Saturday, March 17, 2018

Gay teen love story

After I see a movie at the cineplex I like I wander around and look at all the posters for upcoming movies. Since the usual cineplex shows only big release movies, I tend to see a lot of posters for the next superhero flick, whatever Disney and Pixar will release soon, the latest horror movies, and the next screwball comedy. Most of those don’t appeal to me. And, of course, there are no posters for the independent films and the foreign films.

During my movie watching spree back in January I saw one poster with a film title, the image of a young male actor, and not much else. Most poster will say “Coming Soon” or “Coming March 16.” This one said, “Coming out March 16.” Yes, that little word caught my attention. I made a note of it.

The movie is Love, Simon and it is indeed a gay love story. A big deal (at least in the gay press) is being made of this being the first gay teen love story by a major Hollywood studio and receiving wide release.

Yes, it hit theaters yesterday. Yes, I saw it today. Yes, it is rare for me to see a movie during the opening weekend. And, yes, it was wonderful.

The story is about Simon’s senior year in high school. He hasn’t come out to anyone yet. One reason is he is annoyed that straight people don’t have to come out. That comment is followed by a series of scenes in which each of his friends has that dramatic moment of telling their parents they are straight followed by the reaction gay youth frequently see.

There is apparently a website for students of the school to share things going on in their lives, a social media platform. Simon sees a post from another youth coming out, but using the pseudonym of “Blue.” Simon, calling himself Jacques, begins an email correspondence with Blue. And then wondering who Blue really is.

Another student finds out about this correspondence and blackmails Simon into setting up a date with one of Simon’s friends.

I’m reluctant to say more because I don’t want to spoil the story when you see it. And I recommend you do.

I will say there is very little homophobia. Simon’s reasons for not coming out make sense and don’t include shame. When the other students find out most of them root for him. Once he tells his parents their response is wonderful. He asks his mother, “Did you know?” She replies, “I knew you had a secret. … But these last few years more and more it’s almost like I can feel you holding your breath. … You get to exhale now, Simon.”

A very well done gay teen love story by a major Hollywood studio and receiving wide release. More, please. Though don’t restrict it to teens.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Undermining alliances

Yesterday I wrote glowingly about Stephen Hawking to mark his death. Melissa McEwan of Shakesville, an ardent feminist, says her feelings are more complicated. Much of that comes from a 2012 interview. Back then McEwan wrote:
In an interview to mark his 70th birthday this weekend, Stephen Hawking, the former Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge University, admitted he spent most of the day thinking about women. "They are," he said "a complete mystery."
What, the guy who can figure out black holes can’t understand women? Has he tried? Does he listen to women when they try to explain their lives?

McEwan adds that it can be cruel to tell someone they can never be understood. It can be alienating to be treated as other.

Laura Clawson of Daily Kos takes a look at tipping the waitstaff in restaurants. First, the decision of how much to tip isn’t based much on service. A waitress will handle two tables in the same manner. One will be generous, the other stingy. This is more about the customer than the staff.

Second, tipping obliges the staff to put up with sexual harassment or lose the tip. And if the staff responds to the harassment by telling the customer to buzz off, she may be fired for annoying the customer. Time to stop forcing the waitstaff to live off tips.

In the latest personnel changes at the White House Gina Haspel will soon be before the Senate for confirmation to be the next CIA director. Big problem, she was in charge of a prison in Thailand that tortured prisoners and she tried to cover up torture crimes by destroying evidence.

That prompted Victor Laszlo to tweet this question to be asked at the hearings:
What did the guy you waterboarded 83 times not say the first 82 times that you were so certain he'd tell you if he was tortured yet again?

If I remember right, Britain’s Brexit vote was rather close. And, if I remember right, Russia interfered in that election similar to how they interfered in ours. And now Britain is dealing with the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a Russian defense intelligence officer who spied for Britain. The deed was done on British soil. Skripal and his daughter are still in the hospital.

At the first mention of Russia, the nasty guy essentially abandoned Britain. Brexit means Britain is alienated from European allies. So Britain is trying to stare down Russia on its own. Melissa McEwan says:
Which is precisely what Russia has been angling to accomplish.

To be abundantly clear: Russia has actively sought *for decades* to undermine the alliances between the United States and the U.K., Germany, France, and others. It has been an explicit goal to create global instability and a subsequent power vacuum that Russia could exploit.

And here we are.

When President Bill Clinton was caught with his pants down Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr produced a 211 page report, which was given to the US House. It said the information may be grounds for impeachment. The whole thing was published and became a best seller.

So, we’re all eagerly waiting to read what Robert Mueller digs up on the nasty guy and his cronies.

Except, as Nelson Cunningham, writing for The Washington Post, tells us the laws around the two investigations are different. Mueller’s report goes to one person, the Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In this case it may go instead to Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein because Sessions is recused from this case. Mueller is forbidden to publicly discussing his findings. And Rosenstein can do with it as he pleases – including tossing it in the trash. Even more, much of this work has been through a grand jury and law forbids the release of grand jury material.

This might be why Mueller has been laying out his case through the indictments of minor players, such as against the 13 Russians. That may be the only way the rest of us see anything.

For all you thinking if we could just get rid of the nasty guy… keep in mind the GOP has been working towards this moment for at least 30 years. Even impeachment won’t slow them down much.

The Twitter feed for yesterday’s National Walkout Day student protests has some cool pictures from around the country. It also has lots of encouragement. Alas, the feed also has lots of snide comments from those that like guns.

Much longer than a couple centuries

I’ve finished reading Deep Future; The Next 100,000 Years of Life on Earth by Curt Stager. I asked for it as a Christmas present because it was described as thorough, balanced, and understandable description of global climate change. It was that. There were times I thought he might be taking the climate denier’s position. But he wants a clear and complete discussion more than he wants to advocate (though he does that too), which, he says, is what a scientist should be after.

When we hear climate change discussed we frequently hear the effects will last well into the next century. Some stories imply a longer timeline, perhaps two or three centuries. So Stanger starts there.

Scenario 1 is if we stop using carbon fuels rather quickly. From the time humans started dumping carbon dioxide until we stop this scenario says the total CO2 added to the atmosphere is about 1000 gigatons. Scenario 2 is if we keep using carbon fuels until we’ve used every crumb of coal and drop of oil. If we do this we would add 5000 gigatons to the atmosphere.

Stager reviews how CO2 eventually gets out of the atmosphere. I won’t repeat the chemical cycle, though I’ll say it includes a great deal dissolving into the oceans, making them more acidic. More on that later. But this takes time. In Scenario 1 to come back to our pre-industrial level of C02 would take 100,000 years. In Scenario 2 it would take 400,000 years. This is not a short-term situation.

A couple of the broad consequences of either scenario.

* Stager reviews the various mechanisms that contribute to an ice age. These include the slow wobble of earth’s rotation and changing eccentricity in earth’s orbit. These factors and others say we’re due for another ice age about 50,000 years from now. But a climate affected by human actions means this ice age has been canceled. That is good news for cities such as Winnipeg, Detroit, London, Berlin, and Moscow. This is where I questioned Stager’s efforts to get humans to change course, but I also see his efforts to be balanced, to talk about all aspects of climate change.

* Once the climate has warmed, which will happen in a couple thousand years, there will then be a long, slow cooling period, lasting 80-90 thousand years (for the short scenario). Humans living in that time will see the warm climate as natural and may be troubled by the cooling (though the cooling will be so slow it may not be noticed in a normal human lifespan).

* Lots of species of plants and animals may become extinct. But it will take something much more disastrous for humans to become extinct.

Stager looks at a couple times in earth history in which the climate got warm. One was before the last ice age, about 120,000 years ago. This certainly affected humans. The other was 55 million years ago, about 10 million years after the last of the dinosaurs. He uses both chapters to discuss levels of greenhouse gases, amount of glaciation (in the Arctic, Antarctic, and on mountains), sea level, and effects on life. As for that last one, only a few species became extinct because they were able to adjust their territories to what was comfortable. With this warming animals won’t be able to move to an appropriate territory because we’re in the way.

One of the big problems of climate change, also the one discussed least in mass media is the oceans becoming more acidic. Carbon dioxide dissolved in water makes it a bit more like an acid. That may not be much of a problem for fish, but it will be a big problem for most sea creatures with a shell. It isn’t so much that the acid eats the shell, more that the creatures will have difficulty forming a shell. In addition to all the shellfish we like to eat, this affects coral. A lot of these creatures will become extinct. It is for this reason, more than any other, we should get off carbon as quickly as possible.

Yes, sea levels will rise. And perhaps by quite a bit (say goodbye to much of Florida). The huge East Antarctic ice fields (where most of the earth’s ice is) may not melt, but West Antarctic fields, the Arctic, Greenland, and mountain glaciers probably will. But sea levels won’t rise so quickly that it will snatch your children off the beach. It will happen much more slowly than that. We may not notice those abandoning homes on the beach in amongst the people who routinely move during any given year. But as the waters rise there will be economic winners and losers as formerly inland real estate becomes beachfront, only to be submerged in time.

Another group of economic winners will be those who can exploit an ice-free Arctic. Possible ways to make money are with oil drilling and year-round shipping. Yes, it is possible we’ll lose the polar bears, though they may mate with brown bears farther south.

If you’ve got a *really long* investment timeline – say three thousand years or more – you could do quite well buying property in Greenland. The receding icepack will reveal fertile soil and mineral rich land. But don’t buy property in the center of this island. The weight from a mile or two of ice has pushed the land down. If all the ice melts this land will take a long time to rebound and will likely flood as a huge lake or giant fjord.

As for the tropics… Yes, they’ll get much hotter (though the amount of warming will be less than the poles). But people can and have adapted to such high heat. However, long-term forecasting of rainfall is much harder than forecasting temperature. We don’t know if rising temperatures will mean a wetter or drier climate.

Stager concludes by looking at two particular areas he’s familiar with, South Africa and the Adirondack Mountains, where he lives.

South Africa has two seasons, wet and dry. The rain is driven by a wind pattern. As the sun moves north in March, April, and May this wind pattern moves north too. When it blows across the land they have rain. As the sun moves south a few months later, the wind pattern does too. When it no longer blows across the land they no longer have rain. But in a warmer climate this wind pattern may shift farther south and never move far enough north to blow across the land. The result is no rain. Capetown is already under severe water rationing and may face a date in which the city says we have no water.

As research into the climate showed that global warming is a real thing coming soon, Stager asked what does the data show of it happening *here* in the Adirondacks? It is an important question for a region that makes a lot of money off snow sports. Mud sports don’t make as much. He found there was very little historical data. That leads to a discussion of accuracy in measuring and reporting. Stager explains with an example:
For instance, Jane runs the local weather station for twenty years. She awakens early each morning to record the temperature before heading off to work – unless she is on vacation or the kids are sick. That leaves a gap in the daily readings and distorts the monthly average temperature calculations.

When Jane retires, John offers to take over her duties. But John doesn’t like to get up early, so he takes his readings later in the morning when the sun starts to warm things up for the day. Automatically, and incorrectly, the daily temperature averages become warmer.

And then there are equipment upgrades, power outages, changes in the number of readings per day, changes in station location, and changes in local vegetation, all of which can affect temperature data.

Another issue is over what time period is the data analyzed? Should we start in the 1950s, which was a brief warm spell, or in the cooler 1970s? Do we look at just the ends of the time period? How do we analyze the data in between?

Stager did find other kinds of data to show the Adirondack region is warming like the rest of the world. Lake Champlain is along the eastern edge of the Adirondacks. During the 19th Century there were only 3 winters the lake did not freeze over. Since 1950 it hasn’t frozen over two dozen times.

So, Stager asks, what kind of future do we want? Warm enough to avoid the next ice age? Cool enough to avoid killing off the coral? We’re not talking about the issue. Scaring people to act isn’t good. Talking, in a clear manner, laying out everything we know, getting input from everyone affected (which is everyone), and doing it without partisan dogma, urgently needs to happen.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Happy Pi Day

Yes, March 14 – 3/14 – is Pi day. I found this lovely way to honor the day.

Originally posted on Daily Kos

Regretably, famed physicist Stephen Hawking died today, though perhaps it is appropriate he died in Pi day. I’ve heard several remembrances of him today, including one that’s 47 minutes done by the NPR program On Point. This program in particular mentioned Hawking’s humor. It also mentioned his public presence, including his appearances in the TV shows The Simpson’s, Big Bang Theory, and Star Trek Next Generation in which Data is in the holodeck playing poker with Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and Stephen Hawking.

So enjoy that or perhaps see the movie of his life The Theory of Everything and don’t worry about Hawking Radiation.