Sprite Sunday

SPRITES AND COSMIC RAYS: Last night, cameras in Czechia recorded a magnificent display of sprites leaping up from a thunderstorm in neighboring Austria. Photographer Martin Popek of Nýdek, Czechia, selected this specimen from many frames he recorded:


Red Sprites And Sprites Halo Taken by martin popek on July 21, 2017 @ Nýdek, Czech republic

“The storm was about 390km away,” says Popek, “and the sprite was huge. It stretched 50 km to 90 km above the ground below.”

Sometimes called “space lightning,” sprites are a true space weather phenomenon. They inhabit the upper atmosphere alongside auroras, meteors and noctilucent clouds. Some researchers believe they are linked to cosmic rays: subatomic particles from deep space striking the top of Earth’s atmosphere produce secondary electrons that, in turn, could provide the spark that triggers sprites.
The link to cosmic rays is particularly interesting at this time. Despite a brief reduction in cosmic rays last week caused by the sweeping action of a passing CME, cosmic rays are intensifying. For the past two years, space weather balloons have observed a steady increase in deep space radiation penetrating our atmosphere. This increase is largely due to the decline in the solar cycle. Flagging solar wind pressure and weakening sunspot magnetic fields allow more cosmic rays into the inner solar system–a trend which is expected to continue for years to come. These changes could add up to more sprites.

Although sprites have been seen for at least a century, most scientists did not believe they existed until after 1989 when sprites were photographed by cameras onboard the space shuttle. Now “sprite chasers” routinely photograph sprites from their own homes. “I used up a Watec 910HX security camera with UFOCapture software to catch my sprites,” says Popek.


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War is Stupid Saturday


Complete and utter devastation: The city of Jobar.

You remember. It was supposed to be twenty-first-century war, American-style: precise beyond imagining; smart bombs; drones capable of taking out a carefully identified and tracked human being just about anywhere on Earth; special operations raids so pinpoint-accurate that they would represent a triumph of modern military science. Everything “networked.” It was to be a glorious dream of limited destruction combined with unlimited power and success. In reality, it would prove to be a nightmare of the first order.

If you want a single word to summarize American war-making in this last decade and a half, I would suggest rubble. It’s been a painfully apt term since September 11, 2001. In addition, to catch the essence of such war in this century, two new words might be useful: rubblize and rubblization. Let me explain what I mean.

In recent weeks, another major city in Iraq has officially been “liberated” (almost) from the militants of the Islamic State. However, the results of the U.S.-backed Iraqi military campaign to retake Mosul, that country’s second largest city, don’t fit any ordinary definition of triumph or victory. It began in October 2016 and, at nine months and counting, has been longer than the World War II battle of Stalingrad. Week after week, in street to street fighting, with U.S. airstrikes repeatedly called in on neighborhoods still filled with terrified Mosulites, unknown but potentially staggering numbers of civilians have died. More than a million people — yes, you read that figure correctly — were uprooted from their homes and major portions of the Western half of the city they fled, including its ancient historic sections, have been turned into rubble.


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Eminent Domain Thursday


After years of battling Canadian pipeline giant TransCanada over the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, Nebraska rancher Bob Allpress is taking an unusual step to protect land that has been in his family since 1886.

In the coming weeks, Allpress plans to install solar panels in the middle of a 1.5-mile long strip of land, a proposed pipeline route that bisects his 900-acre ranch—and that TransCanada has threatened to take by force through a legal process known as eminent domain.

“Not only would they have to invoke eminent domain against us, they would have to tear down solar panels that provide good clean power back to the grid and jobs for the people who build them,” Allpress said.

The project, known as “Solar XL,” is the latest example in a growing number of demonstrations against pipelines where opponents festoon proposed corridors with eye-catching obstructions. Nuns recently built a chapel along the path of a proposed natural gas pipeline that would cross their property in Pennsylvania. Last year, pipeline opponents built a replica of the cabin belonging to Henry Thoreau, one of the environmental movement’s founding fathers, along another proposed natural gas pipeline route in Massachusetts.




Alice and Doc.

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Shit Sells Wednesday


“So, my boss, I shouldn’t say this. … Just to give you some context, Trump pulled out of the climate accords and for a day and a half, we covered the climate accords. … The CEO of CNN [Jeff Zucker, the network’s president] said in our internal meeting … ‘Good job everybody covering the climate accords, but we’re done with that. Let’s get back to Russia.’ … So, even the climate accords, he was like ‘OK, a day or so, but we’re moving back to Russia.’ ”

So said CNN co-producer John Bonifield to an undercover guerilla journalist with the conservative media watchdog group Project Veritas (PV).

By “the climate accords,” Bonifield was referring to President Trump’s decision last month to keep his campaign promise to pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement. The accord, at least symbolically, committed the U.S. to joining the rest of the world in reducing carbon emissions with the hope of averting human extinction through anthropogenic global warming.

‘To See Trump Get Really Scrutinized’
PV caught Bonifield on the same tape expressing doubts about the Russia and Trump story. Bonifield told PV that CNN had been running with this story to an extraordinary degree in pursuit of liberal eyeballs—and the advertising dollars that follow with a growing audience:


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Wrecking Ball Tuesday


In the Bay Area, public meetings critical of conservatives are not hard to find. But when about 200 San Francisco military veterans jammed into an auditorium in their city’s Veterans War Memorial Building in mid-April, they added diversity to the local “resistance.” Those in attendance—representatives of veterans-service organizations, patients of the Veterans Health Administration, health-policy experts, and local Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi—were trying to educate veterans and the public about proposals that could destroy a single-payer plan for 9 million Americans whose past military service, in combat and noncombat jobs, makes them eligible for VHA coverage.

The threat—faced by VHA users and staff (one-third of whom are veterans themselves)—is privatization. The Trump administration has no trouble boosting an already swollen Pentagon budget. But it favors only a modest increase in VHA funding, most of which would be spent on steering veterans’ care toward non-VHA doctors and hospitals and to for-profit companies for services like audiology and optometry. As part of their ever-expanding outsourcing strategy, Trump’s Republican allies—and even some Democrats—have demonized VHA employees and attacked their workplace rights and union protections. Meanwhile, according to a number of VHA clinicians I have recently spoken with, VHA leadership is making it difficult for facilities to hire needed staff. An in-house electronic medical-records system that’s one of the best in the country is slated to be replaced by one produced by a private vendor. More importantly, Congress is considering legislation that could pave the way for agency dismantling.


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Alternative Monday

File photo of workers cleaning photovoltaic panels inside a solar power plant in Gujarat

Renewables continue to take the world by storm, which is good news for the climate.

Because of less expensive and more efficient technology, about one quarter of all Australian households now have solar panels. This process is uneven, with a rush to put them up recently because of a fall in the price of the panels. The adoption of solar may slow next year. But the technology is such that there will certainly be more periods of rapid adoption. Before you know it, all Australian homes will be run on solar power. Incidentally, if you run an electric car off the solar panels, it causes the payback period to fall for both. Even OPEC and big oil have vastly increased their estimate of the number of electric vehicles on the road by 2040.

Case Western Reserve University scientists have found a way to boost panel output by ten percent, and the breakthrough is now being tested for durability. If you follow these things, such reports of improved solar efficiency or fall in costs (which is the same thing) are quite common. The potential for technological breakthroughs is so high given the research and development money being thrown at solar research that all projections about the future are way too conservative.

A new University of Minnesota study finds that solar power plus battery storage is now, in summer 2017, already cheaper than natural gas.


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