Chas' Compilation

A compilation of information and links regarding assorted subjects: politics, religion, science, computers, health, movies, music... essentially whatever I'm reading about, working on or experiencing in life.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Auroras tonight, and Wednesday?

Looks like it. This was Iowa from the early morning hours today:



Look up! Another solar storm may supercharge auroras Wednesday
While a "severe" solar storm that sparked dazzling auroras around the world on Monday through Tuesday morning is dying down now, skywatchers shouldn't stop looking up quite yet.

Another potentially powerful solar tempest is expected to impact Earth on Wednesday into Thursday, and it could create more amazing auroras for people in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

In particular, the next solar storm is especially well aimed to enhancing aurora activity over North America, according to experts at the National Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) in Boulder, Colorado.

Monday's solar storm hit the G4 or "severe" level, a relatively rare class of storm that can create bright auroras in relatively low latitudes. Such G4 storms — the rating scale goes up to G5 — can also cause problems with power grids on Earth and harm satellites in space.

And another storm of that severe magnitude is likely on its way to Earth now.

Scientists at the SWPC are anticipating that the solar storm predicted to arrive Wednesday could, yet again, produce beautiful auroras in relatively low latitudes.

At the moment, the SWPC is predicting a G3 or "strong" storm on Wednesday and Thursday, but that was the forecast for Monday, as well. [...]

See the whole article for embedded links, photos, videos and more.

For more technical details, and an Aurora Prediction map, see the NOAA website: http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/




   

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Saturday, June 20, 2015

Oregon is for Losers?

This is an unpleasant statistic:



Report: Oregon has worst graduation rate in the U.S.
A comprehensive U.S. report showed that Oregon not only has the worst graduation rates in the nation, but it's holding the country back from achieving its graduation rate goals.

The 2015 Building a Grad Nation report analyzed 2013 graduation rate data from every state in the nation. While the national average reached a record high of 81.4 percent, the four-year graduation rate in Oregon was only 69 percent.

Furthermore, Oregon hadn't improved from the year before, showing stagnation as the last remaining state with graduation rates lower than 70 percent.

"Oregon did not experience significant improvements and became the state with the lowest graduation rate in the nation and the last remaining state with an ACGR [Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate] in the 60s," the report said.

The Grad Nation report shows that overall, much of the country is on track to graduate upwards of 90 percent of seniors by 2020, and many states are already graduating more than 80 percent of students, including neighboring California. Washington State had a 76.4 percent graduation rate. [...]
Even California is doing better. What gives?
     

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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

An Embryonic New Turkey?

Not the bird, but the country. They recently had an election. Before the election, there was this:

Why Turkey's election doesn't matter
[...] The focus is not the usual one on "Who will form the next government?" Analysts agree that the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, or AKP), in power since 2002, will win again. But will it have to sign up a junior partner? Will it win sufficient seats to change the constitution and fulfill President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's plan to turn his position from a largely symbolic one into a fully executive position?

Erdoğan wants powers so wide reaching that he actually compares them to those wielded by absolute Saudi monarchs. Ironically, those powers would be extracted from the prime minister, which position Erdoğan filled for eleven years until last August, when he voluntarily ceded the position to a hand-picked successor, a mild-mannered academic, and moved over to the grander but far less powerful presidency.

Expressed numerically, the question fascinating Turks is whether the AKP will win a one-seat majority (276 seats out of 550) to rule alone, the 3/5s majority (330 seats) enabling it to change the constitution pending a public referendum, or the 2/3s majority (367 seats) required to change it unilaterally.

The main drama concerns a new party, the leftist, Kurdish-oriented Peoples' Democratic Party (Halkların Demokratik Partisi, or HDP): Will it manage to reach the world's highest threshold of 10 percent of the total vote and enter parliament, in this, its first national campaign? If yes, it will could deprive the AKP of its majority 276 seats; if no, the AKP will likely reach that number and maybe even the magic 330.

But where others find high drama, I see near-tedium, and for two reasons. First, the AKP has used ballot-box shenanigans and other dirty tricks in the past; many indications point to its preparing to do so again, especially in Kurdish-majority districts.

Second, since the moment Erdoğan's presidency began nine months ago, he has behaved as though his wished-for constitutional changes had already been effected; he has chaired cabinet meetings, chose AKP candidates, leaned on the judiciary, and deployed a bevy of "czars" to compete with the prime minister's staff. He is lord of all he surveys.

He also blatantly defies the ban on political activities by the president, illegally stumping the country, worshipful governmental media at his disposal, Koran often in hand, urging citizens to vote AKP and thereby enhance his powers as cumhurbaşkan.

As he transforms a flawed democracy and NATO ally into a rogue state, ostrich-like Western governments sentimentally pretend it's still the 1990s, with Ankara a reliable ally, and abet his growing despotism.

Therefore, I conclude, how many seats the AKP wins hardly matters. Erdoğan will barrel, bulldoze, and steamroll his way ahead, ignoring traditional and legal niceties with or without changes to the constitution. Sure, having fully legitimate powers would add a pretty bauble to his résumé, but he's already tyrant and Turkey's course is set.

Being a brilliant domestic operator and also an egomaniac in a tinderbox of a region suggests where Erdoğan's future troubles lie – abroad. Under his leadership, Ankara suffers poor to terrible relations at present with nearly the entire neighborhood, including Moscow, Tehran, Baghdad, Damascus, Jerusalem, Cairo, Athens, the Republic of Cyprus, and even with the new leader of Turkish Cyprus. [...]
Sounds pretty grim. But is it really that bleak? The election has happened now, and the results are in:

Turkey election: Erdoğan accepts no party has mandate to govern alone
The election result brought forth an embryonic new Turkey, but not the one the president wanted.

It produced what is tantamount to a cultural revolution in Turkish political life. Women will pour into the 550-seat parliament in Ankara in unprecedented numbers, 98 up from 79. Openly gay candidates won seats for the HDP. Most of all, the long-repressed Kurdish minority (one in 5 citizens) will be properly represented in the parliament for the first time with 80 seats.

“This is the first time that feminists in Turkey actively supported a political party,” said feminist activist Mehtap Dogan. “Up until now we have always done politics on our own, away from parliament. But this time we ran a campaign supporting the HDP because we believed in their sincerity when it comes to defending the rights of women, LGBTs and ethnic minorities.”

The HDP is the first party to introduce a quota of 50% female politicians, and all party offices and HDP-run municipalities are chaired by both a man and a woman.

The party’s successful attempt to break out of ethnic identity politics and broaden its appeal well beyond the Kurdish issue owes much to leader Selahattin Demirtas’ magnetism and his message of outreach.

But the mass protest movement born in a central Istanbul park two years ago and which mushroomed into national protests which Erdogan crushed mercilessly also fed in to the HDP’s support.

“During the Gezi [park] protests, many got an idea of what Kurds had to go through for years: the violence, the repression, the unjust arrests. It opened our eyes to the Kurdish suffering,” said Dogan. “At the same time, we saw how the pro-government press tried to turn our legitimate, peaceful protests into acts of terrorism.”

Just as Erdogan branded the protesters two years ago “riff-raff”, “terrorists” and “foreign agents”, in the election campaign he stoked division and malice by repeatedly smearing his HDP opponents as “terrorists, marginals, gays and atheists.”

He asked religiously conservative voters not to cast their ballots for “such people who have nothing to do with Islam.”

The tactic backfired as many religiously conservative Kurds shifted their votes from the AKP to a party that promised to represent everyone’s interests. [...]

Erdoğan may well try to push ahead anyway, but it won't be easy for him, he will have opposition. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds.
     

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Exactly what’s killing Americans in each of the 50 states, the “most distinctive” causes?



Death Map: What’s Really Killing Americans
Heart disease and cancer are the most common killers in the United States but a new map sheds more light on exactly what’s killing Americans in each of the 50 states.

Using statistics from 2001 to 2010, the map highlights the “most distinctive” causes of death, rather than what kills the most people. A ‘distinctive’ cause of death is when the rate is higher compared to the national average.

The map is “a somewhat of a colorful and provocative way of starting some conversations and highlighting some unusual things that are going on,” study co-author Francis Boscoe told LiveScience.

The flu was the most distinctive cause of death in Maine, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. In mining states like Kentucky, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, lung diseases caused by inhaling certain dusts were the most distinctive causes of death.

Dying in a plane or boat accident was the most distinctive cause of death in Alaska and Idaho, while sepsis was the most distinctive cause of death in New Jersey. The most distinctive cause of death in New York and Connecticut was inflammatory diseases of pelvic organs.

Possibly the most surprising statistic comes from Nevada, New Mexico and Oregon, where deaths caused by law enforcement officers — not including legal executions — were the most distinctive cause of death in those states, meaning “death by police officer” occurred in those states at a higher rate compared to the national average.

The numbers of “distinctive” deaths vary greatly. For example, 15,000 people in Florida died of HIV, the most distinctive cause of death there. Meanwhile, there were 22 deaths from syphilis, the most distinctive cause of death in Louisiana.

The source of the map is here.
   

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Friday, May 08, 2015

Elon Musk makes the Future Happen

Has the future finally arrived? I hope so:

Tesla's Elon Musk Unveils Solar Batteries for Homes and Small Businesses
The system could easily take a home off the power grid, especially with the use of many solar panels, Musk said
From a man who made his name and charted his career with lofty goals and often unexpected financial decisions, the news came with little surprise: Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors Inc., unveiled a product line of electric batteries late last night in Los Angeles.

Musk introduced the Tesla Powerwall, a wall-mounted lithium-ion electric battery for homes and small businesses, and the Tesla Powerpack, a heftier version of the same core product designed for utility-scale use.

He also announced a new wing of the company, Tesla Energy, which will begin shipping the Powerwall systems to domestic customers in three to four months. Deliveries will trickle out slowly, he said, then accelerate next year when the company begins shipping orders out from its so-called Gigafactory in Nevada.

Yet Musk spoke first about rising emissions and climate change solutions, not cars. He used a slide show of power plants and smoggy skies to introduce the problems. “It sucks, exactly,” he said. “I think we, collectively, should do something about this,” he added, “for us and a lot of other creatures.”

The Powerwall battery charging system, which can be stacked up to nine batteries high and mounted on an inner garage wall or outside, costs $3,000 for a 7-kilowatt-hour system and $3,500 for the 10 kWh option. The entire Powerwall system is roughly 3 feet wide and 4 feet long, and would stick out about 7 inches once mounted. It could easily take a home off the power grid, especially with the use of many solar panels, Musk said.

“Tesla is not just an automotive company, it's an energy innovation company,” the firm said in a statement. “Tesla Energy is a critical step in this mission to enable zero emission power generation.”

The utility version comes in 100 kWh blocks that can be grouped together. Musk said one utility company is already interested in a 250-gigawatt installation of Powerpack systems alone.

Shifting cities to 'stored sunlight'
“This entire night has been powered by batteries,” he told the audience in the warehouse in Hawthorne, Calif., pointing to gray, blocky Powerpack systems standing on end and powering the facility. “Everything you're experiencing is stored sunlight.”

Musk's solution is as audacious as it is simple. By harnessing energy from the sun—“this handy fusion reactor in the sky,” he called it last night—getting enough renewable energy on the power grid and smoothing out energy generation and use between peak and off-peak hours, the nation and planet can shift away from fossil fuels' dominance as a power source, he told the crowd.

The new batteries, he said, will help speed that transition worldwide. “These is going to be a great solution for people in remote parts of the world,” he said, noting that it allows homeowners to leave the power grid and ditch electric cables.

“It can scale globally,” he added, likening the battery systems' potential in emerging economies to mobile phones that penetrated markets faster than old technology and leapfrogged landline sales.

Tesla, the first American car company to go public since Ford Motor Co., has been a darling stock to many in recent years, climbing from trading in the $30 range in 2012 to above $200 a share for most of the past year.

In a research note about yesterday's announcement from Deutsche Bank AG, which was reported by Bloomberg, the authors struck a bullish tone, writing: “Based on the preliminary work on the economics of stationary storage, we believe that this has the potential to be more significant” than Wall Street analysts expect. The battery system, they wrote, could add up to $100 a share.

Karl Brauer, a senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book, said Tesla's new battery division could be even more successful than its car business. [...]
The German bankers recognize the potential. This is really exciting. I had posted previously about this new type of power grid that such batteries would create. Now it's actually starting to happen.

Hooray!
     

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I agree with President Obama...

...about this Nike thing:

As Obama Visits Portland, Trade Deal Divides Liberal Community
As President Barack Obama visited Nike's headquarters in Portland — a city known for lush greenery, constant drizzle and liberal politics — the left-leaning enclave has become ground zero Friday for the debate over the administration's push for a sweeping, multinational trade deal.

The president acknowledged that he's faced hurdles in his quest to garner support for an ambitious trade accord between the United States and 11 South American and Pacific Rim nations, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He told workers at the Nike campus that the people opposing this "typically they're my friends and coming from my own party. On this one, they're like, whooping on me."

Obama insisted the trade push is not political for him, since he's run his last election. He said the trade accord is the right thing to do for working families.

"The only reason I do something is because I think it's good for the economy," Obama said.

Still, in Portland, with its normally laid back vibe, the debate over the trade issue is splitting residents into two camps.

On the one side are companies like Nike, one of the city's largest employers. The company employs 8,500 people in Oregon and 26,000 nationwide. Nike says its economic impact on the state of Oregon is $2.5 billion.

And the company promises to add 10,000 jobs and an additional 40,000 indirect and supply chain service jobs if the trade deal is approved.

"We believe agreements that encourage free and fair trade allow Nike to do what we do best: innovate, expand our businesses and drive economic growth," said Mark Parker, Nike's president and CEO.

On the other side are labor unions that argue that the trade accord would repress worker wages and encourage companies — like Nike — to outsource jobs.

Those differences were on display Friday morning as Nike workers, most wearing Nike shoes, lined up to cheer the president. Meanwhile, about a hundred protesters crowded outside and chanted their outrage.

"Nike represents everything about corporate America that stinks," said Andrew Crosby, as he carried a protest sign.

The pact has even split Oregon's senators, both Democrats.

Sen. Ron Wyden is helping lead the charge to pass "fast-track" authority which would grant Obama and future presidents the right to ask for an up-or-down vote in Congress on trade agreements. Obama and supporters say the president needs this authority to better negotiate with other nations.

Opponents worry that such large trade deals deserve vetting by Congress. Sen. Jeff Merkley has said he is "dubious" about the impact of such broad trade accords. [...]
Wyden is a reasonable Democrat. Merkley is a Moron. Oregon desperately needs the jobs and revenue. The unions here are too powerful, and dragging our state down. I have to agree with president Obama on this one.
     

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Friday, May 01, 2015

Underwater volcano active off Oregon coast

A volcano may be erupting off the Oregon coast, scientists say

Three hundred miles off the Pacific Northwest coast, the seafloor has been rumbling.

Over the past five months, there were hundreds of small earthquakes on most days at Axial Seamount.

Then on April 24, there was a spike: nearly 8,000 earthquakes. The seafloor level dropped more than two meters. Temperatures rose.

Scientists believe an underwater volcano is erupting.

An eruption is not a threat to coastal residents, researchers say, because the earthquakes are small, mostly magnitude 1 or 2, and the seafloor movements are relatively gradual, so they won't cause a tsunami.

The volcanic activity has no relationship to the Cascadia Subduction Zone, which scientists watch closely for signs of a much larger and more destructive earthquake.

To Bill Chadwick, an Oregon State University geologist, the eruption at Axial Seamount was not a surprise.

He had predicted it would happen this year. He predicted the previous eruption, in 2011, too.

Chadwick hopes the lessons he and his collaborator, Scott Nooner at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, learn from Axial Seamount can eventually be applied to volcanoes on land.

Land volcanoes have thicker crusts and are influenced by large earthquakes and other nearby volcanoes, among other things, so predictions are more difficult, Chadwick said.

"Axial Seamount is a pure example, if you will," he said. "It has relatively simple plumbing."

Chadwick and other scientists watch the signals at Axial Seamount in real-time via a cable laid out on the seafloor. The cable is part of the Ocean Observatories Initiative funded by the National Science Foundation. [...]
I doubt that it has nothing to do with the Cascadia Subduction Zone, since it is practically right on top of it. I presume they mean to say, that the volcano isn't signaling an imminent earthquake. As far as they can tell.

Read the whole thing for embedded links, photos and more.

     

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

"The Clintons are counting on America to digest their ethical lapses the way a python swallows a goat" Will we?

Hillary’s Cynical Song of Self
Recently I wrote a column about Hillary Clinton’s method of lying: bald deceit sold to liberals with a wink-and-nod as the price of advancing a progressive agenda in this bigoted country of ours. Several readers wrote me to object that the mendacity I ascribed to Mrs. Clinton applied equally to Republicans.

Maybe. But what was striking about these critics is that none of them bothered to rebut the point that Mrs. Clinton is a habitual liar who treats truthfulness in politics the way a calorie-counting diner might treat hollandaise sauce on steak: to be kept strictly on the side or dribbled on in measured doses. Her lying has become as much a given in the liberal mind as Bill Clinton’s womanizing: He does his thing, she does hers.

Get over it.

All of which means that Mrs. Clinton’s presidential bid is an exercise in—and a referendum on—cynicism, partly hers but mainly ours. Democrats who nominate Mrs. Clinton will transform their party into the party of cynics; an America that elects Mrs. Clinton as its president will do so as a nation of cynics. Is that how we see, or what we want for, ourselves?

This is what the 2016 election is about. You know already that if Mrs. Clinton runs for president as an Elizabeth Warren-style populist she won’t mean a word of it, any more than she would mean it if she ran as a ’90s-style New Democrat or a ’70s-style social reformer. The real Hillary, we are asked to believe, is large and contains multitudes.

In other words, she’s singing a Song of Herself. She will say, do, and be pretty much anything to get elected. And the rest of us are supposed to fall in line because we prefer our politics to be transactional not principled, our politicians to be opportunists not idealists, and our national creed to be “do what you gotta do” not “upon this rock.” This is what might be called the Clinton Bargain: You can always count on their self-interest trumping other considerations, so you never have to fear that they can’t be bought.

The only question is who is doing the buying.

In recent days we’ve begun to learn some of their names: [...]

Hillary doesn't have to appear perfect to win; she only has to appear to be less-bad than any Republican candidate she runs against. And with the media on her side, she just might pull it off.

The article goes on to postulate the reasons why. And one or two why-nots. The author thinks Hillary can be beat. Ida know. I won't hold my breath. Read the whole thing, and see what you think.


Also see: Clinton's email spin-control, and the questions that nobody is asking
     

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