Snow Day! How Much Snow Does It Take to Cancel School?

Map: ‘How Much Snow It Typically Takes to Cancel School in the U.S.’ – Eleanor Barkhorn – The Atlantic.

How Cool Is This? It’s Awesome!

The Geopolitics of the Syrian Civil War | Stratfor

The Geopolitics of the Syrian Civil War | Stratfor.

The Geneva conference has had discouraging beginnings.  Iran was invited, but is now out at the insistence of the rebels.

The inability to agree upon even who would be attending the negotiations is an inauspicious sign for a diplomatic effort that was never likely to prove very fruitful.

The mountain and desert terrain provided natural barriers that allowed different groups to develop in isolation.  Prior to the Sykes-Picot Agreement Syria was never a country for more than a few years, and the modern nation is far from a cohesive state.

Unlike the Nile Valley, Syria’s geography lacks a strong, natural binding element to overcome its internal fissures.

Without a reason to agree, the Assad regime and the various rebels groups will continue to fight.

The Syrian state will neither fragment and formalize into sectarian statelets nor reunify into a single nation under a political settlement imposed by a conference in Geneva. A mosaic of clan loyalties and the imperative to keep Damascus linked to its coastline and economic heartland — no matter what type of regime is in power in Syria — will hold this seething borderland together, however tenuously.

All men become brothers

Several of my students asked how the European Union had a “national anthem” when they speak so many languages – what language are the lyrics?  Turns out there are no official lyrics, just Beethoven’s awesome music of “The Ode to Joy.”

You can listen here.

Sometimes words are sung – in German with English translation here.


The Difference Between Weather and Climate

Cold weather snap fuels misinformation over climate change | Al Jazeera America.

Since the winter weather began, some Americans have taken to blogs, television stations and comment threads, asking (often rhetorically) how the weather can be so cold if the world is supposed to be getting warmer.

The question points to a misunderstanding many have over weather and climate.

Weather, of course, it what’s happening outside right now.  Climate is the long-term average.  One cold snap has nothing to do with global warming.

Just as the cold snap can’t necessarily be linked to climate by itself, neither can the unprecedented heat wave currently hitting Australia. (It’s so hot, meteorologists have been forced to add new colors to their heat maps.)

But looking at the long term, its obvious that the climate is warming.

The past year only made it into the top ten of the hottest years on record, but November broke all records for that month, and 2012 was the hottest year ever recorded in the U.S.

Weather is also becoming more extreme: hotter, colder, wetter, and drier than before. Storms like Typhoon Haiyan, which killed several thousand people in the Philippines last year, can’t be directly linked to climate change, but scientists say that the world can expect more Haiyan-like storms as the world gets warmer.

If people don’t recognize the threat of global warming, they won’t be prepared for the changes that are already happening.  Unfortunately, more and more people are refusing to acknowledge the scientific data.

What will happen?  Agricultural zones are already shifting north, pests ranges are spreading, sea level is rising.  And if we don’t begin to deal with it now, the future could be bleak.

Panama Canal Expansion?

How a Mega Project Snafu Could Snarl America’s Gas Exports.

America’s energy companies want to sell LNG(liquefied natural gas) to Asia.  This will boost their profits and raise the price of gas – currently there is an oversupply, and the price is low.  The plan has run into a major sang, though.

The consortium building the third set of locks on the canal, which is the biggest part of the $5 billion canal expansion, said it can’t continue work unless the Panama Canal Authority picks up the tab for about $1.6 billion in cost overruns. The construction of the new locks is a $3 billion contract, won by an international consortium with firms from Spain, Italy, Belgium, and Panama. 

Currently only 6% of LNG-carrying ships can fit through the canal; after the expansion 90% will be able to transit it.

Japan, in particular, is eager to tap into the U.S. natural-gas boom: Since the 2011 accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, Japan has been importing energy at high prices. Japanese shipbuilders plan to spend about $18 billion on new LNG tankers through the end of the decade, which, needless to say, would require the expanded canal to shave shipping times. 

How will all this play out?  The companies have 21 days to respond to Panama’s declaration that the project must be finished, and that the companies must pick up the tab for the cost overruns.  Will the project stay on track to open (late) in a year, or will does delay foretell the end of the dreamed of expansion?

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