29 August 2018

Glenn Greenwald

Quite a few years ago, in the Bush era, I found some of Glenn Greenwald's commentary interesting and insightful. But in recent years he, like Oliver Stone, has developed some kind of deranged affection for Putin reminiscent of pro-Stalin American communists in the pre-WW II era. I discount everything he says nowadays, and don't read him at all. 

26 August 2018


Hard not to take the last verse of the final motet of the Portland William Byrd Festival final concert as a commentary on affairs in Washington, as opposed to Jerusalem. Psalm 79, Deus venerunt gentes; verse 4, as set by William Byrd (1540-1623)

Facti summus opprobrium vicinis nostris,
subsannatio et illusio his qui in cicuitu nostro sunt.

"We have become a disgrace to our neighbors,
an object of mockery and derision to those around us."

23 August 2018

Godfather Part VII: the presidency

Trump muses "It started with collusion. How did we end up here?" (It's called investigation, look it up). But what I wonder is how we ended up with a president who condemns patriotic law enforcement officials for doing their jobs while he praises the crook he hired to be his campaign manager (till he had to fire him on reports of dirty foreign money)... after he's been convicted of serious crimes that can put him in jail for the rest of his life. And praises him not for being a "good guy" but for refusing to "break," meaning refusing to cooperate with the very United States government that the president heads. It feels as if Michael Corleone has become our president.

Wilson on Trump

22 August 2018

Post Trump

As far as I'm concerned, we now have substantiated evidence that Trump is a criminal, so he must resign or be impeached. Period the end. I know we have to work out how to get that done after the election and in the meantime it may not be the best issue to talk about (and it's obvious he won't resign). The investigation will go on; he can't stop it even if he tries desperation moves like firing Mueller. The evidence will hang him. His downfall is now inevitable.

So, what? I say, let's start talking about the post-Trump era; what Progressives can and will do for our country when we regain the levers of power. We'll deal with Trump, but for now the main thing is to win elections and minimize the damage he's doing. (Such as by fighting like hell to try to keep Kavanaugh off the Court).

Democrats running for office should talk about the positive things they are FOR, like Medicare for All, Renewable Energy and other Infrastructure (to address Climate Change and rebuild ageing transport and other systems), Restoring America's influence in the world, investment in science and other research, Free public higher education, Sensible Tax reform that actually helps ordinary people, voting rights, Enhanced Social Security, Labor Rights.... a long list. But the emphasis needs to be on what we will ACTUALLY DO to make America greater, not just spouting slogans or talking incessantly about the problems created by the current Crook in the White House.

I really believe that the majority that is not absolutely die-hard Trump-drunk is ready for a positive, can-do, activist message from Democrats about what needs to be done and will be done once we have the chance to get going.



21 August 2018

August 21, 2018

Someday, when we look back on the relatively brief nightmare that was the Trump presidency, we will mark this day as the day when it became clear to everyone who was paying any attention and had any respect for facts that our president was a criminal.  


Appreciate the help, but...

I am grateful to (both) Clintons, Biden and Bernie Sanders for their rallying the base and fundraising...  but Hillary, Joe and Bernie -- please! just say definitively that the torch is passing, and you're NOT going to run for president again. We need to concentrate on midterms, and then allow new leadership to emerge. 

19 August 2018

Dog scooter safety

There's something just adorable about this. 


Yo amo, tú amas, el ama, nosotros amamos, vosotros amáis, ellos aman. 

Ojalá no fuese conjugación sino realidad.

--Mario Benedetti

18 August 2018

My response to a Trumper

Probably with excess of zeal, I posted this in response to an old friend, now a Trumper (a former legal secretary), who posted one of those hyper-nationalistic anti-NFL "take an knee" videos on FB.

... you and I have been friends for a long time, but it's apparent we have drifted into different "camps" in this regrettably most divisive time in our nation's history. (At least since the Civil War). I read this (sound off, couldn't take the sappy music, sorry), and I would like to respond to it an a civil and respectful manner.

First, the question of whether someone endorses the viewpoint of the players who choose to demonstrate their opposition to systemic racism by "taking a knee" or not is completely beside the point. I happen to respect their viewpoint, as I believe systemic racism is a far, far more serious detriment to our nation's well-being than perceived disrespect for a SYMBOL, namely the flag. The Article III courts in our country, which are charged with protecting the Constitution, long since have ruled that the 1st Amendment protects the right of everyone to express political views through symbolic actions such as this. Whether they have a "right" to do it as employees of the NFL is a different issue. I happen to favor a high degree of toleration in society for expression of diverse views, in various manners, as we live in a corporatized society where the threat that our liberty will be constrained because "the boss doesn't like it" is a real threat. But, in any case, the fact is that the NFL HAS ordered the players not to do this going forward, so the issue is really rather stale anyway. I suppose if they insist on doing it, it will be like Civil Disobedience, except in the private sphere; and one of the basic tenets of civil disobedience is that you are willing to accept the consequences of your actions. Sit down at a lunch counter, and you may go to jail. And you GO. That's how it works.

The fact that football players have the luxury of using their game as a platform for political speech (whatever the consequences) is one of the things that makes our country WORTH fighting for... we have freedom of expression. Countries and societies who have been America's enemies... including our president's best buddy's country, Russia, do not. OF COURSE, if you don't like their point or their behavior, it's YOUR RIGHT to boycott them, and their employers. (I hate football anyway, but that's not the point either). And it's your right to post this, but what I want to appeal to you is to say, that this is not reasonable. It more than implies that people who have a different view are not patriotic. And, frankly, that is insulting. I love my country. I support its Constitution, its guarantees of freedom, its system, however flawed, of ensuring that the governed are asked for their consent. And I don't appreciate being preached at by people who say, or imply, that because I have a different view from them on exactly what our country needs to do better, and what is an appropriate form of expression of dissent, I am somehow less patriotic than they. We all owe a debt of gratitude to those who serve our country, even when we have opposed the wars that they had to fight in. But it is the touchstone of a democratic form of government, that service to it is precisely to preserve it, to preserve the rights of those who stay home and serve their society honorably in other ways. We are not in an existential conflict, where it is everyone's duty to fight. You notice that among the leaders of the present government (unlike, for example, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, John Kerry), almost none of them have ever done military service, so the suggestion that you aren't really a patriot if you haven't fought in a war is actually rather repellent to the core ideals of America.

And my last point (I'm sorry, I know I go on) is this. This issue is TRIVIAL. We have a president who stands with a murderous thug in Helsinki and says the suggestion that he should turn over a US Ambassador to be interrogated by the modern successor to the KGB is a great idea. Who, alone among presidents in our entire history, stands there and says the trial of a man credibly accused of tax fraud, bank fraud, and receiving MILLIONS of dollars in illegally concealed income from foreign bank accounts; money he undeniably received by supporting the dirty political tricks of a pro-Putin would be dictator in Ukraine..is a "disgrace," and that this accused criminal "happens to be a good man." (Any employee of the justice department who commented thus on a case before a jury would be fired immediately, and even Nixon, who inadvertently referred to Manson as "guilty" before he was convicted, apologized profusely for having done so and claimed to have misspoken).

A president who, from day one, has used his office to PROFIT from the taxpayers, by staying in his own hotels at the costs of millions to the taxpayers, and effectively pressuring those who would do business with our country to do likewise. All in violation of the Constitution. Yet his party does nothing about that, and he has the gall to call a Republican serving as a special counsel who has served his country honorably throughout his entire career, including as a commander in Vietnam (while the president got deferments for bone spurs) "heavily conflicted," because (!) there are some Democrats on his staff (Justice Dept. regulations forbid even ASKING what an employees political affiliations are) and because Mueller once had a minor billing dispute with a Trump resort (which the Ethics Bureau already ruled was not a violation). I could go on and on. But my point is that becoming incensed at some people because you don't like the OPTICS of their form of Constitutionally-guaranteed protest, when our president is making mincemeat of the rule of law and violating not only norms but actual legal strictures designed to limit the power of the executive, while the Congress of his party is supine and doing nothing whatsoever to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, as is their mandate, seems to me to be complaining about a crooked cabinet door when a hurricane is raging and about to take the roof off.

OK, enough. I know we don't agree. But I hope you will at least realize that people like me, who loathe and detest Donald Trump for the horrible, divisive damage he is doing to our country, are also patriots.

16 August 2018

I Don't THINK I'm being paranoid. . .

 I don't
I'm of an unduly paranoid frame of mind, although my 1%
right wing (probably former-) friend thinks I'm deeply involved in "Trump Derangement Syndrome," which, by the way, ISN'T a thing. Anyway, watching the signs
and portents
, I'm increasingly worried that Trump's plan is, in a nutshell, to BLOW IT ALL UP. Once they really push him into a corner, and they will, he'll fire Rosenstein, order Mueller fired. Pull his security clearance (as Clapper suggested he might). Pardon everyone involved. Cut a deal with the Russians to not just interfere on the fringes but actually hack into and disrupt actual election tallies in the midterms
(if he hasn't done that already)
. Declare a state of emergency, martial law, whatever. And then the
question will be completely unavoidable. Will the entirely debased Republican party just bend over and take this, or will some critical mass of them join with Democrats to take action to save our Republic? Because it is totally clear that Trump has no moral compass, no loyalty to the United States
or the Constitution
, no respect for the rule of law or the checks and balances that are institutionalized to limit the power of a rogue executive, like him.

Think it can't happen? I'm sorry... it can. I don't know if it will; I truly, deeply hope not. But we can't rule it out. There are hundreds of historical precedents, some quite similar to this. And the personality type and authoritarian narcissistic personality of a dictator is right there for all to see.

If any country in history was
to stop something like this before it tears the country apart, it is ours, but there are no guarantees. We depend on the honor, integrity and courage of (mostly) men, who have to date shown none of those things.

f I were religious, I'd say pray for our country. But what I say instead is, prepare for the greatest Constitutional crisis of our nation's history, which is very likely coming soon, and everyone will have to choose whether they will stand with those who defy this monster, or not. It will be up to us. Whether it is as bad as I'm suggesting, or something a little less drastic, the choice will have to be made, and we will know those who are loyal, patriotic, and brave, not to a man but to the ideal of our republic, and those who are not. There will be no middle ground.

15 August 2018

THE Central Concern of our age

 I want to emphasize something to my farflung correspondents. We talk about various issues, and they are important. Criminal justice reform. Racist monster in the White House. Medical care for all. Education reform. Inequality of opportunity, and rigged economic system that perpetuates income inequality, On and on, all important. But if you answer anything other than Climate Change, and taking action to deal with this crisis, when asked what you think is the most important political issue facing us, you are ASLEEP. Almost alone among the issues facing us politically (the only other one being the threat of nuclear annihilation), this issue concerns an existential threat to our civilization. Indeed, best scientific understanding is that "business as usual" over the next century or so will all but guarantee the collapse of advanced economies including our own, because the devastating environmental disruption will likely literally cause a billion people to die in our world. If we are moral human beings, and politics is the art of practical morality (what else can it be?), then we simply cannot allow that to happen. The clock is ticking. It is very late. Bad things cannot be entirely avoided. We will have to do things that would've seemed unthinkable and reckless 25 years ago, such as deliberately modifying the atmosphere's chemistry (after careful consideration, modeling, and examination of all consequences)... and expending major resources to artificially remove CO2 from the atmosphere. But there is simply no excuse not to treat this crisis as the moral equivalent of a war like WWII... a genuine existential threat, and to make it, and the actions that need to be taken to deal with it, THE most central concern of our political consciousness for the duration, which means for all the rest of our lives, and all the rest of the lives of our children and grandchildren, AT LEAST.

04 August 2018

deep time optimism

«They will know that before them lie, not the millions of years in which we measure the eras of geology, nor the billions of years which span the past lives of the stars, but years to be counted literally in trillions...But for all that, they may envy us, basking in the bright afterglow of Creation; for we knew the universe when it was young.»

---Arthur C. Clarke

I haven't been able to find the origin of this quote. But it expresses a kind of deep time optimism about conscious beings; the kind that wants to call the coming epoch the Sapiezoic Eon, rather than the dingy aftermath of the Sixth Extinction. Thing is, it's increasingly clear, as Peter Brannen writes in the epilog of his brilliant book «The Ends of the World,» that the key to a bright future for humanity and its remote descendants may hinge on events of the next few decades. If there is to be an "age of wisdom," we had damn well better start employing some of that wisdom in our stewardship of this planet right now, because if we manage to destroy our ability to survive to a long future where our birthplace on earth is just one of many worlds, well, there will be no second chance.

Quoting Anthony Aguirre (UC Santa Cruz cosmologist): 
"I think we're at the point where essentially--depending on what happens in the next 100 years--I think it's likely that either civilization and potentially all life on Earth is going to self-destruct, or if it doesn't, I think the likelihood is we will manage to get to nearby planets, then faraway planets and ... spread throughout the galaxy. And so, if you compare those futures, one of them basically zero interesting conscious stuff going on in it--depending on where you count animals and things--and one of them that has an exponentially growing supply of interesting conscious experience. That's a big deal. If we were just one species among many throughout the galaxy, it would be kind of like, 'well, if we do ourselves in, we had it coming. We got what we deserve.' But if we're ... the only one in the galaxy--or one of very few--that's a huge future that we've extinguished. And it's just because we're being stupid now."

So let's don't be stupid, whaddaya say?

01 August 2018

Some rambling musing on Deep Time and Carbon Dioxide

I have been thinking lately that along with history and some degree of exposure to literature, art, and music, every kid in Middle or High school should have to take a fairly exacting, albeit age-appropriate course in Earth History and Paleontology. Maybe incorporate a basic overview of astronomy and cosmology, which are actually fairly closely related disciplines when you're talking about general education. Every human being should have a basic understanding of "deep time", and should have some concept of the extent of space and time, not as abstractions but as they actually are, in the universe we live in. Along with that would come an appreciation of the fact that the Earth is far, far older than we can imagine, and that human existence occupies but a tiny fraction of the time the Earth has existed, while the Earth itself is just one planet in a universe so vast and varied that it quite literally beggars the imagination. These insights, commonplace among the scientifically educated, are almost entirely absent in the population at large, and it creates a chasm in the ability of most people to truly appreciate what's at stake in issues involving science and scientifically-based understanding.

Principal among such issues is Climate Change, which can't really be fully understood without understanding what fossil fuels are, and why burning all of them is like releasing the environmental impact of pent up sunlight and the chemical storage of that energy over millions of years, all at once. If you don't really understand that, you can't truly appreciate why burning through all that fossil fuel is so dangerous. Or that it's not actually the first time in Earth's history that this has happened (!). One of the reasons past volcanic events, like the vast, continental lava flows that caused and/or contributed to the End -Triassic, End -Permian, and likely even End -Cretaceous Extinctions,* actually resulted in release of vast quantities of fossil carbon, from literal incineration of fossil fuel deposits. And that was one of the main "kill" factors in those extinctions. Let that sink in, and you'll realize we are quite literally playing with fire. But my point is that if the education to acquire this kind of awareness were more universal, our people would more easily grasp these vital issues. And the time has come when we cannot afford to ignore reality any longer.

The difference between full on ice age and peak interglacial (like now...a swing that occurred about 20 times in the last 2.6 million years) is only about six to seven degrees Celsius.

So when climate scientists speak of a 4° shift by 2100, they are talking about totally unprecedented climate change in so short a period of time. Again, never in the almost 4 billion year history of the Earth's atmosphere has there been such a rapid spike in CO-2. And what effect that will have on the Earth's climate systems is just not well understood. If that doesn't scare you, at least a little, you aren't paying attention.

When people are told that every single human being on average produces tons of extra CO-2 each year, they simply can't conceive of that... but it's true.

I sometimes hesitate to get into the sort of counterintuitive facts  about CO-2 long term, though. Few people realize that the current epoch of Ice Ages actually reflects a very long term deficit in CO-2, which promises to become a very serious problem in the more distant future. At 150 ppm at the glacial maximums, we were at the lowest levels of CO-2 in the atmosphere in many tens of millions of years, and there is some indication that the CO-2 cycle is actually failing, so that it would eventually drop to the lowest levels since the Cambrian era, and threaten the ability of plants on land to even survive. (See Oxygen, a Four Billion Year History, by Canfield, highly recommended).

Our current brief episode of radical global warming may have short circuited that. But you don't really want to just plunge into wild swings and unknown territory without making sure you understand what's happening and can control it, and reverse it if necessary.

The fact that human activity is  the principal agent of geological change in the present epoch needs to be drilled into the head of every single person living on the Earth, because it's a genuinely awesome responsibility. The fact that we are stewards of the Earth is not poetry. It is literal truth.

* The role of the Chicxulub Asteroid is coming to be regarded as both proximal and distal as a cause of the End-Cretaceous Extinction. The Deccan Trap lava flows in India (then atop the Réunion Hot Spot in the Indian Ocean) were already underway when the asteroid, the largest in the 500 million year history of complex life on Earth, hit Yucatan, about 66 million years ago, triggering a 12 Richter Scale earthquake. (An earthquake that massive can only be caused by an extraterrestrial impact event). An earthquake of that magnitude will necessarily trigger global volcanic events, and it did, with a vengenace, turning a Oregon/Idaho lava flow like event into a mass extinction level event, where the earth's interior just flowed out onto the surface in miles deep magma flows the size of half of Europe. And all the coal and oil in the crust over that entire area was destroyed and its carbon released into the atmosphere. But even so, and this is hard to grasp but true, it was still slower than the spike in CO-2 since 1850.