Saturday, April 21, 2018

Toontime: Off With His Head!

Kevin Siers, Charlotte Observer
BC Idonwanna sez:  He more Mad Hatter!

Robert Mueller's or Rod Rosenstein that is. Hair Further's hysteria is increasing as he rails weekly and alternately against the Special Counsel's "witch hunt" and former FBI Director Comey. Right now it is just talk, but Attorney General Sessions has had to warn the White House that if Trump fires the Deputy Attorney General, he would be forced to resign. Trump has yet to realize that he is no longer on the "Apprentice" reality show and that political actsin Washington have consequences. To add to the fever pitch over the Russian Connection, the Democratic National Committee has filed a civil suit against the Trump Campaign and the Russian government for its interference in the 2016 election. The suit is a much a fund-raising gimmick as serious suit with a probability of recovery. The last time the Democrats sued the Republicans for foul play was during the Nixon era. The party recovered a measly $750,000 settlement after Nixon was forced to leave the capital in disgrace. Will there be a repeat of that historic moment?  Stay tuned.

Friday, April 20, 2018

COTW: Gerrymandering or Fun With Boundaries

You have heard the word, but are not quite sure what it means. It is relatively simple.  Politicians play games with voting district boundaries to insure incumbents win their districts easily, and the status quo can be maintained in Congress.  Look as this hypothetical example taken from the Quora website and posted by Jameson Quinn, a Phd candidate at Harvard. (He ought to know.)
'Square State' is to be divided into four Congressional districts. The southeast quadrant is urban and contains most of the population. The northwest is rural and the two remaining areas are suburban. You might answer that the logical way to divide the state is geographically with one rural district, one urban district and two suburban. Voting history shows the city inhabitants reliably vote blue, and the rural vote reliably red, with the two suburban districts containing the swing voters. (represented by blue and red dots) NOT. Gerrymandering is the art of drawing districts to suit those drawing the boundaries. Drawing boundaries based on geography produces the first smaller chart on the left. It skews the vote toward red. The last option with the snake-like boundary encompassing parts of all the quadrants produces four swing districts which skews the vote blue. This process explains why Congressional districts sometimes look like a missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle. It is done to insure "safe" districts. Who benefits from perversion of the process? The incumbent politicians of their respective parties.

Below is a cartoon of the first ever gerrymandered district.  The painter Gilbert Stuart was inspired by the bizarre shape of an electoral district on a map he saw in a newspaper editor’s office. He lampooned the snake-shaped district making it out to be some kind of antediluvian monster. “That will do for a salamander,” he said to the editor. “Gerrymander!”, replied the editor to Stuart.
For the man responsible for the odd shape of that electoral district, in eastern Massachusetts, was Elbridge Gerry, governor of the state. Gerrymandering and money neatly explains this stark fact: Congress has an average 14% approval rating, but 95% of incumbents are re-elected!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Sperm Whale Dies from Eating Trash

A young sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) washed up dead on the southeast coast of Spain in February.  Not an unusual event in itself, but when scientists performed a necropsy on the whale, they found more than sixty pounds of plastic trash in his gut.  Unable to digest or expell the detritus, he died of slow starvation.  He weighed just 13,000 lbs at his death--emaciated for a mammal that can reach 120,000 lbs as an adult.  The tragedy demonstrates how serious the ocean's plastic pollution problem is.  Although sperm whales dive thousands of feet in pursuit of their favorite food, squid, they loitter at the surface to recover from their exertions.  There they are exposed to plastic debris that can be mistaken for food or simply accidentally ingested.  The sperm whale is highly social and has the biggest brain of any cetacean.

Plastic decomposes very slowly in seawater.  Patches of floating debris can be found in all the world's oceans.  The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is estimated to contain 87,000 tons of plastic and other debris such as discarded fishing nets and equipment.  The 2011 tsunami that destroy the Fukushima nuclear facility alone swept 5 million tons of debris into the Pacific. In a study published this month, researchers say the patch is 4 to 16 times larger than previously estimated and is growing exponentially.  Once thought to be a region primarily of microplastic debris, it actually contains larger pieces of trash.  Once these larger pieces breakdown in microplastic particles, it will be much more difficult to remove from the water.  This chart shows the increase in plastic trash concentration from 1962 to 2018.

Sperm whales were almost hunted to extinction in the 19th century for their oil and ambergris.  The peak of sperm whale hunting occurred in the 1840s and 1960s.  They have been fully protected but international convention since 1985, but whale recovery has been slow, especially in the South Pacific where breeding age males suffered a heavy death toll.  They are currently listed as vulnerable by the IUCN.  The whales dying of trash ingestion has been detected before.  In 2008, two sperm whales stranded in northern California.  One died of a ruptured stomach and the other of gastric impaction.  Both had large amounts of debris in their stomach included discarded nets and fishing gear.  One hundred and thirty four different types of plastic nets were counted.  No longer hunted, an has found yet another way to kill whales.

Monday, April 16, 2018

This Month in WWI: the German Offensive of 1918

Since 1914 the German army fought a series of sidestepping operations intended to outflank entrenched Allied forces to the northwest in what has become known as "the race to the sea".  This strategy culminated in the last major German offensive of the war, the Kaiserschlact.  The first battle occurred on the Somme sector in Operation Michael.  Seventy-two divisions were prepared to attack in waves after a five hour bombardment by over 6600 artillery pieces on March 21st.  Battles along the Picardy front continued into April.  Germany was successful in breaking through the southern portion of the Somme entrenchments at the Battle of St. Quentin.  By the end of the operation the Germans had captured about 1200 square miles of allied held territory including the towns of Péronne, Ham, Noyon, Roye, Montdidier, Albert and Bapaume. The loss of Bapaume was particularly bitter for the British as they had expended many thousands of soldiers to reach the town in 1916. However, the territorial gains were of no consequence; the Germans failed to achieve their strategic objectives of diving the French and British armies, and driving the British into the sea.

The advance appeared to be going well, but German troops were tiring as the land was wrecked with shell holes and deliberate destruction of infrastructure, including poisoning of wells, by German forces retreating to the Hindenburg Line in 1917.  German losses during the operation were recorded at 31,000 killed and 190,000 wounded.  Allied casualties in the offensive were 160,000, and 90,000 were captured.  Both sides used chemical weapons (phosgene, chlorine and mustard gas) during 1918. Although counter-measures had been created, gas attacks were particularly demoralizing for exposed troops.  German long-range artillery [photo right] was able to sporadically bombard Paris, and the first nighttime aerial bombing raid by German Gotha bombers against London took place.  The first tank versus tank battle in history occurred outside the town of Villiers-Bretonneux on April 24, 1918. [photo top]  All of these developments indicated the increasingly technological nature of modern total warfare against which human flesh and bone was nearly defenseless.

Ludendorff decided to rest his troops on the Somme and turn efforts towards Flanders in Operation George, but American reinforcements had finally arrived on the battlefield and several successful Allied counterattacks discouraged the German command.  Germany was rapidly running out of resources, manpower, and resolve for another full scale offensive. Ludendorff and his staff reduced George to Georgette with the limited aim of recapturing Yprès (the fourth battle of the war for the town). On April 5th, after the British halted the German advance at Villiers-Bretonneux [photo right] Ludendorff called a halt to Operation Michael. Georgette failed to reach its objectives due to heavy losses among German stosstruppen and French reinforcements.  German high command called off Georgette on April 29th. The end of the deadliest war in history was now in sight for the Allies.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Toontime: Paul Ryan Calls It Quits

credit: R. Matson

Perhaps tired of dealing with an uncontrollable enfant terrible in the White House, Rep. Paul Ryan announced this week that he is retiring from politics.  As one Democrat congressman observed, Hair Further is not above using military engagements overseas to ward off an increasingly disastrous criminal investigation at home.

Trump, without consulting Congress¹, ordered cruise missile and aircraft strikes on Syrian facilities associated with chemical weapons production in retaliation for an alleged Syrian gas attack on the rebel held suburb of Douma, east of Damascus.  At least forty-two people died in the gas attack.  It was apparently intended to break the will to resist of rebels in control of a group of suburban towns known as East Ghouta.  The US missile attack immerses the United States ever deeper into the multi-sided proxy conflict that began as a domestic uprising against the Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad.  The strikes were limited so as not to affect Russian forces in Syria.  However, the chlorine gas attack worked, as Russian military police moved in to secure Ghouta for the regime soon afterwards.

Robert Mueller's investigation of Trump's Russian Connection is now reaching a climax.  According to McClatchy DC Bureau the Special Counsel can prove Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen made a secret trip to Prague during Trump's  2016 campaign for office.  The reason for the trip is not clear, but Cohen has denied in a post on Twitter ever visiting the Czech capital.  The Steele Dossier alleges Cohen made the trip to meet Vladimir Putin's ally, Konstantin Kosachev.  He chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee of a body of the Russian legislature, the Federation Council. Kosachev was also one of the Russian oligarchs recently hit with financial sanctions issued by the US Treasury.

Steele's dossier goes on to allege that Cohen was deeply involved in a “cover up and damage limitation operation in the attempt to prevent the full details of Trump’s relationship with Russia being exposed.” US attorneys confirm that they are investigating possible bank fraud and campaign finance violations in connection with Cohen's efforts to tamp down damaging stories about Trump during the 2016 campaign.  Earlier, FBI agents raided Cohen's Manhattan office looking for evidence. Revealed late this week is the fact that Cohen made a $1.6 million payment to a Playboy "playmate" for silence about a sexual relationship with a major Repugnant donor that ended in an abortion.  The donor, venture capitalist Elliott Broidy, was deputy finance chair for the party of the rich.  He resigned when his story surfaced.  The sleaze mounts².

1. Field Marshall Hermann Goering made these remarks during the Nuremberg trials: "It is always a simple matter to drag people along whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country."  
2.  Why do Evangelicals give Trump a free pass on his numerous infidelities?  Read this opinion piece in the Cleveland Plain Dealer from history and religion professors about the patriarchal nature of Christian evangelicalism.

Six Rangers Killed in Virunga Park Attack

Mai Mai rebels ambushed a park vehicle killing five rangers and the driver.  One ranger survived the attack on April 9.  Virunga National Park is the home of the highly endangered mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei).  Virunga is Africa's oldest national park established in 1925.  Unfortunately it is also the locus of a long-running civil war in which militias, rebels, and poachers have killed 175 rangers to date.  The attack on Monday, April 9th was the deadliest in the Park's history, coming just a few days after the killing of another range on April 1st.   Park authorities said the rangers killed were:

  • RANGER Jean de Dieu BYAMUNGU, aged 25
  • RANGER Barthelemie KAKULE MULEWA, aged 28
  • RANGER Théodore KASEREKA PRINCE, aged 25
  • RANGER Liévin MUMBERE KASUMBA, aged 28
  • RANGER Kananwa SIBOMANA, aged 22
  • ILA MURANDA, aged 30 
  • Faustin Biriko Nzabakurikiza, on April 1st
A fund has been established to aid the families of rangers who have died in the line of duty.   Chief warden,  Emmanuel de Merode, issued a statement of condolence in which he praised the fallen for being deeply committed to a better future for eastern Congo.