Remembering Equality and Liberty

1. Today is Lee-Jackson day. It reminds us that Virginia was forced into a war it didn’t want by events initiated by the states of the deep South and President Lincoln. Other states started the war by seceding in response to the agitation by hotheaded aristocrats (masters) without anywhere near sufficient justification. Virginian generals were stuck with making the best of it. They almost won it. The war, of course, was really lost in the West.


2. Today is the day we celebrate the birth of Martin Luther King Jr. His “direct action” was designed to wake up “white moderates” who preferred order to justice and so were indifferent to other men’s inability to be fully free. The result was the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which effectually extended the color-blind spirit of the original Constitution to state law by finally enforcing the Fourteenth Amendment. MLK was a singularly courageous, eloquent, and mission-driven man.

3. Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a decision that continues to divide Americans. The victory of MLK's civil rights movement in changing in American minds was relatively quick and ambiguous.  That's because Dr. King was appealing to what was best in our tradition, to the clear meaning of the Declaration of Independence.  Virtually all Americans now know that the enslavement of blacks was unjust because those who enslaved, like us all, were endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights.  Not only do we know that, Thomas Jefferson knew that.

But we have no similar resources in our constitutional tradition for deciding whether or not the life of the unborn baby or fetus takes precedence of the right of the woman to have a property in her body and so the liberty not to have an unwanted baby.  The Supreme Court tried but failed to bring our national controversy over abortion to an end with a proclamation concerning liberty. And so our two political parties continue to take extremely opposed positions over whether abortion should be legal and whether Roe was rightly decided.  Americans aren't less pro-life or more pro-choice than they were in 1973.  The pro-life and pro-choice movements continue to clash over which holds the true legacy of the civil rights movement, and over whether Roe is another Brown v. Board of Education or another Dred Scott v. Sandford.

4. Today, of course, is also Inauguration  Day, and the festivities were unusually classy and uplifting.  The president's speech ambitiously moved from the Declaration's "We hold these truths" to the Constitution's "We, the people" and finally to his specific progressive policy agenda. He showed that he knows so well that even progressives can't detach themselves from the ancient faith found in the Declaration and the Constitution concerning the freedom of us all.

5. Here's a particularly memorable part of the president's fine Second Inaugural:

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

A still from the film "We Became Fragments" by Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller, part of the Global Oneness Project library.

Photo: Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller / Global Oneness Project
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It looks like a busy hurricane season ahead. Probably.

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  • Before the hurricane season even started in 2020, Arthur and Bertha had already blown through, and Cristobal may be brewing right now.
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Welcome to Hurricane Season 2020. 2020, of course, scoffs at this calendric event much as it has everything else that's normal — meteorologists have already used up the year's A and B storm names before we even got here. And while early storms don't necessarily mean a bruising season ahead, forecasters expect an active season this year. Maybe storms will blow away the murder hornets and 13-year locusts we had planned.

NOAA expects a busy season

According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, there's a 60 percent chance that we're embarking upon a season with more storms than normal. There does, however, remain a 30 percent it'll be normal. Better than usual? Unlikely: Just a 10 percent chance.

Where a normal hurricane season has an average of 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes and 3 of which are major hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center reckons we're on track for 13 to 29 storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of these will be category 3, 4, or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher.

What has forecasters concerned are two factors in particular.

This year's El Niño ("Little Boy") looks to be more of a La Niña ("Little Girl"). The two conditions are part of what's called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. With an El Niño, waters in the Pacific are unusually warm, whereas a La Niña means unusually cool waters. NOAA says that an El Niño can suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic, and this year that mitigating effect is unlikely to be present.

Second, current conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean suggest a fertile hurricane environment:

  • The ocean there is warmer than usual.
  • There's reduced vertical wind shear.
  • Atlantic tropical trade winds are weak.
  • There have been strong West African monsoons this year.

Here's NOAA's video laying out their forecast:

But wait.

ArsTechnica spoke to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who agrees generally with NOAA, saying, "All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season." Still, he notes a couple of signals that contradict that worrying outlook.

First off, Klotzbach notes that the surest sign of a rough hurricane season is when its earliest storms form in the deep tropics south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. "When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it's typically a harbinger of an extremely active season." Fortunately, this year's hurricanes Arthur and Bertha, as well as the maybe-imminent Cristobal, formed outside this region. So there's that.

Second, Klotzbach notes that the correlation between early storm activity and a season's number of storms and intensities, is actually slightly negative. So while statistical connections aren't strongly predictive, there's at least some reason to think these early storms may augur an easy season ahead.

Image source: NOAA

Batten down the hatches early

If 2020's taught us anything, it's how to juggle multiple crises at once, and layering an active hurricane season on top of SARS-CoV-2 — not to mention everything else — poses a special challenge. Warns Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, "As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season." If, as many medical experts expect, we're forced back into quarantine by additional coronavirus waves, the oceanic waves slamming against our shores will best be met by storm preparations put in place in a less last-minute fashion than usual.

Ross adds, "Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe."

Let's hope this, at least, can be counted on in this crazy year.

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