Showing posts with label GLOBAL WARM 'N TOASTY. Show all posts
Showing posts with label GLOBAL WARM 'N TOASTY. Show all posts

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Time At The Bar

Random Barking Saturday: Last Orders Please, Ladies and Gentlemen

Storm Over Venice Lagoon; July 26, 2019 - © Chris Bertram
[The political right feels t]he old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals; the old competitive capitalism has been gradually undermined ... national security and independence have been destroyed by treasonous plots [by] not merely outsiders and foreigners ... but major statesmen who are at the very centers of American power... the modern radical right finds conspiracy to be betrayal from on high.
--Richard Hofstadter, "The Paranoid Style In American Politics" (1964)
Essentially, American conservatism is based on large central government bad! Not to be trusted; small government is good! It's the argument between Jefferson and Adams. It's a variation on the theme of "State's Rights!" which allowed some American humans to own, buy and sell other humans, and which caused some unpleasantness in the early 1860's. And since.

After FDR, some on the political and cultural Right said America's central government was more Big Brother than benefactor -- that 'Wide-Eyed One-Worlders' who created the United Nations, the multilateral global order after WW2, were out to destroy individual freedom and initiative, and serve America to the Commie enemy on a platter by weakening our resolve, and polluting the purity of our bodily essences.

If you noted the snark in that last sentence, it's there because most of the people pushing those notions were considered a political fringe (the John Birch Society being the most visible). But they included some with hereditary wealth or business power -- and when crackpot notions are fed on money, they're no longer just crackpot notions but genuine conspiracies.

(Remember the rich asses who had opposed FDR, who flirted with treason by organizing a plan to remove Roosevelt from power. After all, what would happen to them? They were the right sort; they owned America! No one would touch them... and no one did.)
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Now, 35 years since the FCC's Fairness Doctrine was eliminated under Reagan; after thirty-five years of sewage being pumped into the culture by Murdoch's Fox, by Limbaugh and Savage and all their wannabe-imitators; after decades of behind-the-scenes manipulation by the Mercers and other right-wing media families... the ideas of the crackpot Right aren't relegated to the fringes in American politics. They are mainstream conservative viewpoints, now.
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Trump gets up and spouts incendiary racist garbage -- ensuring, again, that all eyes are upon Him, the world subsumed by the eternally needy, carnivorous child-man -- and nothing happens. Republicans say absolutely nothing, except to defend Trump. Children are traumatized in a detention bureaucracy which industrializes indifference and prejudice.  -- and nothing happens.


So, Trump doubles, even triples down on his prior comments, becoming even more unhinged and florid in his display of a narcissistic personality disorder -- and nothing happens. The GOP is now, fully and completely, a political party of racism, overt corruption; even treason. And nothing happens.

Except another mass shooting, of course.
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Each day -- every day -- Trump and the political and cultural Right beat America. They kick the country, and any chance to help it live up to its ideals, to the curb. Then they urinate on America as it lies bleeding in the gutter. They take America's wallet and car keys. They roar with laughter because it's just sport for these lowlifes; it's The Great Game. They're getting rich. No one can touch them; they run things!

No one wants to believe other humans can be so malicious, so swinish and venal; so filled with hatred and glee at the harm they do -- that it actually gives them pleasure to cause so much harm. That they put their own desires for money and for things above human lives and the reality of the world around us. They can't be like that. It can't be that simple. 

But, yes. It can.

And, with the help of 35 years of insane, babbling repetition from right-wing media (and decades of Democratic spinelessness), they've reduced the idea of an effective American central government to a joke. See? See how disorganized and useless the federal gov'mint is? They say. We need a strong man to lead us! An' we'll beat up anybody says different! USA!  USA!

And nothing happens. No one does anything to stop them. Not even when 31 people die because (among other things) their killers listened to the lies of The Leader. Instead of recoiling from Trump's toxicity, the Republicans say nothing, or actually back him up.


Nothing happens. And no one is surprised.
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What must it be like to live in a world where natural resources are slowly being reduced as its population continues to increase? Where nations have nuclear weapons? And all against a backdrop of extremes in weather and temperature? 

What must it be like to live in a country run by avaricious bullies, who deny climatic change in the World is even occurring? Where a sizeable number in the population have extreme, delusional political views, own weapons, and dream of a day when they can make the terrible rat-crazy feelings in their heads go away? Where television and radio and newspapers feed those crazy-rat feelings every moment of every day?

Tell me: for you, what is it like?
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These people hate you, and me. Because they have been instructed, over and over, for thirty years that you and I are the enemy. Men, women, and children; natives and immigrants; people of color (for white, too, is one of many colors), and politically left -- we have all been reduced to the level of Things, in their eyes.

Ironically,  it's the same way a wealthy elite see all of us, including Trump's base -- as chattel, worker-bees, disposable; nameless and faceless.

And These People have been taught, over and over, to believe that they live in a state of emergency,  of 'No-Go Zones' of Muslims and immigrants, LGBTQ people and sick hippies... a world manipulated by liberals with money, the ungodly and the evil. They are just surrounded by these terrible -- Things. 

And they are being told that, one day, they will have to deal with us. That they will be permitted, unleashed, to do that. Like a shooter in a Wal-Mart, a grade school, a synagogue or a night club.

They listen to The Leader, who tells them -- wink, wink -- if they can just remove the terrible Other, the Things surrounding them... then their misery will disappear. All will be well; a golden future; hallelujah.
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This cannot continue, and This cannot end well.
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Friday, October 26, 2018

Random Barking Friday

This Will Not Contain Leavening Humor

April 30, 1945, in the Reichschancellery's Führerbunker: the Red Army was closing in quickly and less than a quarter-mile away. Hitler and Eva said goodbye to a line of their old retainers and True Believers, and were on their way into Hitler's study to kill themselves.

Outside the study stood Heinz Linge, Hitler's principal valet. The two shook hands. Hitler told Linge that the situation in Berlin was lost, and that he should try to leave the city and escape to the West.

Linge later said he had asked, "For whom shall we fight on?" Hitler replied, "For the coming man."
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What makes my skin crawl about what's occasionally described as living through the Assholeocene isn't the daily, drop-by-drop absorption of new outrages Trump and his minions commit. 

Weird how predictably that happens, now. Mornings, Trump watches Fox 'n Friends, and tweets. Sarah fantasizes and lies to a room full of adults. Afternoons, we learn about more corruption, more sociopathic abuse of immigrant children; another right-wing judge appointed for life; the awesome lives of our fabled Business Leaders and Owners, and Celebrities; more peasant-fucking.

In the evening, Trump flies to some rural district which voted overwhelmingly for him in 2016, and spews about his greatness, the threat of the liberal and the Other, before an ecstatic crowd. He preens and complains that he is unfairly attacked, victimized -- that, just like them, he is "under threat". They wear hats, and chant. Their identification with Trump provides them with an almost carnal frenzy and release.

Faultlines of race, class, gender and inequality in America have always been there; Trump's appearance puts them under serious stress. Other factors (extreme climate events [see below and follow the link]; unstable financial markets; mass shootings) increase the noise of uncertainty and fear, always in the background.

A large number of people appear to be on short fuses, the Crazy looking for a way out; "everybody angry (peculiarly angry ... [as] normal is changing color, tenor)"; meanwhile, a bloated, raving old man is a role model for the boundaries of permitted speech and behavior.

Trump is giving permission to cross boundaries -- not in and of itself a bad thing; it all depends on who's doing it, with what intent. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivering a speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial is one way of crossing a boundary. Trump's public speeches are another. The difference in intent is clear.
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What makes me uneasy is not the experience of the present, so much. What Trump and his slavish GOP supporters have done in just 21 months makes increased social disintegration more likely (it certainly makes a society where Our Fabled Wealthy will be comfortable, while the rest of us are not). That can lead to a rising tempo of political violence -- and a more authoritarian state would seem attractive by comparison.

Trump might be that one-party dictator of an "illiberal democracy", an Orban or Erdogan, but I don't believe he's the personification of the end state I'm worried about. It's someone who would capitalize on Trump's shattering of political norms, take it to a new level: the "coming man"
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What Chris Hedges Said:
While it is true that the United States under Trump is not Hitler’s Germany, Trump has tapped into America’s worst impulses... his ultra-nationalism, white supremacist views, and racist diatribes coupled with his attack on immigrants, the media, African-Americans, and Muslims are indicative of a politics right out the fascist playbook. If the public and media keep denying this reality, the endpoint is too horrible to imagine... 
Trump has emboldened and legitimated the dire anti-democratic threats that have been expanding under an economic system stripped of any political, social, and ethical responsibility. This is a form of neoliberal fascism that has redrawn and expanded the parameters of the genocidal practices and hate filled politics of the 1930s and 40s in Europe in which it was once thought impossible to happen again. ...
What Margaret Sullivan Said (via Digby)
... At a raucous rally in Montana last week, a Trump supporter — juiced up by the president’s crude praise of a congressman who body-slammed a reporter — looked directly at CNN reporter Jim Acosta. Then he ran his thumb across his throat. And laughed. 
Later, Acosta described “the Trump effect.” “It has normalized and sanitized nastiness and cruelty in a way that I just never thought I would see,” he said, shortly after that Montana rally. 
The Trump effect is a straight line from years of his hateful rhetoric to real-world danger. It’s a line that goes directly from disrespect to pipe bomb. And — almost inevitably — it will eventually go from failed attempt to spilled blood... 
Ann Coulter tweeted that bombs have been... "a liberal tactic.” And radio behemoth Rush Limbaugh... [said] that Republicans don’t do this sort of thing, and a Democratic operative was the more likely culprit. 
But let’s get real. Everyone targeted by the pipe bombs had been the subject of endless hours of Fox News commentary. The list of targets read like Sean Hannity’s pre-broadcast crib notes: Hillary Clinton, President Barack Obama and former CIA chief John Brennan — and, as the representative of evil mainstream media — CNN. 
As usual, Trump himself projected blame everywhere but where it belongs...  he combined swipes at the news media and Democrats with a call to “come together in peace and harmony.”
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What Ian Welsh Said ("...IPCC Report Version"):
... There are quite a number of scenarios where this stuff happens faster... What will actually happen is that we’ll get some feedback loop like arctic or permafrost methane release and that will lead to parabolic increases. When it breaks, it will break hard. 
At that point a lot of other problems could also blow up, the most serious of which would be the Oceans losing their ability produce oxygen. If that happens, well, we’re dead. 
Even if it doesn’t, things like the thermohaline currents flipping or shutting off are possible. Europe could, in the middle of everyone else getting hot, have a mini-ice age. 
... And it isn’t that we are decelerating. Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, who will likely win election, has essentially promised to chop down what remains of the Amazon jungle as fast as possible (and also, to commit genocide on the remaining indigenous tribes. No, don’t pretend, that’s what he means.)
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MEHR, MIT BOOM BOOM:

A suspect is in custody in Florida, charged with being the individual who mailed explosive devices to prominent Democrats and liberals.

Cesar Sayoc, Jr., was described by the New York Times as a Republican who had been active on a variety of right-wing social media sites, with several prior arrests for fraud, robbery, and charges associated with explosives.

Police had seized Sayoc's van in connection with the arrest, and removed it from Sayoc's home under a blue tarp. Later, they removed the tarp -- and Mark Lancia, a local freelance journalist, took a number of pictures which are, as they say, worth a thousand words:

(©Mark Lancia; via TruthDig)
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Saturday, September 2, 2017

Random Barking: Burning Down The House

After Harvey

 Previously Flooded Houston Neighborhood; September 1, 2017

It is hot in Kiddietown. Baking hot. Pipin' hot. The kind of Hot where Dogs get under things, in the shade, and just watch stuff happen. And smell things. We bark randomly at what appears to be nothing.
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The media coverage of Harvey's hitting Texas seemed to fall into neat categories, from the relative safety of Kiddietown: pre-game warnings and warmup as the storm approached land; cellphone video of the effects of high winds, before-and-after photos showing effects of unbelievably torrential rain; and, in Harvey's wake, the brave pluck with which those affected, and the rescuers, soldier on. Cut to commercial.

A good example of this last -- Thursday's ABC World News Tonight (A Walt Disney Production) aired a segment  showing one ABC reporter on-scene in Houston, 'embedded' with a helicopter unit. They lift off -- and suddenly, are diverted to evacuate people sheltering in a Middle School -- dry at that moment, but threatened by rising flood levels. The people had to be airlifted out -- quickly!

The helicopter lands near the school. The ABC reporter was filmed assisting in the evacuation, even at one point appearing to give orders to someone off-camera; okay, let's go! Rapid cuts between shots makes for rising tension; will they make it? Will they have enough time?

All those at the school (including Dogs; film crews love photographing Dogs in emergency situations) were airlifted to another shelter. We watch them, dazed, walking into another building -- brave evacuees! -- and presumably all was a happy ending.

I'm bothered by this, as I am about the sensationalism of news reporting generally, the demand for a happy ending before the last commercial break. And, what's being reported has to conform to that story arc. Real conditions on the ground can't be controlled --  they're messy, and prompt some to ask uncomfortable questions. Can't have that.
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A friend has family in Texas; the texts fly back and forth. Both have their own families; all live in / around Houston. One has lost their home and very probably everything in it -- and, because they relied on the information from the City of Houston, didn't purchase flood insurance. The chance of that would be a "once-in-500-year" event in their part of the city.

The other family member and their people are dry so far but surrounded by flood zones. They've spoken with others in their area, who watched armed men commandeering boats from their Coast Guard crews at gunpoint. and those same people and boats were seen systematically looting neighborhood homes. They've heard sporadic gunfire.

They live in Katy, near a reservoir which may breach, and have to be ready to evacuate within 30 minutes of notice -- but, have been given no instructions on how they are to leave an area surrounded by flood waters, or where they are to go.

Over at The Soul Of America, there was a link to a similar take on what Harvey means, in spite of the media coverage:

...an air of unreality hangs about the flooding of Houston. Those of you with memories of the 00s will remember how Gore was mocked for his animations of oceans flooding cities. ...

The press so far has -- understandably -- concentrated on happy rescues, people doing things for people. Underneath this news is a sort of failure to express the probable extent of the casualties and what this means economically.

...We gotta change our infrastructure. We gotta severely reshape our economy. Capitalism isn't built to solve this problem. That isn't even to say we abolish capitalism, it is simply a call for recognizing its limits and acting accordingly.
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And in the midst of it all, Our Leader's appearance in Texas. He never spoke about the People with any empathy, never said how he recognized their fear and loss; he only spoke about them in relation to himself. The focus must be on Him, the magnificent one -- the vengeful one (reminding FEMA in a Tweet, "The world is watching!" Don't fuck this up or you'll deal with me). At his side, the Faithful Melania, in six-inch [redacted]-me high-heeled pumps, off to see how the peasantry is faring in this icky weather -- like her husband, tasteful; classy.
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Bad things are happening. Nearly every sentient human senses that hurricanes, tornadoes, lightning and other storms are becoming more and more powerful, destructive, and that climate change (I heard the term, "climate breakdown," yesterday) is a principal factor.

But, we know what our Leader's feelings are about that. Fake news; fake science. USA. USA. Climate breakdown isn't real to the Leader. Perhaps it will be when Mor-e-Lego is submerged by another hurricane hitting Florida, but I doubt it. He'll find a way to make the country pick up the tab for it. We already pay for his many jaunts. And his golf.
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The mainstream media's presentation of Harvey's landfall and aftermath is a reminder of how much more of things, iceberg-like, are out of our sight below the waterline. Not only things which we don't see, but which by some collective, unspoken agreement we aren't allowed to see.

It is, if we look, a way of judging how much difference there is between comfortable assumptions of how life In These Times is, and the real. If you look closely enough, you might see a nation fracturing along lines of race and class, net worth and age; and it seems God's away on business.

Heading off to work early each morning, I see more homeless, broken, addicted and profoundly, heartbreakingly disturbed human beings on the streets than ever before. A friend, working in Tech in Kiddietown, had his first-ever anxiety attack and ended up in an Urgent Care ER in the Tenderloin; being there for several hours was a cultural eye-opener.

And around the corner from where network news is filming a man carrying a Dog to safety, our national politics is teetering between two different visions.  One, identified as liberal, believes a strong Federal government is essential to ensuring all of The People are served, and protected from the excesses of Capital. It's a compact between a government and its people: You are our highest priority. We are here for you. The spirit of the New Deal.

(It's worth noting: there is a body of opinion that [no matter what laws have been passed making some provisions for our citizens] the New Deal was window-dressing, a band-aid -- in the early 1930's, it saved and perpetuated systematized inequality, that same structure of power and class that has existed in America for generations.)

But there's another group in our national politics which sees that same power and class structure as being too unbalanced  -- towards the poor. That in true Randian spirit, the poor are responsible for their own poverty. That the 'business of America is business', not foreign nonsense. That the country is only a loose confederation of fifty regions and doesn't need a Federal government messing in the business of the States: America, circa 1860. And, if some wealthy person believes we should change the number of states, why not?

And if some States want to declare that -- slavery, say; or 'separate but equal' clauses, are legal -- along with lower wages for women; healthcare determined by "market forces"; relying on corporations to determine 'safe' levels of chemicals in air and water -- well, the States should be able to do that.

The High School Civics Class Version of America is what the media and networks assume is the surveyor's mark, the fixed assumption we share about the world we live in. But that vision doesn't allow for boats taken at gunpoint, looting, nazis marching in the the Old South, robotics, and poverty. It doesn't allow for a Tech industry poised for a great leap forward, which will enrich some, and leave others unable to afford the pretty toys and wonderful services yet to come.

The High School Civics Class Version doesn't allow for the rise of an unstable, corrupt leader, with both major political parties explaining that their continual Fluffing of Corporations and The Rich is just a necessary pragmatism. It doesn't allow for Ferguson, or Charlottesville, or the picture of Hillary Clinton as she warmly embraces Henry Kissinger.

And The High School Civics Class Version doesn't allow for that unstable leader to be a potential target in an investigation for corruption and potential treason. It also doesn't allow for that same Leader to be at the helm of the Joint Chiefs, his principal advisors all four-star generals, as he decides how to deal with a nuclear North Korea backed up by the People's Republic of China.
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None of this is any great surprise, and my observations are not unique. Just more tears in the rain.

Hurricane Irma is developing in the Atlantic. It was just declared a category 3 storm (Harvey was a 4 when it slammed into Texas), and, all things being equal, NASA has predicted it could make landfall in Maryland -- that the District of Columbia will be right in its path.

Other meteorologists predict a track to send it slicing across Florida, not too far from Mor-e-Lego, and some have it sliding across the Caribbean to strike Texas. Again. We'll see -- because we're not going anywhere. The hurricanes will come to us.
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MEHR, MIT WASSER:  
 2 hurricanes in ten days and the mother fucker in the White House still says climate change is a hoax   #Irma  #Harvey
--  Tweet, via Red painter @Redpainter1; 31 August 2017
(From TomClarkBlog)
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Monday, December 14, 2015

Random Barking: Smokey The Bear Sutra, Peeps

You Must Remember This

The Fire Next Time: Obligatory Cute Animal Graphic
A few points about the Climate agreement and things Paris:  (1) It's a set of guidelines with no penalty for low- or non-performance. As an example, "Rich" nations are  'encouraged'  to collectively give "at least" $100 Billion US per year to "Poor" nations to help them in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But if they don't  -- or, the Banksters create yet another global financial meltdown and governments can't offer assistance -- well, gosh; it's not as if anyone were being held accountable.   (2) Even UN Secretary-General Ban Ky Moon said the agreement doesn't go far enough to curb emissions.  (3) The energy alternatives being stressed for "Poor" countries in the immediate future are natural gas and (cough cough) nuklar energy.  (4) Marie LePen is a fat, proto-nazi.

Yeah; I just threw that last one in there.  So sue me -- they'll come after you for mistreating an animal, bub.
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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Gorjirra Comes. Maybe.

Potential Big Weather Named For Big Guy; Possible Bay Area Appearance

Don't Tell Him To Use 'Trivago'. Ever.
It's been reported that conditions in the central Pacific Ocean which can help to produce more rainfall in autumn and winter months (as compared with what's been considered historically 'normal'), the famed "El Niño", have been growing stronger.

That strengthening condition has led some weather forecasters -- such as Bill Patzert, a climatologist for NASA, to say there may be a 90% chance that the potential for heavy rainfall in the winter of 2015-2016, to rival even the amount of water which fell during 1997-98 -- as Patzert put it, "a Godzilla El Niño."

(I remember that season.  It began raining in mid-October of 1997, and continued through a nearly unbroken chain of storms straight through into March, 1998. There were few days without rain, even if only a drizzle, and I don't recall seeing any blue sky, period.

(Rivers quickly moved into flood stage; the over-saturation of the ground in many locations meant mud- and landslides. Storm drains became blocked with debris and overflowed. Homes overlooking the ocean south of San Francisco lost their back yards as cliff edges crumbled, and the surf pounded other homes on the coast of Southern California into driftwood.)

El Niño is caused by a shift in distribution of warm water around the equator in the Pacific Ocean. Normally, winds blow strongly from east to west and cause water to move towards the western part of the Pacific -- that is, around Japan. For reasons best known to science, or Toho Studios, this attracts Mothra, or Monster Zero; The Big Guy shows up and Tokyo will need to budget for urban renewal.

However, in an El Niño, the winds moving the water get weaker, and cause the warmer water to shift back towards the east. This causes the water of the eastern Pacific (that is, the West Coast of the United States, Canada, Mexico, northern south America, and Hawaii ) to get warmer. Usually, Megalon will appear; the Big Guy shows up again, and there is some, uh, cell phone interference that follows.  That's not the best news for L.A., or Kiddietown (formerly San Francisco). 

At The Ferry Building: Can Never Get That Cup Of The Good
The Chairman Of The Board was pleased at the comparison with a Primal Force Of Nature™ (being one Himself), and through his Press Office advised he would make a Bay Area appearance soon, his most recent having been the annual Bay To Breakers marathon.
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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Random Black Dog Bark Bark Barking

In These Times

(Winston Churchill -- world leader, champion of England's titled class; boozer, dilettante painter and cigar aficionado -- used to call the bouts of depression which seized him periodically as "The Black Dog". I'm not a black dog, but am feeling a bit 'dark' these days (indeed; no surprise there), so be warned.)

The current economic situation in the United States, also described as 'The New Normal', could be summed up in these points:
  • Salaries and Wages = Nearly Flat For Over A Decade -- Luckily, we have had almost no inflation during the same period, but if you're not bringing home more money even a modest rise in prices can hurt;  
  • It's Not That Jobs Are Created; It's What Kinds Of Jobs -- Employment numbers have gone up to a degree in construction and some manufacturing sectors, but the broadest gains in total jobs have been in the Service Economy -- maids and waiters and towel boys and gardeners and spa attendants and boat crew lackeys;
  • Unemployment Figures Continue To Ignore The Lost Workforce -- A news item like "US Jobless Claims Hover At Pre-Recession Levels... [which offers] further evidence of the economy's underlying strength" might make you believe everything is 'finally getting back to normal' after the Go-Go, 'Lil' Boots' Bush years and the Crash.  
  • >>> The numbers receiving unemployment payments, as reported, is shrinking -- but the number of people who have been unable to find work since the fall of 2008 (no pun intended) is ignored. No one really knows how many people are in this category -- and even the new Fed Chairman, Janet Yellen, questions whether there is more unreported 'slack' in the labor market than unemployment figures suggest.
  • The Gap Between The Top One-Tenth Of One PerCenters And Everyone Else Has Grown in the past decade. Period. We are a more stratified and less socially-mobile culture than at any time since the end of the Second World War. 
  • >>> The proof is in two points:  The average annual income of the bottom 90% of Americans is approximately $30,000 -- the annual income of the .01% is $24,000,000 ; and, the distribution of all wealth (not just annual income, but 'who owns what') in America is lopsided:  42 percent of everything is owned by the top One Per Cent, while the bottom 80% of the population owns just 5%.  That's of everything -- real property (homes, office buildings, land), stock, bonds, cash, cars, et al.
The current definition of The New Normal is "Secular Stagnation", where job growth is modest (we still haven't reached the percentage of full-time employed in the overall U.S. workforce as existed before 2008).  Large corporate employers have continued to keep wages low, while executive and managerial bonuses have gone up. The pension and health coverage benefits of their retirees is shrinking, and those just entering the workforce understand their employers will only provide the minimum, band-aid-for-their-conscience safety net of benefits. It ain't your grandfather's work-world any more.

Obligatory Image Of Happy Children, Enjoying Life In Modern America ©
In Middle Of Nihilist Blog Rant

 It's just one Dog's opinion, but you might have the feeling, looking around, that we're becoming a society where a layer of the truly wealthy, the Owners, live in security and privilege, nearly invisible to the rest of the world, while the rest of us... don't.

We buy the products and use services which they've significantly invested in -- or, they own the raw materials, or the land, or the ships. It's like the difference in San Francisco between those who "ride the bus", and everyone else (though employees of Google and Facebook and eBay and Yahoo are just as much Tools and servants of the .01% as the rest of us). We're fleeced by corporations, finance companies and banks, manufacturers, and employers from our first day to our last, and in the end a company the wealthy own will rent our children pennies to put on our eyes.

But, take heart. Paul Kingsnorth, former environmental activist, is fairly certain that we are moving swiftly into a period of climatic upheaval and that the chance of an apocalyptic die-off in the human population, a Mad Max coming to a street near you, is a certainty as ecosystems fail and power systems can't be sustained. Meaning that (according to Kingsnorth, and other environmental researchers) no matter what we do, we're doomed.

The good part, I suppose, is that the Uberwealthy will suffer, die, and slide into extinction along with the 99%. And there won't be any pennies left for the Boatman, let alone our eyes.

Well. I recall a comment made by Martin Luther -- devout christian; constipation sufferer, author of the 95 Theses whose efforts created the Reformation and centuries of civil war in the christian world; religious and political radical, misogynist and anti-Semite.  He said: If I were told that the world would end tomorrow, I would still go into the garden and plant an Apfelbaumchen (little apple tree).

And so must we all.

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MEHR: BITTE SCHIESSEN SIE MIR SOFORT:  As another sign that civilization has passed its peak and is now in irreversible decline, if you were a shareholder of Warren Buffet's Berkshire-Hathaway corporation, you would be attending the company's annual meeting in Kansas City -- and like any gathering In These End Times, you get the chance to take home a Tschochki or two, you lucky, far-sighted investor, you.
Berkshire Hathaway Inc. will sell rubber ducks of Chairman Warren Buffett and Vice Chairman Charles Munger wearing Mexican-themed outfits at the company’s annual meeting, which falls two days before Cinco de Mayo. The “fiesta ducks” sport sombreros, multicolored ponchos and — in Buffett’s case — a maraca, according to an advertisement in the visitor’s guide to the May 3 event, which will be held at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Nebraska. The souvenirs will be sold by Berkshire’s Oriental Trading party-supply business for $5 a pair.

 View The Terror And Shame: Click On Image To Enlarge! Easy! Fun!
(Picture courtesy of the Berkshire-Hathaway Annual Meeting Brochure,
Which You Can See In Its Entirety Here)

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Something (Relatively) Positive

Berkeley Earth Project

Recently, I've been reading The 4% Universe, a story of the development of the dominant modern currents in cosmology -- the formation, development, and ultimate fate of the Universe we inhabit, whether we'd like to ignore it or not.

It's a story of the astronomers and physicists (and their long-suffering post-doctoral assistants) who theorized, made the observations, worked with the data, and collectively reached a conclusion: That at present we can only account for some four per cent of all matter in the Universe -- the remainder consisting of "dark matter", which is only beginning to be understood, and that in a theoretical sense.

Why is this important? Go here, and buckle up.

One of the physicists involved in the story is Professor Richard Muller. In 1964, as an undergraduate, he was part of the original FSM (Free Speech Movement)at UC Berkeley, which culminated in the occupation of Sproul Hall, and the inevitable Bust.

Muller went on to a PhD in Physics, and may be the only FSM alumni who is now a tenured faculty member of the university which had him arrested 47 years ago. Through his work on Dark Matter and several other projects, Dr. Muller has earned a reputation as a good scientist -- Thorough, empirical, rigorous in demanding a high quality of data; and not as easy a job description as it sounds.

By chance, I came across an article in the UK Guardian online about his newest project -- just about to come to fruition:
[Muller's] list of publications is testament to the free rein of tenure: he worked on the first light from the big bang, proposed a new theory of ice ages, and found evidence for an upturn in impact craters on the moon. His expertise is highly sought after. For more than 30 years, he was a member of the independent Jason group that advises the US government on defense; his college lecture series, Physics for Future Presidents, was voted best class on campus, went stratospheric on YouTube and, in 2009, was turned into a bestseller.

For the past year, Muller has kept a low profile, working quietly on a new project with a team of academics hand-picked for their skills. They meet on campus regularly, to check progress, thrash out problems and hunt for oversights that might undermine their work. And for good reason. When Muller and his team go public with their findings in a few weeks, they will be muscling in on the ugliest and most hard-fought debate of modern times.

Muller calls his latest obsession the Berkeley Earth project. The aim is so simple that the complexity and magnitude of the undertaking is easy to miss. Starting from scratch, with new computer tools and more data than has ever been used, they will arrive at an independent assessment of global warming. The team will also make every piece of data it uses – 1.6bn data points – freely available on a website. It will post its workings alongside, including full information on how more than 100 years of data from thousands of instruments around the world are stitched together to give a historic record of the planet's temperature.

Muller is fed up with the politicized row that all too often engulfs climate science. By laying all its data and workings out in the open, where they can be checked and challenged by anyone, the Berkeley team hopes to achieve something remarkable: a broader consensus on global warming. In no other field would Muller's dream seem so ambitious, or perhaps, so naive.

The Guardian continued that Muller is clear the Earth Project will not provide a definitive answer regarding Global Warming, but is convinced that his approach will lead to a better assessment of climactic changes.

The project's team will present the billion-plus pieces of temperature data they've collected, and explain their method in reconciling it -- which they will have to explain and defend through peer examination, discussion and debate; and that's just within the scientific community.

"I've told the team I don't know if global warming is more or less than we hear," Muller told the Guardian, "But I do believe we can get a more precise number, and we can do it in a way that will cool the arguments over climate change, if nothing else... Science has its weaknesses, and it doesn't have a stranglehold on the truth, but it has a way of approaching technical issues that is a closer approximation of truth than any other method we have."

The concept that Climate change and Global Warming are real has been challenged, over and over -- primarily by corporate interests, and critics whose allegiances are to an ideology or religious belief over empirical evidence.

What impressed me about 4% Universe, and Muller's role in determining an answer to a specific set of scientific questions about the nature of that Universe, was how willing he was to follow Bertrand Russell's dictum of going where the data takes you, and not taking the data where you would prefer it goes -- a decent definition of 'Bad Science'.

I'll be very curious to see the conclusions, and details about how they were reached -- but given the project's genesis, I have confidence that the conclusions will have been arrived at through Good Science: Thorough, empirical, the result of rigorous internal debate, and in the spirit of adding to (instead of subtracting from) the sum of human knowledge.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bzzzzzzzz!

Where Have All The Flowers Gone

Daily Infographic is a terrific site; if you don't know it, you should. It's a treat for someone like me, who enjoys seeing the graphic representation of information. They try, daily, to present something worth knowing about, in a format worth looking at.

For some people, Powerpoint and Excel are the heights of presenting data to an audience. Infographic shows that there are many ways to put skin on a set of numbers to provide a new perspective, a wider appreciation of how important (or, not) the data you're looking at may be.



Unfortunately, their graphic today is about bees. Or, more precisely, their vanishing due to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), an apian disease we still haven't been able to isolate, or find a cure for.

No bees, no pollination. No pollination, and a variety of plants which depend on bees to complete a cycle of producing fruit and vegetables simply ends. Crops decline; prices for certain good skyrocket (I'll bet Goldman-Sachs is just waiting for that); people go hungry. So far, even with a terrific effort on the part of scientists and entomologists world-wide, they have no idea what causes CCD or how to treat and prevent it.

And pollination by hand has been proven far less effective than a pollen delivery system developed through millions of years of Evolution. It's a labor-intensive process, too: Who, in These Modern Times, will you hire to do it? what will you pay them? Will they have health care and 401(k)s, or will they be undocumented and exploited workers picked up on a streetcorner from Mexico and Central America?

Science is not the panacea we were taught as children in the 50's and 60's: We can send men into space! We got rid of Polio and Smallpox! Science will solve all our problems!

However, Science wasn't pure. It always seemed (to me, anyway) connected to particularly corporate notions of that Future Life we were all being promised was just over the hill -- the world as pictured in the GE Carousel Of Progress at Disneyland.

And, Progress invariably meant Bringing The American Way Of Life to people in Darkest Otheristan, before the Commies showed up and started talking about communal farming and the Dialectic Of Struggle™. And Progress often has to be protected by advanced weaponry and military advisers, and Coca-Cola.

Anyway, the data about CCD is there, and it's not pretty. The presentation is, though -- and to see it at a large enough size to be readable, go here.


© Daily Infographics 2010 (Click For Really Big Graphic! It's Fun!)


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Plus One Point Five Meters

Being a Dog, I'm fairly curious about things. So, with the help of Google Earth, Photoshop™, and a topographical map courtesy of the United States Geologic Survey, I produced a satellite image of San Francisco -- showing what it might look like if sea levels rose just three and a half feet (one point five meters).


(Click On Image For Enormous View Of The Future, © Google Earth)

For those of you living in The City, you can see relatively clearly what the effects would be: Ocean Beach disappears, and most of The Great Highway -- and (moving east around the peninsula) so does Baker Beach, Chrissy Field, Fisherman's Wharf and portions of North Beach. The Bay laps over the Embarcadero, pours out in China Basin and 3Com Park, and floods most of what had been the Naval Shipyards in Hunter's Point.

Looking at this pastiche of aerial photos, it may appear that the bulk of the city is untouched. That's true. But the encroachment of the Pacific on major traffic arteries, recreational areas, and the fact that the shoreline just moved adjacent to office buildings and homes is pretty clear.

But, hey; I live on Nob Hill, so I don't care. Can't wait.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Ruh-Roh

... As a talking, thinking Dog, I occasionally am right in my assumptions about how badly humans are screwing up the planet.

In this case, I'd suggested (in a post below) that at the moment, the level of concern over the Gulf Oil spill in the mind of pundits, public, and some professionals is on a par with how we feel about commercials, or jock itch: We'd prefer to ignore it.

It will take the Conveyor currents running up the east coast moving oil into the Atlantic Ocean, I said, to get people to say Hey! We gotta problem here!

Ooops. Damn; I hate being right, even for a Dog.




Sunday, December 13, 2009

In Urgent Times, A Good Legacy


Photographs of the Swiss Matterhorn (taken in 1960, left, and in
2005) show the shrinkage of its glacial ice. Both photos taken
after major snowstorms.

(All Photos: Left, © Bradford Washburn; Right, © David Arnold;
via LA Times online, December 13, 2009)

During the 1930's, photography as both art and documentation was a branch of the New Deal's Works Progress Administration (WPA). Most of America's major photographers -- Ansel Adams, Margaret Bourke-White; Edward Weston; Berenice Abbott, Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange; Ben Shahn -- were employed making records of life in America.

Artists like Adams were drawn to vistas of the natural world. Along with the more well-known photographers came others whose names were never known outside a limited number of federal bureaucracies needing specialized work performed, specific industries, or a circle of people who had .

Henry Bradford Washburn was one of the leading American mountaineers in the 1920s through the 50's. He made first ascents of, and added climbing routes to, many major Alaskan peaks -- often with his wife, Barbara Washburn, herself a pioneer among American mountaineers. Bradford established the Boston Museum of Science in 1939, served as its Director until 1980 and then as its Director Emeritus until his death in 2007.

The Washburns also pioneered the use of aerial photography in the analysis of mountains and in planning their mountaineering expeditions. Bradford was also a cartographer, and he used the black-and-white photos (primarily of Alaskan peaks and glaciers) he'd taken took as references for maps of the Alaskan wilderness that are still standard references. The photographs themselves are standards for detail and artistry.

I tend to have sharp words for what I see as a class of persons useless and empty of anything except hereditary wealth and the dull-witted avarice which accompanies it. But, on rare occasion they produce individuals with passion and intelligence for something greater than the world they were born into (in fact, often antithetical to it); people who spend their lives adding to, rather than subtracting from, the sum of human knowledge. Both Washburn and his wife, fortunately, were such people.

Washburn was born into privilege in Cambridge, Massachusetts; his family was modestly wealthy by the standards of his class, and he attended the usual route of private-academy-to-Ivy-League-School, taking an undergraduate degree at Harvard in the middle of the Great Depression.


Washburn in the 1940's (American Mountaineering Museum)

He could have done little of consequence with his life beyond helping to tend his family's fortune for later generations, or tossing money at a charity as a way of "giving back" -- but Washburn had spent years learning to climb mountains and had fallen in love with the Wild spaces; they were nothing like a sedate Cambridge or the quiet exclusivity of Porcellian at Harvard. Washburn was determined to document the geographic magnificence he experienced first-hand, as the great naturalists of the 19th century had. His tools were the camera, a set of Dietzgen mapmaking compasses and pens, and his own eyes.


Henry and Barbara Washburn atop a peak in Alaska, 1940's

Fortunately, he found someone who wanted to share the trek and climb alongside him. And in 1939, when the world was poised to fall into another World War, Henry and Barbara Washburn put their money where their hearts were by being the primary drivers behind an expansion of (and founding, in a way) the Boston Museum of Science.


Although the Guyot glacier in Alaska may look larger in the 2006
photo [at right], most of the white in the image is fog. Ice has
receded over 14 miles since that pictured in the 1938 photo at left.

David Arnold is a photographer with the Boston Globe, who had grown up looking at exhibitions of Washburn's aerial photos. "Five years ago I purchased a photograph by the late Bradford Washburn", Arnold told the Los Angeles Times. "Driving home and sneaking peeks of my new picture ... I started wondering: If global warming is real, what does that icy scene look like now?"

Over the past several years, Arnold has flown over the same remote sites captured by Washburn, taking nearly-identical pictures. He reported, "The news is not good," and organized an exhibition of the side-by-side photographs.

As the photos show, the ice world is melting fast. This includes the ice stored in the planet's largest water tower, the Himalayan mountain range, which annually sends drinking water down seven major rivers to hundreds of millions of Chinese and Indian citizens. In another 20 or so years, they are likely to start getting thirsty; the well-armed governments for another 7 billion people will be getting snippy about their water; and I won't be able to buy flood insurance for my home on the Boston waterfront.



When Washburn photographed the Shoup glacier near Valdez,
Alaska in 1938 [left], it extended six miles beyond the right
edge of the picture. Arnold’s photo at right is from 2007.

About the arguments made that predictions of the effects of global warming are the result of "bad science", and it can't be proven to exist, Arnold is blunt: "I look at it this way: I'm told I have a malignant brain tumor and it's growing -- and out of one hundred doctors, ninety-eight say that if it is not removed, I will die. Two well-credentialed doctors say there is no research that can prove the tumor will continue to grow, and say to sit tight, do nothing.

"I'm going with the surgery," Arnold concludes. "And the flood insurance."

This is an additional, if unanticipated, benefit to Henry and Barbara Washburn's legacy: Documentary evidence of climatic change; a comparison between then, and now, in a detailed graphic format. If he hadn't had the passion and commitment to goals he had seen and set for himself, we would not have it now.

To create a comparative record of changes to glacial and mountain ice fields may have been possible to reconstruct through anecdotal observation and occasional photos of others -- but not with the detail Washburn provided. And at this point in our species' history, we need all the data we can get.

You can see Arnold's full exhibit online at doublexposure.net, created through the Washburn's legacy, the Boston Museum of Science.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The World Is Not A Petting Zoo


You thought Sascha Cohen's Borat, Bear-In-Used-Ice-Cream-Truck
was funny, right? I did. However, the Bear may have other ideas.

Saturday, September 19, 2009 (BBC) JAPAN: An Asian black bear has been shot dead after attacking a group of tourists at a bus station in Takayama, Gifu prefecture...

The male bear attacked a group of nine people, mostly tourists, waiting for a bus to take them to the nearby mountains. ... After the attack, the four foot bear fled through the bus terminal, and into a souvenir shop. Employees then trapped it inside the shop, and the bear was later shot dead by officials...


Human beings -- primarily Westerners, who have lost any real understanding of how to behave and navigate in rural or wilderness environments -- are incredibly stupid when it comes to encountering any animals, large reptiles, serious arachnids and centipedes, and big fish in the wild.


Didn't you get the memo, pal? Are you bucking for a 'Darwin'?
Bears appear cute to humans; humans look like food to Bears.

One of my favorite videos is of a woman (a candidate for Stupidest Human Of The Twentieth Century) at a zoo in the early 1990's. The zoo had a raised walkway running in front of the Polar Bear cage -- an actual cage, with bars. The raised walkway was ten or so feet from the cage, and had handrails. There were posted signs, between the walkway and the cage, warning people not to leave the walkway or approach the animals in their cages.

The world is not -- let me repeat that; is not -- a petting zoo.

No matter. A stocky blonde woman in white shorts, pink top, and very white Nike running shoes slipped under the walkway handrail, and walked right up to a polar bear standing just on the other side of the bars of its cage. Placing one foot right up against the bars, she leaned forward, and with one hand held out some food item towards the bear (All of this was being captured on video by another tourist who, much less stupid, had remained on the walkway).

Being curious, the Bear padded up to the bars, sniffed at the food -- and suddenly jerked its head down, bit the woman's foot resting against the bars, and started dragging her leg-first into the cage.



Pandemonium! Shock! Tableau! Other tourists came rushing off the walkway to her aid; after a brief tug-of-war, the woman is freed! The last shot in the video was a closeup of the Polar Bear, looking out from behind the bars of its cage, the woman's white Nike running shoe dangling by its laces from his mouth.

The bear blinks back at the camera, and if it could speak, you know it would say something like Well, what the hell did you expect?? I'm a Bear!!


Canadian Bears, Enjoying Lunch, Speak with Horrified Tourists

The most recent, widely-viewed Human / Bear encounter was at the Berlin Zoo in April of this year: During feeding time at the Polar Bear enclosure, a 32-year-old woman jumped from a twenty-plus-foot-high wall into the moat and began swimming towards the bears, who were waiting expectantly for some other, less active form of food.



The Bears wrestled with their primal instincts -- however, primal instincts are, well... primal. Any ten people, picked at random on the street, could tell you what happened next: The Bears sniffed at her, sort of looked her over... and then, one of them gave her an experimental bite.


(Photo: ©2009, World Entertainment News Network [WENN])



The woman screamed, swam back to the wall; the bears followed; zookeepers quickly lowered a sling to her, while bopping the Bears on their heads with a rubber weight at the end of a long pole. Unfortunately, the woman (who was, uh, "plus-sized") kept slipping and dropping back into the water. After a hair-raising few minutes, she was pulled to safety and lucky to be alive.


(Original Photo ©2009, WENN)

The woman was never identified, or the reason why she decided on this novel form of potential suicide. The Bear Enclosure's Director, a Herr Heiner, said (in not-untypical German fashion), "The woman was foolish... [she] should logically expect that adult polar bears would attack her if she jumped in."

Apparently, this wasn't the only recent incident, either: In December, 2008, a man had jumped into another area in the Bear enclosure, looking for 'Knut', the famous orphaned Polar Bear Cub. Knut has grown considerably, and is more aggressive now than a small, cute cub; if he'd found the guy, the Bear would have been happy to knock him down and eat the 'good parts'.


Little Knut (Then); And Much Larger 400-Plus-Pound Knut (Now).

There has been recent speculation that animals are being prompted to attack humans in a kind of Gaian, "Revenge Of The Planet" scenario, now that our general ecosystem is deteriorating. For that, you'd have to subscribe to the theory that the Earth is one, large organism, is finally reacting to the toxic changes wrought by humankind, and that animal attacks are just one expression of Mother Earth's rage.


Gaia's Revenge: You Never, Ever, See That Pool Shark Coming.

I think it's a much less complicated, but ultimately just as chilling, explanation: As the world's climate continues to change, species of animals (including reptiles, insects, and bears) will either adapt or die -- and part of that adaptation must be to move into areas populated by other species -- particularly human beings.


Mountain Lion, Cruising A Neighborhood In Monrovia, CA.

And when humans come into contact with other species, they can treat them with caution and respect, or do what all of the 'funny' pictures above have done, and anthropomorphize them -- endow them with human emotions and motivations.

If we do that, it usually all ends in sad miscalculations and someone either being rushed to an emergency room, or becoming hot lunch for... well; something. Just be thankful that only humans and apes have opposable thumbs -- but, with environmental change often comes genetic adaptation... so, who knows?




Saturday, June 27, 2009

Two Steps Forward, Two Steps Back: The President and Waxman-Markey


(Photo: Legal Planet [Web], May 8, 2009)
Thanks, Humans. If you were here, I'd rip you up and eat you.

[NOTE: This week's banner features former Exxon CEO Lee F. Raymond, and a swimming companion who looks forward to a sizeable meal, because Ol' Lee's a real Fat Boy. Hey; remember when he was awarded a $400 Million-dollar bonus because of Exxon's 'record profits'? At the same time, due to record high prices, older persons in the Northeast couldn't afford to buy heating oil? And when people complained, Ol' Lee's response -- "We're all in this together, everywhere in the world" ?]

In a late session yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Waxman-Markey climate change bill (aka the American Climate and Energy Security Act), by a narrow 219 to 212.

The vote was the first time either house of Congress had approved a bill meant to curb the heat-trapping gases scientists have linked to climate change. The legislation, which passed despite deep divisions among Democrats, could lead to profound changes in many sectors of the economy, including electric power generation, agriculture, manufacturing and construction. (New York Times)

The heart of Waxman-Markey is "cap-and-trade", a system that sets limits on overall greenhouse gas emissions. Power-generating utilities, manufacturing companies and other pollution emitters would have to pay fines if they release greenhouse gasses above limits set for them. At the same time, they would be allowed to trade "allowances" with each other, which when turned in to the government would reduce or even eliminate those fines they should pay.

In other words, if Exxon is producing more greenhouse gasses at a refinery, they may find it's cheaper to buy 'allowances' offsetting their pollution from Traders -- who list them from other businesses, with fees charged on both sides of the transaction. In a world allegedly ruled by money, there is of course a whole specialty market built around this concept similar to the trading of electric power; other emission allowances have been traded in the same manner for a decade now.

Under Waxman-Markey, the bar for limits on all greenhouse gasses produced in the United States are lowered over time, increasing the penalties for emissions over that limit which (in theory) will prompt all businesses -- in fact, change the habits of our culture -- to think in terms of cleaner ways to produce and use energy.

But, doesn't Exxon's refinery keep belching out greenhouse gasses? Why, of course it does. Will the EPA or another regulatory agency really be able to determine if the businesses whose allowances Exxon purchased to offset their pollution actually reduced their emissions? (Shrugs) Dunno. Will this somehow shame the Chinese government into enacting similar laws, and forestall their rush to become the world's biggest polluter of greenhouse gasses? Ha ha ha, ha ha ha; Dream on, pal...


(Photo: Climate Progress [Web], December 27, 2006)
Waxman-Markey? Feh.

Having this legislation in place is (according to the Obama administration) necessary as a "first step", showing the rest of the world that we are as serious about the looming challenge of Climate Change as they (well, excepting China) are. Discussions of a new international climate treaty will begin in December, and the general idea of Climate Change will likely be an election issue during the 2010 midterm and 2012 Presidential elections. And, believe it: everyone will claim to Be Green!

However, the usual coalition of Blue Dog Democrats and all Republicans were opposed to Waxman-Markey, or any environmental legislation, because it is just too hard on those poor, defenseless multinational business conglomerates which donate so much money to their campaigns, and feed them chocolates and champagne and whisk them on corporate jets to play golf at private clubs and do bouncy-bouncy with little Fleshpup Bimbettes.

My personal take is that people like these would sell their mothers, to be gangbanged and forced to give blowjobs to donkeys in the slums of Istanbul, for an extra dime of profit or a few-point bump in the polls. So, it's not much of a stretch for them to say, "Wha -- 'Biosphere'? What's in it for me? If it's nothin', then fuck it."

That's an exaggeration, surely, but not by much. Republicans only believe in Drill, Baby, Drill; the evangelicals could care less, as Jesus will be here... oh, any day now; and the Blue Dogs are DINOs (Democrats In Name Only, almost).

Greenpeace also opposes Waxman-Markey:

The ... legislation, however, will not do what the science says is necessary to avert the worst effects of climate change. In fact, House Democrats have worked extensively with the coal industry to edit the bill, which has translated into weakened emissions targets and massive offsets... Instead of leaving coal in the past – as the dirtiest of fossil fuels, ... [that] industry now stands to reap significant rewards from [Waxman-Markey] as it’s currently written.

The President must deliver on his campaign pledge to set climate policy based on science, not politics. Without President Obama’s leadership, corporate polluters will continue to highjack this process and ensure that we continue business as usual...

I feel the President's motives are for change, and against the continuation of policies which enrich a few at the expense of everyone and everything else (the "Lil' Boots" Bush model of government). However, it seems clear to me that he's compromising in this legislation -- as he has with the regulation of America's financial institutions in the wake of The Crash, and quietly abandoning any actual change of Bush's policies on civil liberties, Executive secrecy, communications surveillance programs, and extralegal imprisonment, and (please god; let me be wrong) possibly on Health Care Reform.

The President's desire is to move things forward in a positive direction; I don't doubt his sincerity. Perhaps he believes these first steps will be moved forward in a second Obama administration, or by future Democratic Presidents -- a basis for future change.

However, relying on sincerity without substance is like believing in Santa Claus: Sooner or later, when you learn the truth, you'll be really pissed at having the Reindeer hide pulled over your eyes. Possibly pissed enough to vote for another Lil' Boots Bush -- at least, that's what people like New Gingrich hope for.

I don't know who said that compromises made into bad laws may be worse than no laws at all -- but it's true. And if They didn't say it, then They should have.

Selling the Center may be what the President can be expected to do. It's clear he can move swiftly when situations demand it; but if his idea of change is the half-measure and the backroom deal, when clarity and substance are most desperately needed, then his solutions will not last.

(Full Disclosure: I actively worked in Obama's 2009 camapaign. I still believe he can take the United States to a better place, for everyone. And while I don't agree with some of his decisions to date, or their scope, I'm mindful he's only been in office for six months and a week.)

(Anyone who declares his Presidency a failure, his efforts self-serving, and his choice of dog to reflect a Socialist agenda ought to have their goddamn heads examined. I mean, come on, people.)

I'm reminded of a comment Frederick Douglass once made about Abraham Lincoln, for whom the President has great respect, which I am afraid applies to some of the programs Obama has put forward as well. Douglass was speaking on April 14, 1876, before a crowd in Washington, D.C. (including then-President Ulysses S. Grant) as part of a ceremony dedicating a monument to Lincoln as Emancipator of the slaves.

Douglass didn't pull a single punch in his speech. He said Lincoln (mindful that he was caucasian, and in advance of Franz Fanon noted that hardship experienced as part of a majority bears no resemblance to suffering as a minority) had two missions: To save the United States from coming apart, and to "free his country from the great crime of slavery." To do this, Lincoln had to have "the earnest sympathy and the powerful cooperation of his loyal fellow countrymen."

Had he put the abolition of slavery before the salvation of the Union, he would have inevitably driven from him a powerful class of the American people and rendered resistance to rebellion impossible.

Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined.


The President is trying to perform just such a balancing act as Lincoln did; and to most people -- the Center -- he appears resolute and decisive. But simply being a more thoughtful, empathetic and intelligent human being than the Guttersnipe who occupied the White House before him isn't going to be enough. To many environmentalists, civil libertarians, and economists, politically-motivated compromises in the face of specific issues do not serve the People or protect future generations.

As regards Climate Change, I don't feel we have as much of a window of time left to affect changes already occurring. We won't be able to stop changes in weather or sea level that are already under way -- but we could still reduce their effects for future generations. The evidence for more serious action than Waxman-Markey is already under our noses.

Thursday night, while walking on the Embarcadero beside the Bay, I noticed that access to landings (spots for windsurfers or kayaks) built ten to fifteen years ago just above the (then) high tide line were blocked off. Barnacles were growing on the lower steps; the steps at the top -- on the same level as the Embarcadero sidewalk -- were damp, because they're inches below the new high-tide line.

I believe compromise, particularly where the environment is concerned, is a serious mistake.

But then, I'm only a dog; what do I know.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Tie Me Selenocosmia Down, Sport

A community in the Outback, some 700 miles north of Brisbane in Australia, is dealing with a sudden increase in their local Tarantula population -- as in, there were none; now there are plenty.



There have been heavy, unseasonal rains in Australia recently, and the Arachnids have been driven from their normal habitats into more suburban areas. Given other signs of shifting weather patterns due to global warming, and its effect on animal and insect populations, this shouldn't surprise anybody.

The specific species of Tarantula is fairly common down under, known as the Australian Whistling, or Barking or Bird-Eating Tarantula. Their bite is poisonous to humans, but not fatal; but, it can in fact kill a dog or bird. On top of it, the Tarantulas do seem to whistle when cornered, or feel threatened, or see pictures of Cate Blanchett.

Frankly, I've always thought Tarantulas (and most Arachnids, generally) have gotten a bad rap. I've seen them on television with 'handlers'; they're not dumb, for spiders. And, they don't live to attack humans -- though they will check things out in their environment (Are you a threat? Are you food?) like any proto-sentient organism, or telemarketer. However, if you freak them out, they'll protect themselves, and aggressively so. What did your mother tell you about not teasing dogs or Tarantulas?



Remember Harry Belafonte's big hit from 1956? "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)"?
Highly Deadly
Black Tarantula!
(Daylight come
and I want go home)

As it turns out, Tarantulas aren't the problem for de guys workin' all day on a drink o' Rum (I'd like to see them institute that policy where *I* work). The real critter they need to fear is something called the Brazilian Wandering Spider (Phoneutria Nigriventer), a nocturnal hunting Arachnid that hides in warm, moist places during the day -- including bunches of bananas. They are found from Costa Rica to northern Uruguay, and on down in the Amazon basin.

The Guinness Book Of World Records considers P. Nigriventer the most deadly spider in the world, based on the annual number of deaths from their bite -- however, the prize for Most Poisonous goes to the Australian Funnel Spider, the bite of which can kill you, despite the fact that it's less than half an inch long.

If you see any of these spiders, just leave them alone. Don't respond to them (Hey, Human! Come over here, you think you're so tough!), don't have conversations with them, don't take candy from them (not even that really good Swiss stuff), and don't let them talk you into getting into their car.


(The deadly Brazilian Wandering Spider... well, wandering.)

Arachnids generally are A Very Big Trigger for most people -- yell "Spider!" in a crowded room, and for a moment everyone will have a spike of primal fear-induced adrenaline.

I dare you to watch the scene at the end of the original "The Fly" -- David Hedison, his human head joined to the body of a housefly, sits trapped in a web as a spider approaches, screaming in a high-pitched voice Noooooooo! Killlll Meeeee!. Feel creeped out on a fundamental level? (No? Then watch all the first-season episodes of Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea in one sitting.) And, watching Elijah Wood fighting the giant Sheloob in The Return Of The King were pretty uncomfortable, for me. But, then, I'm only a dog.


(Here, a member of Selenocosmia [billed as 'Hungarian actor Taran Tula'], with Broderick Crawford in a 1959 Episode of Highway Patrol, "Reckless Driving")

God knows what I'd do if Tarantulas were "ordinary garden pests"; sleep with a machete, I suppose. The sad truth is, I have spiders in my home; they only come out at night; and they do bite -- though I don't find that out until the next morning. They do go after Silverfish and ants -- so, the relationship with my home Arachnids is similar to the bargain our Army has struck with the Sunni irregulars in Baghdad: You keep the foreigners in line, and I'll accept the occasional annoying firefight.

If anyone's traveling to that part of Australia, why not box up a few Whistling Tarantulas -- and ship them to George Will? Hey, Georgie! We're whistlin' 'Who'll Stop The Rain?', just for you, Mate! So global warmin' is a fraud, eh? Howya like these Outback Penguins, ya wanker?

Classic.