Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Blob-Free on Doppler (ExxonMobile may still be funding climate disinformation)

Paul's Conservation Minnesota Outlook for the Twin Cities and all of Minnesota:

TODAY: Bright sun, lower humidity. Winds: NW 7-12. High: 83

WEDNESDAY NIGHT: Clear and pleasant. Low: 64

THURSDAY: Partly sunny, PM storms northern/western MN. High: 86

FRIDAY: Sticky sun, isolated T-storms possible. Low: 65. High: 87

SATURDAY: Hot sun, storms north/west - much of the day should be dry and lake-worthy. Low: 68. High: 88

SUNDAY: Very sticky, storms move into the metro, few hours of rain (and thunder). Low: 71 High: 89

MONDAY: More sun, storms move south of Minnesota. Low: 72. High: near 90

TUESDAY: Sunny start, late-day thunder? Low: 70. High: 85

88 F. high in the Twin Cities Tuesday.

Upper 50s: dew points drop off today, a noticeable dip in humidity.
Thursday night: next chance of showers/T-storms.

"Haboob" Invades Phoenix. Details on the fast-moving, 70-mph sandstorm that swept into Phoenix Tuesday evening below.

1,500 lives lost annually every year in the USA, due to excessive heat, by far the #1 weather killer, according to NOAA.
  • Long Beach, CA: 90 (tie)    Old record: 90 in 1992
  • Camarillo, CA: 85        Old record: 83 in 1981
  • Oakland, CA: 84        Old record: 80 in 1953

Weather "Iffy" For Friday's (Final) Launch Of The Space Shuttle. T-storms have been rumbling across Florida the past few days - there may not be a significant break in the pattern between now and Friday. More details:
  • NASA is counting down toward launch the agency's final space shuttle mission on Friday, but Mother Nature may not cooperate.
  • The countdown began Tuesday afternoon and is ticking down to a planned zero at 11:26 a.m. EDT on Friday, but NASA is keeping a close eye on the weather.
  • Forecasts call for a chance of rain and thunderstorms on Friday, meaning that shuttle Atlantis' final mission — the last ever for NASA's iconic shuttle program after 30 years of spaceflight — might be delayed.
  • 60 percent chance of weather prohibiting launch due to the potential for showers and isolated thunderstorms in the area.
  • If bad weather scrubs Friday's launch, other windows open up Saturday morning and Sunday morning. And the outlook improves a bit each day, with the chance of weather problems dropping to 40 percent on Saturday and 30 percent on Sunday.
  • NASA expects between 500,000 and 750,000 people to show up.
  • Atlantis' STS-135 mission is slated to last 12 days to deliver supplies and spare parts to the International Space Stastion.
  • NASA will retire its three-shuttle fleet for good to make way for a new program aimed at deep space exploration. The space agency aims to send astronauts to an asteroid by 2025 and then on to Mars by the mid-2030s

Wednesday Severe Risk. SPC has two potential trouble-spots today: severe storms from the Black Hills of South Dakota southward to Colorado's Front Range, a second area of potentially severe storms over New England.

Wednesday Rainfall Potential. A bubble of high pressure keeps Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Chicago area bright and sunny (with lower humidity). Showers and T-storms are likely from the Virginias southward to the Gulf - a brief break in the action over Florida, dry from Texas into much of the southwestern USA, sunshine the rule all up and down the west coast. WRF model map above valid 1 pm Wednesday.

Wednesday Highs. Triple-digit heat continues today, 100s from Texas and Oklahoma westward to southern California. A drop in temperature and humidity is likely from the Twin Cities to Chicago and much of Lower Michigan.

Weather Service Confirms Tornado Touchdown In Douglas County (Wisconsin) Last Friday. The same squall line that produced severe straight-line winds in the Twin Cities metro (and tornado touchdowns near Redwood Falls and St. Cloud) went on to spin up a damaging tornado in northwestern Wisconsin last Friday. The Duluth News Tribune has more details: "The National Weather Service in Duluth confirmed late Saturday that a tornado touched down near Solon Springs during the severe storms that moved across the region Friday night. According to a preliminary survey report, the most significant damage observed by the Weather Service survey team was EF2 on the 0-5 Enhanced Fujita scale, with peak winds estimated at 120 to 130 mph. The path of the tornado was estimated at 2.9 miles, with a width of 300 yards, stretching from 3.6 miles southwest of Solon Springs to 1.3 miles west of Solon Springs. The tornado was on the ground for about three minutes, from 7:51 p.m. to 7:54 p.m. There were a few injuries from the tornado, but no fatalities. The Weather Service reported that the tornado shifted a manufactured home off its foundation and rotated it about 30 degrees from its original orientation, and then destroyed a wood-frame home along Ramel Road. Some debris from the second home was found 1/3 of a mile away."

Friday "Downburst" In St. Cloud. A downburst is a violent thunderstorm downdraft reaching the ground, rain and hail-cooled air hitting the surface and spreading out, producing strong/damaging straight-line winds. Here's a good storm summary from the National Weather Service:
"Most damage was north of downtown St Cloud and was spread over several square miles. it extended into Benton County. Downburst maximum wind speed: 65 to 70 mph. Downburst damage: Hundreds of trees were toppled, broken or pushed over. Many trees landed on houses, sheds and vehicles. The downburst damage was far more widespread and significant than the tornado damage. Downburst notes: it is likely that the downburst lasted for many minutes in some areas. Other damage: There was sporadic tree damage from Rockville to St Cloud. This was much less concentrated than the Waite Park tornado damage or the St Cloud downburst damage."

Friday Evening Tornadoes In Minnesota. The Chanhassen office of the National Weather Service has more details on the (small) tornadoes (EF-0 and EF-1) that touched down from near Redwood Falls, Vesta and Danube to St. Cloud. The image above is the a NWS image showing the "supercell" thunderstorm that dropped a couple of small tornadoes near Redwood Falls - the same cell tracked northeastward, producing a downburst in the St. Cloud area.

105 PM CDT TUE JUL 5 2011











June Numbers. The weather analytics firm, Planalytics, has some interesting details about June's weather across North America: "While June 2011 came in colder than the record warm June 2010, temperatures were much above normal throughout most of North America.  Following a cool Spring for many in the major population centers in the U.S. Northern Tier and Canada, warming conditions helped drive consumers to make need-based seasonal purchases that otherwise had been put off.  North America averaged the 10th warmest June in 51 years, although this is compared to the record June in 2010.  The U.S. had its 6th warmest June in 51 years (2010 was the 2nd warmest) and the driest June since 2007.  Canada saw a near normal June in terms of temperature and precipitation."
  • June experienced the driest start in over 18 years on the heels of a warm Memorial Day weekend.
  • A significant warm up occurred in week 2; it was the warmest 2nd week of June in 4 years with over 1,500 temperature records set this week as a heat wave gripped major markets in the Northeast & Midwest.  It was also the driest week 2 of June since 2007.
  • Week 3 experienced regional trends with markets in the North and East trending cooler to LY, while those in the Southern Tier continued to swelter.
  • Week 4 was the coolest since 2004, although markets in the Southern Tier continued to experience triple-digit heat indices.
  • The month ended with the run-up to July 4th & Canada Day, the warmest final week of June in 5 years, and driest in 10 years.
  • Severe weather continued in June.  Despite a drop off in incidents from May, major events in June included tornadoes in Chicago and continued flooding along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers... click for full report  
  • For the month, temperatures were well above normal, although cooler than 2010.
  • The South Central region reported its warmest June in over 50 years.
  • Dallas, Houston, New Orleans and Oklahoma City each recorded their warmest June in over ... click for full report  

Congested Missouri River Threatens Tributaries. An update from the Des Moines Register: "Lincoln, Neb. — In a season of flooding by some of the nation’s biggest rivers, it’s streams most Americans have never heard of that could cause some of the worst problems in the Midwest. Hundreds of tributaries that feed the congested Missouri River face a greater-than-normal flood risk this summer because of water levels that have kept them from draining. The Missouri is expected to remain near historic highs for months, which means the threat will remain through summer— a season when the Midwest often is beset with thunderstorms that can quickly dump heavy rain. University of Iowa engineering professor Witold Krajewski, director of the Iowa Flood Center, compared the situation to a “traffic jam” of water. It started with the sustained release of massive amounts of water from dams on the upper Missouri, caused by spring rain and a heavy Rocky Mountain snowpack that filled reservoirs. “It’s like a football game and baseball game getting out at the same time,” Krajewski said. “There are all these cars trying to move. It doesn’t take long before drivers can’t get out of the side streets.” Backed-up tributaries in South Dakota and Missouri have already submerged streets and threatened homes near the point where they reach the surging river. In Hamburg, Ia., work crews are keeping close watch on changing levels of the Nishnabotna River to the east, as they try to hold off the Missouri River from the west."

Exxon Says Floods Delay Oil Cleanup. UPI has an update on the oil pipeline break on the Yellowstone River, and how flooding is hampering efforts to repair the pipe: "BILLINGS, Mont., July 5 (UPI) -- Exxon Mobil said it would have to wait for flood waters to subside to start oil cleanup operations along parts of the Yellowstone River in Montana. A leak on the Silvertip pipeline dumped around 1,000 barrels of oil into the Yellowstone River near Billings, Mont., late Friday. Operator Exxon Mobil said there were more than 280 people involved in the cleanup and 150 were deployed along the river banks as of Monday. "Given the current flooding and very swift river currents, we will need to wait until it is safe to get into some areas," the company added. The National Weather Service issued a flood warning until Thursday afternoon for parts of south central Montana. A slight chance of rain is expected through the weekend. Exxon said the cause of the leak from the 12-inch pipeline was under investigation. Authorities said the spill could reach the Missouri River, fed by the Yellowstone River. The energy company said it had a unified command in place to monitor the plume."
  • Oil spill along the scenic Yellowstone River have been hampered by flooding and swift river conditions,
  • Exxon said more than 280 people were now involved in the cleanup around the spill site from the Silvertip pipeline into the river near Billings, Mont.
  • Estimated 1,000 barrels of oil the pipeline spilled into the river late Friday.
  • The river originates in Yellowstone park, and is expected to crest until the middle of July.
  • The leak from the 12-inch (30-centimeter) pipeline caused the temporary evacuation of some area residents. Local officials have said that flooding has hampered the cleanup work, and that some of the leaked oil could reach the Missouri River, of which the Yellowstone is a tributary.
  • The cause of the leak is still under investigation, Exxon said.
  • The Silvertip pipeline runs from Silver Tip, Mont., to Billings, and usually moves about 40,000 barrels of crude oil a day.

Scorched New Mexico Faces New Threat: Monsoon Rains & Flash Flooding. The U.K. Daily Mail describes mounting concern in New Mexico - land blackened by the largest fire in New Mexico history is now especially vulnerable to flash flooding: "It's been ravaged by the worst wildfire in its history, with more than 123,500 acres of land scorched in little more than a week. But now devastated New Mexico is bracing itself for a new threat as forecasters warned the state's seasonal rains are on their way - and they could trigger flash floods. The grim prediction came as evacuated residents slowly began returning to their homes after firefighters managed to contain part of the fast-burning Las Conchas fire, which had threatened the Los Alamos nuclear research lab. It has burned its way through 20 square miles of tribal forest, destroying sites sacred to American Indian tribes for generations. The official arrival of the monsoon season, heralded by showers on Saturday, was greeted with relief by many, as they hope it will reduce the fire risk in New Mexico's tinder-dry landscape....But with no vegetation to half surface run-off, the much-prayed-for rains could cause devastating flooding, MSNBC reported. Jason Lott, superintendent of the Bandelier National Monument, the ancestral home of New Mexico's Pueblo Indian natives, said: "We've gone straight from fire danger to flood danger, so it's one thing after another."
Almost $100 million has been spent in suppressing wildfires that have consumed almost 360,000 acres in the Coronado National Forest (CNF), he said.
  • The largest fire in state history.
  • New numbers show it has swallowed 127,821 acres. It is now 27 percent contained.
  • Crews will escort residents into the Cochiti Mesa to check on their homes today. At least 45 homes burned there.
  • Closer to Los Alamos crews are working on setting up a second containment line around the city.
  • The fire chief said this was an immense threat to the Los Alamos National Lab and that the danger is not quite over yet as monsoons approach, which may cause flooding.
  • It is still very smoky in the area, and the fire chief is urging people with breathing conditions to stay out of town.
  • The Los Alamos national lab will reopen on Wednesday.

Weather Stories - Western Region. The NWS has done a spectacular job of leveraging Google base maps to present their daily "weather stories" for the western region, a good meteorological overview of what's happening in every forecast office west of the Rockies. Click on this link - then click on a specific city to see specifics.

Weather Threats. According to NOAA the drought gripping much of the south will worsen through mid July, flooding forecast to continue along the Missouri River basin and the Central Valley of California. Click here to see more.

Joplin Tornado So Big It Had An "Eye". The massive EF-5 tornado that tore through Joplin was over 1 mile wide at times, producing sustained winds over 200 mph. Here's an excerpt from an article at the Joplin Globe: "That experience, that sense of being inside the eye of the storm, has been reported by others. Rance Junge, at the Pronto Pharmacy at 26th Street and Maiden Lane, said his building was destroyed, but he remembers thinking: “Oh gosh, we made it!” He could see daylight, then, within a few seconds, he said the back wall of the tornado struck, and injured him with flying debris. In the 2300 block of South Wisconsin, Jennifer and Danny Moore and their two children sought shelter in a bathroom. “We thought we were through it because it calmed and you looked up and saw clear, and the next thing you know you saw it coming again.” Weather experts who examined the Joplin tornado believe it was large enough and slow enough for someone to experience the sensation of being in the eye of the tornado. A person in the eye experiences battering winds from the leading edge of the tornado, a lull where no wind is apparent and then battering winds again as the back edge of the tornado passes over them. Davis, with the National Weather Service station at Springfield, said: “We believe the eye tracked from north of 32nd Street and Country Club Road to 29th and Winfield. From there, it went to 26th and McClelland, and to near St. Mary’s Church on 26th. It kept going east and then turned toward Franklin Technology Center and then traveled east along 20th Street to Range Line, and then near East Middle School,’’ he said."

"Haboob" over Phoenix. Residents of metro Phoenix were greeted by a raging sandstorm Tuesday evening, winds gusted to 70 mph with visibilities dropping to zero in blinding sand and dust. Check out the video here, courtesy of yfrog.com.

The Paperless Cockpit. The New York Times (suscription may be required) has an article about pilots tapping iPads to keep up to date with flight plans and weather in-route. My old company, Digital Cyclone, creator of "My-Cast" and "Pilot My-Cast" gets a well-deserved shout-out as one of the top apps: "What is in those bulky, black flight bags that pilots carry into the cockpit? It is not a change of clothes but reams of reference material needed for the flight — about 40 pounds of it. There are the aircraft’s operating manual, safety checklists, logbooks for entering airplane performance data, navigation charts, weather information, airport diagrams and maybe a book of KenKen puzzles thrown in for good measure. But instead of carrying all that paperwork, a growing number of pilots are carrying a 1.5 pound iPad. The Federal Aviation Administration has authorized a handful of commercial and charter carriers to use the tablet computer as a so-called electronic flight bag. Private pilots, too, are now carrying iPads, which support hundreds of general aviation apps that simplify preflight planning and assist with in-flight operations. “The iPad allows pilots to quickly and nimbly access information,” said Jim Freeman, a pilot and director of flight standards at Alaska Airlines, which has given iPads to all its pilots. “When you need to a make a decision in the cockpit, three to four minutes fumbling with paper is an eternity.” Alaska Airlines received F.A.A. approval in May to permit its pilots to consult digital flight, systems and performance manuals on the iPad — cutting about 25 pounds of paper from each flight bag. The e-manuals include hyperlinks and color graphics to help pilots find information quickly and easily. And pilots do not have to go through the tedium of updating the manuals by swapping out old pages with new ones because updates are downloaded automatically."

Osama Bin Laden's Hunter: CIA Analyst Examined. Huffington Post has the story of the man who made it his life's mission to track down Bin Laden: "WASHINGTON -- After Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden, the White House released a photo of President Barack Obama and his Cabinet inside the Situation Room, watching the daring raid unfold. Hidden from view, standing just outside the frame of that now-famous photograph was a career CIA analyst. In the hunt for the world's most-wanted terrorist, there may have been no one more important. His job for nearly a decade was finding the al-Qaida leader. The analyst was the first to put in writing last summer that the CIA might have a legitimate lead on finding bin Laden. He oversaw the collection of clues that led the agency to a fortified compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. His was among the most confident voices telling Obama that bin Laden was probably behind those walls. The CIA will not permit him to speak with reporters. But interviews with former and current U.S. intelligence officials reveal a story of quiet persistence and continuity that led to the greatest counterterrorism success in the history of the CIA. Nearly all the officials insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters or because they did not want their names linked to the bin Laden operation. The Associated Press has agreed to the CIA's request not to publish his full name and withhold certain biographical details so that he would not become a target for retribution."

Last Week's Forecast Included Asbestos For The Weather Channel. TVNewser has the story. No, don't sweat the thundershowers - there's a 30% probability of asbestos: "Cable news channels are just like every other workplace. They are susceptible to power outages, bed bugs and yes, asbestos. Last week The Weather Channel had a close encounter with that third kind of issue in its Atlanta headquarters. Weather is in the process of redesigning its studios and content center, and as part of the process some asbestos was removed from a small section of the center that was being renovated. The smell of the solvent used to dissolve the asbestos bothered a few employees, according to a staffer. On the Facebook page for the “Abrams and Bettes” morning show,  staffers had some fun, posting pictures of producers wearing face masks to minimize the smell (pictured above)."

"Thunder-Sandwich." Morning showers and T-showers gave way to some afternoon sunshine, creating enough instability for a few more T-showers over the dinner hour. Highs ranged from 80 at International Falls to 85 in St. Cloud (.68" rain fell in the last 24 hours), 88 in the Twin Cities.

"Severe Clear"

America sees more weather than any nation on earth. Heat is the #1 killer, followed by flooding, lightning, then hurricanes & tornadoes. Out of 100 thunderstorms, fewer than 10 will turn severe (winds over 58 mph and/or 1"+ diameter hail), and only one storm will go on to spin up a tornado.
Our weather is rarely "average"; we ricochet from one extreme to the next. In 2011 the USA has seen 8 billion dollar disasters (record is 9 in all of 2008). Arizona & New Mexico have seen their largest wildfires in history, drought has turned the entire state of Texas into a disaster area; historic flooding continues on the Missouri River.

Severe weather tends to diminish the latter half of summer as the upper atmosphere warms & stabilizes (the odds of a puddle-free wedding are much higher in August than in June).

Canadian high pressure turns on comfortable sunshine today, the best day in sight. Take an extra-long lunch break outdoors. I'll write you a note. A southerly flow pumps up the humidity Thursday; the best chance of T-storms north/west of MSP. The weekend looks hot & humid, scattered T-storms likely with highs near 90. Temperatures trend warmer than average thru mid July.

Students Try To Figure Out Our Role In Warming. Here's a story in the Star Tribune: "Wanda Shelton, 51, of Ham Lake, is highly skeptical when it comes to climate change. Even if the climate is changing, she said, it's not because of human behavior. "That takes a lot upon ourselves to think that we could change this climate by that much," she said. "I think that that's putting us above God, and I don't think we could do that." When told that according to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 97 percent of U.S. climate scientists believe climate change is real and is largely man-made, she remained skeptical: "I think data can be manipulated to whatever you want to believe." It can be difficult to find solid ground in a topic awash in misconception from political slants and conflicting media coverage. While climate scientists agree that the Earth is warming unnaturally fast and that human behavior -- particularly in the release of gases like carbon dioxide from industry and cars -- is largely responsible, Americans grow increasingly skeptical. A study conducted this spring by Yale University researchers found that, since 2008, the percent of people who believe that climate change is occurring dropped from 71 percent to 64 percent. Of the people who do believe that climate change is happening, 47 percent believe it's because of human behavior, compared to 57 percent three years ago. The reasons for skepticism range from psychology to economics. An overlong winter makes it harder to believe the Earth is warming. Many people don't want to acknowledge serious impacts -- like reduced crop yields and increased flooding -- that scientists say may result from climate change. But scientists insist the problem is there."

Global Warming "Lull" Down To China's Coal Growth. 2005 tied with 1998 for the warmest year on record, worldwide, but temperatures have leveled off to some degree, and (some) climate scientists believe a doubling of (dirty) coal consumption by China may be at least partially responsible. The BBC has the story: "The lull in global warming from 1998 to 2008 was mainly caused by a sharp rise in China's coal use, a study suggests. The absence of a temperature rise over that decade is often used by "climate sceptics" as grounds for denying the existence of man-made global warming. But the new study, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, concludes that smog from the extra coal acted to mask greenhouse warming. China's coal use doubled 2002-2007, according to US government figures. Although burning the coal produced more warming carbon dioxide, it also put more tiny sulphate aerosol particles into the atmosphere which cool the planet by reflecting solar energy back into space. The researchers conclude that declining solar activity over the period and an overall change from El Nino to La Nina conditions in the Pacific Ocean also contributed to the temperature plateau. Lead researcher Robert Kaufmann from Boston University, whose research interests span climate change and world oil markets, said the study was inspired by "sceptical" questioning."

ExxonMobile Still Pays For Climate Confusion. Triplepundit.com has the story: "Despite the overwhelming consensus of scientists, a recent Gallup poll found that 43 percent of Americans still believe that global warming is caused by natural conditions, not by the emission of greenhouse gas pollutants from human activity. For an issue of settled science, that figure is startlingly high – after all, how many people still believe that the sun revolves around the earth? – but it’s not an accident. The oil company ExxonMobil is among the corporations that have paid out millions to lobbying organizations and academics who question whether global warming is a real phenomenon, or who claim that a link between global warming and human activity has not been established. 

Investing in Anti-Science

Responding to shareholder concerns at a 2008 meeting, ExxonMobil pledged to reduce its support for organizations that deny climate science. One example would be ExxonMobil’s support for The Heartland Institute, a lobbying group also known for its long time work for the tobacco industry. ExxonMobil has also been a major funder of the well known climate denier Wei Hock Soon. A new report from Greenpeace U.S.A. indicates that ExxonMobil does appear to be spending less on climate denial, though as of last year it was still devoting some funds to the effort.

Climate Denial Investment Pays Off

Reducing its investment in climate deniers may have had more to do with a sound business decision by ExxonMobil than an exercise in corporate social responsibility. The investment has already paid off in the form of increased public confusion over the reality of climate change, so there is no justification for continuing to spend money at the same rate. Compared to just three years ago the aforementioned Gallup poll found that significantly fewer people now believe that the effects of global warming have already begun, and fewer people believe that man-made pollution is the cause of global warming. More people also doubt that the effects of global warming will ever occur. The Gallup report concludes that “Americans are clearly less concerned about global warming and its effects than they were a few years ago.”

Economy Keeps Global Warming On Back Burner for 2012. U.S. News and World Report has the story about the politics of climate change and the 2012 election: "Still shunned as fringe ideologues, or worse, by Democrats and much of the formal scientific community, skeptics of global warming were nonetheless celebratory as they gathered in Washington last week for the conservative Heartland Institute's annual climate change conference. And for good reason. Climate change legislation has been on the back burner since 2009 and an increasing number of Republican lawmakers now call themselves skeptics as well. Indeed, the tide of the debate—at least politically—has turned in their favor. [See a slide show of 10 animals that are threatened by global warming.] Political experts say that with the economy at the forefront of the nation's focus, concerns over global warming won't carry much weight in the 2012 election. At most, climate change will be just another place for candidates, especially those in the GOP, to distinguish themselves from their opponents, if they dare. "[Climate change is] part of an undercurrent. The race is going to be about the economy and the fiscal crisis. So to the degree that one or several of the candidates can work the story line that some of these concerns are having an impact on the economy, that will be a marginal help," says pollster Scott Rasmussen. "But it's not a central issue by any stretch of the imagination." Since as far back as 2009, when Republicans led the fight against cap-and-trade legislation in the Senate, the party as a whole has been reticent to say global warming is a problem. For instance, when voting on legislation in March that would ban the Environmental Protection Agency's power to regulate greenhouse gases, every Republican on the Energy and Commerce committee refused to acknowledge by vote that climate change exists and is caused by humans."

1 comment:

  1. "That takes a lot upon ourselves to think that we could change this climate by that much," she said. "I think that that's putting us above God, and I don't think we could do that."

    That's a pretty courageous thing to say.

    Yet I think there are multiple issues here to consider: whether the climate is actually warming or not, what is the real underlying cause (if it is warming), and whether that cause is cyclical or not.

    Then there's the larger meta-question: why now?