— The Erimtan Angle —

Archive for January, 2014

Obama’s State of the Union 2014

‘Watch PBS NewsHour coverage of President Obama’s 5th State of the Union. Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks will join Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill for the address to Congress, and the Republican response (28 Jan 2014)’.

About ‎China, President Obama said that “For the first time in over a decade, business leaders around the world have declared that China is no longer the world’s number one place to invest, America is”. And on ‎Afghanistan he stated the following: “While our relationship with Afghanistan will change, one thing will not: our resolve that terrorists do not launch attacks against our country”. Turning to more pressing affairs and Syria, the POTUS said that “[i]n Syria, we’ll support the opposition that rejects the agenda of terrorist networks”. Then turning eastward, Barrack Obama declared that “We are clear-eyed about Iran’s support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, which threaten our allies; and the mistrust between our nations cannot be wished away. But these negotiations do not rely on trust; any long-term deal we agree to must be based on verifiable action that convinces us and the international community that Iran is not building a nuclear bomb”.

In the Washington Post, Robert Costa and Paul Kane report that the “official Republican rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union address was delivered by Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), the House GOP’s highest-ranking woman, who asserted that Obama was making it tougher for a lot of Americans. “Right now, the president’s policies are making people’s lives harder. Republicans have plans to close the gap,” she said”. Costa and Kane remark further that “[o]n health care, McMorris Rodgers said Republicans will continue to fight to repeal the Affordable Care Act [aka Obamacare], and she knocked the administration for the rocky rollout of the president’s signature law”.[1]

Continuing Costa and Kane state that “McMorris Rodgers spoke from a quiet room inside the Capitol, where she sat on a gold couch with an American flag, triangularly folded, displayed on a shelf behind her. Her manner was relaxed, her style straightforward and scripted. Over the past week, aides to McMorris Rodgers and other House GOP leaders have been busy promoting her, using her prominent perch as part of a counteroffensive to Democrats, who have aggressively criticized the party’s approach to women’s issues”.[2]

[1] Robert Costa and Paul Kane, “Flurry of GOP responses to State of the Union address reflects party’s ideological rivalries” The Washington Post (28 Jan 2014). http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/multiple-gop-responses-to-state-of-the-union-are-they-a-sign-of-party-division/2014/01/28/0d1c68c0-883b-11e3-916e-e01534b1e132_story.html.

[2] Robert Costa and Paul Kane, “Flurry of GOP responses to State of the Union address reflects party’s”.

U.S. Congress’ Secret Decision: Arms for Syria’s Opposition

From Washington, Reuters‘ Mark Hosenball reports that “l]ight arms supplied by the United States are flowing to “moderate” Syrian rebel factions in the south of the country and U.S. funding for months of further deliveries has been approved by Congress, according U.S. and European security officials. The weapons, most of which are moving to non-Islamist Syrian rebels via Jordan, include a variety of small arms, as well as some more powerful weapons, such as anti-tank rockets. The deliveries do not include weapons such as shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles, known as MANPADs, which could shoot down military or civilian aircraft, the officials said. The weapons deliveries have been funded by the U.S. Congress, in votes behind closed doors, through the end of government fiscal year 2014, which ends on September 30, two officials said”.[1]

A former senior CIA analyst and sometime foreign policy adviser to President Barack Obama, Bruce Riedel explained that the “Syrian war is a stalemate. The rebels lack the organization and weapons to defeat Assad; the regime lacks the loyal manpower to suppress the rebellion. Both sides’ external allies . . . are ready to supply enough money and arms to fuel the stalemate for the foreseeable future”.[2]  For his part, Reuters‘ Hosenball provides some more detail, saying that “[b]oth U.S. and European officials said that ‘moderate’ rebels had recently consolidated their positions in the Syrian south, where they are pushing out elements linked to al-Qaeda. More militant factions remain dominant in the north and east. Another recent development favorable to more moderate factions is that Kurdish groups that had been providing weapons and other aid financed by donors in the Gulf state of Qatar indiscriminately to both moderate and religious extremist rebel factions had greatly reduced their involvement in the arms traffic, one of the officials said. A White House spokeswoman had no comment. Other U.S. agencies did not respond to requests for comment [either]. As for ‘non-lethal’ aid like communications and transportation equipment, the United States hopes to resume deliveries to moderate groups in Syria soon, a U.S. official said on Monday [, 27 Jan 2014]. The United States and Britain suspended non-lethal aid to northern Syria in December [2013] after reports that Islamist fighters seized Western-backed rebel weapons warehouses, highlighting fears that supplies could end up in hostile hands . . . Non-lethal aid was resumed to civilian groups in that region in late December”.[3]

[1] Mark Hosenball, ” Congress secretly approves U.S. weapons flow to ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels ” Reuters (27 Jan 2014). http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/01/27/us-usa-syria-rebels-idUSBREA0Q1S320140127?utm_content=bufferb958c&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer.

[2] Mark Hosenball, ” Congress secretly approves U.S. weapons flow to ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels “.

[3] Mark Hosenball, ” Congress secretly approves U.S. weapons flow to ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels “.

The Daily Conversation: 60 Years of Climate Change or Global Warming

‘This visualization shows the last 60 years of rising temperatures on earth. Since our records began 133 years ago, the 10 warmest years, with the exception of 1998, have all come since the year 2000. So it’s no doubt our planet is changing and thanks to NASA, these changes are being monitored and people have a better understanding of our earth like never before. As a matter of fact, 2014 is set to be a huge year for climate research as NASA plans to launch 5 new missions to help us better understand our planet explained in this short video (23 Jan 2014)’.

As reported by CNN: ‘ NASA announced an ambitious slate of launches Wednesday ], 22 Jan 2014] aimed at putting new eyes on the Earth and its atmosphere in 2014. A total of five missions — three satellites and two instruments that will be mounted on the International Space Station — are scheduled to go into orbit between February and November, the U.S. space agency said. They’ll measure carbon dioxide in the air, water in the soil, rainfall, cloud layers and ocean winds, providing “immediately useful” readings that will help improve both short-term weather forecasts and and long-term climate projections, said Michael Freilich, the director of NASA’s Earth Science Division’.[1]

[1] “NASA putting new eyes on Earth in 2014” CNN (23 Jan 2014). http://edition.cnn.com/2014/01/22/tech/innovation/nasa-satellite-launches/.

New York Times’ Executive Editor Jill Abramson Talks

New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson declared the following: “I would say [the Obama White House] is the most secretive White House that I have ever been involved in covering, and that includes — I spent 22 years of my career in Washington and covered presidents from President Reagan on up through now, and I was Washington bureau chief of the Times during George W. Bush’s first term”.[1]

[1] Dylan Byers, “Jill Abramson: ‘This is the most secretive White House I have ever dealt with'” Politico (23 Jan 2014). http://www.politico.com/blogs/media/2014/01/jill-abramson-this-is-the-most-secretive-white-house-181742.html.

ISIS Threatens Turkey: Geneva II

The Turkish news agency Doğan Haber Ajansı released a report recently stating that ‘[a]uthorities have issued a bomb warning in Istanbul, Ankara and the southern province of Hatay, following a tip off that an al-Qaeda linked group was preparing to organize a suicide attack, Doğan News Agency reported on Jan. 21. Turkish intelligence reached information that 20 militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) were planning attacks to disrupt this week’s Geneva II peace talks, the report said. The militants were particularly planning to target hotels and meeting rooms where members of the Syrian opposition and the Free Syrian Army stay were staying or holding meetings. Intelligence units have informed the Police Department and the Gendarmerie General Command to take extraordinary security measures’.[1]

The Doğan Haber Ajansı got hold of an official document which detailed this threat issued by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) or ad-Dawla al-Islāmiyya fi al-’Irāq wa-sh-Shām (or the Arabic acronym Dā’ish): the Turkish security forces have “determined that 20 ISIL [or ISIS] members were planning to organize suicide attacks in our country [Turkey]. Hotels in Hatay are considered among the primary targets. Besides Hatay, big hotels and meeting centers in Ankara and Istanbul are also [among the targets]. The suicide bombers have a list of names that were determined as primary targets”.[2]

[1] “Turkish authorities issue suicide attack warning amid Syria talks, after tip on al-Qaeda linked group” Doğan Haber Ajansı. (21 Jan 2014). http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkish-authorities-issue-suicide-attack-warning-amid-syria-talks-after-tip-on-al-qaeda-linked-group.aspx?pageID=238&nID=61350&NewsCatID=341.

[2] “Turkish authorities issue suicide attack warning amid Syria talks, after tip on al-Qaeda linked group”.

The Clinton Years, or the 1990s: Crash Course US History #45

The vlogbrother ‘John Green teaches [us] about the United States as it was in the 1990s . . .  the old-school Republican George H.W. Bush had lost the 1992 presidential election to a young upstart Democrat from Arkansas named Bill Clinton. Clinton was a bit of a dark horse candidate, having survived a sex scandal during the election, but a third party run by Ross Perot split the vote, and Clinton was inaugurated in 1993. John will teach [us] about Clinton’s foreign policy agenda, which included NATO action in the Balkans and the Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO. He’ll also cover some of the domestic successes and failures of the Clinton years, including the failed attempt at healthcare reform, the pretty terrible record on GLBTQ issues, Welfare reform, which got mixed reviews, and the happier issues like the huge improvements in the economy. Also computers. Cheap, effective, readily available computers came along in the 1990s and they kind of changed the world, culminating in this video, which is the end of the internet (23 Jan 2014)’.

Climate Change and Solar Activity: Trends and Expectations

The Toronto-based freelance science writer Colin Schultz writes that the “numbers have been crunched and the results are in: 2013 did not buck the trend of climate change. Last year sailed to the number four slot of the world’s hottest years on record, the 37th year of above-average temperatures in a row. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, ‘The year 2013 ties with 2003 as the fourth warmest year globally since records began in 1880. The annual global combined land and ocean surface temperature was 0.62°C (1.12°F) above the 20th century average of 13.9°C (57.0°F)’. That’s a small increase, sure, but it’s part of a much longer background trend of increasing global temperatures, which scientists have been watching for decades. The warming anomaly of 2013 was actually a bit stronger when narrowed down to temperatures over land: ‘The 2013 global average land surface temperature was 0.99°C (1.78°F) above the 20th century average of 8.5°C (47.3°F)’, says NOAA. The ocean is a huge energy sink, so it’s harder to heat up the air over the water. The 2013 over-land temperature was also the fourth highest on record”.[1]

Schultz then adss that “NASA pegged 2013 as the seventh hottest year. ‘The agencies use different methods for analyzing temperature data, resulting in different rankings, but the numbers behind the rankings are within fractions of a degree of one another’, said Gavin Schmidt, a NASA climatologist. ‘This difference is, really, pretty irrelevant in a 133-year record. It’s definitely getting hotter'”.[ii]  This increase in global temperatures appears to be offset by another trend that sees solar activity drop. As explained by the BBC’s science reporter Rebecca Morelle: ” right now the Sun should be awash with activity [, but is instead going through a lull]. It has reached its solar maximum, the point in its 11-year cycle where activity is at a peak. This giant ball of plasma should be peppered with sunspots, exploding with flares and spewing out huge clouds of charged particles into space in the form of coronal mass ejections. But apart from the odd event, like some recent solar flares, it has been very quiet. And this damp squib of a maximum follows a solar minimum – the period when the Sun’s activity troughs – that was longer and lower than scientists expected”.[3]  Dr Lucie Green, from University College London’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory, explains that ” It’s completely taken me and many other solar scientists by surprise . . . It could mean a very, very inactive star, it would feel like the Sun is asleep… a very dormant ball of gas at the centre of our Solar System”.[4]  Morelle then explains that “[t]his, though, would certainly not be the first time this has happened. During the latter half of the 17th Century, the Sun went through an extremely quiet phase – a period called the Maunder Minimum. Historical records reveal that sunspots virtually disappeared during this time”.[5]

In 1998, John E. Beckman and Terence J. Mahoney, attached to the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, Universidad de La Laguna, pointed out that “The possible absence of sunspots for some 70 years in the 17th century was first pointed out by [F. W. G.] Spörer (1887) using the extensive compilation of data by [R.] Wolf (1856, 1868). Spörer’s work was summarized by [E. W.] Maunder (1890, 1894), who commented, following [A. M.] Clerke (1894), that this dearth of sunspots apparently coincided with an absence of terrestrial aurorae. We now know that aurorae are caused by sub-atomic particles emitted by the Sun during releases of magnetic energy which often accompany sunspots. To supplement Spörer’s use of Wolf’s data, Maunder quotes the editor of Philosophical Transactions describing the observation of a sunspot in 1671 by [director of the Observatoire de Paris, G. D.] Cassini in Paris with the comment that it was the first seen for many years. Much later, Maunder (1922) found a note by [John] Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal, describing a sunspot seen at Greenwich in 1684, in which Flamsteed says that it is the first he had seen since 1674. Flamsteed made several other references to this spot and to his solar observations in general in his correspondence, the definitive edition of which is now nearing completion (Flamsteed 1995). Maunder also took evidence from [W.] Herschel (1801), who had referred to [Jérôme Lefrançois de] Lalande’s (1792) L’Astronomie in which detailed evidence relating to the absence of sunspots in the latter part of the 17th, and early 18th century was cited”.[6]  Beckman and Mahoney then continue that “[J. A.] Eddy’s arguments [in a 1976 Science article] for a lull in solar magnetic activity during the Maunder Minimum, one of the main reasons why his ideas caught the imagination is more contentious. He claimed that the Maunder Minimum coincided in time with an era of colder weather, and that by implication the absence of magnetic activity was accompanied by a net fall in the total radiative output of the Sun. An implicit corollary is that in the intervening period the radiative output has been increasing, with a consequent warming of the Earth. This basic idea has been taken up by a section of the solar physics community, and a good recent summary of the evidence for the proposition that solar variability is an agent, if not the main agent, of the perceived recent climate change associated with global warming, is given in [D. V.] Hoyt & [K. H.] Schatten [‘s The Role of the Sun in Climate Change, published by the OUP in] (1997)”.[7]  But climate change effected by a solar lull is manifested in colder temperatures, quite unlike the current trend of Global Warming. Nevertheless, Dr Green is determined saying that “[t]here is a very strong hint that the Sun is acting in the same way now as it did in the run-up to the Maunder Minimum”.[8]  Sharing Green’s conviction, Mike Lockwood, professor of space environment physics, from the University of Reading, goes even further, boldly proclaiming that “[i]t’s an unusually rapid decline [in solar activity]. We estimate that within about 40 years or so there is a 10% to 20% – nearer 20% – probability that we’ll be back in Maunder Minimum conditions”.[9]  But as pointed out by BBC’s Morelle, the “era of solar inactivity in the 17th Century coincided with a period of bitterly cold winters in Europe. Londoners enjoyed frost fairs on the Thames after it froze over, snow cover across the continent increased, the Baltic Sea iced over – the conditions were so harsh, some describe it as a mini-Ice Age”.[10]

At the beginning of the 21st century, humanity now seems faced with two different trajectories: a global trend of increasing temperatures offset by a mini-Ice Age. Professor Lockwood explains that this whole conundrum is a “very active research topic at the present time, but we do think there is a mechanism in Europe where we should expect more cold winters when solar activity is low”.[11]  Morelle adds that Professor Lockwood “believes this local effect happens because the amount of ultraviolet light radiating from the Sun dips when solar activity is low. This means that less UV radiation hits the stratosphere – the layer of air that sits high above the Earth. And this in turn feeds into the jet stream – the fast-flowing air current in the upper atmosphere that can drive the weather. The results of this are dominantly felt above Europe, says Prof Lockwood”.  Hence, a local mini-Ice Age freezing in a climate sea of Global Warming. The BBC concludes that “[i]n a recent report by the UN’s climate panel, scientists concluded that they were 95% certain that humans were the ‘dominant cause’ of global warming since the 1950s, and if greenhouse gases continue to rise at their current rate, then the global mean temperature could rise by as much as 4.8C. And while some have argued that ebbs and flows in the Sun’s activity are driving the climate – overriding the effect of greenhouse gas emissions, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concludes that solar variation only makes a small contribution to the Earth’s climate. Prof Lockwood says that while UV light varies with solar activity, other forms of radiation from the Sun that penetrate the troposphere (the lower layer of air that sits above the Earth) do not change that much”.[12]

[1] Colin Schultz, “2013 Continues 37-Year Warm Streak” Smithsonian (22 Jan 2014). http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/yep-global-warming-still-thing-2013-adds-37-year-warm-streak-180949457/.

[2] Colin Schultz, “2013 Continues 37-Year Warm Streak”.

[3] Rebecca Morelle, ” Is our Sun falling silent?” BBC News (22 Jan 2014). http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-25743806.

[4] Rebecca Morelle, ” Is our Sun falling silent?”.

[5] Rebecca Morelle, ” Is our Sun falling silent?”.

[6] John E. Beckman and Terence J. Mahoney, “The Maunder Minimum and Climate Change: Have Historical Records Aided Current Research?” Library and Information Services in Astronomy (1998). http://www.solarstorms.org/SunLikeStars.html.

[7] John E. Beckman and Terence J. Mahoney, “The Maunder Minimum and Climate Change”.

[8] Rebecca Morelle, ” Is our Sun falling silent?”.

[9] Rebecca Morelle, ” Is our Sun falling silent?”.

[10] Rebecca Morelle, ” Is our Sun falling silent?”.

[11] Rebecca Morelle, ” Is our Sun falling silent?”.

[12] Rebecca Morelle, ” Is our Sun falling silent?”.