Friday, 20 May 2016

Hitting the Links, 20 May 2016

Hitting the Links

Friday, 13 May 2016

Here's a new weekly set of interesting links around the Internet this week.

This week: The cost of reactionary authoritarianism, Canadian polling and Parliamentary voting, cool and (global) warming science, and a take on what it means to love.


First off, Arizona citizens are forced to pick up a hefty legal tab for the racist, unconstitutional, fascist actions of reactionary authoritarian sheriff Joe Arpaio. All in all, he's cost citizens millions:

Taxpayers in metro Phoenix will have to pick up an additional $13 million over the next year to cover the costs of a racial profiling case that has proven to be the thorniest legal entanglement faced by Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Maricopa County, which has already shelled out $41 million during the past eight years in the case, must keep covering those legal costs until Arpaio’s office is released from the supervision of the case judge — a resolution that is years away.


The $41 million spending so far includes $10 million in attorney fees and $5 million for the monitoring staff. It represents only a part of the county’s heavy legal costs over Arpaio’s 23-year tenure.

The county has had to pay an additional $79 million in legal costs related to Arpaio’s office. That figure includes judgments, settlements and legal fees involving things such as lawsuits over jail deaths and the lawman’s failed investigations of political enemies.

Personally, I'd think this was an unacceptable waste of money, and Arpaio should be getting the sack and made to pay back the state to the greatest extent possible, but he keeps getting elected as sheriff of Maricopa County because he does what local residents want: put ethnic minorities in the area in their place. Apparently, all that money - which could have gone into improving school systems, repairing or building infrastructure, and the like - is money well spent if you're a reactionary authoritarian in Arpaio's mould.


The Trudeau government is still enjoying a polling honeymoon:

A random sampling of 1,517 Canadians over the age 18 by Forum Research found that 52 per cent would vote Liberal if an election were held today, enough to create a Liberal “supermajority” in the House of Commons, stealing almost all of the NDP seats and a few from the Tories.

If the poll results were projected to the House of Commons, the Liberals would take three-quarters of the seats — 261, compared to the 184 they won in the federal election last October — while the Conservatives would have 69 seats compared to the 98 they currently hold. The NDP would hold just seven seats, according to the survey. They won 44 last fall. The Green party would retain Leader Elizabeth May’s seat.

The president of the polling company cited notes that a polling honeymoon is common among parties who win elections. That the government has been pretty busy hasn't hurt: it's my impression that Canadians generally favourably view governments that get things done.

This recent poll is fairly consistent with other recent polling, showing the Liberal party has, at least for now, improved upon their polling since winning the election.

While it's almost certainly the case that the Liberal government will lose some popular support as their mandate drags on, it's an open question how they will be doing once the next election rolls around.


Apropos of the Trudeau government, one of their more recent policy initiatives is to formally express government support for transgender rights (as well as the rights of any with gender-fluid or otherwise gender-ambiguous identity) by codifying gender identity in the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code.

In an encouraging sign of the times, several Conservative MPs have indicated that, contrary to past voting patterns, they intend to support the bill. Unsurprisingly, in at least one case, the change in behaviour was motivated by discussions with their own children:

When C-279, the private member's bill that would have added gender identity to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, came before the House of Commons for a vote in 2013, Conservative MPs Rona Ambrose and Tony Clement voted against it.

This time around, Ambrose and Clement say they will be voting in favour when the Liberal government's bill to add gender identity to the human rights act and the code, C-16, comes before the House for a vote.


"I'll be supporting it," Ambrose told reporters on Tuesday. "While I know that in the past the courts have ruled that all of those protections do exist in the law, I do think the specific recognition and the codification in law is important. I know that it means a lot."


In an interview on Tuesday, Clement said he too would be supporting the legislation.

"My point of view has evolved over ten years of votes on this issue," he said.

Clement pointed to the influence he takes from his three children. "I have three children, ages 24, 22 and 18. They span the political spectrum but in their generation this is a foregone issue," he said. "They don't even understand why this would be debated."

He also says it makes sense that transgender Canadians should be included among those who have their rights acknowledged.

That a Conservative Senator is raising the spectre of bathroom behaviour (the smokescreen for North Carolina's odious HB2) as a justification for seeking amendments (or otherwise lack of support) for the bill is also not surprising.


Now for some cool science: astronomers have discovered a galaxy with few of the heavy elements typical of most galaxies with extensive star formation.

[...] AGC 198691, a small blue galaxy located 30 million light-years away in the constellation of Leo Minor[,] ... has the smallest fraction of heavy elements – referred to as metals in astronomy – ever seen in a galaxy, indicating that its material hasn’t changed much since the Big Bang.

Astronomers hope that the galaxy could be used as a means of quantitatively testing theoretical predictions about the early universe and the Big Bang:

The metals like carbon, oxygen, and so on are produced by stars and spread throughout interstellar space by supernovae. AGC 198691 has just 1.3 percent the metallicity of the Sun, a sign that very little star formation has happened since its formation.

Without much "contamination," the composition of the galaxy, which has been nicknamed Leoncino (Italian for "little lion"), can be used to compare whether the predicted abundance of primordial hydrogen and helium matches with the observations.

(The astronomy definition of 'metals' is obviously different from standard definitions of the word.)


If we didn't already have plenty of reasons to decarbonise, here are a few more, courtesy of Skeptical Science's Facebook feed.

As reported by Climate Central, it is now almost a sure thing that 2016 will go down as the new record hottest year:

Global temperatures have been hovering around 1.5°C (2.7°F) above pre-industrial averages — a threshold that’s being considered by international negotiators as a new goal for limiting warming.

While an exceptionally strong El Niño has provided a boost to temperatures in recent months, the primary driver has been the heat that has built up from decades of unabated greenhouse gas emissions.


As El Niño continues to rapidly decay, monthly temperature anomalies are slowly declining. They are still considerably higher than they were just last year, the current title-holder for the hottest year on record.

Given the head start this year has over last, there is a more than 99 percent chance that 2016 will best 2015 as the hottest year on the books, according to Gavin Schmidt, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, which keeps the agencies temperature data.

If 2016 does set the mark, it will be the third record-setting year in a row.

It is likely, though, that the streak would end with this year, as a La Niña event is looking increasingly likely to follow El Niño, and it tends to have a cooling effect on global temperatures.

But even La Niña years today are warmer than El Niño years of previous decades — a clear sign of how much human caused-warming has increased global temperatures. In fact, the planet hasn’t seen a record cold year since 1911.

If you like your amusement dark, the related articles drop-down that appears on Facebook showed contradictory Forbes articles on the same topic: one that straightforwardly reported the state of temperatures this calendar year, and one (doubtless by Forbes' resident lying denialist - er, "contrarian commentator", James Taylor) suggesting that a downswing in temperature was imminent, and therefore what was all this "alarmism" about? Apparently, Forbes contains multitudes.

Also, one of the most significant glacier systems in Antarctica is, it turns out, prone to instability. Chris Mooney at The Washington Post reports:

The Totten Glacier holds back more ice than any other in East Antarctica, which is itself the biggest ice mass in the world by far. Totten, which lies due south of Western Australia, currently reaches the ocean in the form of a floating shelf of ice that’s 90 miles by 22 miles in area. But the entire region, or what scientists call a “catchment,” that could someday flow into the sea in this area is over 200,000 square miles in size — bigger than California.

Moreover, in some areas that ice is close to 2.5 miles thick, with over a mile of that vertical extent reaching below the surface of the ocean. It’s the very definition of vast.

Warmer waters in this area could, therefore, ultimately be even more damaging than what’s happening in West Antarctica — and the total amount of ice that could someday be lost would raise sea levels by as much as 13 feet.

“This is not the first part of East Antarctica that’s likely to show a multi-meter response to climate change,” said Alan Aitken, the new study’s lead author and a researcher with the University of Western Australia in Perth. “But it might be the biggest in the end, because it’s continually unstable as you go towards the interior of the continent.”

The research — which found that Totten Glacier, and the ice system of which it is part, has retreated many times in the past and contains several key zones of instability — was conducted in collaboration with a team of international scientists from the United States, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. A press statement about the study from the U.S. group, based at the University of Texas at Austin, described the study as showing that “vast regions of the Totten Glacier in East Antarctica are fundamentally unstable.”

The articles goes on to describe that the glacier's catchment area has a few regions which are more stable, and could potentially delay its complete collapse, but it also has regions where collapse would accelerate due to the underlying conditions.

All told, we could call our entire effort to decarbonise "Save Totten Glacier" since, all by itself, it represents what amounts to civilisation-ending sea level rise. But crucially, it won't melt all by itself. There's also the rest of Antarctica and Greenland to account for, which would also be melting away. (And saving Totten Glacier by decarbonising and taking other action to delay or blunt warming would save these other ice sheets as well.)

Culture and Society

Progressive evangelical Christian Fred Clark maintains a blog at the Patheos network, where he posts on a more or less daily basis, whether to praise certain developments in the Christian religion or in wider society, to criticise America's white conservative evangelicalism and its malign influence on US politics, or in particular, to critically analyse - and expose the moral and artistic bankruptcy of - the Left Behind series of evangelical "End-Times" snuff porn drama.

Recently he wrote on what, exactly, Christian love constitutes.

Clark brings up two related characteristics, tolerance (characterised in a post he himself is criticising as "liberal tolerance") and what he calls subsidiarity, and identifies them as necessary conditions for the Christian formulation of love:

In arguing that, Kotsko emphasizes this point: Love ≠ “liberal tolerance.”

That’s not wrong, but it’s misleading. A more accurate form of the equation might be this: Love > “liberal tolerance.”

Love and “liberal tolerance” are not the same. The former is greater than the latter. But the latter is a necessary prerequisite for the former. What Kotsko here describes as “liberal tolerance” refers to basic structural and procedural equality — what the second chapter of James describes as impartiality. It’s a bare-bones, bare-minimum expression of basic fairness. Without such basic fairness as a starting point, love becomes irrelevant and impossible.

Put another way, “liberal tolerance” is not a sufficient condition for love. But it is a necessary condition.


Take away all indirect responsibility — mock and dismiss it as “writing my Congressman to demand greater funding for shelters” — and all of our more direct, more proximate responsibilities become enormously more challenging. If we begin to treat those direct responsibilities as exclusive — as precluding all of the indirect responsibilities — then we’re soon going to find that it’s impossible to manage them. Without the network of mutuality, we’re on our own for everything — which is to say, we’re screwed.

Screwing over ourselves, our neighbors, and our homeless sisters is not an expression of love. It is not compatible with any expression of love.

Again, that doesn’t mean subsidiarity is the same thing as love any more than “liberal tolerance” is the same thing as love. But the denial and rejection of either produces a Hobbesian nightmare in which love becomes an impossibility. [Original bold and/or italic formatting throughout these cited passages has not been carried over.]

In short, typical libertarian and/or conservative prescriptions for society are necessarily incompatible with what Clark envisions Christian love to be, because they do away with key components of that love. At the same time, Clark argues that it's important not to mistake Christian love with its constituent parts: it's something more than that.

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