Persistent Alaska warmth this fall has brought back ‘the blob.’ If it lasts, it could mean a wild winter in the Lower 48. ~ The Washington Post

Sea surface temperature anomalies highlight the expansive blob of warm water around Alaska. (
October 18 at 2:07 PM

Throughout early fall, Alaska has been oddly warm and pleasant. The cause of the freakishly nice weather has been massive high pressure anchored over and around the state. One of the strongest on record for fall, this sprawling dome of warm air has helped keep the usual transition to cold stunted.

Since days are still long in early fall across Alaska, the sunny September (and into October) skies have also allowed ocean temperatures in the Northeast Pacific to rise significantly, as well. This has led to a return pool of abnormally warm ocean water in the Northeast Pacific known as “the blob,” and just in time for Halloween!

But scientists are unsure whether the blob will remain a fixture or fade away. If it manages to linger into the winter, the consequences for the Lower 48 could be profound.

[NOAA winter outlook: El Niño may mean stormy conditions in the South and Eastern U.S.]

Although the blob is focused over the Northeast Pacific and the Gulf of Alaska, it has played a substantial role in the development of extreme weather patterns over the Lower 48 when it has formed in the past. Generally, it has been linked to abnormally warm and dry conditions in the West, and cold and stormy conditions in the East.

When the blob is in place, the jet stream, which both divides warm and cold air and acts as super highway for storms, tends to veer north over the top of the blob. This results in a big ridge of high pressure forming over western North America, which brings mild weather and blocks storms.

The blob’s presence was linked to the persistence and intensity of the drought in California from 2013 to 2015. It also ″was blamed for contributing to 2015 being the hottest year on record in Seattle,” according to Scott Sistek, a meteorologist with KOMO in Seattle.

As the cold air displaced by the blob has to go somewhere, it then often crashes south in the East. Remember the polar vortex intrusions during the winters of 2013-2014 and 2014-2015? The blob played a role.

So what will happen to the current iteration of the blob?

After Alaska’s stunningly sunny September, warmer-than-normal conditions have persisted into October, despite some change in the pattern, which is now delivering more in the way of clouds and precipitation.

While the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center is forecasting warmer-than-normal conditions for Alaska the rest of the month, the mega-high-pressure zone feeding the blob is expected to continue to shift and break down a bit. In its wake, a stormier pattern may take over, at least for a time. This would allow the waters where the blob currently resides to begin to mix better, perhaps ultimately diminishing or even destroying it.

“How long will BLOB Jr. last? At least as long as we have persistent high pressure over the north Pacific,” wrote Cliff Mass, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Washington, in a blog post. At this point, “it looks like things are evolving to a pattern with less high pressure offshore, so the BLOB should weaken.”

Over the next week, weather modeling indicates high pressure will move east into Canada as low pressure moves into the region where the blob is hanging out. (Tropical Tidbits)

According to Brian Brettschneider, a climatologist in Alaska, even if high pressure persists, it may turn into a source of cold air rather than warmth given Alaska’s waning sunlight — which would weaken the blob.

Ultimately, it’s hard to say much conclusively about the blob’s fate.

The blob last showed up around this time in 2016. Back then, there was some thinking that it may lead to a new round of winter cold outbreaks in the East. That didn’t really happen, as the blob dissipated.

Blob or not, the damage has been done in Alaska, where drought persists in the coastal rain forest of the southeast, and it’s been an extraordinarily peculiar start to the cold season.

“The onset of autumn in Alaska — the wettest part of the year for south-central and southeast Alaska — has been slow to arrive by four weeks or so,” said Dave Snider of the National Weather Service forecast office in Anchorage.

Anchorage has yet to witness a freeze. Although the city could see its first freeze in about a week, that will be about 10 days to two weeks past the old record for latest, a substantial gap.

“Nome should have 20 freezes by now. This year just one,” Brettschneider said. “Anchorage should have 20 days with temperatures below 38 degrees. This year, zero. So it’s not just the lack of a freeze, it’s that everything about the air mass is exceptional and persistent.”

Another oddity? Fairbanks has yet to see any snow so far this season, the latest on record. But history shows that the lack of snow so far means little with respect to what winter will bring.

Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 2.17.50 PM.png

Much like the future of the blob, the future of winter in Alaska is very much to be determined.

Brettschneider sees the potential for a perfect confluence of conditions to keep the warmth coming. Since September turned to October, a dominant feature has been a low pressure area in the Bering Sea. This is a conduit for driving relatively mild Pacific Ocean air into the state.

It’s still quite early in the cold season, even in the snowy north. For now, it’s a waiting game. Waiting for summer to finally end, and waiting to see what winter might bring. It won’t only have implications for Alaska, but for all of us.

Japan … Lisa Issenberg photos


I asked may I take your photo, they laughed and insisted that we each sit with them for the photo. 

Unknown-1   IMG_0055 2





Noguchi’s favorite stone 




Noguchi Garden Museum

IMG_0066  ” Mantra of Light chart.  Woodblock stamps for each of the 88 temples of the Shikoku pilgrimage.”IMG_0067

IMG_0073   IMG_0068


Temple phone booth


IMG_0070     IMG_0071

“Shrine stickers”


Ramen at Ofukuro (Mom’s Place), Takamatsu, Shikoku.”

Was Gary Hart Set Up? ~ The Atlantic



In the spring of 1990, after he had helped the first George Bush reach the presidency, the political consultant Lee Atwater learned that he was dying. Atwater, who had just turned 39 and was the head of the Republican National Committee, had suffered a seizure while at a political fund-raising breakfast and had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. In a year he was dead.

Atwater put some of that year to use making amends. Throughout his meteoric political rise he had been known for both his effectiveness and his brutality. In South Carolina, where he grew up, he helped defeat a congressional candidate who had openly discussed his teenage struggles with depression by telling reporters that the man had once been “hooked up to jumper cables.” As the campaign manager for then–Vice President George H. W. Bush in 1988, when he defeated Michael Dukakis in the general election, Atwater leveraged the issue of race—a specialty for him—by means of the infamous “Willie Horton” TV ad. The explicit message of the commercial was that, as governor of Massachusetts, Dukakis had been soft on crime by offering furloughs to convicted murderers; Horton ran away while on furlough and then committed new felonies, including rape. The implicit message was the menace posed by hulking, scowling black men—like the Willie Horton who was shown in the commercial.

And in a private act of repentance that has remained private for nearly three decades, he told Raymond Strother that he was sorry for how he had torpedoed Gary Hart’s chances of becoming president.

Strother, 10 years older than Atwater, had been his Democratic competitor and counterpart, minus the gutter-fighting. During the early Reagan years, when Atwater worked in the White House, Strother joined the staff of the Democratic Party’s most promising and glamorous young figure, Senator Gary Hart of Colorado. Strother was Hart’s media consultant and frequent traveling companion during his run for the nomination in 1984, when he gave former Vice President Walter Mondale a scare. As the campaign for the 1988 nomination geared up, Strother planned to play a similar role.

In early 1987, the Hart campaign had an air of likelihood if not inevitability that is difficult to imagine in retrospect. After Mondale’s landslide defeat by Ronald Reagan in 1984, Hart had become the heir apparent and best hope to lead the party back to the White House. The presumed Republican nominee was Bush, Reagan’s vice president, who was seen at the time, like many vice presidents before him, as a lackluster understudy. Since the FDR–Truman era, no party had won three straight presidential elections, which the Republicans would obviously have to do if Bush were to succeed Reagan.

Gary Hart had a nationwide organization and had made himself a recognized expert on military and defense policy. I first met him in those days, and wrote about him in Atlantic articles that led to my 1981 book, National Defense. (I’ve stayed in touch with him since then and have respected his work and his views.) Early polls are notoriously unreliable, but after the 1986 midterms, and then–New York Governor Mario Cuomo’s announcement that he would not run, many national surveys showed Hart with a lead in the Democratic field and also over Bush. Hart’s principal vulnerability was the press’s suggestion that something about him was hidden, excessively private, or “unknowable.” Among other things, this was a way of alluding to suspicions of extramarital affairs—a theme in most accounts of that campaign, including Matt Bai’s 2014 All the Truth Is Out. Still, as Bai wrote in his book, “Everyone agreed: it was Hart’s race to lose.”

Strother and Atwater had the mutually respectful camaraderie of highly skilled rivals. “Lee and I were friends,” Strother told me when I spoke with him by phone recently. “We’d meet after campaigns and have coffee, talk about why I did what I did and why he did what he did.” One of the campaigns they met to discuss afterward was that 1988 presidential race, which Atwater (with Bush) had of course ended up winning, and from which Hart had dropped out. But later, during what Atwater realized would be the final weeks of his life, Atwater phoned Strother to discuss one more detail of that campaign.

What he wanted to say, according to Strother, was that the episode that had triggered Hart’s withdrawal from the race, which became known as the Monkey Business affair, had been not bad luck but a trap. The sequence of events was confusing at the time and is widely misremembered now. But in brief:

In late March 1987, Hart spent a weekend on a Miami-based yacht called Monkey Business. Two young women joined the boat when it sailed to Bimini. While the boat was docked there, one of the women took a picture of Hart sitting on the pier, with the other, Donna Rice, in his lap. A month after this trip, in early May, the man who had originally invited Hart onto the boat brought the same two women to Washington. The Miami Herald had received a tip about the upcoming visit and was staking out the front of Hart’s house. (A famous profile of Hart by E. J. Dionne in The New York Times Magazine, in which Hart invited the press to “follow me around,” came out after this stakeout—not before, contrary to common belief.) A Herald reporter saw Rice and Hart going into the house through the front door and, not realizing that there was a back door, assumed—when he didn’t see her again—that she had spent the night.

Amid the resulting flap about Hart’s “character” and honesty, he quickly suspended his campaign (within a week), which effectively ended it. Several weeks later came the part of the episode now best remembered: the photo of Hart and Rice together in Bimini, on the cover of the National Enquirer.

~~~  CONTINUE  ~~~





Was Gary Hart Set Up?

What are we to make of the deathbed confession of the political operative Lee Atwater, newly revealed, that he staged the events that brought down the Democratic candidate in 1987? In The Atlantic’s November issue, James Fallows asked what alternate courses history might have taken.

My name is James Savage and I was the Miami Herald’s investigations editor who helped report and edit the 1987 stories that uncovered Gary Hart’s relationship with Donna Rice and prompted him to quit his presidential campaign

I believe from my personal knowledge of the facts that The Atlantic’s article contains serious factual errors.

The article’s conspiracy theory suggests that William Broadhurst deliberately maneuvered Hart into potentially damaging press exposure by arranging for him to spend time on the yacht Monkey Business and have his picture taken with Donna Rice sitting on his lap.

The truth is the late Mr. Broadhurst did everything short of violence trying to prevent the Herald’s investigations team from publishing the first story about the scandal.

Reporters Tom Fiedler, Jim McGee, and I were preparing that story on deadline after interviewing Hart about his relationship with the young woman from Miami when Broadhurst phoned our hotel room in Washington.

Broadhurst insisted that he had invited the Miami woman and a friend to Washington and any story we wrote would unfairly portray Hart’s relationship. He refused to name the woman who was later identified as Donna Rice.

We included Broadhurst’s defense of Hart in that first story. After filing our story, at Broadhurst’s suggestion, we met with him at an all-night restaurant where he continued to argue on Hart’s behalf.

Broadhurst died recently and can’t defend himself.

I believe the Atlantic story also implies that Donna Rice was somehow involved in a conspiracy to embarrass Hart. I am convinced from my firsthand knowledge of how the Herald learned about Hart’s plan to meet with Ms. Rice that she did not have any involvement in any plan to embarrass Hart.

I believe The Atlantic should publish a correction and an apology to Ms. Rice. I would be happy to discuss further details.

James Savage
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

James Fallows replies:

The details of the Miami Herald’s handling of the Gary Hart-Donna Rice case were explicitly not the topic of my article. The literature on the topic is too vast and contradictory to set out, even in a magazine article many times longer than the one I wrote.

In brief (as I said in giving a summary of the crucial episodes in my article): Over the decades, many of those involved in the Herald’s decision to send reporters for a stakeout of Gary Hart’s house in Washington have stoutly defended the public and journalistic interests they believed they served in doing so, and the care they took in choosing this course. Mr. Savage, who was involved in those decisions, defends them in his note. A fuller account of the Herald’s decisions, by James Savage and his Herald colleagues Jim McGee and Tom Fielder, appeared in that paper just a week after the stakeout. You can read it here.

Over the decades, many people not involved in the choices have debated these same aspects: whether the Herald exercised sufficient care in pursuing the tip it received and what the consequences were of the way it (and, separately, the Washington Post) then handled the “scandal” of Hart’s possible affairs. Back in 1987, the journalist John Judis offered a skeptical and negative assessment of the Herald’s and Post’s approaches in the Columbia Journalism Review. Matt Bai’s 2014 book about the episode, All the Truth is Out, is about the way that coverage of Hart became the moment when “politics went tabloid” and changed both politics and journalism for the worse.

Read them all. See the forthcoming movie based on Bai’s book, The Front Runner. Judge for yourself.

But wherever you come out, what the Herald did was not the topic I was discussing. The news my article conveyed is what might have happened before anyone at any newspaper got involved.

It was about the circumstances in which Hart, Donna Rice, another woman named Lynn Armandt, and a lobbyist named Billy Broadhurst got together on a boat in the first place, which led to the tip the Herald later received. Broadhurst, a lobbyist and fixer, was by all accounts a man of many faces. I have no reason to doubt Mr. Savage’s report of the Herald’s dealings with him. Other people who dealt with him firsthand, and have spoken with me about him, have offered much less positive perspectives.

As most readers noted from my story, and as Mr. Savage might see if he looks at it again, the story was careful to present new information as a possibility—as another way of thinking about a consequential moment in modern political history. The headline of the story was not “Gary Hart Was Set Up.” Instead it asked, “Was Gary Hart Set Up?” There is a proper journalistic bias against using questions in headlines. But doing so was appropriate in this case, for an article whose point was in fact a question: What if Lee Atwater’s deathbed admission to his colleague and competitor, Raymond Strother, was actually true? What if the Monkey Business disaster were not just a catastrophic error by Hart but a set-up plan?

As the article points out, Strother himself realized that this claim would forever be unprovable, since Lee Atwater died soon after he revealed this information over the phone (according to Strother) back in 1991. Strother told me that this very unprovability was part of the reason he kept the information to himself for so many years—doing so, in fact, until he spoke with Hart early this year, in what he thought might be one of their final meetings.  

Can I prove that Lee Atwater actually made this confession to Raymond Strother 27 years ago, as Strother said to me in several conversations this year? Of course not. But Strother has a long record as a campaign strategist and press spokesman, which to the best of my knowledge offers no grounds to be skeptical of his honesty—especially on this topic, and at this stage of his life. Could Strother himself, back at the time, prove that Atwater was telling him the truth? Also, of course not. And Atwater’s short record in public life contained ample grounds for doubts about his honesty. But in his final weeks, Atwater was offering a lot of public apologies for other campaign dirty tricks, which are known to have occurred. Would he have simply invented this additional trick (without actually having been responsible for it) so that he could privately apologize to his former rival Raymond Strother? Anything’s possible, but that seems far-fetched.

No one can know whether Gary Hart would have gone on to the nomination or the presidency if this scandal hadn’t erupted when it did; or whether some other scandal might have ensued if this one hadn’t; or whether Hart, like Bill Clinton after him, to say nothing of Donald Trump, might have ridden out the scandal coverage if he’d decided just to brazen his way through; or whether Michael Dukakis might have risen to the nomination even if Hart stayed in the race; or whether George H.W. Bush was destined for election anyway; or a thousand other imponderables. The point of the story was: History is full of counterfactual what ifs, which by definition are unknowable, and the Atwater-Strother-Hart series of conversations adds another unknowable but provocative what if to the list.

Mr. Savage concludes by saying that I that owe Donna Rice Hughes an apology. I disagree. First, the article does not say what Mr. Savage thinks it does. Lee Atwater told Raymond Strother (according to Strother) that he, Atwater, was behind the whole episode. Necessarily Billy Broadhurst would have to have been involved as well. Who else might have been, and what witting or unwitting roles the other main figures (including Donna Rice) might have played, Atwater did not tell Strother, and Strother did not claim to me.

Donna Rice Hughes presumably knows more than other still-living figures about this incident. I sent her many messages asking for a chance to talk, and explaining what I wanted to ask. I know that she received at least some of them. She chose not to reply to repeated requests, which is her right and is entirely understandable. But it is not the occasion for an apology on my side.

5 Things We Learned From Paul Butterfield Doc ‘Horn From the Heart’ ~ RollingStone

From cutting his teeth in the Chicago blues scene to nabbing one of Dylan’s best sidemen, our takeaways from new doc on legendary bandleader

Paul Butterfield

Bandleader/blues legend Paul Butterfield, the subject of music documentary ‘Horn From the Heart: The Paul Butterfield Story.’

Kathy Butterfield

During the blues revival and rediscovery of the Sixties, few dominated like Paul Butterfield, the hard-puffing, hard-living harmonica player and band leader. Assertive and experimental Butterfield Blues Band albums like 1966’s East-West, featuring equally manic and inspired guitarist Mike Bloomfield, were essential college-dorm listening. And during the following decade, Butterfield’s mighty harmonica powered a version of “Mystery Train” at the Band’s Last Waltz concert and movie.

These days, over three decades after his death, Butterfield is largely known only to blues cognoscenti — a situation that could hopefully be rectified by director John Anderson’s documentary Horn From the Heart: The Paul Butterfield Story, which opens at select theaters around the country on Oct. 17th. The movie includes interviews with friends and fellow musicians like Bonnie Raitt, Todd Rundgren, Paul Shaffer, Al Kooper and the late B.B. King, and traces Butterfield’s story from blues-loving Chicago kid to his groundbreaking work and his subsequent health and addiction issues. (He died from an overdose of substances, including heroin and alcohol, in 1987 at 44.)

Even for those who know his best work, from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band to his overlooked 1970s group Better Days, Horn From the Heart is an enlightening look at an under-documented musician. Here are five things we learned along the way.

Forget any clichés you have about harmonica playing.
As seen in clip after clip, even during the difficult final decade of his life, Butterfield didn’t just play the harp; he shredded it. The documentary elucidates the difference between his aggro style and those of harp legends like Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson and Junior Parker. One reason: Butterfield played the harmonica upside down, possibly because he was left-handed. Whatever the reason, his style wasn’t just motorized; he seemed to throw himself onto — and into — the instrument, blasting out single notes over chords and making for a pained, expressive wail all his own.

Especially in Chicago, the blues were bigger — and drew more inter-racial crowds — than you may remember.
As recalled by singer and cohort Nick Gravenites, Chicago was home to an astounding number of blues bars — between 50 and 70 — when the two musicians were starting out. Butterfield himself was raised in Hyde Park, a neighborhood in Chicago’s South Side that had been predominately white but was racially integrated during his formative years. One of his early gigs was playing a dance party, and we see both white and African-American kids doing the Twist, of all moves, to the blues. That legacy wasn’t only heard in Butterfield’s genre of choice but even his band, whose members were both white (Bloomfield, guitarist Elvin Bishop and keyboardist Mark Naftalin) and African-American (drummer Sam Lay, bassist Jerome Arnold) at a time when that was rarely seen. In the movie, Lay also recounts that Butterfield offered him $20 a night — a big bump up from the $7 nightly Lay was getting backing Howlin’ Wolf.

Bloomfield turned down Bob Dylan to hook up with Butterfield.
One of the top-gun guitarists of the era, Bloomfield was something of an American Eric Clapton. In 1965, played on Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited; he was also in Bob’s band at that infamous Newport Folk Festival electric show. When Dylan offered him a regular spot in his group, though, Bloomfield declined — and went with Butterfield instead. “I just want to play the blues,” he told Kooper. The guitarist probably lost out on a sizable paycheck, but the clips of him and Butterfield going head to head —Bloomfield’s hands swarming over the fretboard, matching the bandleader’s harp frenzy — confirm he made the right decision, even if left the band not long after.

Butterfield played Woodstock.

Since one Butterfield Blues Band track appears on the original Woodstock triple LP, this shouldn’t be a complete surprise. But since the band wasn’t included in the movie, it’s still startling to be reminded that they were indeed there, ripping it up with a lineup that included saxophonist David Sanborn.

Butterfield really did live the blues.
As shown in the doc, Butterfield’s high school yearbook sported one of the most poignant inscriptions you’ll ever read: “I think I am better than the people who are trying to reform me.” Yet he struggled with reforming himself. Raitt admits she had a crush on him, and for a brief period he seemed to lead a cozy, domestic life with his wife and young son in Woodstock. But Butterfield’s hellraiser side was always lurking. Even after he was diagnosed with peritonitis, an inflammation connected to the abdomen, he didn’t always take care of himself; Shaffer, who played on his final album in 1984, recalls him eating “the worst fried peppers” despite his stomach problems. Nor did return to a clean and sober lifestyle after his health problems intensified. (This writer had a particularly petrifying experience with the musician a few years before his death, when an initially friendly Butterfield agreed to an interview, disappeared into his dressing room at New York’s Lone Star Café for a lengthy period and re-reemerged as an entirely different, paranoid and irate person.) White blues players were sometimes accused of being dilettantes, but that charge could never apply to Butterfield, who lived it as he sang and played it.

DNA Test Reveals Donald Trump, Jr., Is Fifty Per Cent Idiot

NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report)—Donald Trump, Jr., has taken a DNA test that reveals that he is “fifty-per-cent idiot,” Trump confirmed on Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters at a press conference in Trump Tower, Trump said that he had undergone the DNA testing “to silence all of the haters who have been saying I’m a total idiot.”

Crowing about the test results, Trump said, “According to this test, I am fifty-per-cent idiot, which is way less than half.”

Trump’s results drew a skeptical response from the scientific community, with many leading geneticists questioning the integrity of his DNA sample.

According to Davis Logsdon, a genetic scientist at the University of Minnesota, “Any test of Don, Jr., that comes back lower than ninety-per-cent idiot is going to set off alarm bells, scientifically speaking.”

Trump, Jr., first boasted about his test results on Twitter, where he misspelled “DNA.”


  • Andy Borowitz is the New York Times best-selling author of “The 50 Funniest American Writers,” and a comedian who has written for The New Yorker since 1998. He writes the Borowitz Report, a satirical column on the news, for