The Obamacare Apocalypse


Last week, a professor of physics and astronomy ” target=”_blank”>Koch brothers’ plan to stop them.  It’s possible that some of the Republican governors who refused Medicaid money for 8 million of their constituents will find themselves so wildly unpopular that they’ll do a 180.  It’s possible that people in the individual market stranded by the law and their insurance companies will find solutions.  Hell, it’s even possible that healthcare.gov will work.

So it’s not nuts to think that by the time Obama leaves office, the American health care system will be better in lots of ways, Obamacare will be the new normal and solid majorities will like it.  There may be no “Keep Your Hands Off My Obamacare” signs during the 2016 campaign, but it’s possible that the painful rollout of the exchanges will be forgotten.

That would ruin things for the drama queens in the media.  Their master narrative is Countdown to Armageddon.  Demagogues need end times to raise money.  News needs to shout apocalypse to get attention.

It’s not just Obamacare.  Imagine that CBS News had no reason to retract the Benghazi piece on “60 Minutes.”  If accounts of Dylan Davies’s F.B.I. interviews hadn’t made their way to the ” target=”_blank”>The Last Hours: Warming the World to Extinction,” a 10-minute movie written by Thom Hartmann and directed by Leila Conners makes terrifyingly clear, climate change is on track to cause the sixth mass extinction in geologic history. The fifth, the K-T extinction 65 million years ago, was caused by an asteroid hitting the earth off the coast of the Yucatan peninsula – and it killed the dinosaurs.  The third mass extinction – the Permean, the worst – was caused by volcanic eruptions in the Siberian Traps that warmed the oceans six degrees Celsius and melted trillions of tons of methane that had been frozen beneath the sea floor and ice sheets.  The methane this released into the atmosphere doubled the warming the volcanoes caused and killed 95 percent of all life on earth.  Today, fossil fuel burning and industrial agriculture are increasing greenhouse gases at rates never before recorded by humans, physicist Michael Mann says in the film, “far greater than any of the most rapid events that happened in the deep geological past,” including the Permean extinction. 

Talk about doomsday scenarios.  If this keeps happening, Obamacare, along with everything else we love, hate or talk about, will be irrelevant, because our species won’t be around to love, hate or talk about anything. But you would not know that things are as dire as they are from watching the news, which is just how Exxon-Mobil, Monsanto and the Koch brothers like it.

The day before the Times reported a tenfold increase in the odds of an asteroid strike, Erik Petiguara, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley martyk@jewishjournal.com.

How to avoid meteors


NASA scientists “>tsimtsum, the Kabbalistic concept of a God who contracted from the world in order to create it; the “>told reporters why there had been no fatalities: “God directed danger away.” How grateful would he have been to that God if Chelyabinsk had looked more like Tunguska?  

But secularism sucks. It is hard to tell children that the universe is indifferent to them. It is unacceptable that chance changes everything all the time. It is difficult to tell ourselves the running story of our lives – to find meaning in our personal narratives – when the plot points come not from character or merit, but from rolls of the dice, bolts from the blue, madmen, freaks of nature, lousy luck.

There are of course rational ways to deal with this dilemma. We buckle up and drive defensively.  We buy insurance and earthquake kits. We exercise, wear sunscreen and eat kale.

There are spiritual ways, too – ones that don’t require twisting ourselves into theological pretzels. Knowing we may die tomorrow, we seize today, smell the roses, hug our children close. We count our blessings without positing a Blesser, thank our lucky stars without believing in fortune, fate or destiny.

Living well is the best revenge. I have friends whose toddler died suddenly of an undetected heart defect. “What do you do with that?” I asked the boy’s grieving father as, horrified, I fought thinking the unthinkable. “How do you go on? What do you learn? What do you do?” “Drink better wine,” he said.

There’s a poem by Rumi, the 13th-century Sufi mystic: 

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.

Don’t go back to sleep.

You must ask for what you really want.

Don’t go back to sleep.

People are going back and forth across the doorsill


where the two worlds touch.


The door is round and open.

Don’t go back to sleep.

We are sleepwalkers, amnesiacs, oblivious of everyday miracles, comically reliant on benign biopsies and Siberian meteors to remind us to be mindful.

We’re about to learn whether Hurricane Sandy decisively awakened us to our planet’s manmade mortality. ““>Climate Central” piece explained, “many scientists believe another mass extinction is under way – this one entirely of our own making.”

No one can avoid living where a chunk of space rock explodes with the force of 10 Hiroshima bombs. But the causes of climate change, unlike the contingencies of the interstellar cosmos, are within our control. There remains to us a small window of time when we can still bend the curve of global warming. It will be a manmade miracle if we don’t go back to sleep.

Marty Kaplan is the “>USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

UPDATE: Meteorite explodes over Russia, more than 1,000 injured


A meteorite streaked across the sky and exploded over central Russia on Friday, raining fireballs over a vast area and causing a shock wave that smashed windows, damaged buildings and injured 1,200 people.

People heading to work in Chelyabinsk heard what sounded like an explosion, saw a bright light and then felt the shock wave, according to a Reuters correspondent in the industrial city 1,500 km (950 miles) east of Moscow.

The fireball, travelling at a speed of 30 km (19 miles) per second according to Russian space agency Roscosmos, had blazed across the horizon, leaving a long white trail that could be seen as far as 200 km (125 miles) away.

Car alarms went off, thousands of windows shattered and mobile phone networks were disrupted. The Interior Ministry said the meteorite explosion, a very rare spectacle, also unleashed a sonic boom.

“I was driving to work, it was quite dark, but it suddenly became as bright as if it were day,” said Viktor Prokofiev, 36, a resident of Yekaterinburg in the Urals Mountains.

“I felt like I was blinded by headlights.”

The meteorite, which weighed about 10 tonnes and may have been made of iron, entered Earth's atmosphere and broke apart 30-50 km (19-31 miles) above ground, according to Russia's Academy of Sciences.

The energy released when it entered the Earth's atmosphere was equivalent to a few kilotonnes, the academy said, the power of a small atomic weapon exploding.

No deaths were reported but the Emergencies Ministry said 20,000 rescue and clean-up workers were sent to the region after President Vladimir Putin told Emergencies Minister Vladimir Puchkov to ease the disruption and help the victims.

The Interior Ministry said about 1,200 people had been injured, at least 200 of them children, and most from shards of glass.

WINDOWS BLOWN OUT

The early-morning blast and ensuing shock wave blew out windows on Chelyabinsk's central Lenin Street, buckled some shop fronts, rattled apartment buildings in the city centre and blew out windows.

“I was standing at a bus stop, seeing off my girlfriend,” said Andrei, a local resident who did not give his second name. “Then there was a flash and I saw a trail of smoke across the sky and felt a shock wave that smashed windows.”

A wall and roof were badly damaged at the Chelyabinsk Zinc Plant but a spokeswoman said no environmental threat resulted.

One piece of meteorite broke through the ice the Cherbakul Lake near Chelyabinsk, leaving a hole several metres (yards) wide.

The region has long been a hub for the Russian military and defence industry, and it is often the site where artillery shells are decommissioned.

A local Emergencies Ministry official said meteorite storms were extremely rare and Friday's incident may have been connected with an asteroid the size of an Olympic swimming pool that was due to pass Earth.

But an astronomer at Russia's Academy of Sciences, Sergei Barabanov, cast doubt on that report and the European Space Agency said its experts had confirmed there was no link.

The regional governor in Chelyabinsk said the meteorite shower had caused more than $30 million in damage, and the Emergencies Ministry said 300 buildings had been affected.

Despite warnings not to approach any unidentified objects, some enterprising locals were hoping to cash in.

“Selling meteorite that fell on Chelyabinsk!” one prospective seller, Vladimir, said on a popular Russian auction website. He attached a picture of a black piece of stone that on Friday afternoon was priced at 1,488 roubles ($49.46).

RARE EVENT

The Emergencies Ministry described Friday's events as a “meteorite shower in the form of fireballs” and said background radiation levels were normal. It urged residents not to panic.

The first footage was shot by car dashboard video cameras and soon went viral.

Russians also quickly made fun at the event on the Internet. A photo montage showed Putin riding the meteorite and Nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovksy said in jest it was really a new weapon being tested by the United States.

Experts drew comparisons with an incident in 1908, when a meteorite is thought to have devastated an area of more than 2,000 sq km (1,250 miles) in Siberia, breaking windows as far as 200 km (125 miles) from the point of impact.

Simon Goodwin, an astrophysics expert from Britain's University of Sheffield, said that roughly 1,000 to 10,000 tonnes of material rained down from space towards the earth every day, but most burned up in the atmosphere.

“While events this big are rare, an impact that could cause damage and death could happen every century or so. Unfortunately there is absolutely nothing we can do to stop impacts.”

The meteorite struck just as an asteroid known as 2012 DA14, about 46 m in diameter, was due to pass closer to Earth – at a distance of 27,520 km (17,100 miles) – than any other known object of its size since scientists began routinely monitoring asteroids about 15 years ago. ($1 = 30.0877 Russian roubles)

Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska in Moscow; Writing by Timothy Heritage and Thomas Grove; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Michael Roddy

Synagogue in Siberia damaged by meteorite


A synagogue in Siberia was lightly damaged by a meteorite that fell nearby.

On Friday, Rabbi Yechiel Michel Levitin, director of the Or Avner Jewish day school in Chelyabinsk, a city located 1,000 miles east of Moscow, was quoted by an Israeli website as saying congregants heard a huge explosion during morning prayers followed by a bright flash that lit up the sky.

“Glasses shattered and people tried to escape, but they weren't sure were to go,” Levitin told COL, a media outlet affiliated with Chabad. “Outside we were told a meteor had fallen from the space.”

Media on Friday reported a suspected extraterrestrial object had landed somewhere in western Siberia. Videos posted on YouTube by drivers in the area showed a bright orb streaking the early morning sky.

Levitin uploaded photos of the Chelyabisnk synagogue's stained-glass windows, which he said were shattered by the shock waves. The rabbi said one congregant was spared serious injury when a large shard of glass landed in his seat seconds after he went to the window to investigate the cause of the blast.

“It was a real miracle,” Levitin said, according to COL. Levitin said authorities were telling residents to stay indoors while they were investigating the incident.

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