Sunday, March 29, 2009

No Volcanic Winter for Us

I was fascinated by the footage of the volcanic eruption this month near Tonga. However, I was even more interested in the eruption of Mount Redoubt in Alaska (which was followed by several more eruptions, most recently yesterday). I started to wonder if either or both volcanoes could affect our weather, as has happened in the past.

A little bit of Internet research revealed that the Tonga eruption (with the plume's maximum height of 25,000 ft., or 7.6 km) was not sufficiently powerful to send particles into the stratosphere (10-50 km), where they can be disseminated around the globe and block the sun's rays. Mount Redoubt, on the other hand, sent ash 65,000 ft. high on Thursday, and it's not done spewing. My first assumption was that we could see a volcanic winter resulting from the Mount Redoubt ash in the stratosphere.

However, I learned that the location of the volcano matters as much as the height of the ash. The ash from arctic volcanoes stays in the northern hemisphere, where it tends to affect the weather mainly in south asia. If these models (based on the affects of Alaska's Mount Katmai and Novarupta eruptions in 1912) are accurate, then northern India should experience a much weaker monsoon than normal this year. That will be an enormous hardship in that dry, overpopulated country.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Peg Lautenschlager Award Nominee

Wow. Just wow.

The most amazing thing about this tale of a woman racking up three OWI arrests in three days (two in Sheboygan and one just outside Madison) is that she was from out-of-state. She was visiting Wisconsin from Spokane, Washington.

I'm assuming that she was born and raised here and was back visiting relatives. Either that, or our lenient drunk driving laws are attracting hard-core drunks from halfway across the country who want the thrill of consuming boxed wine while driving into a ditch. It's the new Wisconsin sport, supplanting cow-tipping in the imaginations of urban sophisticates.

Her three arrests resulted in a total of $1857 in fines and 12 hours in jail for the drunk driving, plus $372 for resisting an officer.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

If We Build It, They Still Won't Come

Remember when the power that be in Madison were telling us taxpayers that building a convention center would be an excellent investment in future economic growth? They had optimistic projections about all of the convention business that would come to our fair city.

Not everyone was so enthusiastic. Downtown hotel operators were not pleased that the city might consider subsidizing their competition. No problem, the boosters said, we don't need an adjacent hotel; we have plenty of rooms downtown already. Your businesses can only benefit.

Many taxpayers did not like the idea of subsidizing the convention industry. No problem, the boosters said, we won't need a city subsidy to operate the convention center, just to build it.

Well, the optimistic projections were entirely fictional. We never stopped subsidizing the operation of Monona Terrace. We were told after the first few years that we weren't getting enough convention business because there was no adjacent hotel. If we build the Hilton, we were told, the conventions will come. So once again, the city ponied up (with TIF funds) in hopes of grabbing more convention business.

Now, we are being told, the Hilton is not enough. We need another hotel in the vicinity, and the city is being asked to subsidize its development. Enough, already.

We are never going to attract major conventions, because we do not have a major airport. It is neither convenient nor affordable to fly into Madison compared to Chicago, Milwaukee or Minneapolis. The difference between first and second tier convention cities is the proximity of a commercial airline hub.

The few big conventions that Madison attracts are due to the proximity of special facilities or expertise (like the World Dairy Expo or the Stem Cell Summit that UW-Madison held last Fall). They came here without a shiny new hotel being built in the Madison Municipal Building.

We are being sold a bill of goods by the Marcus Corporation (who wants to build the new hotel, as long as it's taxpayer-subsidized). If the Madison Visitors & Convention Bureau and Monona Terrace really want to attract more convention business, they won't ask for another hotel; they'll ask the city to subsidize more flights into Madison. Maybe the city should operate a twice-daily commuter shuttle from O'Hare and give group discounts to meeting planners.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Bog Walking

There is something very satisfying about wearing waterproof boots and walking over boggy ground. The springy, squishy surface is much easier on aging joints than pavement, or even a dry, firmly-packed hiking trail.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Lessons from The Watchmen

I saw The Watchmen on the IMAX this weekend. Good action film. It's more film noir than comic book superhero movie (think Chinatown meets Blade Runner meets The Dark Knight). Anyway, I learned somethings:

1. Never trust vegetarians. Give them a little bit of power and they'll try to take over the world.

2. There's nothing like a faux Batman costume to make a nerdy, slightly pasty man look totally hot.

3. Even a non-corporeal man who has lost most of his claim to humanity is vulnerable to a hot young chick paying attention to him.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Wisconsin Cougar Watch

No, this has nothing to do with sexually-aggressive middle-aged women.

For the second time in about a year, there was a documented mountain lion sighting in Wisconsin. This one was near Spooner. Hounds were used to tree the cat, and the DNR tried to tranquilize and radio-collar the animal, but they were unsuccessful. They have asked folks not to harrass the cat. If it is spotted again, they may try again to fit it with a radio collar to track its movements.

I hope it fares better than the jaguar that was collared in Arizona last month. I also hope it has the sense not to wander into a crowded city like the cougar that passed through Wisconsin on its way to Chicago last year.

I realize that Wisconsin cannot sustain a large cougar population; there isn't enough wilderness area. However, the fact that there have been two recent documented sightings probably means that there have been several large cats spending time in the state over the past few years, mostly undetected. There were rumors of a moutain lion spotted near Wisconsin Dells several years ago, but since the witnesses were mostly bar patrons and no forensic evidence was found, the DNR decided it was just a large dog.

By eliminating all of the natural predators of the deer herd in the 20th century, we took the natural out of natural selection. Human hunters tend to select large bucks in their prime, leaving the scrawny and sickly animals to reproduce. Overpopulation of the herd in pockets of the state where food was plentiful allowed CWD to spread.

For all of the admitted damage that wolves and cougars do to livestock, they also play an important role in the health of the food chain. Ranchers in the west have learned to manage predators and protect their stock. There are breeds of dog that specialize in guarding livestock from wolves, for instance.

Wisconsin can surely support a small population of mountain lions. In the end, I think they will contribute more to our environment than they will take away.