Google Chrome is patiently letting me know that there's a "New Chrome available," so in order to avoid losing all my open tabs, I will list them here:
Finally, XKCD traces the evolution of most Americans' thoughts about urban planning and transport policy, once they start having any. I feel seen!
I'm just over a week from performing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Ravinia in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, so as I try to finish a feature that turned out to be a lot bigger than I thought, I'm hearing opera choruses in my head. Between rehearsals and actual work, I might never get to read any of these items:
Finally, New York City (and other urban areas) are experiencing a post-pandemic dog-poop renaissance. Watch where you step!
And now, I will put on "Dank sei dir Osiris" one more time.
Back in 1990, journalist James Burke produced a documentary for PBS called "After the Warming," which looked back from an imagined 2050 to explain how and why palm trees came to grow in Boston. The framing device he used was to set the documentary as an explainer for an important report on the Atlantic thermohaline circulation study due to be released during the broadcast. I won't spoil it for you except to say as pessimistic as Burke was in 1990, he may have been, in fact, overly optimistic:
The Atlantic Ocean’s sensitive circulation system has become slower and less resilient, according to a new analysis of 150 years of temperature data — raising the possibility that this crucial element of the climate system could collapse within the next few decades.
Scientists have long seen the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC, as one of the planet’s most vulnerable “tipping elements” — meaning the system could undergo an abrupt and irreversible change, with dramatic consequences for the rest of the globe. Under Earth’s current climate, this aquatic conveyor belt transports warm, salty water from the tropics to the North Atlantic, and then sends colder water back south along the ocean floor. But as rising global temperatures melt Arctic ice, the resulting influx of cold freshwater has thrown a wrench in the system — and could shut it down entirely.
The study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications suggests that continued warming will push the AMOC over its “tipping point” around the middle of this century. The shift would be as abrupt and irreversible as turning off a light switch, and it could lead to dramatic changes in weather on either side of the Atlantic.
The consequences would not be nearly as dire as they appear in the 2004 sci-fi film “The Day After Tomorrow,” in which a sudden shutdown of the current causes a flash freeze across the northern hemisphere. But it could lead to a drop in temperatures in northern Europe and elevated warming in the tropics, Peter Ditlevsen said, as well as stronger storms on the East Coast of North America.
Exactly: palm trees in Boston and the extinction of most food crops in Scotland, Scandinavia, and the Baltics. London in January may only have 6 hours of daylight but it rarely gets below freezing, even though it's at roughly the same latitude as Calgary. If the Atlantic stops bringing warm Caribbean water to the British Isles, the UK will have to invest in snow plows.
The main thing that Burke predicted in his film has come to pass, however: decades of inaction by politicians who have no incentive (other than having to live on the planet) for taking long-term action on climate change. And we're the worst offenders.
Razib Khan looks at where modern humans came from in light of recent genetic analyses, and how the Toba eruption 74,000 YBP gave our particular lineage an opening our ancestors exploited, wiping out the competing varieties of humans within 10,000 years:
The most powerful explosion of the last 2.5 million years, the Toba eruption triggered a decade-long cold snap that wrought havoc even amid the last Ice Age’s already inclement conditions. When the cataclysm hit, Neanderthals had reigned supreme from the Atlantic to the Siberian Altai for hundreds of thousands of years, while their Denisovan cousins dominated East Asia. To the south, diminutive small-brained human populations occupied Indonesia’s Flores islands and Luzon in the Philippines, coexisting with both modern humans and Denisovans. But thirty thousand years after Toba, a blink of the eye in geological time, the landscape of human geography was abruptly transformed. Neanderthals, Denisovans and Southeast Asia’s enigmatic hominins were extinct or under extreme, terminal pressure from African newcomers. Neanderthals, by then resident in Europe for over 500,000 years, disappeared 5,000 years after that mass arrival of African humans to northwest Eurasia. Denisovans, by then as far into their East Asian sojourn as Neanderthals their western one, disappeared soon after their cousins. Finally, the small human populations of Flores and the Philippines also died out 50,000 years ago, after modern humans’ final expansion. This radical homogenization of Eurasian humanity is associated with the expansion of the Initial Upper Paleolithic (IUP) archaeological culture, which radiated out of the Middle East 50,000 years ago, washing over the whole of Asia, Europe and Australia by 45,000 years ago.
Our naive late-20th-century idea held that a single modern tribe burst out of East Africa 50,000 years ago, replacing Neanderthals and other human lineages inexorably and in totality. In reality, almost all modern humans have some Neanderthal ancestry, while Denisovans contribute nearly 4% of the genome of Papuans and other Melanesians. But it remains true that the entire world’s genetic legacy outside Africa today does come from a single intrepid tribe, a lone population with a unified early history. But these were not the first Africans to venture out of their ancient homeland; they were the last.
He includes a flow chart of human genetic lineages following the Neandersovan exit from Africa 650,000 YBP, and it has more dotted lines than a Fortune-500 org chart.
I think I finally cracked the nut on a work problem that has consumed our team for almost three years. Unfortunately I can't write about it yet. I can say, though, that the solution became a lot clearer just a couple of weeks after our team got slightly smaller. I will say nothing more. Just remember, there are two types of people: those who can infer things from partial evidence.
Just a few articles left to read before I take Cassie on her pre-dinner ambulation:
- Titanic director James Cameron, who has made 30 dives to the famed wreck, slammed the news media for "a cruel, slow turn of the screw for four days" as he, the US Navy, and probably most of the rescuers already figured out the submarine Titan had imploded on its descent Sunday morning.
- The US Navy in turn reported that its Atlantic sonar net had picked up the implosion when it happened, but didn't explain (see re: inferences, above) that it waited until the accident had been confirmed by other sources because the Navy's sonar capabilities are highly classified military secrets. And since the Titan didn't have any kind of black-box recorder, they would not make any effort to bring it up from the bottom.
- New York Times columnist Jesse Wegman slaps his forehead and asks, "Does Justice Alito (R) hear himself?" (See re: inferences, above.) James Fallows argues that "it is time for outside intervention, and supervision" of the Court. Josh Marshall sees the "fish and flights" as emblematic of deeper corruption: "The guiding jurisprudence might best be described as 'Too bad, suckas' or perhaps 'Sucks to be you.' "
- Biologists Jerry A Coyne (University of Chicago emeritus) and Luana S Maroja (Williams College) argue that ideology is "poisoning" the study and teaching of biology.
- The 2 quadrillion liters (give or take) of groundwater we humans have pumped out in the last 30 years found its way to the oceans, redistributing the mass of the earth and shifting our planet's axis by about 800 mm—not enough to change the seasons, but enough to subtly interfere with global positioning and astronomy.
- LEDs in street lights and houses have added about 10% more light pollution to our skies each year, according to new research. Of course, LEDs provide more light and save 90% of the energy we used to waste on incandescent and nonmetal-vapor lights, so...
And finally, the Illinois legislature extended by 5 years the Covid-era regulations allowing restaurants to sell go-cups. We're not New Orleans by any stretch, but you can continue to take that margarita home with your leftover burritos.
I will now retire to my lovely patio...
If you haven't got plans tonight, or you do but you're free Sunday afternoon, come to our Spring Concert:
You can read these during the intermission:
Speaking of huge animals, two amateur botanists kayaking on the Chicago River near Division encountered the biggest snapping turtle I've ever seen. Chicagoans have named the specimen Chonk, short for Chonkosaurus. I have to wonder what Chonk has been eating...
Just a pre-weekend rundown of stuff you might want to read:
- The US Supreme Court's investigation into the leak of Justice Samuel Alito's (R) Dobbs opinion failed to identify Ginny Thomas as the source. Since the Marshal of the Court only investigated employees, and not the Justices themselves, one somehow does not feel that the matter is settled.
- Paul Krugman advises sane people not to give in to threats about the debt ceiling. I would like to see the President just ignore it on the grounds that Article 1, Section 8, Article VI, and the 14th Amendment make the debt ceiling unconstitutional in the first place.
- In other idiotic Republican economics (redundant, I know), Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA) has proposed a 30% national sales tax to replace all income and capital-gains taxes that I really hope the House passes just so the Senate can laugh at it while campaigning against it.
- Amazon has decided to terminate its Smile program, the performative-charity program that (as just one example) helped the Apollo Chorus raise almost $100 of its $250,000 budget last year. Whatever will we do to make up the shortfall?
- How do you know when you're on a stroad? Hint: when you really don't want to be.
- Emma Collins does not like SSRIs.
- New York Times science writer Matt Richtel would like people to stop calling every little snowfall a "bomb cyclone." So would I.
- Slack's former Chief Purple People Eater Officer Nadia Rawlinson ponders the massive tech layoffs this week. (Fun fact: the companies with the most layoffs made hundreds of billions in profits last year even as market capitalization declined! I wonder what all these layoffs mean to the shareholders? Hmm.)
- Amtrak plans to buy a bunch of new rail cars to replace the 40-year-old rolling stock on their long-distance routes. Lots of "ifs" in there, though. I still hope that, before I die of old age, the US will have a rail travel that rivals anything Europe had in 1999.
- The guy who went to jail over his fraudulent and incompetent planning of the Fyre Festival a couple of years ago wants to try again, now that he's out.
Finally, Monica Lewinsky ruminates on the 25 years since her name popped up on a news alert outing her relationship with President Clinton. One thing she realized:
The Tonight Show With Jay Leno died in 2014. For me, not a day too soon. At the end of Leno’s run, the Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University analyzed the 44,000 jokes he told over the course of his time at the helm. While President Clinton was his top target, I was the only one in the top 10 who had not specifically chosen to be a public person.
If you don't follow her on social media, you're missing out. She's smart, literate, and consistently funny.
McSweeney's channels Lovecraft—at Olive Garden:
A homogeneity characterized its flaxen cast. Bubbling sacks of slime upon a platter scorching. Beware! Doused in the pureed remains of a dozen orbic fruits, I feel my breath quicken and hands tremble as I pen its likeness as well as I might. My own mind conspires against me when presented with this frightful entrée. To dine? Or will my own visage mirror its sickly jaundice? I have touched with too much haste the vessel of Hades, a burn be my meal.
The Tour of Italy
A terse presentation of memories, three to be precise. A chicken, but unclucking. A plate of worms, wriggling in saucy terror. And then, horror unbounded, a cube of entombed layers coated in a crimson, comestible smear. Dreams fleeting and reborn, of monoliths—Pisa—floating mid-air and dripping gruel. A gurgling voice emerged from the deep, a chaos that did not speak a mortal tongue, a promise emitted: “Unlimahtated brrrrurdstihks!”
Meanwhile, over at the New Yorker, Dennard Dayle imagines a letter straight out of The Dark Forest:
Congratulations! If you’re reading this, you’ve successfully contacted alien life. It’s not a dream—unimpeded by fear, you’ve accomplished what countless generations couldn’t. Impressive, considering fear’s role in survival. One could even say that you’ve achieved what they wouldn’t.
Take a bow. A hundred years from now, there will be a holiday named for you, observed across a changed galaxy: a day commemorating the moxie, intellect, and sheer luck needed to contact another world while knowing nothing about it.
You must wonder what comes next. After all, your imagination made this possible. Will there be media training? Your own office in low orbit? A well-deserved vacation? The answer is simple:
I mean, they're not wrong...
If Cassie could (a) speak English and (b) understand the concept of "future" she would be quivering with anticipation about going to Ribfest tonight after school. Since she can't anticipate it, I'll do double-duty and drool on her behalf. It helps that the weather today looks perfect: sunny, not too hot, with a strong chance of delicious pork ribs.
Meanwhile, I have a few things to read on my commute that I didn't get to yesterday:
Finally, as I ride on the UP-N commuter line in an hour or so, I can imagine what it will be like when the train gets a battery-powered locomotive in a few years.
The CDC reported today that the US has officially passed 1 million Covid deaths:
The confirmed number of dead is equivalent to a 9/11 attack every day for 336 days. It is roughly equal to how many Americans died in the Civil War and World War II combined. It’s as if Boston and Pittsburgh were wiped out.
Three out of every four deaths were people 65 and older. More men died than women. White people made up most of the deaths overall. But Black, Hispanic and Native American people have been roughly twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as their white counterparts.
Of course, the CDC also believes we passed 1 million actual Covid deaths a few months ago, as the total number of excess deaths since 1 February 2020 has passed 1,119,000.
NPR reports that vaccine misinformation and Republican Party politics has led to a majority of those deaths in unvaccinated populations:
[W]e've been hit so hard due to fragmentation and inequalities in our health care system, as well as vaccine hesitancy, often fueled by politically motivated misinformation. Consider this, A - if you tally up the number of unvaccinated people who died from COVID after vaccines were open to all adults last year, it's about 319,000 lives lost, according to a Brown University analysis.
So Covid has killed more Americans than any other single event by many hundreds of thousands: