Close, but no cigar.

November 10, 2011

NASA radar image of asteroid 2005 YU55, obtained on Nov. 7, 2011.  It passed within 200,000 miles of Earth, which is closer than the Moon’s normal orbit.  In stellar terms, that’s a near miss for sure!  If it had hit, it would have made a crater four miles across, and 1,700 feet deep, or, a hit in the sea would have produced a 70 foot high tsunami. [Note:  Mon père points out correctly that much of it would burn up in the atmosphere before impact, but still, potentially a big bang!]

Do we have a plan for the next one in case it’s not so ‘far’ away?  Remember, watch the skies!!

Other asteroid related posts:


A Headline I Just Have to Love!

September 26, 2011

Why the Antichrist Matters in Politics:

Yep, that’s what the article was called!  Click on the link to read it!


A Boy and His Dog

September 14, 2011

1970s post-nuclear apocalypse, bad sound quality, low budget, grainy images, cult status: that’s A Boy and His Dog, based on stories by Harlan Ellison.  Don Johnson plays Vic, who traipses across the desert with his highly educated, cynical, and telepathic dog, Blood.  The dog calls him Albert to annoy him.   If you hadn’t read the story (or the Wiki article) you might think Vic is hallucinating and talking to himself, but it seems that before The End, civilization got into some pretty advanced biological experiments.

Vic is trapped, lured underground by a piece of ‘cheese’, a beautiful girl (Susanne Benton), to a surviving community where things look nice, but society is ruled by a committee of three and Christian pap is pumped over loudspeakers endlessly.  Vic is needed for his sperm – he’s a good, healthy specimen of a male.  When he learns the reason for his abduction, he’s all for it!  He doesn’t realize that the process will be rather mechanical. 

This movie is pretty slow, and it’s hard to watch because of the quality and low budget…but there’s something to it.  Especially in the second half, it’s so crazy and darkly satirical, that it comes together.  Of course, there’s that ending after Vic and the girl escape back to retrieve Blood, left topside in the desert.  I won’t spoil it for you.


Climate Change & the Whitebark Pine Apocalypse

July 28, 2011

Today’s editorial in the NYTimes, Climate Change and the Plight of the Whitebark Pine is a fine example of how a scientific fad (call it a meme if you like) gains and keeps traction.  In this case, the fad is global warming.  The editorial describes how the whitebark pine, a crucial element of high altitude mountain ecosystems, is in danger of extinction, and what will be the serious consequences for wildlife and vegetation if that comes to pass.  The editorial clearly links the situation to global warming by way of the mountain pine beetle:

Historically, the pine’s defense against the beetle is living where conditions are too cold for it — at high altitude or at high latitudes. But as the climate warms, that defense has failed catastrophically… The tragedy is the ongoing demise of an ecosystem, one for which humans are culpable.

Looking into the scientific investigations of this issue, the link to climate change, not to mention climate change caused by human activity, is not at all clear.  A study by the Canadian government quoted in the editorial concluded:

[the threats] include an invasive, foreign fungus and the suppression of forest fires, which are important in establishing pure stands of whitebark pine. But the most important threat is the spread of the native mountain pine beetle, which tunnels into the tree and lays its eggs under the bark.

The fungus is ‘blister rust,’ introduced from Europe.  Note that climate change is not directly linked to the problem, and that the threats cited are well-known, long-standing, serious, and similar to threats faced by many ecosystems today:  exotic species; human intervention in the eco-dynamics; local pests.

A Google search for whitebark pine and climate returns a lot of hits, but most of them are from the popular, environmental press.  The logic of their statements is consistent and revealing.  Warmer winter temperatures during the last decade have supported a vigorous growth in the beetle population, and that has decimated the trees.  But what caused the warming?  And how much warmer has it been?  There is no discussion of this.  Only statements such as:

So as long as temperatures keep rising and the beetles continue to be driven to higher-elevation habitats, their assault on the trees will continue. To save the species, a massive and immediate reduction in greenhouse gases is necessary.  Source 

Certainly there were outbreaks of mountain pine beetle in Whitebark in the ’30s and ’70s, but nothing like what’s happened in the last decade. Moreover, Dr. Logan’s climate models predicted this outbreak long ago. Very simply, warmer winter temperatures and longer summers have created overwhelmingly favorable conditions for a widespread pine beetle infestation in a high alpine tree species that used to be able to rely on cold temperatures to keep beetles at bay. Source

So, what do we actually know?  We know that the whitebark pine is important for western ecosystems.  We know that the trees are dying at a great rate.  We know that they are dying because of a variety of factors, several of which have nothing to do with anthropogenic climate warming (AGW), and we know that one factor, the beetles, is extremely important and that it has been encouraged by warmer winters over the last several years.  The link to AGW is assumed, as usual.

Climates, local and global, vary.  There is no evidence that this forest catastrophe is more than a conjunction of several negative factors, several of them associated with human activity (importation of fungus, suppression of forest fires) and recent weather.  Simply because the events are consistent with the hypothesis of AGW, it is automatically assumed that the proof is given, and the press goes to work.  They are totally separate issues.

Consider the abstract to this article that is linked to this topic in many online searches (my emphasis):

Forest insects and pathogens are the most pervasive and important agents of disturbance in North American forests, affecting an area almost 50 times larger than fire and with an economic impact nearly five times as great. The same attributes that result in an insect herbivore being termed a “pest” predispose it to disruption by climate change, particularly global warming. Although many pest species have co-evolved relationships with forest hosts that may or may not be harmful over the long-term, the effects on these relationships may have disastrous consequences. We consider both the data and models necessary to evaluate the impacts of climate change, as well as the assessments that have been made to date. The results indicate that all aspects of insect outbreak behavior will intensify as the climate warms. This reinforces the need for more detailed monitoring and evaluations as climatic events unfold. Luckily, we are well placed to make rapid progress, using software tools, databases, and the models that are already available.

The key statement has been underlined.  It is key to this abstract, and countless others like it, as well as the runaway assumptions made by popular journalism about the topic.  The statement should read this way:

The results of our examination of data and models, as well as our exploratory computer runs, indicate that if climate does warm, all aspects of insect outbreak behavior will intensify.

The conclusion of the study is actually unremarkable and rather trivial.  If climate warms, bad things may happen.  If it’s hotter, more people will be uncomfortable, there will be more heat stroke, ecosystems will be disturbed and will change, etc. etc.  If, if, if…

Now, back to those statistics and models to figure out if the climate is actually changing as they assume it is, and to figure out why…


Then End is nigh, again.

April 10, 2011

Folks, the Apocalypse is due on May 21, 2011.  That’s the word from this inspired electrical engineer.  Read more, if you dare, right here.  The late, great scholar, Norman Cohn, had a lot of interesting things to say about the historical precedents to this.


How I Learned to Stop Worrying…

March 15, 2011

and Love the Bomb!  Also known as Dr. Strangelove.

That’s Hannah Dundee gazing at Fat Man, one of the A-bombs dropped on Japan.   Hannah inhabits Xenozoic Tales, comic book adventure series written and drawn by Mark Schultz, who carries on the tradition of Hal Foster (Prince Valiant), E.R. Borroughs (Tarzan) and other old-fashioned comic-pulp storytellers.  The macho hero is Jack Terenc, a shaman of sorts who tries to keep civilization in balance with nature so that The Great Cataclysm is not repeated.  Meanwhile, he and Hannah have multiple adventures in a world that mixes dinosaurs and nitro-fueled 1950s Cadillacs. 

It’s fun, and more clever than it may sound to you.  The back-cover image at top is a perfect example of the mélange of styles and influences in the artwork:  fashion photography; cheesecake; academic life studies; art deco; Hollywood movies;  Decadent/Symbolist art; adventure comics; Gothic horror… some call it kitsch.

And while we are musing over Japan, atomic desolation, meltdowns, and general human evil, you may enjoy this riff on bombs, bombing, and movies.  You can follow all the links – have fun.

Here’s the front cover:


What’s the Zabriskie Point?

June 23, 2010

Not a big fan of Antonioni’s Blow Up, so why would I watch another of his English language films?  Because occasionally I feel the urge to see those films that I always heard about as a kid, but never could see.  No DVDs, no VHS, no cable TV…  Zabriskie point is one of those, brought to my attention by a near insane friend of mine.

It begins as an almost vérité exercise in cinema, showing a raucous meeting of college radicals in 1970, planning a strike to shut down their university.  One good looking disaffected participant declares his readiness to die for the cause, of boredom, and walks out.  Later, during a riot, he draws a bead on a cop with a gun, but someone else shoots.  The kid runs, now a suspect in the murder he didn’t commit.  He steals a small airplane and flies to Death Valley where he meets up with a hippie secretary driving to her real estate developer boss’s desert mansion.  They play, they love, he returns to LA and is shot for no good reason, while she, despondent over the radio reports of his death, fantasizes the ultimate in revolutionary armageddon.

The film makes little sense, and it almost laughable in some ways.  Wikipedia reports that it is widely considered as one of the worst cinema disasters in history.  It is amazing to watch at times, however, for MA knew what he was doing with a camera!.   Let’s just say it’s one European’s love letter to the American landscape.

I enjoyed the scenes of the southern California industrial landscape and the street scenes, c. 1970.  Took me back a bit once again.

Some images from the film:

A clever sequence in which some mannequin-like suits watch rushes of some new commercials for their desert homes development featuring dressed up dummies.

Out in the dessert, at Zabriskie Point, in fact, the young couple gets to know one another.  She: “This is such a beautiful place. What do you think?”  He: “I think it’s dead.

The desert is an amazing place.  Cinematography is wonderful.  Aren’t those copulating couples hot??

An amazing house her boss has.  Why does she drive an old Buick?  Is that the good old days of consumerism?

We get to see this several times from many angles.  Must have cost a pretty penny to bring it off so well.

Dreaming?  A girl’s gotta dream!

Your whole world is going too.

Just in case you thought that didn’t include all those books you read!  Background music by Pink Floyd.

Ahhh!  Where there’s destruction, there’s hope.

The sunset, and Roy Orbison’s music heals all.

 


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