…buy me to the moon [DOT 27/7/21]

it's a hell of a discount...

…so…if he thanked all amazon’s customers for paying for his little jaunt in the most unnervingly phallic rocket ever to have slipped the surly bonds of earth…for a somewhat underwhelming 10mins or so, at least…then…well…who do you suppose is underwriting this particular discount?

Fresh off his trip to space, Jeff Bezos on Monday offered to cover up to $2bn in Nasa costs if the US space agency awards his company Blue Origin a contract to make a spacecraft designed to land astronauts back on the moon.

Nasa in April awarded SpaceX, owned by rival billionaire Elon Musk, a $2.9bn contract to build a spacecraft to bring astronauts to the lunar surface as early as 2024, rejecting bids from Blue Origin and defense contractor Dynetics. Blue Origin had partnered with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper in the bid.

The space agency cited its own funding shortfalls, SpaceX’s proven record of orbital missions and other factors in a contract decision that senior Nasa official Kathy Lueders called “what’s the best value to the government”.

In a letter to Nasa administrator Bill Nelson, Bezos said Blue Origin would waive payments in the government’s current fiscal year and the next ones after that up to $2bn, and pay for an orbital mission to vet its technology. In exchange, Blue Origin would accept a firm, fixed-priced contract, and cover any system development cost overruns, Bezos said.

Jeff Bezos offers Nasa $2bn in exchange for moon mission contract [Guardian]

Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin spaceflight company has publicly offered to cover up to $2 billion in NASA contract fees so it can remain involved in the U.S. government’s effort to return astronauts to the moon.

The long-shot bid to persuade the space agency to change course comes after Elon Musk’s SpaceX was selected in April as the primary contractor to build the moon lander and given a $2.9 billion contract for the work.
It’s unclear whether and how NASA will respond. As of late afternoon, NASA had not commented on how it might proceed. A NASA spokeswoman said the agency was aware of Bezos’s letter but declined further comment, citing pending litigation.

The open offer from Bezos marks a significant departure from the normal pace of government procurement, which usually happens behind closed doors through a scripted, bureaucratic process. It is rare for the details of contract negotiations to spill into the public domain, and rarer still for interested bidders to throw out offers and counteroffers in pointed corporate blog posts.

The $2 billion olive branch is also abnormal. Although it’s common for aerospace companies to invest corporate funds in technologies they intend to sell to the government, they typically prefer the government to underwrite as much of the development expenses as possible.


…all in all, that might be running before we can walk in terms of supply chains at the minute

Fresh coronavirus outbreaks are forcing factory shutdowns in countries such as Vietnam and Bangladesh, aggravating supply chain disruptions that could leave some U.S. retailers with empty shelves as consumers begin their back-to-school shopping.

The overseas work stoppages are just the latest twist in almost 18 months of pandemic-related manufacturing and transportation woes. The new infections come as two of the largest U.S. railroads last week restricted shipments from West Coast seaports to Chicago, where a surge of shipping containers has clogged rail yards.

Supply headaches stretching from Asian factory towns to the American Midwest are intensifying as the economic recovery tries to outrun the highly infectious delta variant. Aftershocks from earlier limits on a major Chinese port following a rash of covid-19 cases are expected later this month to worsen backlogs at U.S. West Coast facilities.

Chronic shipping delays also are feeding inflation, just as consumers prepare to stock up for the coming school year. Spot shortages of clothing and footwear could appear within weeks, and popular toys may be scarce during the holiday season. Even as the U.S. economy is slated to enjoy its fastest growth since 1984, supply lines now are expected to remain snarled through the first half of next year or longer, according to corporate executives.

“Whatever the new normal is, it will happen a lot later than people assume,” Marc Bitzer, chief executive of Whirlpool, told analysts Thursday. “Everybody hopes for [the] new normal to be next quarter. It’s not going to be.”


…after all…down on the ground…where they say it’s not the fall but the landing that gets you

The long-awaited investigation into the 6 January insurrection will begin on Tuesday, when a House special committee convenes to investigate the deadly attack on the US Capitol.

6 January commission – everything you need to know [Guardian]

…no offense to the guardian…but I feel like that may not in fact be everything I need to know about that…although…there’s only so much you can take at a time & it does feel like we might already know a fair bit about how that all went down?

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection begins work Tuesday, hearing from police officers who confronted the deadly chaos. Reminding Americans that the Jan. 6 riot was a horrific attack on democracy — in contrast to the narrative some Republicans have told of a “loving crowd” filled with people behaving like average Washington tourists — is an essential part of the committee’s work.

But, also in contrast to Republican claims, there is much for the select committee to uncover.


…still…could it be that here & there some signs of reason are breaking out?

California and New York City announced Monday that they would require all government employees to get the coronavirus vaccine or face weekly Covid-19 testing, and the Department of Veterans Affairs became the first major federal agency to require healthcare workers to receive the shot.


The Department of Veterans Affairs, which runs one of the nation’s largest health systems, announced Monday it would mandate coronavirus vaccines for its front-line workers, becoming the first federal agency to do so and signaling what some experts said could be a national pivot to such requirements.

Faced with the explosive growth of a new virus variant, the state of California and the city of New York gave workers a choice: Get vaccinated or face weekly testing. And an array of hospitals from coast to coast, including the prestigious Mayo Clinic, declared they would require staff to get vaccinated, following a joint plea from the nation’s major medical groups.

Health-care leaders say the moves represent an escalation of the nation’s fight against the coronavirus — the first concerted effort to mandate that tens of millions of Americans get vaccinated, more than seven months after regulators authorized the shots and as new cases rip through the nation. VA’s mandate applies to more than 100,000 front-line workers, New York City’s applies to about 45,000 city employees and contractors, and California’s applies to more than 2.2 million state employees and health workers.
Confirmed coronavirus infections nationwide have quadrupled in July, from about 13,000 cases per day at the start of the month to more than 54,000 now, according to Washington Post tracking. Hospital leaders in states such as Alabama, Florida and Missouri have implored holdouts to get vaccinated, citing data that the shots prevent the most severe forms of the disease that lead to hospitalization and even death.


…who knows…maybe it has something to do with the canary in this coal mine looking…a little peaky?

Senior Biden officials are carefully monitoring the impact of the delta variant on Britain, as concerns intensify within the administration about the potential economic damage of the virus to the United States, according to three people familiar with the discussions.

With close to 70 percent of the United Kingdom at least partially vaccinated, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pushed toward a full economic reopening even as new cases rose above 50,000 per day for the first time since mid-January. Johnson’s government has ended most coronavirus-related restrictions in England, despite objections from many public health officials.

Administration officials are watching to see the trajectory of that decision. If Britain’s reopening continues without a new wave of hospitalizations and lockdowns, America’s recovery could prove more likely to remain on course, officials believe. But if the U.K. cannot safely reopen its economy because the delta variant spreads too rapidly, the United States — which has vaccinated a smaller percentage of its population — may face similar head winds. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to reveal the discussions.
Still, concerns have mounted internally over how the spread of the variant could impact parts of the economy, particularly if it fuels a sense of uncertainty that drags down spending and growth overall. For instance, some Biden administration officials fear that the virus could deepen the wave of early retirements among older American workers — a pandemic trend they have hoped would be reversed by the economic recovery. Perhaps just as troubling, the people said, is the prospect of parents who pull themselves out of the labor market because they stay home due to fears about the safety of sending their children to school. That could create severe new hardships for millions of American families, in addition to lowering overall employment and exacerbating claims of a national labor shortage.

Biden officials closely monitor delta variant in U.K. as their anxieties mount over impact to U.S. economy [WaPo]

…after all…we are apparently beginning to acknowledge that not all progress is necessarily a good thing

After being battered by rain, scorched by heat and then whipped by rain again in a matter of weeks, Londoners were asking the question that so many around the world are this summer: What is going on with the weather?

While individual weather events are hard to directly attribute to climate change, there is now broad scientific agreement that the extreme weather the world is experiencing this summer is being fueled by those changes.

Floods, Heat, Then Floods Again: England Is Battered by Wild Weather [NYT]

[…incidentally…that NYT piece mentions the thames flood barrier…if you’ve never heard of it that’s worth checking out…it’s kind of a big deal…put it this way…there was an episode of a show called spooks where fucking it up was the goal of a potentially devastating (if fictional) terrorist attack…but fictional terror might be gilding the lily where the news is concerned]

In 1963, two years before I was born, Rachel Carson warned us in her book Silent Spring that we were doing terrible damage to our planet. She would weep to see how much worse it has become. Insect-rich wildlife habitats, such as hay meadows, marshes, heathland and tropical rainforests, have been bulldozed, burned or ploughed to destruction on a vast scale. The problems with pesticides and fertilisers, she highlighted, have become far more acute, with an estimated 3m tonnes of pesticides now going into the global environment every year. Some of these new pesticides are thousands of times more toxic to insects than any that existed in Carson’s day. Soils have been degraded, rivers choked with silt and polluted with chemicals. Climate change, a phenomenon unrecognised in her time, is now threatening to further ravage our planet. These changes have all happened in our lifetime, on our watch, and they continue to accelerate.

Few people seem to realise how devastating this is, not only for human wellbeing – we need insects to pollinate our crops, recycle dung, leaves and corpses, keep the soil healthy, control pests, and much more – but for larger animals, such as birds, fish and frogs, which rely on insects for food. Wildflowers rely on them for pollination. As insects become more scarce, our world will slowly grind to a halt, for it cannot function without them.


…speaking of functioning

A key group of leading G20 nations is committed to climate targets that would lead to disastrous global warming, scientists have warned. They say China, Russia, Brazil and Australia all have energy policies associated with 5C rises in atmospheric temperatures, a heating hike that would bring devastation to much of the planet.

The analysis, by the peer-reviewed group Paris Equity Check, raises serious worries about the prospects of key climate agreements being achieved at the Cop26 summit in Glasgow in three months. The conference – rated as one of the most important climate summits ever staged – will attempt to hammer out policies to hold global heating to 1.5C by agreeing on a global policy for ending net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050.

A world that would be 5C hotter than it was before the Industrial Revolution, when fossil-fuel burning began in earnest, would be one in which a quarter of the global population would face extreme drought for at least one month a year; rainforests would be destroyed; and melting ice sheets would result in dangerous sea-level rises.

In addition, loss of reflective ice from the poles could cause oceans to absorb more solar radiation, while melting permafrost in Siberia and other regions would release plumes of methane, another pernicious greenhouse gas. Inevitably, temperatures would soar even further.

By contrast, scientists say that if temperature rises can be kept below 1.5C, then the worst impacts of climate change could be prevented – though they also point out that temperatures have already risen 1.2C, leaving the world facing very tight margins to avoid the worst impacts of global warming over the next 30 years.


…maybe the planet should sue?

Giving rivers the status of people – or more – in courts of law is enlivening environmentalism around the world. Ecuador started the movement when it enshrined rights of nature in its constitution in 2008. Countries such as Bolivia, Mexico and Colombia have created comparable legal mechanisms to protect nature, while New Zealand, Australia and Bangladesh have acted to protect rivers. In the United States, residents of Toledo drew up a bill of rights for Lake Erie. But can legal rights for nature protect it in reality? Who decides when a river can sue? Does it diminish the power of nature to squeeze it into the western legal system? Or do nature’s rights challenge the very foundations of capitalism?

Western legal thinkers began probing the prevalent Enlightenment assumption that natural objects were simply property to be exploited in 1972 when a young professor of legal philosophy, Christopher Stone, argued that the environment should be considered as a subject and given legal personhood – as granted to corporations, for instance – with human guardians able to seek legal redress if a natural feature is damaged or destroyed. Today’s movement was ignited in 2017 when an act of parliament in New Zealand granted the whole Whanganui River rights as an independent entity, considering it an indivisible whole from source to sea. This was part of the treaty settlement between the government and the Māori people. Guardians were appointed to act and speak on behalf of the river and enforce its rights.


…either way

Water levels in the southern part of Utah’s Great Salt Lake have dropped to the their lowest levels ever recorded, and experts say conditions at the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere will decline further as extreme drought chokes nearly the entire state.
“It’s already concerning that Great Salt Lake has been on a slow decline, but the drought has accelerated that decline,” said Candice Hasenyager, deputy director of the Utah Division of Water Resources. “It’s really alarming.”

There are still months to go in the lake’s typical dry season, which generally stretches from June through the fall. It’s likely that water levels will continue to drop, said Ryan Rowland, data chief at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Utah Water Science Center.

“We think we could drop another foot to a foot and a half,” Rowland said.

Human activity has been one of the biggest contributors to the lake’s receding water levels, with increased water consumption for farming, mineral extraction and support for the municipal and industrial sectors all playing roles, Hasenyager said.


…when it comes to where to draw the line in the proverbial sand…it’s not all about governments, is it?

When trying to ascribe responsibility for the climate crisis, it’s hard to overstate the outsized role fossil fuel companies have played. The products of just 100 private and state-owned fossil fuel companies were linked to 71% of global industrial greenhouse gas emissions since 1988, according to a groundbreaking 2017 report.

A subsequent Guardian investigation in 2019 found 20 fossil fuel companies, including Chevron and ExxonMobil, were responsible for more than one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions since 1965 – the point at which experts say fossil fuel companies were aware of the link between their products and climate change.

But it’s not just fossil fuel companies fueling the climate crisis. Even if we immediately phased out oil and gas, emissions from agriculture alone may make it impossible to limit warming to the 1.5C goal in the Paris agreement.
Even if all current Paris agreement climate pledges are met, the world is still set to see temperature rises of about 2.4C by the end of the century – well above the 1.5C of warming that scientists say will already lead to severe climate impacts.

Green, empty promises? The truth behind corporate climate pledges [Guardian]

…mind you…the whole consensus thing isn’t exactly shaking out the way you might hope so far?

A bipartisan group of senators negotiating a massive infrastructure bill were on the verge of blowing another self-imposed deadline Monday as the Senate’s top Democrat threatened to keep the chamber in session over the weekend to advance legislation that stands at the top of President Biden’s agenda.


…although…probably not all that different from the way you might expect?

Senate Republicans on Wednesday threatened to vote against an increase to the debt ceiling unless Congress first agrees to new spending cuts or other measures, raising the potential for a major political showdown that could carry vast implications for both the global economy as well as President Biden’s agenda.

The new ultimatum marked a reversal for Republicans, who agreed to address the debt ceiling — the statutory amount the government can borrow to pay its bills — multiple times to advance policies under President Donald Trump that helped add $7 trillion to the federal debt during his term.
The renewed Republican threats arrived only 10 days before a current agreement that suspends the debt ceiling is set to expire. If Congress cannot reach a deal to raise or suspend the ceiling by month’s end, the government would have to rely on what are known as “extraordinary measures” to keep paying its bills. Such tactics could give lawmakers breathing room until October or November, according to a new analysis from the Congressional Budget Office, at which point the country would be at risk of default if it did not act.

The drama intensified earlier Wednesday, after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told Punchbowl News that his party is unlikely to vote for an increase. Instead, he said Democrats should tackle it alone as part of a roughly $3.5 trillion budget deal that they plan to pass through a process known as reconciliation. The move would allow Democrats to advance spending priorities using 51 votes, rather than the normal 60, provided the entire party sticks together.

Democrats, however, have signaled that they are disinclined to take that route. The mere prospect that it could fall on them to solve the debt ceiling conundrum left some party lawmakers seething, particularly after they joined Republicans to raise and suspend the ceiling under Trump out of a belief that the issue is too dire to politicize.

“This is once again the McConnell double standard,” an incensed Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the chairman of the chamber’s Finance Committee, said as he exited a meeting Wednesday with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).


A Democrat is back in the White House. Which means, right on schedule, Republicans are again trying to take the economy hostage — by refusing to raise the U.S. debt limit.
To be clear, a debt-ceiling increase does not authorize new spending; it just raises the arbitrary cap on how much the government can borrow to pay off bills that it has already committed to. Given that Congress spends more than it collects in revenue, it must allow Treasury to borrow money to make up the difference. If Treasury can’t borrow, on the other hand, lots of bad stuff happens.

Among the most immediate bad stuff: Uncle Sam would have trouble paying military and civilian salaries, Social Security benefits, government contractors, domestic and international creditors, and almost every other bill already racked up.

If we default on these IOUs, even briefly, that does not only hurt those denied their promised payments. Default would also make it more expensive for the government to borrow going forward. Right now, the United States can borrow on the cheap because creditors do not question whether they’ll be paid in full and on time. A default would reveal us to be untrustworthy borrowers, and creditors would demand higher interest rates.

So, not exactly great for reducing our future debt burden.

Even worse, a U.S. default could trigger a worldwide financial crisis. That’s because financial markets currently treat U.S. debt as the safest of assets, with all other assets around the world benchmarked against us. Our default would send waves of financial panic cascading through lots of other markets, too.

There’s also the pesky matter of whether failing to raise the debt ceiling would violate the Constitution, which states that the “validity of the public debt of the United States … shall not be questioned.”

All of which is to say that raising the debt ceiling should be a no-brainer. And it often is — just not, apparently, when a Democrat is president.


…it’s a familiar pattern…& I imagine many (if not all) of you are probably as tired of it as I am…but every so often the gall of these assholes still manages to surprise me

For a few weeks in 1992, U.S. politics were all about “family values.” President George H.W. Bush was in electoral trouble because of a weak economy and rising inequality. So his vice president, Dan Quayle, tried to change the subject by attacking Murphy Brown, a character in a TV sitcom, an unmarried woman who chose to have a child.

I was reminded of that incident when I read about recent remarks by J.D. Vance, the author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” who is now a Republican Senate candidate in Ohio. Vance noted that some prominent Democrats don’t have children, and he lashed out at the “childless left.” He also praised the policies of Viktor Orban, the leader of Hungary, whose government is subsidizing couples who have children, and asked, “Why can’t we do that here?”

As The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel, who was there, pointed out, it was odd that Vance didn’t mention Joe Biden’s newly instituted child tax credit, which will make an enormous difference to many poorer families with children.

It was also interesting that he praised Hungary rather than other European nations with strong pronatalist policies. France, in particular, offers large financial incentives to families with children and has one of the highest fertility rates in the advanced world. So why did Vance single out for praise a repressive, autocratic government with a strong white nationalist bent?

That was a rhetorical question.
But there’s a larger point here: The whole focus on “family values” — as opposed to concrete policies that help families — turns out to have been an epic intellectual misfire.
Which brings me to my final point: When politicians rant about values, or attack other people’s personal choices, it’s usually a sign that they’re unable or unwilling to propose policies that would actually improve American lives.


…can’t imagine why that would make me think of this

To write three books in four years about Donald Trump has been an immersion into his obsessions and fixations. This is why I know the obvious: Donald Trump will run for president again.

This spring, in another of his compulsive bids for attention — indifferent to whether it is good or bad — he hosted me at Mar-a-Lago, even after I had written two unflattering books about him (one whose publication he tried to stop), for an interview and dinner. After dinner, I asked about his plans for a presidential library, the traditional retirement project and fund-raising scheme of ex-presidents. There was a flash of confusion on his uniquely readable face, and then anger, aroused, I figured, by the implication of what I seemed to be saying — that his time in office was past.

“No way, no way,” he snarled, “no way.”

It is an existential predicament: He can’t be Donald Trump without a claim on the presidency. He can’t hold the attention and devotion of the Republican Party if he is not both once and future king — and why would he ever give that up? Indeed, it seemed to be that I was strategically seated in the lobby of Mar-a-Lago when I arrived precisely so I could overhear the efforts by a Republican delegation to court and grovel before Mr. Trump and to observe his dismissive dominance over them.
Many Democrats believe that the legal pursuit of the former president’s family business in New York, and other cases, including the investigation of his attempt to overturn election results in Georgia, might seriously impede his political future. But in Mr. Trump’s logic, this will run the opposite way: Running for president is the best way to directly challenge the prosecutors.
For Democrats, who see him exiled to Mar-a-Lago, stripped of his key social media platforms and facing determined prosecutors, his future seems risible if not pathetic. But this is Donald Trump, always ready to strike back harder than he has been struck, to blame anyone but himself, to silence any doubts with the sound of his own voice, to take what he believes is his and, most of all, to seize all available attention. Sound the alarm.


…we all knew he never had it in him to go gracefully…but the shittiest sounding swansong in US political history is a bar nobody needs to see that ungainly specimen attempt to clear…not that any of us look like having much choice in the matter

President Donald Trump on Monday threw his support behind sitting Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, who is being challenged in a primary by George P. Bush, the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
The endorsement could be a boon for Paxton as Trump continues to enjoy support in the Republican Party. However, Bush, whose family has roots in the state and the Republican party, had been angling for Trump’s backing. Bush’s entry into the race will make it one of the most anticipated, and analyzed, state-level races of the cycle.


…one thing’s for sure…there are enough of these clowns for a god-awful circus

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI but then received a pardon, suggested this month that he would use an AR-15 rifle he was given as a gift to shoot someone in Washington.

In a video posted on Twitter, Flynn is seen on stage with a group of people. A man also standing on stage says he is giving Flynn the gun because “we were trying to come up with a rifle that we thought was appropriate for a general, so we went with an old-school Woodland camouflage … one of our top-quality guns.”

Flynn responds, “Maybe I’ll find somebody in Washington, D.C.” The crowd laughs.

The video appears to have been livestreamed on the church’s website and then removed; it was saved by Twitter users who then shared it.

The Church of Glad Tidings in Yuba City, California, hosted Flynn on July 16, according to an event posting on Facebook by Dave Bryan, a pastor at the church.
Flynn resigned less than a month after Trump took office after details about his discussions with the Russians emerged. Trump pardoned him last year.


…not a subtle message, to be sure…but then…it’s not a subtle subject, after all

5 dead, including a sheriff’s deputy, in the wake of California standoff [NBC]

…although…well…appearances can be deceptive, I guess

A week. That’s about all D.C.’s gunfire problem got from the nation’s conscience.

“What they were talking about on TV? All over the world?” said Michael Corbett, 35, who pointed to a dime-size scar where a stray bullet pierced his neck, ripped through his jaw and lodged inside his gums a year ago. “That’s daily life for us.”

The bullet that surgeons pulled out of Corbett’s mouth, which hit him while he was sitting on his girlfriend’s porch, left behind just one of 40,302 casings that D.C. authorities catalogued in three years.

Let me say it again: A trigger was pulled at least 40,302 times in 2018, 2019 and 2020 in the nation’s capital, according to the police records that The Washington Post’s Peter Hermann and John D. Harden obtained and wrote about in a searing article last week.
The epidemic of gunfire in the nation’s capital finally got the world’s attention last week, only because of where the latest shots were fired: first outside the Washington Nationals’ baseball stadium on July 17, sending fans and players ducking for cover, and then not far from one of downtown’s most fancy-schmancy restaurants on Thursday night.
“Now, a lot of the killing isn’t about drugs,” […] “It’s about beefs or grudges or someone talked to someone else’s woman. And these young men don’t know how to deal with their anger. They didn’t learn that.”
“A lot of kids get killed, and you don’t hear about it,” […] “I don’t know if that’s going to change.”
This column is already too old, in the short half-life of today’s news cycle.
Two men were killed in the 100 block of Q Street NW on Sunday. It wasn’t near a stadium, or any really fancy restaurants. And the news briefing at the scene was pretty small.

40,302 gunshots the nation didn’t hear about [WaPo]

…maybe we should think about…alternative measures?

A gunman who opened fire at a party early Monday in Texas, fatally shooting one person, died after attendees struck him with bricks, authorities said.
When people at the party began chasing him, he opened fire and they threw landscaping bricks at him, the statement said. Two people were struck by gunfire, one fatally, police said. The second person was taken to a local hospital with a non-life-threatening gunshot wound.

The gunman was struck multiple times with at least one brick and pronounced dead at the scene, authorities said.


…anyway…before I get to finding a tune or two…I thought some of our more ornithologically-minded folks might like the sounds of this?

Identifying birds by their songs has always been difficult, for computers and humans alike. Every species of bird has a range of vocalizations, sometimes an immense range, and those vocalizations can have regional inflections, just as people speak with local accents. In some species, individual birds put a unique spin on their songs, too. A mockingbird is the avian equivalent of a jazz musician.

Last month, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology released an updated version of its Merlin Bird ID app, which allows users to identify birds by song. There are other voice-recognition apps for birds, but they are accurate barely 50 percent of the time. Though Merlin doesn’t claim to be 100 percent accurate, it comes very close. Drawing on a database of notes and recordings contributed by tens of thousands of citizen scientists through the Lab’s eBird initiative, Merlin listens as you listen, in real time, and tells you what you’re hearing. The app can identify some 400 North American species so far and will keep expanding. It’s an immense achievement, a quantum leap forward, nothing less than “a Shazam for bird songs,” as an article in Fast Company put it.
What amazed me was not merely the accuracy of the ID but also the way the app untangled the layers of song, correctly identifying the birds that were singing in my yard, as well the birds that were singing next door and the birds that were singing across the street. If the same bird sang a second time, the app highlighted the name it had already listed. Watching those highlights play across the growing list of birds was almost like watching fingers fly across a piano keyboard.
This enchanting app is aptly named. Watching those birds appear on my phone screen in response to the sound of their voices in the air was a kind of wizardry — like watching the notes of a song become visible, like having fairies or angels suddenly embodied before me. Merlin made me see what before I could only imagine.

This ‘Shazam’ for Birds Could Help Save Them [NYT]



  1. Have you ever seen the movie “Flood”? The Thames Barrier is a main character. It is amazing to see in real life. 

    Carp (the verb, not the fish) I must: The fact that the City of New York is requiring 45,000 employees or contractors to fall under this “vax or weekly test” rule is a little underwhelming. The City has north of 300,000 employees (no one can tell you how many, just that it’s over 300,000 apparently, probably around 315 or 320, but who’s counting?) and many hundreds of thousands of contractors. I doubt the police and teachers’ unions would go along with this without a fight, and they are, in a sense, more powerful than the Mayor when it comes to certain things. So that must make up tens of thousands who would explain the discrepancy between 45,000 and the rest.

    • This just in: Within the past 24 hours ALL city employees fall under this vax/test regimen. I have no idea how de Blasio, one of the lamest Mayors in my long lifetime, pulled this off. I am sure compliance will be at 100%. [Insert belly laughs.] Anyway, useful news is that this effects all 340,000 city employees, which is “an approximate number.”

      • I think the dominoes are starting to fall now on employers mandating vaccination. Here in deep red hell, the Orange County Tax Collector’s office just announced that employees must be vaccinated or they have to find a new job. Now Orlando is quite blue, but that’s still a big step to take. Our idiot governor is still trying to abolish all mask mandates and other COVID protocols, so it’s going to draw his fire.
        My guess is he’ll cobble together another executive order that will get thrown out by the court system. Our legislature is known for conducting these performances that cost the taxpayers millions. But they just hope the voters remember at election time that “DeSantis tried to stop all this COVID hoax.” 

      • I’d be curious if a big reason BDB went for all employees is if the teachers were already mostly vaxxed up. I read that NYC police were still short of 50%, but BDB may have decided they aren’t worth worrying about any more. I suspect the rank and file of teachers may actually be eager to get compliance from a few holdouts when they’re all back together indoors.

        • The teachers’ union endorsed it, but that’s Bill Mulgrew. God knows what he’s getting out of this. The firefighters’ union issued a blistering response, something about infringing on civil liberties. The firefighters, of all people. Don’t they mask up when they enter burning buildings and have been doing this for generations? Vaccination rates are fairly low AMONG HOSPITAL AND NURSING HOME WORKERS. Their union, 1199SEIU, is opposed to this, as are the nursing home operators and some hospital officials. Their reasoning? Labor shortages. It’s tough enough to find workers in this labor shortage and we wouldn’t want to chase away potential employees and union members.

          The resisters say (and they may have a legal argument here) that no vaccine is FDA approved. But people are vaccine resistant for a lot of weird reasons. In my little Manhattan backwater there’s a pastor (a one-man cult of personality running his own evangelical group) who urges his elderly flock not to vaccinate with a cry of “Remember Tuskegee!!!” A good many of them probably do remember it.   

          • As far as NYC hospital labor shortages go – my ER nurse sister says that people at her hospital are quitting in droves. It’s mostly burnout and hospital mismanagement. They keep wanting her to add shifts – but she’s burnt out too. She would quit except she’s still paying for the loans for her nursing degree and her East Village rent. 

            • Oh I bet. When I did my month+ “abroad” in the hospital-then-physical rehab facilities I got chummy with a lot of the staff who visited me. Why? Because I was coherent and cheerful. Maybe 3 or 4 times I (behind my mask, and being fully vaccinated) asked how it must have gone a year ago. They couldn’t even respond, they were so shell shocked. So, I stuck to neutral, non-work-related topics.

              The nurses are worth every nickel. The administrators and the billing department employees and the insurance drones not so much, but that’s just my personal anecdata.

              • My RN wife and I were having this discussion the other day.  She went through a rigorous and specific course of training, much like anyone in trade school.  She’s been at it for almost 30 years, but still makes $15/hour less than our plumber. 

  2. Re: Early retirements due to covid. Just yesterday someone in my company told me their manager said that people who didn’t want to come back into the office should retire. That’s a 180 from what my boss told me. It seems that instead of a cohesive policy departments are just doing whatever. That will work.
    The bird ID thing is cool and all but the fun of birdwatching is identifying the birds yourself, for me it is anyway.

      • Right? And then he tries to set up her kid sister with an over-40 politician? How is Ginger Luckey still associating with this slime bucket? “Oh, hey, Matt, can we put something in our marriage vows about not pimping out my sister?”

    • Working at the intersection of mental health and criminal justice, one of my pet peeves is when people use clinical terms colloquially.  Pedophilia refers to sexual attraction to prepubescent children.  Teenagers aren’t that.  And most people who offend against children aren’t that.  Not all child molesters are pedophiles, and not all pedophiles molest children.

      • To be fair, she did clarify:

        In the first video, she referred to him as a “literal pedophile,” but clarified in a second video the correct term may be “ephebophilia.”

    • I’m sure it’s in the form of 100 million $20 Amazon gift cards.
      Actually, all of this fluff is probably like the bogus contributions that NFL teams supposedly kick in when they get huge stadium subsidies. Basically a promise that they’ll pay 25% of the taxes they owe instead of 0%.

      • Okay, the gift card comment made me spit coffee. 
        Actually, it’s quite legal. Government relies on private contractors all the time, and NASA has been doing it a lot lately. Musk’s SpaceX has been hauling stuff up into orbit for a while now. 

  3. Update! My kids don’t have Covid. I can’t wait till young kids can be vaccinated too. I imagine that testing for Covid will become a regular thing for us, when my eldest starts preschool in September.

  4. Thank you for continuing to bang on the drum of the gun epidemic. “40,302 casings that D.C. authorities catalogued in three years.” This is made notable by how tiny DC is, only 68.34 square miles (693,000 population). This is also one of the reasons why there is such a split between rural and urban opinions on gun control. One rural PA county, Tioga, is 1,137 square miles with a population of 41,000. These are different worlds, and I am unsure how one gun rule can work for both.

  5. The Fort Worth story. It’s Texas, so the people with the bricks will get charged with assault and/or murder and the NRA will make sure of that. Coz what will that do for bizness if rock beats gun?

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