list of venues you will meet in. Each venue is associated with a different deli where you order out. Some of the venues are not wheelchair friendly, while some are.

Imagine putting together a big chart that shows all the events, who is going to them, what everyone will eat, what everyone will do, and special needs requirements, for the next ten years.

If that was one single giant structured table, each time a given member was included on a sublist because he or she, there would also be all the information about the person’s address, phone number, email, food preference, skill, etc. etc.

So you don’t do that. Instead, the database is taught to associate the name of each member with that member’s personal file, including all that personal information, in a way that lets you selective ignore or include that information. Then, the database lets you construct new, novel, virtual tables that combine the information in a clever way.

For instance, for an upcoming event, you can have a to-do list that includes which materials to order for a build of a new model, and whether or not the person who helps Joe with the wheelchair thing should be sent a note to remind him to definitely come, and a precise list to send to the corner deli, as well as the phone number of the deli, for lunch, and so on.

Tables, linked together with relationships, which are then mined to make these novel tables which are called queries.

You may need to import data, export data, clean up errors, you may be using a GIS system, creating automatic emails or mail merge documents, and at some point you might even want to analyze the data.

Practical SQL: A Beginner’s Guide to Storytelling with Data tells you all the stuff you need to do in order to carry out these tasks. As is the usual case with No Starch Press books, the code that is used in the book is downloadable.

The book assumes you are using PostgreSQL, which is free (and there are instructions to get it) but all SQL systems are very similar, so that really doesn’t matter too much.

Everybody who works with data should know some SQL. All desktop operating systems (Linux, MacOS, Windows) use this sort of software and it runs about the same way on all of them. Just so you know, you are using SQL now reading this blog, because SQL or something like it lies at the base of pretty much every common way of serving up web pages. Prior to you clicking on the link, these very words were in a database file, along with the name of the post, a link to the graphic used, etc. etc. A bit of PHP code accessed the data from the SQL database and rendered it into HTML, which was then fed to your browser. SQL is one of those things that lies at the root of how we communicate on line, and the basics of how it works and what you can do with it have not changed in a long time. The first relational models go back to 1970. Remember “dbase”? That was an early version, deployed in the early 1980s. By the mid 1980s, everything you can do with modern SQL, to speak of, was implemented.

Enjoy and learn from Practical SQL: A Beginner’s Guide to Storytelling with Data.

Birds of Central America: Review

Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama make up Central America. Notice that had I not used the Oxford Comma there, you’d be thinking “Costa Rica and Panama” was a country like Trinidad and Tobago. Or Antigua and Barbuda. Or Bosnia and Herzegovina. Anyway, those countries have about 1261 species of birds, and the newly minted Birds of Central America: Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama (Princeton Field Guides) by Andrew Vallely and Dale Dyer covers 1,194 of them (plus 67 probably accidentals). Obviously, many (nearly all) of those birds exist outside that relatively small geographic area, up in to North America and down into South America. But I’ll remind you that there are some 10,000 bird species, so this region has a bird list that represents 10% of that diversity. Nothing to shake a beak at.

This is a classic Peterson/Petrides style guide, with the usual front matter about bird id, geography, habitats, etc. Species draswings are on the left leaf while descriptions and range maps on the left. The drawings do not have Peterson Pointer lines, but there are a lot of drawings to clarify regional versions and life history stages. In fact, the attention to regional variation is a notable and outstanding feature of this file guide.

There is also an extensive bibliography with over 600 references. The book is medium format, not pocket but not huge, and just shy of 600 pages long. Also, last time I clicked through it was on sale. Know somebody going to Central America over winter break? Get this for them as their holiday gift!

Like the Princeton guides tend to be, this is a very nice book, well written, well constructed, and likely to become the standard for that region for the foreseeable future.

Happy Anniversary Frank!

It was a dark and stormy century. Ghosts and goblins and spirits and ghouls were everywhere. Technology was taking on a life of it’s own. (“Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain.”) Novels were written. Dark novels. Gothic novels. The dead cam back to life.

On this day 200 years ago a scientist willing to play god ordered his assistant, Igor, to throw the switch, and the energy of a thousand lightning storms coursed through the sluggish veins of an assembly of a dozen parts, taken from the ground. The man, nay, monster, awoke and began an unbelievable journey. He, or rather, it, would terrorize the townspeople, battle with Dracula and the Wolfman, get together with Abbot and Costello, and enchant a dozen dozen generations of Halloween revelers. Even Mel Brooks would get a cut!

Bwahahaha! It’s alliiiiive!

Happy Anniversary to the Publication of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

US Senate Will Be Republican Controlled or 50-50

According to me. And, I quickly add, that this is NOT a formal analysis. This is just my gut feeling combined with looking at the polls and stuff. Bottom line: Missouri and Nevada are the key states to watch.

Montana is considered a toss-up state, but I do not regard it as one. Tester is well established and has been ahead in polls, including good polls. Democratic incumbent senator John Tester will pass the ultimate test and put his challenger on the mat.

Nevada is a tossup. Democratic challenger Jacky Rosen has had a strong showing in several polls, and was gaining on incumbent Dean Heller. It is possible that there is a Kavanaugh effect. In my first iteration of an an analysis across the Senate, I’d put Nevada in Heller’s pocket. But there if urban labor can get organized, and if the Kavanaugh effect blunts over time, I can see Rosen clear to a victory. So, I’ll put Democrat Jacky Rosen in the win column in my Plan B analysis.

Arizona is going to be interesting. Democrat Kyrsten Sinema was strong through the summer, but McSally’s campaign sallied forth and caught up in September. One could see the last month in Nevada as a volatile horse race. What looks like a last minute Kavanaugh backlash may wear off. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that Sinema will win in Arizona.

I hate to say it, but Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp, in North Dakota, is going to lose, and the Republican Kramer is going to win. This race is considered by many as a tossup, but it is more of a toss-out.

If Beto O’Rourke wins in Texas, I’ll eat my cowboy hat. He never really had a chance of beating Cruz. Texas is an asshole state, and everything is Texas is extra big,and Cruz is a the biggest asshole of them all. Too bad.

Some analyses put Senator Tina Smith in an uncertain column for her return to represent Minnesota. I would have done so a couple of weeks ago as well, but the North Star state is coming together. Probably a Kavanaugh effect in favor of the DFL. Smith will win in Minnesota.

In Missouri, incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill seems to be losing. But if there is a race the Democrats can pull out of the ditch by doing things like sending lots of money, allowing Mich McConnell to ram through 16 right wing judges so the Dems could go home and campaign, and that sort of stuff, it is this race. I will not underestimate McCaskill. She’ll be returned. And, no, there was no Kavanaugh effect there.

Democrat Donnelly is solid in Indiana.

Democrat Nelson is taking off in Florida and will win there.

All of the other races are going as they are going. There will be Democrats in Wisconisn, Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Republicans in Mississippi, Tennessee, and the other usually Republican states.

The only uncertainty is Nevada. Leaving Nevada out of the count, there will be 49 Democrats and 50 Republicans. If Nevada actually goes, as currently seems likely, to the GOP, the Party of Hate will have two more Senators than the Democratic Party. But, it is distinctly possible that Nevada will send a Democrat to the Senate instead, which will cause the Senate to break 50.

Of those I’ve assigned, obviously, Missouri is the most uncertain. Everything seems to depend on Missouri and Nevada.

How To Talk About Climate Change, Adam Adam

Global warming is already upon us, but when was the last time you had a proper chat about it?? For Green Great Britain Week, ClimateAdam speaks to a climate communication expert (Steve) to take his conversation skills from amazing to brilliant.

#CreatorsForChange

twitter: http://www.twitter.com/ClimateAdam
facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ClimateAdam
instagram: http://instagram.com/climate_adam

Warmaking By American Presidents

This book is just out: Presidents of War by Michael Beschloss.

Ten years in the research and writing, Presidents of War is a fresh, magisterial, intimate look at a procession of American leaders as they took the nation into conflict and mobilized their country for victory. It brings us into the room as they make the most difficult decisions that face any President, at times sending hundreds of thousands of American men and women to their deaths.

From James Madison and the War of 1812 to recent times, we see them struggling with Congress, the courts, the press, their own advisors and antiwar protesters; seeking comfort from their spouses, families and friends; and dropping to their knees in prayer. We come to understand how these Presidents were able to withstand the pressures of war—both physically and emotionally—or were broken by them.

Beschloss’s interviews with surviving participants in the drama and his findings in original letters, diaries, once-classified national security documents, and other sources help him to tell this story in a way it has not been told before. Presidents of War combines the sense of being there with the overarching context of two centuries of American history. This important book shows how far we have traveled from the time of our Founders, who tried to constrain presidential power, to our modern day, when a single leader has the potential to launch nuclear weapons that can destroy much of the human race.

We are reminded, of course, of Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power, by Rachel Maddow.

Speaking of Rachel Maddow and books on presidents and war, here is Rachel Maddow speaking with Michael Beschloss about presidents and war and books thereon.

Hurricane Michael Got Much Stronger Suddenly

Just a quick note to inform those of you who get all your news here, that Hurricane Michael strengthened to a Category 4 storm, and will be a Category 4 storm at the time of landfall today, wed, mid day or early afternoon. I’m asking around to see if storm experts see that as truly unexpected or in the range of normal variation. My bet: Deep warm surface waters (to 100 meters or so) at “hurricane level” temperatures fueling the storm. That happened with Katrina, Maria, Pacific Yolanda, other storms. Just a guess on my part for now.

The storm is actually continuing to get stronger, but will remain in the Category 4 range.

Maximum sustained winds, therefore, will be ca 140-145 mph, which is equivalent to and F-2 tornado,but the size of Rhode Island.

In addition, note that this storm is now predicted to remain as a Hurricane way inland, and may be a Category 1 storm past Albany, Georgia.

In short, Michael will be one of the most impressive hurricanes to ever make landfall in the Atlantic US. And just think only a few days ago, we had no idea it was coming. My friend Paul Douglas just confirmed for me that a Category 4 hurricane has never hit the panhandle of Florida.

One tiny piece of good news. The storm is making a rightward turn, just a small one, and the bulls eye has held steady or moved slightly west. This has the effect of reducing the strength of the storm surge east of Apalachicola. A little.

I would not want to be a barrier island or estuary anywhere near Port St. Joe this afternoon.

How Catch And Release Can Damage Fish

If you catch a fish and you eat it, it has no chance of survival. That’s pretty obvious.

If you catch a fish and you set it free, it could be just fine. Indeed, it could be rather fun for the fish. “Hey, did you see that? You wouldn’t believe what I just saw! Hey, you know that eagle that ate Joe last week? I could see where its nest was! And this guy had this whole bucket of leeches! Holy crayfish!”

But most likely, if you catch a fish intending to release it, there is a chance it will not fare so well. People who catch catfish intentionally know this, and don’t bother with catch and release. I’m not sure if I’ve ever caught a catfish where the hook didn’t go deep into its gut as the sole action in the entire process of grabbing the bait. Not even worth taking the hook out. You just take the catfish home, clean it, and get the hook then. Generally, live bait has a higher chance of this sort of thing happening. Unless you are jigging with a fairly large hook and a live bait that is hanging off, the chance of your fish swallowing the hook, even part way, is high. Generally, as well, fishing in this manner is associated with fishing for food or, one might hope once in ten lifetimes, a trophy walleye or something.

I personally fish almost exclusively with lures. If the lure comes with a treble hook, I’ll either remove it and replace it with a single hook, or cut off one or two hooks. I mush or cut off the barbs. I take at least one of the treble hooks off any lure with multiple trebles. For bait hooks, I smush or remove the barb. And so on.

(By the way, this give me the opportunity to put a single weedless hook on a lure that is essentially designed to catch on to every damn thing in the lake, allowing for more options when casting.)

When I catch the fish, since I’m casting and reeling and the hook is barbless, it is pretty easy to remove the hook from the fish. Sometimes, if the fish is fairly big, I don’t actually want to land it. That may involve too much handling, and that can damage the fish. With a single hook and no barb, I can get a look at the fish, and flick it free pretty easily about half the time.

(Also, I carry at least one very large needle nose pliers. I can grab the base of the hook or the hook/lure with that, and with a simple twist, release the fish before or after landing, depending.)

I’m pretty sure that I don’t do a lot of damage to the fish I fish for. If a fish I catch is legal and damaged, I eat it. (Not right there on the spot; I clean and cook it first.)

How might catch and release injure fish that are not particularly mangled by the process? There is a paper just out in the Journal of Experimental Biology, bu Melissa Thompson, Sam Wassenbergh, Sean Rogers, Scott Seamone, and Timothy Higham. In “Angling-induced injuries have a negative impact on suction feeding performance and hydrodynamics in marine shiner perch, Cymatogaster aggregata” the researchers report that injury to the inside of the fish’s mouth can change the pressure gradient that these fish use to suck prey (and lures) into themselves. It is not demonstrated that this impacts survival, but it does seem to impact feeding efficiency.

“The suction feeding system is somewhat similar to how we drink liquid through a straw,” Higham said. “If you poke a hole in the side of your straw it’s not going to work properly.”

Fish researcher Tim Higham explains, “As we predicted, the fish with the mouth injuries exhibited a reduction in the speed at which they were able to draw prey into their mouths. This was the case even though we used barbless hooks, which are less damaging than barbed hooks. Although we don’t yet know how/if this reduction in feeding performance would affect fitness and survivability in nature, we can say that fishing-induced injuries impact the fish’s ability to feed while the mouth is healing. This study emphasizes that catch-and-release is not as simple as removing the hook and all being well, but rather is a complex process that should be studied in more detail.”

This is obviously going to depend on the kind of fish in question. As noted above, the whole suck-in-the-food approach for catfish may simply do them in. But I’m not sure a Northern or Muskie is feeding in exactly the same way. Clearly, more research is needed!

The abstract of the paper:

Fishing is a popular and lucrative sport around the world and, in some cases, may contribute to declining fish stocks. To mediate this problem and maintain fish biomass in aquatic ecosystems, catch-and-release fishing, whereby a fish is caught and immediately released, has been implemented in many countries. It is unclear whether the injuries to the mouth that are caused by the hook have an impact on feeding performance of fishes. Using high-speed video and computational fluid dynamics (CFD), we asked whether injuries around the mouth caused by fishing hooks have a negative impact on suction feeding performance (measured as maximum prey velocity) of the commonly angled marine shiner perch (Cymatogaster aggregata). We hypothesized that fish with mouth injuries would exhibit decreased feeding performance compared with controls. Ten shiner perch were caught using scientific angling and 10 were caught using a seine net. Feeding events were then recorded at 500 frames per second using a high-speed camera. Compared with the control group, maximum prey velocity was significantly lower in the injured group (P<0.01). Maximum gape, time to peak gape, maximum jaw protrusion and predator–prey distance were comparable between the control and injured groups, leading us to conclude that the injury-induced hole in the buccal cavity wall reduced the pressure gradient during mouth expansion, thereby reducing the velocity of water entering the fish's mouth. This was confirmed with our CFD modelling. Fishing injuries in nature are likely to depress feeding performance of fish after they have been released, although it is currently unclear whether this has a significant impact on survival.

What to expect from Hurricane Michael UPDATED

Atlantic Hurricane Michael will be a memorable, destructive, storm. It is currently about 250 miles south of Florida, and will likely hit the Florida Panhandle the hardest, but nearby areas are at risk. As I write this, the storm is moving north with 105 kt (120 mph) winds. That makes it a stoong Category 3, aka major, hurricane.

Tuesday/Wednesday Midnight

During the wee hours of the morning, Michael will be a Category 3 storm, with winds of about 110 kt (125 mph) but with maximum gusts of 135 kt (155 mph). Tropical storm force winds will be arriving along coast, anywhere from Louisiana to the entire Gulf Coast of Florida.

Wednesday Morning

By sunrise tomorrow morning, Michael will have strengthened somewhat (winds at 110 kt, 125 mph). I’m not sure if Michael will beat any records, but it will go on the short list for how little time it take to go from a tropical disturbance to a major hurricane, and how little time it takes to go from a recognized threat to a land-falling storm. Michael may challenge our process of preparation and evacuation.

Wednesday mid day

The eye of Michael will be looming off shore by mid afternoon tomorrow, making landfall before dinner. Just at the time of landfall, the storm will be a stgrong category 3, with 110 kt (125 mph) winds, with gusts of 135 kt (155 mph).

But long before landfall, the storm will be pelting coastal and inland communities, because “landfall” isn’t the key moment in a hurricane’s life. (See this for more on that.)

Bulls Eye

The bulls eye of the storm, the middle of the range across which predictions say the eye will make landfall, has only moved a little over the last day or so. However, remember that as storms move off the ocean and onto the continent, their track can become less predictable. However, in this case, most of the different tracks predicted by the various models are similar. Also, it is my impression that Gulf storms going north at an accelerated speed into this area tend to stay on track. So, it is very reasonable at this point to suggest the following are very likely:

The center of the storm the eye, will make landfall somewhere east of Pensacola, which is at the western tip of the Florida Panhandle, through somewhere east of Tallahassee. In other words, almost all of the Florida Panhandle is in or very near the most likely spot for landfall. The exact bulls eye a this moment is ther Tyndall Air Force Base, in the immediate vicinity of Panama City Beach.

If this storm puts its eye over Panama City, would somebody please get a picture of the Hard Rock Cave sign inside the eye? I’m actually writing a piece of fiction where that exact photograph is used to make a “Welcome to Florida” post card that figures into the story. Thanks.

Anyway, of extreme relevance is this. There is about a 50-50 chance, or a little less, that the eye will come to shore in such a location that the hard-bunch front right quadrant of the storm will hit the coast at one of the worst possible places to do so in the Gulf. The front right quadrant of a fast forward moving Atlantic hurricane is where maximum damage tends to happen. There are three reasons.

1) A storm with 100 mph wind swirling around the center, but moving forward at 20 mph, can have 120 mph winds in the front right quadrant.

2) All the things that cause a storm surge are maximized in the front right quadrant of an Atlantic hurricane.

3) Even the rainfall is probably greater in the front right quadrant, because this is the part of the hurricane where the corpus of the storm has spent the most time over warm sea water, picking up moisture.

Now we add the coastal effect. When a storm surge moves against the coast, if the coast itself is funnel shaped, or embayed, the surge is narrowed down and concentrated.

If the eye of Michael comes ashore near Apalachicola or to the east a bit, the right front quadrant would be facing into a bight, the embayed area that forms part of the armpit of Florida. Within that bight, at a much smaller scale, are numerous estuaries that run perpendicular to the coast without a lot of barrier island protecting them. There is a very large area where the National Weather Service, which by the way the Trump Appointed Secretary of Commerce (NOAA is within the Commerce Department), who also owns a private weather company, wants to essentially shut down, estimates possible storm surge of over 9 feet. Like this:

Inland, the storm will move quickly north and east, and by the end of the week, tropical storm force winds will be up in the Canadian Maritimes. Within 24 hours of landfall, the wet and windy remnants of Michael will be menacing the region previously flooded by Florence. The storm will probably punch back out into the Atlantic in coastal Virginia or North Carolina.

Hurricane Michael

Hurricane Michael just formed in the straits between the Yucatan and western Cuba, and it is heading for the US Gulf. The bull’s eye is currently the vicinity of Port St Joseph and Apalachiocola, not far east of Panama City. The right front quadrant thus is heading for the bight between Apalachicola and Suwannee, where things could be very messy if there is a strong storm tide.

Landfall would be expected in about 48 hours, and the actual bull’s ey could be anywhere between Pensacola and Cedar Key, with areas well outside of that (including Mobile, Alabama) being affected.

The thing about this storm is that just a few hours ago, it was projected to be a Category 1 storm, but is now expected to be a (weak?) Category 3 storm. And, it is coming in fast.

It is too early to say what the storm surges may be, or exactly where it will come ashore. Unlike Florence (or Harvey), Michael is not expected to linger on or near the coast, but rather, will plow through the US Southeast as a storm, probably passing over Atlanta, coming into the Atlantic not far from where Florence went, possibly menacing Washington DC and Philadelphia, the home of the Eagles, recently defeated by the Minnesota Vikings. There could be areas with 6-10 inches of rain in the Florida Panhandle and Georgia.

The two big climate change related stories with Michael may end up being: 1) It formed fast and got strong fast and moved fast, like Patricia (Mexico, a few years ago) and Maria (2017); and 2) Michael is passing over anthropogentic-climate-change-superheated waters (at least somewhat superheated) in the Gulf.

The Kavanaugh Fight Will Dampen The Red Wave

Why? Because everything that can possibly happen, anything of any sort, will dampen the Red Wave. Why is that? Because Democrats are unorganized, weak, lack knowledge about how the electoral process works, and more self centered than ideology centered. Not all Democrats, but plenty of them.

But that’s just me talking. All I have to offer is experience in campaigns since the 1970s. What you really want to do is listen to Rachel Maddow, who has a whole staff and a big brain. She says different. I hope she is right and I am wrong. (For the record, we rarely disagree.)

The Truth about the Oxford Comma

The first thing you need to know about the Oxford Comma is actually a thing you need to know about Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a special place on the internet where the conversation the rest of us are having about many topics can’t actually happen. In this case, Wikipedia has determined that the Oxford Comma is actually called the Serial Comma, even though nobody in the whole world calls it this. Somewhere in the history of the current Wikipedia article on this topic, somebody discovered primacy of the word “serial” and insisted that since that word was used first, in 1121 or something, it beats “Oxford.” This silly sort of thing is common in Wikipedia, and I’ve discussed it before. But, I digress.

The Oxford Comma, also known as the Harvard Comma, is that last comma in a list before the “and” or the “or.”

You need it in sentences like this:

“I took a picture of my parents the president and the first lady.”

There are different ways to put commas in that sentence. In one version of this sentence, I am Chelsea Clinton. In the other version of this sentence, I’m a visitor to the White House and the President and First Lady are standing there next to my parents, and I snap a photograph.

Most style guides for writers, including the Oxford Style Manual, the APA, Chicago Manual of Style, MLA, Strunk and White, the USGPO and others mandate the use of this ultimate comma. It is less often used in the UK, but the Oxford guide does require it. Overall, the total number of words printed under stylistic guidance use it, though the Oxford comma is not accepted stock and barrel.

The AP style guide eschews the Oxford comma, and generally, journalistic style guides recommend against it.

The reason a style guide would require it is simple, in my view. A missing Oxford comma is an abomination. You can really screw up the meaning of a sentence by leaving it off. But it is hard to mess up a sentence by using it when it is not needed. Most of the time, the only reason to not use it is because you are short of commas. In the old days, when commas were an actual thing, made out of lead, maybe it was worth having a rule that helped conserve them. Perhaps that is also why American spelling tends to diverge from British spelling in the use of fewer letters per word. They had lots of lead type in Great Britain because of a longer history of of type use, or because they shifted to fighting all their wars overseas.

OMG! WE’VE RUN OUT OF COMMAS!!!!
The point is, if you tell your writers to always use it, mistakes will rarely be made.

There are, of course, times when the Oxford Comma adds, rather than subtracts, ambiguity from a sentence.

“I am going to say a prayer for my dog, Jesus, and my cat.”

Am I praying for three entities (two of which exist), or am I praying for my dog, named Jesus, and also, my unnamed cat?

Which brings us to my own personal conclusion about the Oxford-Harvard comma. Which, by the way, is not too different from what each and every style guide actually says.

Most style guides say, “Use/Don’t use the Oxford Comma, unless you must, to make your meaning clear.”

My preference is to say, “Use/Don’t use the Oxford Comma as you please, just make sure your meaning is clear, unless, as a writer, you chose to be unclear.”

This sort of approach is true with punctuation generally. You really should start your sentences with Upper Case letters, and end them with periods. But, you don’t have to. You can be e E cummingS. How does a writer handle quotes within quotes? Up to you. According to many style guides, when you shift paragraphs within dialog, normal quotation rules fly out the window. But, you can do it differently if you want.

Some writers use a lot of semicolons; others do not. There is no rule that forces you to do so, but there are guidelines for when you could. Which you can ignore; I don’t.

Is your text meant to be read aloud, even if just in the head of the reader? Is there cadence that affects the way the words feel? If so, you might find yourself using, as needed, commas that technically should not be there. Or you might leave some off to change the sound your words make in someone’s head. That is your choice as a writer. Seriously. That is your choice, as a writer.

Non fiction that is actually published almost always has to pass through the style guide process, so writers are advised to know the guide they are working under, and adapt accordingly, even if it hurts. Fiction, even if processed by a publishing system, is more personalized. You should be able to argue for your own style because that is the whole point of getting a writer to write something instead of just doing it yourself. Right?

The truth about the Oxford, Harvard, or Serial comma is that there is always optional but usually recommended. Saying you can’t use it unless necessary will cause people to err on the side of caution with their editor, but against caution with their readers. Saves you commas, but in the long run, causes you more trouble than it is worth.

What is that red line inside my toilet?

And how do I get rid of it?

Here are some theories of what this red line is caused by. The last one is the correct one, but I include the first two because they are examples of wrongness, and we are all about that on the Internet, aren’t we?

The first explanation, historically, is that the red substance found in damp places, which today include the inside of your toilet or other places in your bathroom or kitchen, but in those days (before porcelain toilets) included other human-made as well as natural locations, is that this is the blood of Christ. This wass especially thought to be true when this red substances was found on bread, and especially when the bread was the Eucharist, the piece of bread that Catholics believe is the actual body of Jesus Christ, which you then eat. Blood coming out of anything linked to Christ, especially the actual body of Christ in the form of a wafer of bread, is about as intense as it gets if you are a Medieval Christian.

The second explanation, the one I see all the time today, is that there is something wrong with the water supply. We often see the red film or line forming in toilet bowls, or behind the fixture on your sink, or in showers or tubs, blamed on the poor quality of the city water supply, and often, this theory links the red substance to iron in the water causing rust.

The red substance of which we speak here is not rust, and it is not blood of any kind. It is Prodigiosin, a red pigment. When you see this red pigment, you are actually looking at a very likely thriving and living colony of the bacterium Serratia marcescens.

Serratia marcescens can be a human pathogen. It is responsible for a percent or two of the known hospital based bacterial infections that have become such a problem. It affects children more than adults, can cause urinary tract infections, and sometimes it exists as strains that are resistant to bacteria.

The military in the US and UK used Serratia marcescens as a “harmless” bacterium in germ warfare trials, between 1950 and 1980. This made sense because it was thought to not cause disease, but being red, was easy to find and spot in a culture to test the efficacy of germ warfare delivery devices. Serratia marcescens was, therefore, spread across the San Francisco Bay region once, and a large area of England. In the case of San Francisco, it may have caused a spike in certain illnesses, and may have killed at least one person. In any event, it turns out it is not harmless.

Serratia marcescens is not the blood of Christ, and it is also not from your water supply. It is fairly ubiquitous so it can come from the air, from your body, from wherever. It probably does NOT come from your water supply because living Serratia marcescens would be killed in routine water treatment.

So do get rid of it. Most people don’t need to worry. It is not that pathogenic. But children may be somewhat susceptible, and anyone immune compromised is at risk. Experts concerned with infectious disease don’t have this in their toilets at home.

Do not scrub the Serratia marcescens from your porcelain devices using a metal scrubber. That will ruin the porcelain finish and create crevices and scratches at the microscopic level. Bacterial such as Serratia marcescens love those crevices and scratches.

Do not put bleach in the back of your toilet system. That will ruin metal and rubber parts and cause leaks.

Do use a bleach based cleaner in the toilet bowl, on the sink in the shower, etc. to clean away this red stuff.

Clean it up where you see it, and do a general cleaning of the entire kitchen and bathroom — all of your kitchens and bathrooms and places this stuff is seen in your house — at about the same time. Maybe you’ll get all of it, or most of it, and it won’t come back or it will take a long time to reappear. If you clean a red spot here or there in your bathroom but not all of the at once, it will migrate back to where you removed it more quickly. If you wipe away the line around your toilet bowl but ignore the underside of the rim (that yucky area you can’t see without doing a Kavanaugh) it will come back.

But really, it is going to come back no matter what, eventually. Perhaps you should frequently use a brush without cleaning fluid, and occasionally a bleach-based substance on a brush, to clean these areas on a more regular basis than you are doing now. Chances are you see the red rim around your toilet water in the bathroom you hardly use, and do not see it in the toilet in the bathroom you usually use and thus clean regularly. What you should be doing is cleaning unused toilets in your house on a regular basis (weekly, bi-monthly, whatever) instead of ignoring them.

There is, of course, rust in some water, and that may be what you’ve got. But rust is not pink and does not form that line around the edge quite the same way. Medieval Catholics knew about rust, and thought this red stuff was blood. They just don’t look the same.

Serratia marcescens will, of course, coat the entire surface of the underwater part of your toilet but it tends to concentrate around the edge due to evaporation. It is also left behind when tiny puddles form, say, in the built-in soap dish in your shower or behind suction cups that are meant to hold stuff up in the shower, or behind the fixtures on your bathroom sink, etc.

I personally use one of these (though you might prefer this style) in the bathroom, and yes, I admit, I use this to clean both parts of the shower (down on the floor) and the bathroom (changing brushes, of course).