Archive for category Current Events

Heavy Rain and Flooding in Colorado

I am safe and dry at home, and I expect to stay that way. But the rain is still coming down in buckets. I hope that any readers who live in Colorado are safe as well. We received over 6 inches of rain last night, which is very unusual:

NCAR Foothills Lab Weather Station

Here is a story at about the rainstorm:

Colorado floods: 3 dead, 1 missing, rescue efforts continue amid rain

I forgot to check the Emergency Closure before I headed out to the bus this morning. Imagine my surprise when I headed down the last street to my lab and beheld a lake where the road should have been! That’s the first time I’ve ever had to take off my shoes and wade in to my office. Yes, the facilities were closed for the day.

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Why Not Require Photo ID to Vote?

I sometimes make the mistake of reading the editorials in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch when I scan the letters to the editor.  I made that mistake last month and it cost me the time to write a letter (OK, email) about one of many on Missouri’s inching towards requiring a government issued photo ID in order to vote, which strikes me as an eminently sane idea.  You have to have a photo ID to do a lot of things these days – although if you are willing to have a more thorough physical exam than any medical doctor will perform, you can fly on a commercial flight which I happen to know from personal experience.  The paper ran the letter, and edited it as usual.  I’m providing the original, in all its glory:

I keep reading Post editorials about how discriminatory requiring photo ID for voting is.  The latest one notes that not every one can get a drivers license, which while true is meaningless.  Several years ago my father passed away and I took my mother to their bank to square away the accounts.  The bank would have nothing to do with her because she had no photo ID  – she hadn’t driven in years and had no drivers license.  So we returned to her house, picked up the necessary documents, went to the nearby Dept. of Revenue office and obtained a government issued photo ID, and returned to the bank where she was cordially welcomed – all in the same afternoon.  It actually isn’t that hard.

Backing up my anecdote with data, several studies of voter turnout in Indiana in Georgia show that after voter photo ID laws were passed, minority turnout increased, not decreased.  Lawsuits against the Indiana and Georgia laws could not find a single person in either state who was stopped from voting because of photo ID laws. So the idea that photo ID laws are burdensome and suppress minority voter turnout is just another groundless fear of the Post editorial board.

The other argument is that requiring photo ID for voting is a solution in search of a problem – no such fraud occurs I’m told.  The undetectable crime doesn’t go undetected, it goes uncommitted according to this argument. Oddly enough, this very paper is filled with stories everyday of lawbreaking of every sort.  Why even that paragon of virtue and good government, Professor Jeff Smith, was convicted of violating election law and sentenced to a year in prison.  Yet I am to believe lesser men don’t commit voter fraud despite the clear advantage it provides and the complete lack of risk they would run.  I don’t even admire such faith in my fellow man, let alone share it.

Not unexpectedly one of the edits was to remove my citation of Jeff Smith.  (State) Senator Smith really was a good guy – wanted to improve schools even if it meant crossing teachers unions, worked well with Republicans, and clearly was a bright guy with a bright future in front of him.  My point wasn’t to take a swipe at him, but an honest assessment that if you couldn’t trust him, you shouldn’t trust anyone – so verify!

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Improper use of Scripture by Senator James Inhofe

Senator James Inhofe (Republican, Oklahoma) says that the Bible refutes climate change. From Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire, March 9, 2012:

On a radio show yesterday, Inhofe explained: “Well actually the Genesis 8:22 that I use in there is that ‘as long as the earth remains there will be seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night,’ my point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.”

Senator Inhofe’s comments were in reference to his recently published book: The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.

What we have here is a politician using the Bible to make a political point. Unfortunately, Senator Inhofe is wrong. He claims that since God controls the earth’s climate, we human beings cannot possibly change the climate, and it’s arrogance to think that we can. But Genesis 8:22 does not say that.

This verse occurs at the end of the Flood story. Here is Genesis 8:20-22 in the English Standard Version:

20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. 22 While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”

God’s covenant here refers to what God has promised to do, not what mankind can do. God will not send another Flood that destroys civilization. Verse 22 is not a guarantee that God will preserve the earth from the consequences of man’s poor stewardship.

Suppose we were to take this covenant as some kind of “assurance of stability” as James Inhofe wants us to do. What exactly does verse 22 say? And what does it mean? Here are the points God makes about the earth’s climate and weather system:

  • seedtime and harvest: There will always be seasons.
  • cold and heat: There will always be variation in temperature.
  • summer and winter: There will always be seasons.
  • day and night: The earth will continue to rotate.

No climate scientist anywhere is suggesting that seasons will cease. This is a straw-man argument by Senator Inhofe. No climate scientist anywhere is suggesting that temperature variation will cease. Scientists are suggesting that there will be more heat and less cold. Genesis 8:22 does not contradict that.

Is there any indication in the Bible that humans can drastically affect the earth? Yes, there is. Consider Genesis 1:28:

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

God’s command in Genesis 1:28 to “subdue the earth” is meaningless if mankind cannot possibly accomplish this. But God does not give meaningless commands. According to the Bible, we are capable of changing what’s going on here. Our actions have effects and consequences.

Stewardship of the earth

We are stewards of the earth. We are supposed to take care of this planet. But that relationship as stewards is not for our benefit, contrary to what Rick Santorum has suggested. Consider the Parable of the Wicked Vineyard Tenants in Luke 20:

13 Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ 14 But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ 15 And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”

The tenants don’t own the vineyard. The vineyard is not for their benefit! The Master owns the vineyard. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein,” (Psalm 24:1, ESV) We really can mess up the earth through poor and sinful stewardship, and if we do, we really won’t like what happens when the Master returns.

Christology, not climatology

Senator James Inhofe would do much better to read the Bible not from a climatological viewpoint, but from a Christological viewpoint. All Scripture points to Jesus Christ. The Flood was an early attempt by God to rid the earth of sin. The human race was re-started with a righteous man (Noah), but fell back into sin again. The Law was given at Mt. Sinai, but that too failed to make mankind righteous (Romans 3:19-20). But Jesus Christ came, and Christ succeeded in making mankind righteous. (Romans 10:4)

Genesis 8:22 does not point to climate science. Genesis 8:22 points to Jesus Christ.

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Mississippi Flooding and the Atchafalaya spillway

News sources are quoting a figure of 1.5 million cubic feet per second for the current flow of the Mississippi River at the Morganza spillway. That is a lot of water!


To get a visceral idea of how much water that is, my brother Mike from Sandy, Utah sent me some calculations describing how the flow at Morganza (above Baton Rouge) compares to the flow of the Colorado River. 1.5 million cfs is equal to 34.43526 acre feet / second. By comparison, the total capacity of Lake Powell is 24,322,000 acre feet; currently 53.99% full, available capacity 11,205,145 acre feet. The Upper Colorado Basin is supposed to provide an average of 7.5 million acre feet each year past Lees Ferry, Arizona. On Wednesday (May 11, 2011) the flow into Lake Powell was 31,862 cfs, and outflow was 14,791 cfs. Little Cottonwood Creek flood stage is around 500 cfs (coming down into Sandy from Alta and Snowbird).


Lake Powell capacity and percent full numbers are taken from Lake Mead capacity and percent full numbers are taken from from


So at 1.5 million cfs, the Mississippi would deliver the annual flow past Lees Ferry in 2.52 days, would fill the currently available storage in Lake Powell in 3.77 days, and would then fill the available capacity in Lake Mead in another 4.96 days. That’s a lot of water! If I could somehow capture and store 1 second of the current Mississippi flow, I could easily water my yard for the rest of my life. And they would never miss it!


You can read more about this at “The Control of Nature: Atchafalaya”: (February 23, 1987):

That link is an old article by John McPhee about attempts to control nature, which is probably getting a lot of web traffic these days. If the Old River Control Structure were to fail, most of the flow of the Mississippi would flow down the Atchafalaya River, taking a much shorter route to the sea and leaving New Orleans and Baton Rouge along a backwater channel.


The interesting thing to Mike is that in the long term, the Mississippi Delta is eroding and subsiding while most of the sediment is funneled into deeper waters in the Gulf of Mexico. He further observes that to prevent the loss of the Delta and associated flooding from the ocean (especially during hurricanes), they should allow flooding from the Mississippi River to deposit sediment (mud) on the land, and probably need to let the Mississippi River take new channels to the Gulf every few hundred years.


And he’s right. That long lobe of the Mississippi delta past New Orleans is called a “bird’s-foot delta” because it looks like one. It’s unnatural for a delta to form like that, and it’s a consequence of 100 years of levees upriver and in the delta itself. He’s right – all the sediment is going to exactly the wrong place.


There is a way to fix this.


The Morganza diversion needs to be a sediment trap:

We need clean water to flow down the Mississippi to New Orleans (thereby eroding and deepening the built-up channel), and muddy water to pass down the Atchafalaya (thereby building up that lower-elevation lobe). How can we separate the muddy water from the clean water? Build a sediment trap!


The Army Corps of Engineers needs to create a small lake at the point of the diversion. When muddy water flows into a lake, the mud settles to the bottom as sediment. Clear water flows beyond that inflow delta, and eventually flows out of the lake. This is why Lake Powell is getting filled up with sediment in its upper reaches, and why the Grand Canyon is sediment-starved. The lake should have two major outflow pipes: one positioned at the lake bottom close to the inflow, and the second positioned near the lake surface at the downstream end of the lake. The “bottom near the inflow” pipe feeds sediment-laden water down the Atchafalaya river. The “surface downstream” pipe feeds clear water down the Mississippi. After decades, and some big floods like the current one, the Atchafalaya lobe will build up and the New Orleans bird’s-foot will erode away.


The Morganza spillway already has a stilling basin, but that’s designed to dissipate energy, not separate out the sediment.


Yes, it will cost a lot of money to build the sediment trap, but the alternatives are a lot more expensive. What is the cost of relocating New Orleans and Baton Rouge? We are hoping to accomplish here a controlled stream capture and relocation of the sediment load. By the way, the natural event when a river distributary carves a new channel is called a “crevasse event.” The river catastrophically breaks through the natural levee and forms a crevasse where the new channel pours out. A lot of people in the John McPhee article were terrified of a crevasse event happening on its own.


We need a sediment trap and decades of patience to let it work.


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Colorado Joins the Pac-10

In sports news, we learn that the University of Colorado at Boulder has joined the Pacific-10 Conference. I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University, and a Master of Science degree in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences from the University of Colorado. This means that my two alma maters will now be playing each other on a regular basis. Yay! This is cool!

This is a good move for Colorado. The Pac-10 is a great conference! In college football, the Pac-10 has a lot of great west coast teams, with exciting offenses and tough defensive squads. UC-Berkeley was always a great game, UCLA is tough to get by, Washington usually has lots of talent, and the Arizona fans in Sun Devil Stadium made for a deafening contest whenever Stanford played there. USC was always tough (sometime too tough), but Stanford football has earned some wins and ties against Southern California. The other athletic programs provide worthy competition, too – baseball, basketball, water polo, tennis, and so on. It will also be good for CU to join the stellar academics of the Pac-10 schools (Stanford, Berkeley, University of Washington, UCLA, etc.).

For Colorado sports fans, the Pac-10 schools are wonderful places to visit. Oregon is the most beautiful state in the country when the sun’s out. Seattle is a kick! Southern California is a fun place to spend a few extra days visiting Disneyland or going surfing. When in the Bay Area during fall, head to San Francisco and on to the wine country! San Francisco is the first big city I ever enjoyed.

During my senior year at Stanford, before I had ever visited Boulder, I remember a guy from the Stanford radio station telling me what an amazing place Boulder is when he traveled here for a rare Stanford-CU football game. So I came. I’m still here.

I don’t even know who I should root for! Undergraduate ties to the school’s athletic program are usually stronger, but I have been steeped in local football enthusiasm for decades now. I’ll go to the first Boulder game and just let the competitive juices flow where they will.

To all those Pac-10 students, fans, and alumni I have this to say: Come out and see us! Boulder is a great place to visit in the fall. Spend a few extra days in the mountains, hang out on the Pearl Street Mall, drive over the Trail Ridge Road before the snow flies, go skiing after the snow flies, have a meal at the Dushanbe Tea House and ask some local to tell you the real history of the place, or bag a Fourteener!

We’ll give you a good football game and send you on home, tired but happy.

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Self-Loathing Americans

It’s now clear that Maj. Nidal Hasan was someone who went Jihadi, and showed plenty of warning signs. And yet those signs were ignored. And in the aftermath, we were treated to this weird display of anything but jihadism.


Over and over, we we are told not to even paint at all lest we paint with too broad a brush. If somebody puts on a hockey mask, revs up a chain saw, and threatens people, do I dismiss it because Jason is, after all, only a fictional character?  Or do I respect the person enough to take them at their word and take action?  I vote for taking action.  Clearly others vote for dismissing it as fiction.


You want answers? You can’t handle the truth!”

——– Col. Nathan Jessup

I think Leonard Pitts gives the reason away in his column where he commits one of the fallacies I hate worst – pick the most extreme view and paint it as the entirety of your opponents views.  He tells us, if we tell you the truth America, you’ll put moslems into internment camps or hang them from the nearest lightpost, because that’s who you are.

How else do you interpret the statement:

And it ought to leave you impatient with the shrill, intolerant voices who would have us believe Nidal Malik Hasan is every Muslim in America.

For what it’s worth, those same voices sang out when Japanese-American soldiers left internment camps to fight for freedom. And when African-American soldiers went abroad to defend democracy, then came home and were lynched still wearing their uniforms.

It leaves me impatient with shrill, intolerant voices who would have me believe a couple of quotes off the internet is representative of every American.

I think we see this again and again from certain people on the left – we can’t tell the truth, or America will go medieval on some minority group’s heiney like we always have in the past.   And that’s what makes them self-loathing Americans.  America is always wrong, and can never be trusted to do the right thing, or learn from past mistakes.   The irony that they are the ones painting with too broad a brush is, of course, completely lost on them.

Actually, Leonard et al, we can handle the truth, what drives people crazy is being lied to.  If you lie to people, don’t complain when they become paranoid.

Department of Odd Coincidences

I’m reading Instapundit when I come across this story about a black bear attacking a boy in the Smokey Mountains:

The incident began about 7:30 p.m. when the boy, Evan Pala of Boca Raton, Fla., was playing in a creek about 300 yards from the trailhead of Rainbow Falls Trail, which is near the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Miller said.

Wow – just last Thursday we (AKA the Murphy Family) parked at the Rainbow Falls trailhead and hiked up to Rainbow Falls. I did prep us by reading the blurb on the map on what to do if a bear attacks (don’t approach or run away, but if attacked fight back) although I think only I paid much attention. I have to admit after reading about the 2 bears per square mile density I was nervous with all the smellables we were taking on the hike, including lunch.

We didn’t see hide nor scat of bear on our hike (thankfully), although when we got back to the van someone had written “Go Patriots!” in the dust of the back window. This really weirded out the Murphy women since somebody figured out what school the funDaughter goes to with just a PS sticker and Missouri plates to go by.

Anyway, here’s a picture of the falls:

Rainbow Falls

Our hearts go out to the Pala family and we hope and pray they make a full recovery.

Potpouri for $100

When did ‘nuts’ become an unprintable and unspeakable word? Gen. Anthony McAuliffe used the word to great effect during the Battle of the Bulge and nobody bats an eye at it. Jesse Jackson uses the word and all those bastions of anti-censorship and forward thinking like the NYT all of a sudden can’t bring themselves to print the word. And if you haven’t seen the film – it’s great theatre as Jesse leans in and whispers to his co-panelist and even includes the hand gestures of sawing the coconuts off (apparently they take some effort to remove).

Mark Wadsorth on the difference between left and right wing dictatorships: the recovery from them. Via My buddy in hell, Tom McMahon.

What explains the difference in reaction to the deaths of Tim Russert and Tony Snow? Both were caring people at the top of their profession. Both were involved in politics as well as journalism. Yes, that was a hint.

So Democratic politicians assure me on the one hand it takes a minimum of 10 years to drill a hole in the ground and get oil out of it, and on the other keep bitching about what is taking so long in Iraq. Last time I checked, removing a dictator, and then fighting against a terrorist organization (al Qaida), 2 groups of militias (Sunni and Shia), and a country (Iran) while trying to rebuild a country and create a civil society in country that has never known one is several orders of mangitude harder than drilling a hole.

Can’t Drill Our Way Out Of It

At first blush I didn’t much care for the response that we “can’t drill our way out of” high gas prices, but then I read the full text of Sen. Obama’s remarks and was somewhat mollified. But then I thought for a moment, and I was back to thinking the remarks are wrong:

“If we reduce our consumption of oil, that’s what will reduce gas prices, the presumptive Democratic nominee said in a one-on-one interview with The Post-Crescent during a campaign stop in Kaukauna.”There’s really no other way of doing it.”

“We can’t drill our way out of the problem because there’s just a finite amount of oil out there and you have got increasing demand from countries like China and India.”

Ok, so what’s my beef. Well for one thing, back when I took my Econ 101 class from a Marxist I learned that both a decrease in demand and an increase in supply will lower cost. So to say that a decrease in consumption (i.e. demand) is the only way is flat wrong. But I was temporarily molified by his modifier that there’s just a finite amount of oil out there. And then I thought and realized that there is just a finite amount of anything out there (wherever you draw your boundary since ultimately the Universe is a closed system) so really the only time that makes any sense is if you are currently up against a limit in your ability to increase supply.

Are we there? No way, not with all the oil in the US that is politically out of reach, and the refining capacity we don’t have because of political considerations, and the inefficiency in the government oil producers which control most of the oil right now, we could increase supply without much difficulty. So in the short term, i.e. my lifetime, we can in fact “drill our way out of it”. In the long term, the economics of something else will make more sense than oil and we will switch over to that. Again and again.

So while I wait with anticipation for solar energy to get cheap and efficient enough to power all our energy needs, I say drill away.

Left Out, As Always

I feel so left out. I slept through the first quake at 4:30AM. I was jamming to Joe Satrioni at work and so missed the big aftershock. But I can be part of today’s big story by directing you to this story that details how republicans are responsible for midwest quake. Thankfully, no one was hurt and damage was minimal.