Pluto’s Glacier and Atmosphere

PlutoIt is a bit weird to go to the Wikipedia Pluto page. Just a month ago, the best image that we had was a fuzzy ball. Now we have a shockingly clear picture of it. It is as though we are, for the first time, seeing Pluto. And what does it look like? Well, kind of like the moon. We expected that. But there is that huge smooth section there in the south. That’s called Sputnik Planum. It is the western half of the Tombaugh Regio — Pluto’s “heart.” And it appears to be a glacier made of frozen nitrogen — with notable amounts of carbon monoxide and methane.

We also see on the edges of Sputnik Planum craters that have been filled in with this frozen ice. There is some speculation that below the surface (where it is warmer), there may be a layer of liquid nitrogen. The temperature on the surface of Pluto is -390°F — 39 K. Clearly, Nitrogen is solid there. At Earth’s surface pressure (which is fairly low), it becomes liquid at a balmy -346°F — 63 K. So we might be seeing actual geological activity, but instead of molten rock, it would be molten Nitrogen. It’s very cool — and bizarre to imagine.

Pluto HazeThe frozen nitrogen is constantly sublimating (turning directly from solid to gaseous form) into Pluto’s atmosphere. But it is in equilibrium, so the atmosphere is depositing onto the surface at the same rate. The atmosphere is made up of the same three compounds found in the ice: Nitrogen, carbon monoxide, and methane. Of course, there isn’t much atmosphere: just 0.001% as much as we have here on the earth. But still: notable. Plus: because of the effect of methane, the atmosphere gets warmer as you go up in the atmosphere (like in the Earth’s stratosphere), so that 6 miles up, it is 65°F warmer.

In addition to this, Pluto’s atmosphere has two distinct haze layers. One is about 30 miles from the surface, and the other at 50 miles. This is what we see in the image on the right. This was shot just seven hours after the close approach to Pluto. The sun is behind Pluto, so we are seeing the atmosphere back lit. What’s happening in the atmosphere is similar to what goes on in our own. Methane is broken down by ultraviolet light. It’s parts are then combined into more complex hydrocarbons like ethylene and acetylene. As they sink, they become solids and create the haze.

We will be learning more and more as time goes on. Every few days, I find myself checking on what new information is available. That’s a bit obsessive. But I’m sure as the years go by, we will continue to be surprised. I never liked the mystery of Pluto. Just knowing that there was some space rock flying around out there didn’t inspire me. But now that we are learning what’s really going on with the little world, it’s very exciting.

Dan Balz Thinks Democrats Should Be Afraid

Dan Balz: Village IdiotDan Balz is the very definition of a Villager. The only time I’ve written about him was last year when he was making the same old, tired argument that the Republicans needed to pass immigration reform in order to reach out to the Latino community. I’ve long argued that it makes no sense for the Republicans to pass immigration reform, given that their attitude is, “Once we do this for you, it’s over! Don’t expect anything else!” But people like Balz think that immigration reform is critical for the same reason that all other Villagers do: because its what “everyone else” thinks.

Well, over the weekend, I saw a new Balz article, GOP Debate Contenders Give Democrats Reason to Worry. His main claim is that Democrats are hoping that Trump becomes the nominee so they will have an easy election. While it is true that few Democrats would mind that outcome, I do not know of a single Democrat who thinks that Trump is going to be the Republican nominee. What’s more, have we heard Clinton or Sanders attacking Trump? Not at all. Everyone still thinks the eventual nominee will be Bush or Walker or maybe Rubio. But that’s the think with Villagers: they don’t let facts stand in the way of whatever narrative they’ve decided to push.

According to Blaz, in private, Democrats don’t feel as good about running against Rubio as they do about running against Trump. Oh, what a surprise! Does that mean that any Democrats are seriously worried about running against Marco Rubio? But Blaz says that Rubio “declared forcefully early in the debate that he would present the starkest future-vs.-past contrast to Clinton.” This is just repeating Rubio’s own claims. In truth, Rubio is pushing exactly the same supply side policies that every Republican since Reagan has. There is nothing new about what Rubio is pushing.

He also went on to talk about Scott Walker. But it was curious. Check this out, “He has been a divisive leader in Wisconsin, but he has the potential to unite the establishment and tea party wings of the Republican Party…” All that means is that Walker could get the Republican presidential nomination. It says nothing at all about how that might make him a particularly impressive general election candidate. So Democrats should worry why, exactly? There really is nothing behind the claim. The article reads like it was based on a press release from Reince Priebus.

But I fear the article also comes from the Clinton haters. Democrats are “nervous about Clinton.” Republicans could “mount a stiff challenge” to “a vulnerable” Clinton. Why are people nervous? How exactly is she vulnerable? Is she having an affair with her videographer? Balz doesn’t say, but it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t have any reasons at all. Partisans are always worried that the person who runs is going to turn out to be a problem. But in Clinton’s case, we have two advantages. First, her life has been so picked over that it’s hard to believe that there is any major scandal lurking. Second, we know that she will fight back at least as hard as her husband did.

It boggles my mind that people like Dan Balz get paid large amounts of money to peddle this nonsense. It’s not just that it’s wrong. It is that it is predictable. Of course some Villager was going to write a story about how Thursday’s debate spelled trouble for Hillary Clinton specifically and the Democratic Party generally. That was a given long before the debate.

Conservatives Apologize Inequality Away

David DayenIf you listen to economists and politicians — especially those on the right — you will hear them talk excessively about economic growth. Jeb Bush recently got a lot of attention by claiming that he would increase growth to 4% — partly by making people work longer hours. That was silly, but not any more so than the standard argument about economic growth. When Republicans are asked how they will reduce inequality, they cast aside things like the minimum wage and labor unions. Instead, they push one thing and one thing only, “We need to increase economic growth so that everyone does better!” The problem is that this just isn’t the way the economy has worked for the past 40 years.

I wrote about this issue quite explicitly recently, No Trade Deals Until Our Economy Is Fixed. From the end of World War II to the mid-1970s, wages increased right along with productivity. But since that time, the two things have become uncoupled. Wages have been basically stagnant, while productivity has continued upward. My point was and still is that productivity doesn’t matter in the least so long as we have an economy in which all the gains go to the people at the top. But the truth is that conservatives refuse to engage with this fact.

Last week at The Fiscal Times, David Dayen wrote about another side of this issue, Why Conservatives Are So Desperate to Debunk One Hillary Clinton Chart. What he is talking about is a concerted effort among conservative economists to claim that, “If only you look at the data correctly, you will see that workers have done great!” But they haven’t. And many mainstream economists have been all over this. Mark Thoma has highlighted a lot of them over at his blog, Economist’s View. But here is the chart — it ain’t complicated:

Wages and Productivity

A good example of how conservatives are trying to deny this reality comes from Harvard economist Robert Lawrence. He argued that you couldn’t just look at workers. So they threw in the management class. Obviously, this is begging the question. Why not throw in every person? Then, by definition, there would be no inequality. What Lawrence has done is to get rid of the median income and replace it with an average income. The difference is huge. And as Dayen pointed out: the fact that the average and median are so different is itself an indication of a large amount of inequality, “Using average rather than median compensation is like taking the average salary of five workers in a room when one of them is Bill Gates. The average salary will look pretty robust even if the other four workers in that room are struggling.”

But even with that adjustment, Lawrence only managed to make up part of the difference. So he was forced to look at total compensation and fiddle with different inflation indices — all in a totally disingenuous way. This is just what Christian apologist William Lane Craig does: start with the conclusion and work backwards. I’ve written about this a lot. Lawrence started with the idea that workers are doing just great and he cobbled together an argument to prove it.

Dayen’s article started with a anecdote, that I thought was very telling:

In 1994, economists Larry Mishel and Jared Bernstein of the liberal Economic Policy Institute (EPI) met with the head of President Clinton’s National Economic Council, Robert Rubin. Mishel told [me?] that they asked Rubin how the administration planned to increase median wages, a critical failing in the Reagan/Bush years. Rubin replied, “deficit reduction.” He explained how this would reduce interest rates and boost productivity, and that wages would naturally follow.

Mishel and Bernstein pulled out a chart. It showed that, for the prior two decades, increases in productivity had not translated into wage gains for the typical worker. This productivity/wage gap showed that something had changed within the economy, with the benefits of growth concentrating in fewer hands. Rubin looked at the chart and said, “I didn’t know that.”

Pretty much everything that was wrong with Clinton economics was the result of Robert Rubin. Still, he was ostensibly a liberal economist. But he “didn’t know” that wages and productivity had been decoupled. Economists are lost in their own models. American workers don’t need the chart to know that their lives as workers are not turning out the same as their parents’. But economists are locked into assumptions like “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Well, maybe in the mythical free market — but not in our political environment where the rich can buy special privileges. Luckily, a lot of economists are waking up. But the conservatives will hold onto this ideology forever — or at least until the economy falls apart.

Anniversary Post: Sharon Tate Murders

Sharon TateOn this day back in 1969, the Manson family murdered Sharon Tate and four others to prove that — good God, I have no idea. Since the subject of Sharon Tate has been rather too well well picked over, I’d like to talk about The Jim Carroll Band.

On their first album, Catholic Boy, they did a song, “It’s Too Late.” It starts off with the provocative lyrics, “It’s too late, to fall in love with Sharon Tate.” But the following line does not live up to it, “But it’s too soon, to ask me for the words that are carved on my tomb.” (Not anymore.)

I liked the song very much when I was young because of the line, “I’m here to give you my heart, and you want some fashion show.” Of course I liked that line! That’s what all sensitive young men think. I am now of the opinion that sensitive young men are just as much jerks as any other guys. But I guess we are all allowed our delusions.

Now the line I like these lines:

It’s too late, you know when they got nothing to give
They only part their legs for what’s negative
They, they’re so decadent
Until their daddy’s money from home’s all spent

To be honest, I was pretty hot on that last line when I was young too. But now I’m focused on the second line. I think things have changed. Yes, it used to be cool to be negative. Now it’s even worse: it is cool to be ironically detached. As a person who suffers from both ironic detachment and negativity, I have a great fondness for people who manage earnest optimism. But if we can’t have that (and I actually don’t want it) — at least pick a side (and there are many). Pretending that you don’t care just makes you boring. And that’s what Carroll is getting at in those lyrics.