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Member since: Tue Feb 10, 2004, 12:08 PM
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Environmental Scientist

Journal Archives

Nate Silver's Back- "The Six Big Takeaways From the Government Shutdown"

10, 2013
FiveThirtyEight.com will officially relaunch in very early 2014 in cooperation with ESPN. I've been spending most of my time recruiting and interviewing job candidates for the new site. It's a labor-intensive process, and we hope that your patience will be rewarded as we begin to tell you more about our plans.

While most of my focus has been on building the new site, the idea was never for me to stop writing completely during the transition period. Instead, Grantland has set up an interim website for me and other FiveThirtyEight contributors to write articles from time to time.

I would have liked to write something about Bill de Blasio's comeback, or the methodological miscues of the Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling, for instance. Perhaps I would have done so if there were a few extra hours in the day. (I've used this same excuse for not going to the gym since 2004.)

But the shutdown is another matter. I've been avoiding the topic for another reason: I'm not sure I have all that much to say about it.

During last year's election campaign, some readers who followed our coverage came to the conclusion that the truth behind what the polls said was relatively simple once you stripped away all the bullshit that accompanies campaign coverage. And that's more or less correct when it comes to presidential elections. They're relatively predictable — more so than most people might expect intuitively, and more so than most of the mainstream media lets on. (Let me qualify that some: Presidential elections in the United States are quite predictable in the late stages of the race — they're not especially predictable months or years ahead of time.) We know this because there is a very rich track record of polling in the United States, and we can go back and look at how accurate the polls were in the past. The polls haven't been perfect, but they've generally done a very good job.

more (bit of a downer, though)

Why Scientists Held Back Details On A Unique Botulinum Toxin

Scientists have discovered the first new form of botulinum toxin in over 40 years, but they're taking the unusual step of keeping key details about it secret.

That's because botulinum toxin is one of the most poisonous substances known. It causes botulism, and the newly identified form of it can't be neutralized by any available treatment.

The researchers published two reports describing their work online in The Journal of Infectious Diseases. The information in those reports is deliberately incomplete, to prevent anyone from using it as the recipe for a potent new bioweapon.

"This is not the usual process for publishing manuscripts. We thought in this case an exception was appropriate," says David Hooper, an infectious disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital who serves as one of the editors of the journal.

Normally, the journal would require that the scientists disclose the genetic sequences needed to make the toxin. In this case, however, the researchers didn't want to do that because of the security risk.



ESA and NASA stumped by cosmic mystery

A mystery that has stumped scientists for decades might be one step closer to solution after ESA tracking stations carefully record signals from NASA’s Juno spacecraft as it swings by Earth today.

NASA’s deep-space probe will zip past to within 561 km at 19:21 GMT as it picks up a gravitational speed boost to help it reach Jupiter in 2016.

During the high-speed event, radio signals from the 3225 kg Juno will be carefully recorded by ESA tracking stations in Argentina and Australia.

Engineers hope that the new measurements will unravel the decades-old ‘flyby anomaly’ – an unexplained variation in spacecraft speeds detected during some swingbys.

“We detected the flyby anomaly during Rosetta’s first Earth visit in March 2005,” says Trevor Morley, flight dynamics expert at ESA’s ESOC operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

“Frustratingly, no anomaly was seen during Rosetta's subsequent Earth flybys in 2007 and 2011. This is a real cosmic mystery that no one has yet figured out.”



Diamonds Stud the Atmospheres of Saturn and Jupiter

Andrew Fazekas
National Geographic
Published October 9, 2013

It sounds like science fiction, but as much as 10 million tons of diamonds may be stored in Saturn and Jupiter, researchers announced this week.

Observational evidence of storms on Saturn that actively generate carbon particles, combined with new laboratory experiments and models that show how carbon behaves under extreme conditions, have led a pair of scientists to posit that both planets may offer stable environments for the formation of diamonds.

"We now know the high temperature limit for solid diamond, above which it melts. And we also now have more precise pressure temperature structures for the interiors of Saturn and Jupiter," said Kevin Baines, a planetary scientist at University of Wisconsin–Madison and co-author of the study presented this week at a conference in Denver, Colorado.

"These two results together show us for the first time that solid diamonds can exist over large vertical regions of both planets."

Earlier theories included only Uranus and Neptune as suspected diamond producers. Scientists suggested that intense temperature and pressure on those planets may be able to convert atmospheric methane gas directly into diamonds, which rain down into their interiors.


But is Lucy there as well?

"Open" - VoteVets.org TV Ad on Shutdown featuring WWII Veteran


The Nuclear Regulatory Commission exhausts carryover funds, shuts down

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission shut down Thursday after exhausting its funds, NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane said on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp.
The agency had been able to stay open through use of carryover funds.

"We are actually a 90 percent fee recoverable agency," Macfarlane said. "But remember that our fees go into the Treasury, and we're paid out of that. If everybody is not at work there, then we're affected."

Now that the government has reached day 10 of the shutdown, NRC's carryover funds have been depleted. This means furloughs for a majority of the agency's workers.

"Out of our 3,900 employees, only 300 will remain on the job," Macfarlane said. "This is the first time the agency has shut down, so it's a new experience for us."

Macfarlane said in a blog post that NRC will suspend the following operations:

Non-emergency reactor licensing
Reactor licensing renewal amendments
Emergency preparedness exercises
Reviews of design certifications
Rulemaking and regulatory guidance
Routine licensing and inspection of nuclear materials and waste licensees


Utah county plans to go ahead and illegally reopen its national parks


San Juan County, in Utah, is taking back its parks.

At an emergency meeting held yesterday, NPR reports, the San Juan County Commission decided an act of civil disobedience will be necessary to deal with the devastating effects that the closure of national parks is having on the local economy:

The commissioners had decided to take down the barricades at Natural Bridges National Monument as early as Thursday morning but put off that move to give Utah Governor Gary Herbert time to discuss the issue with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

“The decision has been made,” Lyman adds. “But decisions change.”

San Juan County also includes Hovenweep and Rainbow Bridge National Monuments, the Island in the Sky and Needles Districts of Canyonlands National Park and the Hite Marina inside the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

At least 60 people will be involved in the illegal protest, which will involve the mobilization of Sheriff’s deputies, search and rescue volunteers, firefighters, EMT’s, portable toilets, garbage trucks and three mobile command centers.


Pollsters: GOP will become even more extreme


The Republican factions leading the war on Obamacare, the federal government shutdown—and attacking other Democratic priorities such as preserving safety nets, expanding civil rights and regulating big business—are going to become more extreme and intransigent, top Democratic pollsters have concluded.

“Understand that the base thinks they are losing politically and losing control of the country… and a little powerless to change course,” the analysis by Stan Greenberg, James Carville and Erica Seifert found after a series of focus groups in three red states this summer. “They think Obama has imposed his agenda, while Republicans in DC let him get away with it.”

Their Democracy Corps report is an illuminating profile of the GOP’s three main factions: the Tea Partiers leading today’s brinkmanship, the evangelicals lining up behind them, and overlooked but still significant moderates. At the front of this stampede are right-wingers who believe they are fighting for political survival in an era where white-run America is vanishing and they’ve lost the culture war.

In this paranoid world, Obamacare is Armageddon, the setting for the final battle between good and evil, and the rallying cry that unites the party’s factions.

“Republicans shut down the government to defund or delay Obamacare,” the report said. “This goes to the heart of Republican base thinking about the essential political battle. They think they face a victorious Democratic Party that is intent on expanding government to increase dependency and therefore electoral support. It starts with food stamps and unemployent benefits; expands further if you legitimize the illegals; but insuring the uninsured dramatically grows those dependant on government. They believe this is an electoral strategy—not just a political ideology or economic philosophy. If Obamacare happens, the Republican Party may be lost, in their view.”


Charles P Pierce- A Shooting in West Virginia

There is a wildness abroad in the land. There is a wildness abroad in our politics. It is infectious, this wildness. It spreads quickly. It spreads through the air, through the unmoored political Id of a thousand talk shows. It spreads through indirect human contact, through the unmoored political Id of hundreds of chain e-mails and direct-mail fundraising pitches. It spreads through direct human contact, one conversation at a time drawn from the unmoored political Id that has been unleashed like an unknown virus into what used to laughingly be called The Body Politic. There is a wildness abroad in our politics. There is a wildness abroad in our very heavily armed land.

State Police spokesman Sgt. Michael Baylous said officers arrived and shot the suspect, killing him. Witnesses reported hearing dozens of gunshots, he said. U.S. Marshal Patrick Sedoti said the man was armed with an AK-47 and also was carrying a Glock pistol. Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie said police who briefed him earlier Wednesday told him Piccard was a 20-year-plus veteran of the force who retired 13 years ago. Investigators were seeking a search warrant for Piccard's home in hopes of determining a motive and if he acted alone, said Chief Deputy Mike Claxton of the Marshals Service in northern West Virginia. Asked if the gunman had any beef with the U.S. government, Claxton said, "We're really digging hard at this point to find out."

What's your guess?

The wildness has its basic etiology in the encouragement at all levels of our politics of the notion of government as the ultimate Other, which coddles and feeds and nurture all the other Others who live off the rest of us. It can be found in the idea that government is an alien entity, a Thing Outside, a rustling in the bushes, a strange shadow on the wall, something to be feared simply for its existence, and not for anything that it may or may not have done. The wildness has its fundamental source in the rejection of the idea of a political commonwealth, and of the idea that self-government is an ongoing creative project of that political commonwealth. Once you reject that idea, and once you accept as axiomatic that government is the ultimate Other, then no rules need really apply. Crash the government when you don't get your way in the legislature, or the courts, or at the ballot box. Finance those who will do it for you. Cut up the rules regarding fair representation in the national legislature. Rig the national government the way you've rigged the national economy. Cover yourself by ginning up the unmoored Id out in the country until, one day, somebody starts shooting. Starve the beast, Kill the beast. Drown the beast in the bathtub. See tyranny behind every rock and tree. Second Amendment remedies, sold over the counter.To fight the ultimate Other, there can be no rules. We were lucky this time that it was only a building that was shot. We were lucky this time that the gunman's only victim was a symbol.

I have no idea yet why Thomas Piccard -- a former cop, for god's sake -- took his guns to town yesterday. I do know that we, as a nation, have made it easier for him to get guns to take to town. I do know that we, as a nation, have allowed the wildness to spread unchecked through our politics until we have accepted debilitated self-government as a kind of permanent condition. We have weakened the national immune system. And all we ever do is drink down as much patent medicine as we can. Our politics are sick and we insist on poisoning them further. The contagion is raging. The entire country is a hot zone.


Climate change 'paused'? Uh, deniers, just listen to the warm

POSTED: Thursday, October 10, 2013, 3:01 AM

WHAT IS IT about the hottest decade in recorded history that's so hard to understand?

The first decade of this millennium - 2001 to 2010 - was the warmest since measurements began 160 years ago. The earlier hottest decade was during the 1990s. And the record-breaker before that? The 1980s. These are undisputed facts.

Nothing about this steady rise suggests that our planet is doing anything but warming. Yet some people who have long resisted the consistency of this trend are now saying that climate change has "paused." In doing so, they ignore the longer trend, miss the big picture and distort the public conversation about the strength of the evidence for climate change.

The new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was explicit and voluminously documented on this point: Climate change is happening now, and if we do not reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, future climate disruption will be very costly.

As an ocean scientist and a veteran of former IPCC and other climate assessments, I have seen the scientific evidence for climate change become increasingly solid. Science rarely gets more clear than this.

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/opinion/20131010_Climate_change__paused___Uh__deniers__just_listen_to_the_warm.html
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