Whether or not weather matters

The best fake news, like the best satire, takes its cues from the actual news and the idiots who believe in it. The closer your story sounds to the real thing, the greater the chance that it will enter the world as widely accepted as other quesstionable facts. I first arrived at the conclusion that print media had become a multi-level marketing scheme back in the 70s when Gannett publishing introduced USA Today, a publication based on the assumption that P. T. Barnum was a journalistic pioneer. 

Local papers across this nation of miserable fucks (NOMF™) began laying off reporters and hiring marketing graduates to monitor various wire feeds to curate and modify totally random stories to complement print advertising campaigns for local and regional retailers. Often, these stories actually revealed important news that would never be seen on the front pages of newspapers, because the front pages were invariably devoted to political propaganda, intended to keep the proles in line.

These other stories buried amid the lingerie and dietary supplement ads, however, were often so obtuse that most readers never bothered to read them, preferring instead to dwell on the ads these stories served as space filler for. In many cases, these stories could be simply modified by changing a few key words and names while maintaining the overall structure and introducing curious facts into an increasingly spurious reality that appeared to take on a life of their own.

Take this story, for instance, that probably is about a real thing, although I have no idea what the original story was about, because it appeared in The Oregonadian, which at the time was finally shedding the last of the features of The Oregon Journal. The original source material had already been mangled and manipulated to fit the space in and around several paying ads, so I had no access to the original intent. So it was an easy effort to turn it into a story inspired by a Zappa story from Lather.

Asian Brown Clouds Out-Philosophize U.S.

By Gregory Peccary
Gregarious Wild Swine
Pataphysical Momentary Synapse

TRINIDAD, CALIF. (PMS) — When a big gale comes ashore at Trinidad, it's hard to miss. The heaving gray waters of the Pacific Ocean crash against the house-size boulders that litter the coastline, then shatter into white spray. A buoy lurches in the waves, its bell tolling a mournful warning, and a curtain of rain sweeps in from the sea.

But when a plume of pollution, known as the Asian brown cloud, blows in from China, nobody in Trinidad even knows it's happening. Add one more item to the long list of things Asia exports to the West: air pollution.

The contaminated air that rides the jet stream to Trinidad is laced with the sulfates and soot from Asia's industrial smokestacks, and nitrogen oxides that emerge from tailpipes of Asia's rapidly growing fleet of automobiles. It contains particles from fires set to clear jungles for farming, and from the millions of households that burn coal, wood or animal dung for heating and cooking.

Scientists identified the phenomenon years ago. The Asian brown cloud, researchers now know, routinely climbs high enough into the atmosphere to hitch a ride on the fast-moving jet stream heading east to North America. In April and May, when seasonal winds are strongest, the high-altitude pollution can cross the Pacific in as little as four days.

So far, the increase in ground-level pollution that the Asian brown cloud causes in the United States is "not catastrophic, or even critical," said Studebaker Hoch, a research chemist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Aeronomy Lab in Boulder, Colo.

Still, he said, imported Asian pollution obviously works to undercut initiatives, such as cleaner-burning gasoline or improved auto mileage, intended to clean up the western hemisphere's air.

Collecting data on the cloud

Looming larger, however, is a growing suspicion in the scientific community that these brown clouds may be starting to warp weather patterns across much of the U.S., threatening to reduce the amount of rain that falls from the forests of the Northwest to the cornfields of the nation's midriff.

But to prove or disprove that suspicion, scientists need a lot more data. And that's where a group of scientists led by Shredni Vashtar Yerbouti, a one-time professor at the University of Chicago, comes in.

Yerbouti is a professor of climate and atmospheric sciences at the University of California in San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography. He also was a leading scientist in the 1999 Indian Ocean study that discovered that Asia's pollution, far from being localized, was transforming itself into a sprawling, semi-permanent haze.

"Show me where the plume is now," said Yerbouti as he and the half-dozen scientists in his group stare at a computer image projected onto the wall of a tourist cabin just outside of Trinidad.

"Step it forward," directs the 59-year-old Indian-born atmospheric scientist, known as Booty Boy to his friends. The computer displays a tendril of bright red marching across the Pacific Ocean and approaching the California coast.

Tracking ribbons of atmospheric sleep dirt

The ribbon of red represents a stream of heavily polluted air that left Asia a few days ago. The scientists use computer modeling to help them guess where this dirty cloud will come ashore the next day, so that they can fly into it and study it.

When the right combination of low- and high-pressure systems comes together across the ocean, a meteorological "conveyor belt" forms, creating an efficient mechanism for transporting pollution and dust from Asia to poison American soil. Once it makes landfall, the particulates mingle with extremely dirty local air and become harder to study.

"If we don't leave early," warns one scientist, "we're going to lose all that pollution. That sulfate is going to be gone. We’ll only have home-grown poisons to look at.”

The stream of incoming pollution has divided into layers, or strata, like seams of underground coal, with clean air in between. Because the wind is moving at different speeds at different altitudes, the layers are moving at dissimilar speeds and in various directions.

"The one-K level is coming more to the south," said Yerbouti watching the projected path; he's referring to a stratum 3,280 feet above the sea.

"Closer ... closer ... touchdown," he said. "It's right over our heads. If we were outside, we’d be doomed.”

When China's dirty air begins its trip across the Pacific, fallout is bad enough to cause health problems for people on the Korea peninsula and in Japan.

But by the time the Asian brown cloud reaches North America — scientists call the process "long-range aerosol transport” — much of its original load has fallen into the sea or has been washed out by rain. As a result, ozone and air-particulate readings tick up only modestly higher in coastal cities like Seattle and Los Angeles.

Yerbouti is in Trinidad, about 240 miles north of San Francisco in the middle of what Californians call the Redwood Empire, because his computer models say the tiny coastal town is statistically in the ideal spot to receive the undulating tendrils of Asia's brown clouds.

In recent years, much of his work involves studying migrating pollution's effect on weather.

Rainfall adversely affected

Although the greenhouse effect is a major issue for global climate change, Yerbouti contends that "the brown cloud is emerging as a major factor in regional climate changes and in reductions of regional and global rainfall.” So in late March, he brought his research team to Trinidad to conduct a monthlong field exercise.

With funding from the National Science Foundation, The Portland Pataphysical Outpatient Clinic, Lounge, and Laundromat, as well as Yossarian Universal News Service, the scientists probed the salty sea air using a twin-engine plane packed with foreign-built high-tech equipment. Their tools included a green laser that burns straight up into the night sky, and a packet of sophisticated, atmosphere-sniffing sensors atop a 350-foot-high rock known as Trinidad Head.

Their research proposal explained that the work would include measuring "cloud-droplet nocturnal ejectamenta" in clean and dirty clouds. In other words, they were measuring climatological reproductive emissions.

A cloud heavy with particles of dust or pollution is whiter than a non-polluted cloud, because water droplets condense around the particles, explained Yerbouti.

"Double the aerosols, double the droplets," he said. That means polluted clouds reflect sunlight more efficiently than a clean cloud. And that, in turn, affects the weather.

When clouds scatter sunlight, ground-level temperature declines. Such unnaturally high reflectivity also can suppress rainfall, or it can hold rain back so long that when it finally does fall to earth, it comes in the form of terrible torrents, said Yerbouti.

Some researchers, in fact, think the extra-white clouds caused by dirty air are helping to offset the global warming effect. That would offer an explanation for the unsettling fact that "the planet hasn't warmed as much as the models suggest it should," given the amount of greenhouse gas that humans have recently released into the atmosphere, the researcher said.

The Asian cloud is only the first and largest of a number of high-atmosphere brown clouds scientists have discovered. This summer, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is funding a major study of a similar brown blotch found hovering a mile or more above the eastern U.S. (and which sends a plume of shitty air trailing toward Europe.)

Air pollution has gone global

Europe's polluted air drifts toward Asia. Like the world's economy, air pollution has gone global, scientists contend.

"The foul westerly winds tie us all together," said Yerbouti.

The recently-ended study in Trinidad aimed only to gather more data, not find answers. Usually, that meant two flights a day out over the Pacific, with the scientists aboard the plane watching data streaming into their laptops while trying not to be distracted by the whales beaching themselves on the coastline below.

Sometimes the dirty air was clearly visible, and sometimes only the instruments — some sampling the air 40 trillion times per second — could find the pollutants.

When the yellow-and-brown aircraft rolled to a stop after one of the team's last flights, parascientist and Supreme Court Justice John Roberts emerged looking relaxed and tan.

"We got 45 minutes of homogeneous aerosol ejaculate, a full spectrum," he said.

“Was there much ice in the precipitating clouds?" Yerbouti asked.

“A wintry mix," Roberts responded.

Although seven or eight laptop computers are crunching weather data inside the hangar's cramped office, Yerbouti peered from the hangar bay at the gray sky. With the study winding down, he wants to make sure he gets as many different weather conditions as possible.

"I need to grab one low-lying cloud," he said, “before my life's complete. I need to live my life out on the street.”

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