Mid-Day Shutdown Notes

Language, currents, discharge, and luck
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This update from La Jolla, where at The Atlantic Meets the Pacific I just finished asking a panel of five cancer-research experts* about the most promising aspects of their work — and heard, inevitably, about the damaging effects of sequestered/shutdown public funding at just the time when the fundamental science of cancer is becoming understood in dramatic new ways. That leads me to a round of mid-day updates:

1) Non-essential/non-excepted. Last night I mentioned this difference in terminology about people being told to stay home from government jobs. I had missed a very nice piece by Tom Shoop, of our sister publication Government Executive, on why the non-essential term is "outdated, cruel, and wrong."

2) I quoted a weather researcher who pointed out that day by day the Coast Guard's knowledge of currents, ocean conditions, winds, fronts, etc was decaying, because some of its weather satellites were shut down as "non-essential." Two responses. First, from a scientist in California:

You may want to point out that the same model degradation occurs with weather/atmospheric models.

Atmospheric/weather/aviation models need about 2 weeks to "spin up" through data assimilation for maximum predictive ability.

[A little while later this scientist wrote back to say:] I've also seen powerpoint slides that show it takes several MONTHS of satellite data assimilation to reach max. predictive ability. I've worked on satellite cal/vals (calibration and validation) and each satellite has it's quirks...

So amend that to a couple of weeks to several months for model spin up.

And, from a person who runs a commercial boating operation in New York:

Earlier this Summer a Montauk lobsterman fell off his boat. About 13 hours later he was rescued *40 miles* from where he fell off the boat.

Everyone in Montauk was very thankful he was found. I have no personal knowledge what if any role any current-modeling played in his recovery.

Me either, but it would have to have been a plus.

3) What's that messy discharge? Two days ago I quoted a reader's suggestion that Democrats start a "discharge petition" to bring the budget continuing resolution to the full House -- where it would pass -- rather than letting John Boeher keep it bottled up. Earlier today, I mentioned a "this will never work" analysis by a political scientist, Sarah Binder. To close the loop here, one more comment, from a lawyer in New York:

There is some smart pushback against Sarah Binder’s pessimism in the comments to her article.  One commenter in particular (not me) says:

“You're underestimating the political power of the discharge. Once the necessary votes are in to sign the discharge (we're at 14 Rs saying yes, 3 leaning, plus 200 Dems as of now) the endgame is in sight. It would be politically impossible for Boehner to say that he's going to keep the government shutdown until a vote in late Nov for the discharge. Once the discharge and vote for a clean CR becomes inevitable, regardless of how far into the future that actual vote will take place, it will be politically impossible for Boehner to maintain his position.”

In other words, once it becomes procedurally clear that there will be a clean CR as of a known date, doesn’t Boehner’s position collapse?  He will no longer be able to claim he is holding out for ultimate victory.  The debate will then be whether he has any good reason why the government should open in November instead of in October.  That’s a different debate.

I think this is really important and, since you highlight the article, you might highlight this comment.

For further rounds, I refer you to Binder and her poli-sci colleagues at The Monkey Cage

4) And, for what it's worth, "I'm all right." A person who I think is in the tech business in California writes:

I have to say, I haven't been inconvenienced yet. In fact, other than my wife mentioning a NY Times story about the shutdown, I haven't even heard the shutdown mentioned in conversation.  


* These were Drs. Kristiina Vuori, Scott LippmanDavid Sadava, Gregory Sorenson, and Christopher Slapak.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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