2September,2005

transit of Greenwich

Tick-tock goes the atomic clock
Australia's clocks officially go atomic from today.New national laws, which come into effect from 1 September 2005, have moved Australia to a new time standard based on the super-accurate atomic clock.

The system, known as co-ordinated universal time (UTC), replaces Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).

GMT is based on the average time it takes the Earth to rotate on its axis from noon to noon, a standard that is becoming increasingly unsatisfactory as more sophisticated technology demands more miniscule units of time.

UTC is based on the vibration of caesium atoms as a pendulum, which make it accurate to a nanosecond, or a billionth of a second. Because the Earth's rotation is relatively imprecise, GMT can be out by several thousandths of a second, and can be affected by tides, currents in the Earth's molten core, seasonal change or major tectonic movements.

Irregularities can have implications for global positioning, high-speed computing, astronomers, security networks and electronic transaction time records.

The move to UTC brings Australia in line with New Zealand, Singapore, some US states and most of the European Union.


Losing GMT cuts us off from one part of our history. Timekeeping brought the British empire into the Pacific.

Transactions of the Royal Society
1768, with the rank of lieutenant, he [James Cook] was appointed to the command of the Endeavour, accompanied by Mr. Green, astronomer, to observe the transit of Venus at Otaheite, in the South Seas; and an account of their observations on that occasion is given in the article above. Along with them also sailed Mr., now Sir Joseph Banks, and Dr. Solander. After the transit was discovered, Mr. Cook sailed on a voyage of discovery, in which he discovered and visited a number of new lands; as the Society Islands, New Zealand, Nevis Holland, Botany Bay, &c. In June, 17, 1771, he arrived in England, and was appointed a commander in the navy, an account of the voyage being published by Dr. Hawksworth.


James Cook and the transt of Venus
The size of the solar system was one of the chief puzzles of 18th century science, much as the nature of dark matter and dark energy are today. In Cook's time astronomers knew that six planets orbited the sun (Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto hadn't been discovered yet), and they knew the relative spacing of those planets. Jupiter, for instance, is 5 times farther from the Sun than Earth. But how far is that … in miles? The absolute distances were unknown.

Venus was the key. Edmund Halley realized this in 1716. As seen from Earth, Venus occasionally crosses the face of the Sun. It looks like a jet-black disk slowly gliding among the Sun's true sunspots. By noting the start- and stop-times of the transit from widely spaced locations on Earth, Halley reasoned, astronomers could calculate the distance to Venus using the principles of parallax. The scale of the rest of the solar system would follow.

But there was a problem. Transits of Venus are rare. They come in pairs, 8 years apart, separated by approximately 120 years. Halley himself would never live to see one. An international team did try to time a Venus transit in 1761, but weather and other factors spoiled most of their data. If Cook and others failed in 1769, every astronomer on Earth would be dead before the next opportunity in 1874.


On his way back to London from Tahiti, Cook discovered and claimed the east coast of New Holland and the rest is, as they say, history.

Montreal Convention succeeds

Changes In Ozone Layer Offer Hope For Improvement, Says Team Of Scientists
Analysis of several different satellite records and surface monitoring instruments indicates that the ozone layer is no longer declining, according to a study by scientists working with the Center for Integrating Statistical and Environmental Science (CISES) at the University of Chicago.

In some parts of the world, the ozone layer has increased a small amount in the past few years, although it still well below normal levels.

The results will be published Aug. 31 in the Journal of Geophysical Research and follow 18 years after an international agreement, the Montreal Protocol, was established to limit the production of chemicals determined to be harmful to the atmosphere.

The work, funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, is a collaboration between atmospheric scientists and statisticians through CISES. "The work of this team of scientists and statisticians is widely recognized as some of the most authoritative in the statistical analysis of stratospheric ozone," said Michael Stein, director of CISES at the University of Chicago.

"These early signs indicate one of the strongest success stories of international cooperation in the face of an environmental threat," said retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator.

For the past few years, studies have focused on ozone declining in the topmost layer of the atmosphere where there is naturally very little ozone. However, this study addresses the total ozone column layer that has significant impact on how much ultraviolet radiation is coming through the atmosphere, said Betsy Weatherhead of the University of Colorado.

"Our work focuses on the thickness of the ozone layer and is therefore relevant to the amount of harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation reaching the surface of the Earth," said Weatherhead, a co-author on the paper.


The Montreal Convention worked. We will never know if the Kyoto Convention could work just as well because Australia and the US refused to ratify Kyoto.

1September,2005

Seven finds a way to exploit Katrina

Unbefuckinglievable! The Seven Network is showing imagery of flooded cities and fallen oil rigs to advertise Oil Storm for prime time Sunday 11 September.

29August,2005

Hurricane Katrina

Monstrous Hurricane Heads for New Orleans
For years, forecasters have warned of the nightmare flooding a big storm could bring to New Orleans, a bowl-shaped city bounded by the half-mile-wide Mississippi River and massive Lake Pontchartrain.

As much as 10 feet below sea level in spots, the city is as the mercy of a network of levees, canals and pumps to keep dry.
Scientists predicted Katrina could easily overtake that levee system, swamping the city under a 30-feet cesspool of toxic chemicals, human waste and even coffins that could leave more than 1 million people homeless.

"All indications are that this is absolutely worst-case scenario," Ivor van Heerden, deputy director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center, said Sunday afternoon.
Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard said some who have ridden out previous storms in the New Orleans area may not be so lucky this time.

"I'm expecting that some people who are die-hards will die hard," he said.

For those who were evacuated, it wasn't an easy trip. Traffic backed up bumper-to-bumper on many highways. Three nursing home being bused to a Baton Rouge church died, one aboard the bus, another at the church and the third at hospital, the local coroner said Sunday.

"These folks are pretty fragile when they're put on these buses," said Don Moreau, of the East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner's Office.

Katrina was a Category 1 storm with 80-mph wind when it hit South Florida with a soggy punch Thursday that flooded neighborhoods and left nine people dead. It strengthened rapidly in the Gulf of Mexico as it headed for New Orleans.
By 1 a.m. EDT, Katrina's eye was about 90 miles south-southwest of the mouth of the Mississippi River and 150 miles south-southeast of New Orleans. The storm was moving toward the north-northwest at about 10 mph and was expected to turn toward the north. A hurricane warning was in effect for the north-central Gulf Coast from Morgan City, La., to the Alabama-Florida line."


The US National Weather Service states:

DEVASTATING DAMAGE EXPECTED

AT LEAST ONE HALF OF WELL CONSTRUCTED HOMES WILL HAVE ROOF AND WALL
FAILURE. ALL GABLED ROOFS WILL FAIL...LEAVING THOSE HOMES SEVERELY
DAMAGED OR DESTROYED.

THE MAJORITY OF INDUSTRIAL BUILDINGS WILL BECOME NON FUNCTIONAL.
PARTIAL TO COMPLETE WALL AND ROOF FAILURE IS EXPECTED. MANY WOOD
FRAMED LOW RISING APARTMENT BUILDINGS WILL BE DESTROYED. CONCRETE
BLOCK LOW RISE APARTMENTS WILL SUSTAIN MAJOR DAMAGE...INCLUDING SOME
WALL AND ROOF FAILURE.

HIGH RISE OFFICE AND APARTMENT BUILDINGS WILL SWAY DANGEROUSLY...A
FEW POSSIBLY TO THE POINT OF TOTAL COLLAPSE. MANY WINDOWS WILL BLOW
OUT.

AIRBORNE DEBRIS WILL BE WIDESPREAD...AND MAY INCLUDE HEAVY ITEMS SUCH
AS HOUSEHOLD APPLIANCES AND EVEN LIGHT VEHICLES. SPORT UTILITY
VEHICLES AND LIGHT TRUCKS WILL BE MOVED. THE BLOWN DEBRIS WILL CREATE
ADDITIONAL DESTRUCTION. PERSONS...PETS...AND LIVESTOCK EXPOSED TO THE
WINDS WILL FACE CERTAIN DEATH IF STRUCK.

POWER OUTAGES MAY LAST FOR WEEKS...AS MANY POWER POLES WILL BE DOWN
AND TRANSFORMERS DESTROYED. WATER SHORTAGES WILL MAKE HUMAN SUFFERING
INCREDIBLE BY MODERN STANDARDS.

THE VAST MAJORITY OF NATIVE TREES WILL BE SNAPPED OR UPROOTED. ONLY
THE HEARTIEST WILL REMAIN STANDING...BUT BE TOTALLY DEFOLIATED.


In harm's way
Hurricanes are a common heritage for Louisiana residents, who until the past few decades had little choice in facing a hurricane but to ride it out and pray.

Today, billions of dollars worth of levees, sea walls, pumping systems and satellite hurricane tracking provide a comforting safety margin that has saved thousands of lives.

But modern technology and engineering mask an alarming fact: In the generations since those storms menaced Champagne's ancestors, south Louisiana has been growing more vulnerable to hurricanes, not less.

Sinking land and chronic coastal erosion — in part the unintended byproducts of flood-protection efforts — have opened dangerous new avenues for even relatively weak hurricanes and tropical storms to assault areas well inland.

"There's no doubt about it," said Windell Curole, general manager of the South Lafourche Levee District, who maintains a hurricane levee that encircles Bayou Lafourche from Larose to the southern tip of Golden Meadow. "The biggest factor in hurricane risk is land loss. The Gulf of Mexico is, in effect, probably 20 miles closer to us than it was in 1965 when Hurricane Betsy hit."

These trends are the source of a complex and growing threat to everyone living in south Louisiana and to the regional economy and culture:

The combination of sinking land and rising seas has put the Mississippi River delta as much as 3 feet lower relative to sea level than it was a century ago, and the process continues. That means hurricane floods driven inland from the Gulf have risen by corresponding amounts. Storms that once would not have had much impact can now be devastating events, and flooding penetrates to places where it rarely occurred before. The problem also is slowly eroding levee protection, cutting off evacuation routes sooner and putting dozens of communities and valuable infrastructure at risk of being wiped off the map.

Coastal erosion has shaved barrier islands to slivers and turned marshland to open water, opening the way for hurricane winds and flooding to move inland. Hurricanes draw their strength from the sea, so they quickly weaken and begin to dissipate when they make landfall. Hurricanes moving over fragmenting marshes toward the New Orleans area can retain more strength, and their winds and large waves pack more speed and destructive power.

Though protected by levees designed to withstand the most common storms, New Orleans is surrounded by water and is well below sea level at many points. A flood from a powerful hurricane can get trapped for weeks inside the levee system. Emergency officials concede that many of the structures in the area, including newer high-rise buildings, would not survive the winds of a major storm.

The large size of the area at risk also makes it difficult to evacuate the million or more people who live in the area, putting tens of thousands of people at risk of dying even with improved forecasting and warnings. The American Red Cross will not put emergency shelters in the area because it does not want to put volunteers or evacuees in danger.

The Army Corps of Engineers says the chance of New Orleans-area levees being topped is remote, but admits the estimate is based on 40-year-old calculations. An independent analysis based on updated data and computer modeling done for The Times-Picayune suggests the risk to some areas, including St. Bernard and St. Charles parishes and eastern New Orleans, may be greater than the corps estimates. Corps officials say the agency is studying the problem with an updated model.
It all adds up to a daunting set of long-term economic, engineering and political challenges just to maintain the status quo. Higher levees, a massive coastal-restoration program and even a huge wall across New Orleans are all being proposed. Without extraordinary measures, key ports, oil and gas production, one of the nation's most important fisheries, the unique bayou culture, the historic French Quarter and more are at risk of being swept away in a catastrophic hurricane or worn down by smaller ones.


Why did no-one listen?
"Prescience sucks." So a very wise person told me yesterday, in reference to my three month old piece (now much cited, of course) about the catastrophe that could befall New Orleans from a direct Cat4 or 5 hurricane strike. I must say, I agree whole-heartedly with this individual's assessment.

But if prescience sucks, the lack of reasonable foresight is a far, far worse flaw. And I think that at least in part, the tragedy now playing itself out must be blamed on this very human shortcoming. Let me explain.

In writing my own piece about New Orleans' vulnerability I interviewed, among others, LSU hurricane expert Ivor van Heerden, one of many scientists who has been thinking about this disaster-waiting-to-happen. When you talk to van Heerden, he tends to put things in very stark terms. He has been doing so for years.

Now, even CNN has finally gotten around to talking to van Heerden, in the process of spinning out worst case scenarios for New Orleans. Here's what the scientist says:

"This is what we've been saying has been going to happen for years," he said. "Unfortunately, it's coming true."


It is tragic, truly tragic, that someone like van Heerden now has to say, "I told you so." But the fact is that he did tell us so, and so did many others.


As always, Wikipedia is the best place to go for updates. Beyond feeling for the people of New Orleans, we really need to find out not what else out there are we ignoring in the same way. President Bush remains on vacation.

28August,2005

the Habsbush empire?

Chapter 2: A History of Spain and Portugal
There are certain intriguing parallels between the circumstances and historical patterns of tenth-century Al-Andalus and sixteenth-century Spain. Both empires were launched, as is customarily the case with expansionist systems, before their respective societies had reached their fullest cultural development. Both emphasized imperial expansion and foreign issues to the detriment of internal problems. Neither achieved a fully integrated civic entity: the Umayyad caliphate was not effectively integrated, and the Habsburg monarchy was pluralistic, revealing centrifugal tendencies. Both strongly emphasized religious issues in mobilizing for expansion; religious orthodoxy was later stressed by both in their periods of political decline. The renewed assertion of reorganized military power marked the last generation of strong government and the prelude to civic decline (compare al-Mansur and Olivares). The full flowering of Andalusi culture came after the collapse of the caliphate; that of Habsburg Spain, at least in esthetics, after the apogee of politico-military power under Felipe II. A major difference between the two was that the economic prosperity of Al-Andalus survived the passing of the caliphate. Seventeenth-century Spain exhausted its economy in war; the Muslim taifas never organized the military strength that their economies could have supported.


The precedent is not exact, but then it never is. Comparisons between George Bush and Felipe II are not unknown in the Spanish-speaking world. If anything the Habsbush project is even more hapless than Habsburg Spain. The Habsburgs never made it their business to occupy a country in order to hand it over to a Habsburg enemy.