Netroots Nation: Obama and the Liberals
One of the things that most struck me at the Netroots Nation conference last week was how surprisingly little of a presence the Obama reelection campaign had there. (Michelle Goldberg noticed this too.) Organizing for America sponsored a party and sent some staffers, but nothing made them stand out from all the other attendees; they had a booth in the exhibition hall, but it was just one booth among many. There were candidates and officeholders from across the country who spoke and participated in panels, but there were no Obama administration officials. If you didn't already know it was a presidential election year, you probably wouldn't have seen anything there to inform you otherwise.
I thought that the administration was avoiding the conference entirely, but President Obama did deliver a videotaped message (see the part 2 video, skip to 14:30) that was played on the last day, just before Van Jones' closing keynote speech. This wasn't mentioned anywhere in the official Netroots Nation schedule app or on the website, which I find inexplicable. Does it really make sense to treat the President of the United States like a surprise guest on a talk show?
But for all that, President Obama's video was very brief, just a few minutes, and was basically a rehash of his usual stump speech with only minimal adjustments. For an audience as well-informed and politically sophisticated as this one, it felt shallow and insubstantial. The whole tone and tenor of the video, I thought, was like someone opening a Christmas gift they didn't want and trying to be gracious to the giver, what Garfunkel & Oates dubbed "present face".
And the audience's reaction was equally tepid, just a light smattering of applause. This was in sharp contrast to the multiple standing ovations that some of the other speakers got. (Elizabeth Warren, Howard Dean, Benjamin Jealous and Van Jones, among others, were all crowd favorites.) When it comes to Obama and progressives, it's clear that there's a lack of enthusiasm on both sides.
I don't find it surprising that the attendees have cooled toward the president. Just to be clear, I don't blame him for running into a buzzsaw of Republican obstruction. It's been clear since the first day of the Obama presidency that the Republican strategy is to stonewall him at every turn, to block everything he tries to do, so they can run against him by cynically claiming he hasn't accomplished anything. They've even started opposing what were originally their own ideas, like the Dream Act and the Affordable Care Act's private-insurance mandate, as soon as Democrats sign on to them. Even working together with Democrats on nuclear non-proliferation is now enough to get Republicans branded as spineless compromisers and defeated in primaries.
No, I don't blame President Obama for any of that. What I do blame him for is acting as if he were oblivious to what the Republicans are doing: seeking their approval when he didn't need it, preemptively compromising in exchange for nothing, and wasting time and effort trying to negotiate with them when it's obvious that they'll slap his hand away every time. I don't believe for an instant that he doesn't know what they're doing, but I don't understand why he's not doing more to point it out. In a depressed economy, the charge that Republicans are blocking bills that could help people for their own political benefit ought to be brutally effective. Yet Obama is choosing not to make them pay a price for their obstructionism. For progressives like me, people who want leaders to stand and fight for their values, this is hugely dispiriting.
Whatever his reasons, it seems clear that Obama recognizes our enthusiasm for him has dimmed, and he's largely given up on seeking progressive support. I can only assume he's concluded that if we're not already supporting his reelection by now, we're not going to, and there's no point investing any more effort in wooing us. What I don't know is who he thinks is going to support him. Who will be the boots on the ground for his reelection campaign, if not the most committed members of his own party? The more I contemplate his political strategy, the more inexplicable I find it.
But despite this disappointment, the last day of the conference was largely redeemed by Van Jones. I only knew vaguely who he was before Netroots Nation, but then he took the stage to deliver the closing speech, and it was a barn-burner. (See the part 2 video, skip to 51:30.) He gave the speech I wished Obama had given: acknowledging progressive disappointment, but emphasizing exactly what the Republicans stand for and what's at stake if we don't work to defeat them: the permanent division of the country into a handful of ultra-rich and a huge permanent underclass, the shredding of the social safety net, the rolling back of decades of progress. In a memorable analogy, he compared Republicans to a person at a pool who's trying to stop the lifeguard from saving a drowning person, in the hope that the lifeguard will be fired so that they can take over his job.
Still, however inspiring or impassioned the speech was, it will never reach as many people as the President could have. I wish I could say that I was optimistic about the November elections, but lately I find I'm uncertain at best. In spite of all the other opposition lined up against progressives, I think that Democratic politicians are more often than not their own worst enemies.
It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction
- It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
- If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
- The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
Through computationally intensive computer simulations, researchers have discovered that "nuclear pasta," found in the crusts of neutron stars, is the strongest material in the universe.
- The strongest material in the universe may be the whimsically named "nuclear pasta."
- You can find this substance in the crust of neutron stars.
- This amazing material is super-dense, and is 10 billion times harder to break than steel.
Superman is known as the "Man of Steel" for his strength and indestructibility. But the discovery of a new material that's 10 billion times harder to break than steel begs the question—is it time for a new superhero known as "Nuclear Pasta"? That's the name of the substance that a team of researchers thinks is the strongest known material in the universe.
Unlike humans, when stars reach a certain age, they do not just wither and die, but they explode, collapsing into a mass of neurons. The resulting space entity, known as a neutron star, is incredibly dense. So much so that previous research showed that the surface of a such a star would feature amazingly strong material. The new research, which involved the largest-ever computer simulations of a neutron star's crust, proposes that "nuclear pasta," the material just under the surface, is actually stronger.
The competition between forces from protons and neutrons inside a neutron star create super-dense shapes that look like long cylinders or flat planes, referred to as "spaghetti" and "lasagna," respectively. That's also where we get the overall name of nuclear pasta.
Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv
Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.
The researchers' computer simulations needed 2 million hours of processor time before completion, which would be, according to a press release from McGill University, "the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a single good GPU." Fortunately, the researchers had access to a supercomputer, although it still took a couple of years. The scientists' simulations consisted of stretching and deforming the nuclear pasta to see how it behaved and what it would take to break it.
While they were able to discover just how strong nuclear pasta seems to be, no one is holding their breath that we'll be sending out missions to mine this substance any time soon. Instead, the discovery has other significant applications.
One of the study's co-authors, Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, said the neutron stars would be "a hundred trillion times denser than anything on earth." Understanding what's inside them would be valuable for astronomers because now only the outer layer of such starts can be observed.
"A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models," Caplan added. "With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"
Another possibility worth studying is that, due to its instability, nuclear pasta might generate gravitational waves. It may be possible to observe them at some point here on Earth by utilizing very sensitive equipment.
The team of scientists also included A. S. Schneider from California Institute of Technology and C. J. Horowitz from Indiana University.
Check out the study "The elasticity of nuclear pasta," published in Physical Review Letters.
Scientists think constructing a miles-long wall along an ice shelf in Antarctica could help protect the world's largest glacier from melting.
- Rising ocean levels are a serious threat to coastal regions around the globe.
- Scientists have proposed large-scale geoengineering projects that would prevent ice shelves from melting.
- The most successful solution proposed would be a miles-long, incredibly tall underwater wall at the edge of the ice shelves.
The world's oceans will rise significantly over the next century if the massive ice shelves connected to Antarctica begin to fail as a result of global warming.
To prevent or hold off such a catastrophe, a team of scientists recently proposed a radical plan: build underwater walls that would either support the ice or protect it from warm waters.
In a paper published in The Cryosphere, Michael Wolovick and John Moore from Princeton and the Beijing Normal University, respectively, outlined several "targeted geoengineering" solutions that could help prevent the melting of western Antarctica's Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier, whose melting waters are projected to be the largest source of sea-level rise in the foreseeable future.
An "unthinkable" engineering project
"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.
One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.
The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.
Source: Wolovick et al.
An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.
But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.
Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.
"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.
"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."
A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.
"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."
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