Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Yearly Babble

Blogger, now subsumed into the Google empire, has some new features and additions to their blog formats. This being a Blogger-enabled site, at least one of them has shown up here, and others will soon follow. So far the most obvious one is "labels," or what other systems have been calling "tags," which you append to a post to aid in sorting, classifying and accessing.

I've just finished the arduous task of labeling all Dreaming Up Daily posts of 2006. These labels are hyperlinked, so if you click on one, you'll get all the posts with that label. Eventually there will be a list of selected labels ( topics, types or names) that accesses a list of posts, but until I go through another couple of processes and change the template to the new version, I'm the only one who can see the list of labels. It's interesting to see what I wrote about most versus what I aimed to write about when I started this blog. To noone's surprise I'm sure, the leading topic was the Climate Crisis, with 103 posts in 2006 (which includes a few photos.) Posts that carry the "Future" label (many have more than one label) number 43. So that worked.

Over 70 were about the 2006 elections directly, and many more about Bush, Iraq, etc. There were scores on environmental and energy topics. There were 19 on nuclear weapons, especially when the prospect of attack on Iran was in the news. I labeled 28 posts as being "about me," and another 15 about "blogging," which I expect is way lower than the blogosphere average, and maybe is a violation of the blogging code of conduct.

Overall, I was appalled at how much time it took to simply go through all these posts, which would be a fraction of the time it would take to read them, and of course, to write them. While I hope they are worth the reading time, I'm still not so sure, given considerations of time on several important scales, that they are the best use of writing time. This blog has seen a dip recently in an already small readership. But in some ways the labeling work may turn out to be time well spent, as many visitors come here as the result of a search for something specific. This blog's value may turn out to be as reference resource. I still feel the motivation, or compulsion, to blog here pretty frequently. But that may pass. I've already lost the habit of writing for the major lefty blog sites.

Dreaming Up Daily began in July 2005, and the total post count is currently 1867. When I started it as partly a portal blog to other blogs I either maintained or started, part of my intent was to test whether this could be another way to get paid for writing. So far that hasn't worked out, though I suppose blogs could still work in relationship with other sources: synergy rather than principal or stand-alone medium. Apart from self-indulgence, or self-expression (depending on perspective and mood), there's the service aspect, and legacy, which looms larger these days.

There will be other changes in my blogs and blogging activities this year, partly motivated by some of these new features, which include an easier way to list and classify links. That works well with my plans to revive a "Skills of Peace" site. I haven't blogged as much on my 60's Now and Boomer Hall of Fame sites as I thought I would, but it seems likely that I will spend more time with them in coming years. I will probably set up a blog related to my North Coast Journal theatre column.

There were a lot of posts here in early 2006 on the Pittsburgh Steelers, as they made their way to their Super Bowl victory. Alas, no such luck to start 2007. They finished their season today with a win over the Cincinatti Bengals, for an 8-8 record--good enough in some divisions to get into the playoffs, but not in theirs. Their win today was emblematic of their season--they were better than most teams, but they hurt themselves with turnovers and penalties. Big Ben seemed more affected by his motorcycle accident than anyone connected with the team seemed willing to admit. He threw a lot of interceptions. But Willy Parker, their leading runner, fumbled too much as well. Today he actually fumbled as he was scoring a touchdown; last week inside the 5 yard line. Their defense was inconsistent, too--though there was a string of late season games when they gave up something like a total of 10 points.

Who knows what happened to the Steelers this year. But now it seems likely that they will lose their long-time head coach, Bill Cowher, which is a big deal in Pittsburgh. The Steelers have had only two head coaches since the 60s.

As for other end of the year macro-evaluations and the outlook for 2007, I'll leave that for later, or not. If I don't see you, Happy New Year.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

R.I.P 2006

President Gerald Ford was among the latest notables in the history of our time to die in 2006. Those I wish to remember now include Coretta Scott King, peace activist William Sloane Coffin, economist and author John Kenneth Galbraith, Texas Governor Ann Richards, Texas Senator and Democratic vice-presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen,and author Betty Friedan, for their contributions to the soul of our lifetimes and the soul of the future.

On the other side of the ledger, some of the world's most murderous tyrants of our time also died this year: Augusto Pinochet, Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein.
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R.I.P. 2006

The American theatre lost one of its most important and creative elders in 2006--Lloyd Richards, who changed American theatre at Yale, the O'Neill Center and on Broadway. He directed the first plays of Lorraine Hansberry and August Wilson, and was instrumental in bringing African-American voices to the American stage, where they will be forever. Richards set standards for playwriting and the integrity of theatrical creativity at the O'Neill Center that the American theatre ignores at its peril.

American theatre also lost playwright Wendy Wasserstein, a pioneer voice for women on the American stage, where they will be forever.
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R.I.P. 2006

A number of well known actors died in 2006. Jane Wyatt, pictured here with Ronald Coleman in her first major motion picture, "Lost Horizons," became best known for her role on TV's Father Knows Best but was also much beloved for her recurring role as Spock's mother in the Star Trek saga. Her first picture was directed by Frank Capra; her scene in her last, Star Trek IV, was overseen by assistant director Frank Capra III.

Other actors who died in 2006 include June Allyson, Maureen Stapleton, Glenn Ford, Red Buttons, Arthur Hill, Don Knotts, Jack Palance, Chris Penn, Moira Shearer (who danced in The Red Shoes), Jack Warden, Shelley Winters, Barnard Hughes, Dennis Weaver, Tony Franciosa, Eddie Albert and Peter Boyle.

Film directors Robert Altman and Richard Fleischer (Soylent Green), TV producer Aaron Spelling and TV talk show host Mike Douglas also died in 2006.
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R.I.P. 2006

Not all that well known in the U.S., Russian novelist Stanislaw Lem was highly influential in contemporary science fiction worldwide. He wrote "hard" technically oriented sci-fi, sc-fi with humor, and stories and novels with imaginative vision, such as one of his most famous works, Solaris.

Novelists and fictionists who made important and lasting contributions to literature, and who died in 2006, include William Styron, Muriel Spark and Frederick Busch.

Stanley Kunitz, who was considered among the best American poets for about a half century, died in 2006 at the age of 101. He was writing to the end.

Other well-known figures in the arts who died in 2006 include video artist Nam June Paik and photographer Arnold Newman.
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R.I.P. 2006

Billy Preston, seen here with George Harrison and Gerald Ford, was one of the prominent musicians who died in 2006. He was the first outsider to be a featured player with the Beatles (for their last released album) and continued his career (with less hair) into the twenty-first century.

James Brown, Lou Rawls, early rocker Gene Pitney, Wilson Pickett, June Pointer, Georgia Gibbs, country singer Buck Owens and classic jazz singer Anita O'Day also died in 2006, as did Ali Farka Toure, a great African musician (brought to world attention by Ry Cooder.)

The founder of Atlantic Records, which featured so many black artists, Ahmet Ertegun died in 2006.

Other media figures include New York Times reporter R.W. Apple, international journalist Oriana Fallaci, TV newsman Ed Bradley and CBS news chief Frank Stanton.

Sports figures who died in 2006 include baseball legend Buck O'Neil of the Negro League, fighter Floyd Patterson, Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach and announcer Curt Gowdy.
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R.I.P. 2006

There were some people important to the soul of our times and the soul of the future that haven't typically made it onto the lists of prominent people who died in 2006. This is Jane Jacobs, who changed the way just about everyone involved thinks about cities and urban life, with The Death and Life of Great American Cites and a series of related books. Her last book, Dark Age Ahead, was not so immediately influential when it was published in 2004, but I predict it will be one of the most prophetic and studied books of our time. Jacobs was both visionary and precise; she saw the big picture and details, and best of all, she saw the big picture in details. The world lost one of its great intelligences.

Ellen Willis was an excellent journalist and writer, especially perceptive about the 1960s. Clifford Geertz was an influential figure in anthropology.

Here on the North Coast, among those we lost in 2006 were Tim McKay, a stalwart environmentalist and community leader who founded the North Coast Environmental Center more than 30 years ago. Randy Stemler was another environmental leader, Violet Super was an important Karuk elder who worked to preserve her language and who was much loved by her family and the community, and Eric Rofes was an education activist who organized the valuable North Coast Education Summit here, and a gay activist well known on the East Coast as well.

And although she was pretty famous, Dana Reeve, the heroic wife of Christopher Reeve, fits no category but she was a special soul whose presence among us will be missed.

May we remember them all and continue to learn from them, and be graced and inspired by what they left behind. And may they all rest in peace.
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Thursday, December 28, 2006

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Is the Polar Bear the Ping-Pong of the Climate Crisis?

For years the U.S. officially declined to admit that China existed. Communist China, that is. China was treated as Cuba was and still is--no travel, no diplomatic relations, and no official recognition. The change came in the Nixon administration. Nixon had been a leader in denying China, a "hard-liner." Eventually he would be the first U.S. President to officially visit Communist China, beginning the relationship that has become so important to both countries. His prior hard line, many said, made him the appropriate president to do so, since he was above reproach politically on this matter. Hence the Vulcan proverb, "Only Nixon can go to China."

But before Nixon went, the first sign of a new approach, the first test of a new relationship, was the seemingly innocuous exchange of ping-pong players, a very big sport in China then. When American ping-pong players played the Chinese in China, it was a cautious first step.

For its entire time in office, the Bush administration has denied the reality of the Climate Crisis. It has prevented scientists from warning of its dangers and its causes, and it has opposed all efforts to regulate the principal cause, carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel burning, because doing so, Bush said, would wreck the U.S. capitalist economy. Among the world's nations, Bush's America has been just about the last remaining hard-liner.

But Wednesday the Bush administration announced it would seek to declare the polar bear a threatened species. To do so, it had to say why the polar bear is threatened with extinction. And this led to what the Washington Post described as "the first time the administration has identified climate change as the driving force behind the potential demise of a species. "

As the Post story notes, the polar bear is among the best known and best loved animals in the world, especially by children. The story also notes that some environmentalists and wildlife biologists believe this is too little too late. I heard one say on TV yesterday that he doesn't see how the polar bear survives--that its extinction is almost certain.

But it will be interesting to see if admitting that the Arctic is getting warmer is linked to the generally recognized reason. As the Post put it, Because scientists have concluded that carbon dioxide from power-plant and vehicle emissions is helping drive climate change worldwide, putting polar bears on the endangered species list raises the legal question of whether the government would be required to compel U.S. industries to curb their carbon dioxide output.

Whether the federal government is required by law to regular CO2 emissions is in fact the issue in a case now before the U.S. Supreme Court. How all of this plays out in the days and months ahead will tell us more clearly what this move means--and whether this was an attempted ping-pong play leading to recognizing the reality of the Climate Crisis, and taking action.

This North Coast Place

Why the apocalypse will not be broadcast

Humboldt cut off from the outside world said the headline in the Eureka Times Standard. On Tuesday, we had our annual Christmas week storm and power outage. I'm not entirely kidding--all the serious outages I recall in the past ten years have been between Christmas and New Years, including the immense storms that caused a lot of flooding and destruction as 1996 became 1997--and literally did cut us off from the rest of the world for awhile (Rt. 101 was closed in both directions, as were portions of other roads, and planes weren't flying into or out of the airport.) Last New Years Eve there was another storm that left us without power for days.

This time it was the day after Christmas, and a night and morning of wind and rain left us without electricity for several hours. But that wasn't what the headline was about. Late in the day we lost all Internet connections and all long distance phone service. There was "a problem" somewhere north of here, but perhaps the most disturbing thing the paper said was that no one knew what it was or exactly where.

I'm not sure exactly when Internet service was restored because in the interim we lost our electricity again. Winds raged through here all night and well into the morning--up to 50 mph. The power went down at abot 2:30 am and wasn't restored until Wednesday nightfall, just as we had the fireplace stoked up and were getting the candles in place.

The most maddening thing about this again this year was the lack of information about what was going on. When I lived in Pittsburgh, I could be confident that no matter how silly local radio and TV got--and they were getting increasingly silly---they would all have complete information in any emergency. Some stations would go to an all news format, while others would extend their regularly scheduled newscasts. Because they had regularly scheduled newscasts--on radio stations, at the top of every hour usually, or five minutes before. And probably news headlines at half-past.

But here on the North Coast we have no reliable source of news and information from any radio or television station. My guess is that there are three basic problems. First, conglomerates bought up local stations and ditched local news. With little or no local presence they are unable as well as unwilling to fulfill their public duty, which I would argue they are required to do by law since they are using our public airwaves.

Second, this is a small media market that has trouble getting and keeping experienced newspeople. It's easy to make fun of the teenagers who staff the news shows, with their fake media voices trying to make fluff and half-baked stories sound important. But in emergencies, when the public needs accurate information, it's not funny. The lack of it has a real potential to compound tragedy, if not cause some.

The third reason is that local media don't take the responsibility to inform the public seriously. Where are the regularly scheduled radio newscasts ? And if they can't afford to do them every day, how about scheduling news in times like this, on the hour and half-hour, so listeners will know when to tune in?

What did I hear on the battery-powered radio today? A couple of guys grudgingly offering a few tidbits of info as part of their Studio 60/Daily Show repartee, in the midst of the discussion that really interested them: have any good bands ever come out of Ferndale? And a few mumbled sentences in the local break of All Things Considered, when we were told that power might or might not be off in some places, and if it was, it would be restored as soon as possible.

Isn't anyone being trained to make phone calls and insist on answers? Is it too much to ask to be able to get that information without listening for it amongst hours of music you may not really want to hear?

As beautiful and virtuous as it is, this is a vulnerable place. We are rather easily cut off from the world. We expect a major earthquake that can come at any time, probably accompanied by tsunami. Yet we have no system of obtaining information when we will most need it. There seem as well to be no clear lines of authority for those emergencies, which is something that ought to interest the local print media more than it seems to.

This week wasn't bad. But the ease with which we lost power and Internet and long distance should be sobering. It's not a joke anymore, if it ever was.

Being without the Internet for a day was interesting in itself, especially considering that it wasn't even much of an issue in the storms a decade ago this week. It felt like longer than a day, for one thing. At least until I finally got to check my email, and it looked pretty much like my snail mail, and you know what that looks like these days. As for this blog, the number of hits on the day I didn't post actually went up. Maybe that should tell me something.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Posted by PicasaMerry Christmas from redwood country... BK photo.
Christmas Thoughts

Happy Christmas, but unfortunately the war is not over, no matter how many Americans say they want it to be. And there's even a new one starting, while the death toll of Americans in Iraq passes that of 9-11.

But we were told in 2001 to fight terrorism by Christmas shopping and we haven't slackened. When I was out and about covering seasonal shows for my Stage Matters column in the past few week, I looked in on the real theatre of the season, the Retail Drama at the mall. While the decorations and events at our local mall this year was nowhere near the splendor and intensity of the Greengate Mall Christmases that remain legendary in western PA, there were appropriate touches of glitz and glitter. And while nobody was into the Cybernation Ride (which looks to be like riding in a tin can while it's being violently shaken) I did notice that Hometown Buffet was rockin.

As much as some of us try to keep the gift thing under control, financially and psychologically, it's always there. Our feelings as well as our values, and especially our childhoods even more than our adult selves, get engaged. My adult self has long made a practice of Christmas gift acquisition that goes like this, in rough order of priority: 1. Make stuff (in my case, little books, CDs and mixes, etc.) 2. Buy from Good Causes and authentic sources, like Native American stuff from Native American artisans. 3. Buy recycled (thrift store treasures, etc.). 4. Buy local. And in all cases, as ecologically sound as possible.

This year I did fairly well--gifts from Save Darfur and the Dharma Shop (crafted by Tibetan Buddhist exiles in India). A few homemades, a few used books, the rest locally made, except for what I just couldn't find anywhere but one of our local Big Boxes. I would have preferred to buy from Costco but Target had the items I needed. In terms of what we received, however, it was impossible not to notice that nearly everything was marked Made in China (including a ceramic Buddha, ironic indeed since the Chinese killed thousands of Buddhists in Tibet.) I also didn't drive myself crazy or broke trying to buy for everybody. I bought for my nieces, grand-niece and grand-nephew, and my partner. When I happen on something I suddenly feel is right for someone else, I've given it, even if I didn't gift that person the year before, or the year after. There's just so much sweating it I'm up to these years.

But as for the child in me--well, I've stopped pretending he doesn't exist, for inevitably the gifts not received or the wrong gift received revive emotions of disappointment and bewilderment, among others, from childhood experiences. This year I did consciously what I've done reflexively sometimes in the past: I bought myself Christmas gifts I wanted that no one else would get me, and had them well in advance of the Day. Then I could just relax. Ironically, of course, for having done that this year, I actually got great gifts.

We had a quiet Christmas at home, visiting with family by phone. My family back in PA had the usual blizzard of activities and meals, though nothing like the Old Days. This year my one tenuous connection with Christmas pasts was making my grandmother's recipe for jumbalone.

As for the Big Picture, there were the usual heartwarming pre-Christmas stories in the news--like the Santa who collapsed and died while giving out toys to kids, or the Santas that got their jollies from armed robbery. And the repeatedly phony and pernicious, inane and insane foaming at the mouth over the delusional war on Christmas. It's such an amazing shame that the message of compassion associated with this day has been subsumed especially in most of what we see and hear from Christianity. While the person who has given the most vitality and meaning to the message of compassion in a public way is the Dalai Lama. As a Tibetan Buddhist but also beyond any religious faith, he argues for the practicality and the necessity of compassion. Buddhists with different practices, such as Pema Chodron, or the Zen teacher, John Daido Loori, really make compassion the center of their concerns.

They aren't talking Christmas soporifics, but profound and complex commitments. They aren't passing off Christmas sentimentality and wan wishes for a supposedly perfect world where peace and compassion are automatic and easy, nor the once a year yearning for what is clearly impossible or just impractical, but the process of accepting paradoxes and ironies and contradictions, yet making compassion a practice, not a wish, within a context that accepts the relative world. Yet even in a time and place when Christianists as well as Islamicists insist on choosing up sides, this wisdom should not seem so alien to Christians. "When giver and receiver merge, there is no giving and no receiving," John Daido Loori says. "That's the essence and function of compassion." It may also be the daring meaning of "Love your neighbor as yourself."
Unintelligible Design

So folks are opening their high tech gifts and good luck to us all. I just perused a book called The Laws of Simplicity by John Maeda of MIT's Media Lab, which is a designer's response to new devices that are too complex, like DVDs with multiple menus and nifty little electronics that come accompanied by manuals way bigger than they are. It's not a bad book--I especially liked the chapter on Emotion (you can see the Laws for yourself at but it doesn't really address the problems I have.

It's not that devices are too complex (though they are) but that their most basic functions are increasingly difficult to use. Maeda praises the simplicity of the Ipod dial, which may or may not be so (I don't have one) but I have reason to doubt this is a real solution. One major problem with small devices is that the buttons and dials that operate them are very, very small, and often the "simple" design hides them. Screen menus, also very small. Plus they are dominated by "simple" icons. My lovely little digital camera has a little thing you move that puts you into "portrait" mode (as distinguished from "image" mode. Because of course a portrait isn't an image.) Then you press Menu and up comes a screen full of row upon row of indistinguishable icons that you need to decipher in order to control light and exposure and focus, pretty important when you're taking pictures. But not only do I need extra-strength magnifying glasses, I require the assistance of perhaps an Egyptologist skilled in the peculiar hieroglyphics of this particular camera brand and model.

The problem of buttons that are too small to distinguish and often to find, plus too small to see, is perhaps more a problem for aging baby boomers than the original target market for these devices, although since there are thirty billion of us (approximately), more than any other age cohort, it might be a good idea to keep us in mind. Devices to hear music everywhere, to edit video and sound, etc.--we've been dreaming of this stuff since the 60s. We're primed. And quite clearly, we're being dissed.

But it's not just age-related. How many of these devices do we use when we're supposed to be looking at something else--car music systems are perfect examples. If you've rented cars you know how insane many if not most if not all of these systems are, and how insane they make you. Just trying to figure out how to turn them on (or off!), change the station, get the station back you were listening to before, or switch to a CD etc. is difficult enough when you're looking right at it, but here's a newsflash for designers--people who use them are quite often DRIVING. Their attention--and their eyes--are needed elsewhere.

And there are other circumstances in which we'd like to turn the volume up or down, or whatever, by touch. I've got a portable CD player (I know, how quaint) that works admirably--good sound, doesn't skip--or not much--when I'm moving. But the various functions are scattered all over it, the play and stop are on top, the volume control is on the side, and is indistintinguishable (even when you're looking at it) from the control that pops open the lid of the CD. It's a nightmare, especially since the controls are very sensitive to touch, and if you brush the wrong one, you're screwed.

But don't worry--I've got a hot design idea for these devices--it may sound radical, but hear me out: How about an actual on/off button that's the biggest button on the thing, and a nice big red light to say it's on. Or even better--a dial that when you turn it to the right, clicks on with a discernable sound, and as you keep turning it to the right, it increases the volume. And put this dial on, say, the far left of the device. Then on the far right, another dial that allows for manual control of things like radio stations. And if you must, you can put a bunch of other buttons in a row between them. But the real key is, this design is the same on every device, no matter the make or manufacturer, so we all have a clear idea in our heads of how it operates, and we can do the most important functions without looking, even in the dark, even without taking our eyes off that idiot weaving into traffic in front of us.

I know it sounds far out--oh, wait--isn't that exactly the configuration that's been on every audio and video device since the dawn of humanity, until quite recently? I wonder why?

I understand as well that these devices are made for the mass international market, so they come loaded with icons and with manuals providing the same noninformation in six languages. So icons may be a fact of life, but how about a few words here and there? I'm willing to learn the Spanish for "low light" or the Chinese for "daylight." I already know the French for "night."

And if you want to work on a real design problem, how about earphone wires and other wires that don't make it their life's mission to tangle up and intertwine? There are times they seem to exhibit the only signs of intelligence these devices can offer: the clear intent to make things difficult for me.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Sleepless in Spain: European brown bears. Posted by Picasa
The Bears Are Smarter (As Usual)

Some Republicans may not believe in global heating, but the bears do. So does the rest of the natural world, which cannot afford to deny reality.

Spain is having the hottest year in its history, and the bears in the mountains have stopped hibernating, because there is no winter. It's been going on for three years at least, but this year has been confirmed by scientists.

It is only one of many changes being observed in western Europe and England--ospreys no longer migrating to Africa, for instance. No one knows the impact of these changes, but they do indicate that the rest of nature is recognizing and responding to reality that humans are not:

Mark Wright, the science adviser to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in the UK, said that bears giving up hibernation was "what we would expect" with climate change. "It does not in itself prove global warming, but it is certainly consistent with predictions of it," he said. "What is particularly interesting about this is that hitherto the warming has seemed to be happening fastest at the poles and at high latitudes, and now we're getting examples of it happening further south, and heading towards the equator.

"I think it's an indication of what's to come. It shows climate change is not a natural phenomenon but something that is affecting not only on the weather, but impacting on the natural world in ways we're only now beginning to understand."

Meanwhile the penguins behind the animated hit holiday movie Happy Feet are in reality in deep danger of dying off. The rockhopper is one of the world's 17 penguin species. Listed as "vulnerable" by the World Conservation Union, it is one of 10 species facing global extinction.
More Hybrids Than Caddys

This year Toyota will sell more hybrid vehicles than Cadillac will sell cars. Toyota is set to become the largest auto company in the world, supplanting GM, and its U.S. president is attributing this to Toyota developed hybrid vehicles ahead of other manufacturers.

Pema Posted by Picasa

After we lost our cat Tess, we didn't have a third member of the household for about a year. Then friends who live in a rural area up the mountain from Arcata rescued a young cat. They found her in their barn, starving and dyhydrated. They got her healthy again and began looking for a permanent home for her. We visited to see this still scrawny cat, dark gold with golden eyes. She hid from us but when I extracated her from under a bed, she responded to being petted, almost desperately.


Friday, December 22, 2006

Orion nebula from Canada/France/Hawaii infrared telescope. Posted by Picasa
Who Will Be the President of the Future?

By the time the U.S. next elects a President, the final Harry Potter book, which just got a title but is not completely written, will be out, and the 11th Star Trek movie, which doesn't have a completed script or a title or a single actor named, will either be cruising into theatres or about to. And of course a lot more will be different in almost two years.

But fearful of anyone running away with the media crown more than a year before the first caucuses and primaries, potential candidates are raising money and there's likely to be a flurry of announced candidates in the next month.

I'm looking forward to a field of Democratic candidates and the spirited debates of the primaries. The latest polls indicate that Americans are going to be listening this time, and currently favor an unnamed Democrat over an unnamed Republican for President.

While Senator Hillary Clinton has been and remains the "favorite," she is no longer a "prohibitive favorite" (if any of that really means anything), due primarily to the wave of interest in Senator Barack Obama. Obama and Clinton are not far apart politically, so that the only "issue" that can be talked about as an issue is likely to be experience and knowledge, apart from parsing positions on Iraq and some other issues. But some politicos worry that Clinton's support and opposition are stable and known--that she has many backers, and many who will never vote for her, and she falls short of a majority.

Obama has charisma, he is able to talk personally about beliefs and put issues in larger contexts, and he really is a uniter. Some observers who have seen him in various political venues recently are praising him as a born leader, a figure worthy to be named in the company of Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan for their attractions as candidates, and even Bobby Kennedy. He is also relatively new, which makes him a bit unknown, and certainly untested. And as a mixed race American who identifies as black, and with his name that (as the Rabid Right is busily pointing out, suggests one enemy (Obama/Osama) and names another (his middle name being Hussein), no one knows how his candidacy would play.

John Edwards has been working at his likely candidacy for several years, and was clearly ahead of the pack in the important Iowa caucus--until the Obama boom started. (They are now tied for first, ahead of Iowa governor Tom Vilsack and way ahead of Hillary.) But he is at the moment in the best position to move up if (assuming they both run) Hillary and Obama falter.

Waiting on the sidelines at least for now is the favorite candidate of a lot of progressive Democrats: Al Gore. He is also the only one of the four potential candidates one poll matched against four potential Republican candidates, to beat them all. But Gore is unlikely to get into the race until and unless no clear favorite is emerging, or none of the candidates are talking enough about the Climate Crisis and energy as major issues.

Fortunately, Rep. Dennis Kucinich is running--not because he could win but because by being present for primary debates, he will make sure that issues such as peace are prominently discussed by all the candidates. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson may also run, which adds another element--the west, where Democratic power is growing. He will be reinforced by unexpected victories in western states and especially the return of Latino voters to the Democrats. He also has both federal foreign policy and administrative experience.

Probably Barack Obama is every candidates' ideal vice-presidential running mate, and I happen to believe that a Gore-Obamba ticket would be unbeatable in 2008, and possibly the most promising for the future. But if Obamba is what many say he is, this may be his time. We'll know pretty soon whether he's running, and who else will be (except Gore, who I doubt would get in until 08.) The Republicans are in a post-defeat schzoid state, splitting preference between the newly Bushified John McCain (prostrating himself to win Bush's financial backers--he's been successful at that, but has damaged his maverick image in the process, which is all that could have gotten him elected in 08) and Rudi Gulliani, who I doubt will run--too many skeletons in his closet.

Very little can be said with certainty about the 2008 presidential election, except that it will be our last best chance to save the future.

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More Darfur

Last time I wrote about the new TV spots from, which I found so moving. They presented Americans speaking for the "400,000 killed" who can't speak for themselves. Since then, that spot has been on a lot, and even though I know it's coming with the first deep chord before the first image, it moves me every time. For some reason I am particularly moved by the last face. A grandmotherly type says that the world hasn't done anything about it, someone else repeats "anything," and then a boy, junior high age maybe, dressed like a suburban white American kid, wearing glasses, looks at the camera and repeats, simply, "anything." That anything grabs at my gut every time.

Today I saw a new spot--the same format, but this time featuring Africans talking in the same terms about the fate of their loved ones, and it is also very powerful. George Clooney, who has been to the refugee camps on the Chad side of the border, said on Charlie Rose Thursday that the key to ending this ongoing genocide will be diplomacy, not necessarily the imposition of UN troops. But in either case, it will be people making this an issue, demanding attention to it, that will put the pressure on, and create the constituency for those who must put their political power and will behind insisting on a solution.

So the message is the same. Sign the petitions, write letters. Buy the bracelets and t-shirts saying SAVE DARFUR and wear them. I have and am, and I'm giving them as Christmas gifts. Those words must be part of everyone's perception, because of the two or three things this generation is going to be held most accountable for, Darfur is one. Genocide is happening, affecting millions of people. We can't say this time we didn't know. We do know.

Monday, December 18, 2006

"Entitlement" by Robert Davidson (Haida), from Posted by Picasa
Live Free or Die

Here and there, I see more deluded support for the idea of reigniting the draft--actor Matt Damon seemed to endorse it, and progressive radio talker and writer Thom Hartmann definitely has.

Nothing any of them have said has changed my view of the matter--that in practical terms it is a suicidially foolish notion about on par with invading Iraq, Iran and China simultaneously, and on moral and political terms, it's as justifiable and American as slavery... but I'll try to keep my cool here.

Hartmann calls for "a universal draft with a strong public service option." However, his essay begins with the history of American resistance to the idea of a standing army, especially among the Founding Fathers. Jefferson thought a standing army was an "engine of oppression." He proposed a kind of on-call army, for which every youth would train for a year. Hartmann then endorses a universal draft so that there will be "a generation of citizens who feel more bonded with and committed to their nation, who have experienced the critical developmental stage of a 'rite of passage' into adulthood, and who have experienced more of America and the world than just their own neighborhood."

So where do we begin parsing the delusions and the mixed categories? I've already written about the last U.S. draft, which made it possible for LBJ and Nixon to escalate the fruitless violence in Vietnam, killing tens of thousands of my contemporaries for years after the U.S. rejected the terms and situation it eventually ended up with there. I've written about the willful ignorance and foolhardiness of believing that service will ever be universal--that the Bush twins or their equivalents will ever be forced into military uniform and under fire--or that any "strong option" to non-military service will ever be honestly implemented. Not based on cynicism about human nature or the collective intelligence of the U.S. government and its leaders, but on experience and observation.

Give a Bush the power to draft millions and watch the fun: besides imperial violence all over the world, undeclared martial law in American cities, more eyes and ears working the data mines spying on peace groups, gay rights and womens groups, "enviro-Nazis" and climate crisis non-deniers, nonconformists, non-Republicans and other terrorists; more kids from West Virginia learning how to torture strangers in Iraq or Guantamo or secret dungeons in Europe and Asia--all being fed and clothed at premium prices by Halliburton. Talk about your engines of oppression.

But let's forget the real world for a minute. Let's go at this logically. Jefferson was against a standing army. We have a standing army, and there's no proposal here to get rid of it--simply keep it supplied with as many bodies as American mothers can generate. But even in Jefferson's own brief, we see the seeds of the imperial problem. Jefferson was reacting to the War of 1812, which pitted England against the U.S. England was probably dissing the young republic, and even trying to subjugate it again, but it was also protecting Canada against U.S. ambitions. And what did Jefferson have to say about this? He noted that a proposal for a draft had failed in Congress by a single vote, and asks, what if we'd had it? He answered (or so Hartmann quotes him) "Instead of burning our Capitol, we should have possessed theirs in Montreal and Quebec."

So, sure, if we'd had a draft, we'd be ruling over Canada, and probably Mexico, too. And if we had a draft right now, what do you really think Bush and Cheney would be doing? The buzz is that they've rejected the Iraq Commission calls for expanded diplomacy and phased withdrawal, and they're trying to figure out how to send in more troops. With a draft, they would have all they need. There might be revolution, an insurrection of sorts within the U.S., but I don't see that on the list of reasons for a draft. About the only thing stopping Bush and Cheney from pouring more cannon fodder into Iraq, plus invading Iran, is that they've exhausted the standing army's capabilities--the joint chief's chief said last week that three-quarters of U.S. forces are not combat ready.

Hartmann may talk about national service options ("planting trees and assisting in schools") but he quotes Jefferson writing to Monroe, "We must train and classify the whole of our male citizens, and make military instruction a regular part of collegiate education. We can never be safe until this is done."

The "never be safe" part is clearly outmoded in this day and age--we aren't talking about arming the town's teenagers with muskets, although that's a scary enough notion. But Hartmann's agenda here is clearly in favor of universal MILITARY training and service. That's wrong in practical terms--in the romanticized view of what's necessary to defend a country in wartime, let alone advance its interests and the interests of humankind and the planet in general. Universal military training is useless--look no further than George W. Bush, hero of the Air National Guard. All it does is to further institutionalize the military model of solving conflicts with arms and violence, and the kind of thinking and feeling that leads to it. Which is a certain and sure prescription for universal death of civilization.

But perhaps the worst part of all of this is the thoroughly unAmerican concept of involuntary servitude, and this is practically a definition of it. The draft is slavery. It may not be for life, though it will quite often be for death. It's just plain wrong, and ironically enough, if there's anything worth fighting for, it's to make sure no generation of Americans ever has to face this again.

There are other "rites of passage" besides learning how to bomb people in the mistaken notion that they are video game characters. Even the so-called "boot camps," so popular for awhile as the way to straighten out errant youth, have been exposed as destructive failures. As for experiencing more of the world, what impression do you think people are getting of Iraq from a heavily armored humvee, or from the practice of "smile, kill, smile" our troops are engaging in, with their schzoid mission? Or for that matter, from the insulated Green Zone and huge military bases with their all-American Burger Kings and golf courses?

Let me be clear: I am not against national service. I am against compulsory, mandatory national public service, just as I am against forcing young men and women into the military, where it will be their duty to kill other people on the orders of idiots, fools and morally corrupt leaders, or else they go to jail in disgrace.

In fact I do believe that some kind of organization, modelled in some ways after the best aspects of military organizations, will be necessary in the future. The Civil Conservation Corps is a conspicuous example of such an organization that during the Great Depression did so much lasting good for this nation that we still depend on what it built--parks, bridges, post offices and other buildings, and public infrastructure.

But even though many young people felt compelled by poverty to join it, they did so voluntarily. (My father was one of them.) Millions of young Americans did not have to be impressed like sailors in 1812 (another grievance the U.S. had against England, if I remember my history correctly) to join the Peace Corps, or VISTA. President Clinton made Americorps a centerpiece of his first campaign, and it was enormously popular, but its funding was gutted by the Republican Congress.

If you want that kind of national service, why not fully fund it? You won't need a draft--young people and old will be there. Try trusting them. They will volunteer. That's the American way.

Steelers 37 Carolina 3 Posted by Picasa

Friday, December 15, 2006

Snow: the ghost of Christmas past? Posted by Picasa
Let Old Temps Not Be Forgot

News that will stay news in 2007:

The year 2006 will be the fifth hottest on record for the planet Earth (according to NASA) or maybe the sixth (according to the World Meteorological Association).

England had its hottest year since their records began in 1659. The U.S. had its third hottest since 1880. "But all of the reports noted that temperatures greatly above normal were recorded in places as varied as Australia and Scandinavia’s Arctic islands, shattering a variety of longstanding records," writes the New York Times. "The records set this year support various studies that “showed links between human behavior and the warming trend,” said David Parker, a climate scientist at Britain’s Met Office."

2006 was the hottest year in the Netherlands since 1706.

Meanwhile, a team of American and German scientists studying the tricky topic of future rises in sea levels have concluded that previous predictions under-estimate their forecasts by 59%. The study, published in Science, also said (according to this BBC report) that "the observed rate of sea level rise through the 20th Century held a strong correlation with the rate of warming."

Thursday, December 14, 2006


President Bush has put off announcing his new Iraq policy until after the holidays. Meanwhile the killing and violence accelerate, more American soldiers are killed and injured, and political maneuvering in the Gulf region and in Iraq is likely to be going on at a fever pitch. The Bushites risk having a new situation handed to them (like the fall of the current government) before they can announce how they would have responded to the ongoing one.

But the delay may be inevitable if there is any chance Bush is going to change policy at all. The
reason for the delay and the methodical approach being taken may well be that everybody knows they have to change Bush's mind, and it probably looked as if he was going to retain his faith-based policy if he announced before Christmas, so they've talked him into delaying it and listening some more, in the hopes that he can be persuaded to change.

Except for a few Bush retainers, a lot of people in the White House and Republicans in Washington want to have jobs after Bush leaves, and they can read the polls, which lately show over 70% no confidence in Bush's current Iraq strategy. They know the Iraq policy has to change, and they've got to get Bush to do it. A stubborn man with little patience and curiosity and a dim bulb to begin with, it's not an easy task. However, giving him some bonus time at the ranch before he heats things up again with a policy statement probably appealed to his innate laziness. Maybe it will clear his head as well as some brush, and he'll change.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

by Paul Klee Posted by Picasa

Captain Future's Bookshelf

The Emotion Machine
Commonsense Thinking, Artificial Intelligence and the Future of the Human Mind
By Marvin Minsky

Science may begin with wonder and strives ultimately for understanding, but as a practical matter, science is interested in how to do things. Physics formulated a few simple laws (governing how falling bodies behave, for example), which enabled engineering and technology to develop.

So when some scientists set out to create intelligent machines -- "machines to mimic our minds" -- Marvin Minsky writes, they looked for simple laws that govern how our brains work. They didn't find them, he argues, because our brains are "complicated machinery" and we need "to find more complicated ways to explain our most familiar mental events." Humans adapt to different environments and situations because our brains are resourceful -- we have lots of different ways to solve problems, and if one doesn't work, we can switch to another. This book is about what Minsky believes those processes are.

continued at The San Francisco Chronicle Book Review.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Sun by Yukie Adams at Posted by Picasa
Darfur and the Climate Crisis

Most of the crucial challenges of today and tomorrow are related in some ways, but there is a particularly direct connection between two problems that don't seem to have that much in common: Darfur and the Climate Crisis.

But as former president of Ireland and former UN Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson made a point of saying in an important environmental speech Monday, the economic and social effects of the Climate Crisis will hit the poorest people the hardest, and global heating directly affects some of those poor areas, throwing a vulnerable subsistence into chaos and catastrophe.

Some such areas are already being affected, like Inuit villages in the north but also vast areas of Africa, where persistent drought is diminishing arable land, and various groups may fight over what's left. That's what Kofi Annan, Al Gore and others claim has been happening when Lake Chad dried up, resulting in the ongoing genocide in Darfur, partly a grab of dwindling food-producing land and water.

Kofi Annan also pointed to areas like Kenya where drought partly attributable to global heating is displacing populations, and the spread of malaria, one of Africa's major diseases, to higher regions, as they become hotter and more hospitable to mosquitos. While global heating may be changing the environment in the Arctic, it is likely to be accelerating and exacerbating ongoing desertification in Africa which may have many causes, including manmade ones.

As a global matter, a report last month by former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern said that while actions now to curb carbon emissions would cost one percent of world economic output, delay could push the price up to 20 percent. As usual, the brunt of any economic problem hits the poor hardest, even when they live in an area that's less directly affected. That's why Mary Robinson insists that the Climate Crisis be conceptualized as a human rights crisis as well as an environmental one.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Dunes of Mars. Thanks to Kevin Hoover for sending the link. Posted by Picasa

from dkos. U.S. fatalities in Iraq by home of record. Posted by Picasa
The Fever Victims

In the media and therefore probably in Washington, there seems to be a trend or let's say an increasing awareness of the human cost--at least the American human cost--of the war in Iraq.

It's a theme in coverage these days, with John Kerry's 1971 question about Vietnam (How do you ask someone to be the last person to die for a mistake?) frequently if not obsessively cited. The anguish fuels the misguided efforts to reignite the draft, as if adding more bodies to the count would help. But the anguish is more prominent than ever before, as the War Fever has broken and reality of war sets in.

The reality of this war is that the now nearly 3,000 combat deaths is the tip of the iceberg. There don't seem to be solid figures on the wounded--perhaps 25,000 wounded in combat, perhaps 50,000 total, or as many as 100,000. But one report I caught this week estimated that as many of half of the wounded will not fully recover. Medical technology saves lives, but adds to the number of disabled and seriously and permanently injured.

All this results in more attempts to tell the personal stories, as Meteor Blades did at Daily Kos. He writes about Vietnam as well, in particular about two outstanding young men who were killed within weeks of arriving in Vietnam. I personally knew a young man who met that fate. He was in my class in college. Most of my contemporaries are veterans of that conflict one way or another--the war vets, the antiwar vets, and those whose lives were in one way or another formed and deformed by the military and the draft. I'm not comparing the experience of being under fire in Vietnam with marching on Washington, but I am noting that from that time forward war is always personal to me.

Meteor Blades front page diary includes this map of where the young soldiers who died in Iraq came from. It's pretty interesting, in that many of the clusters are in traditionally Democratic areas, including the "San Francisco values" part of California. This has always been a smoke and mirrors war by a smoke and mirrors administration. Republicans with their moral rhetoric assume the patriotic high ground, but it's all talk, it's basically hypocrisy and lies.

The photos of young people whose lives have been snuffed out--often the portraits we associate with high school yearbook photos--are heartbreaking enough, just because of how young they are. But the photo below also caught my imagination, because of the reality behind the cliche--a rabid football fan (in this case, of the Pittsburgh Steelers), shedding his shirt in sub-freezing weather. But the young man in this photo (the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette caption tells us) is James Montgomery, in the stands at Heinz Field. He's just returned from active duty in Iraq. It's his 30th birthday. The Steelers are sticking it to the Cleveland Browns. In Iraq, soldiers don heavy armor in heat that gets considerably about 100F. To this young man, the freezing cold must have felt like life itself.

His war is not over. It never will be. We have no idea of what is in store for him. We hope he manages his life, and should he need help for medical and psychological problems, that he gets it. War, especially in this age of high tech weaponry and exotic chemicals, etc., war is the curse that keeps on killing. This new concentration on the soldiers whose lives are inevitably changed, even when not ended, is fitting. But it should have been a much bigger consideration before this all started. And it ought to be joined by consideration for the thousands of Iraqis killed and maimed, and the millions displaced--their lives will never be the same either. The time to remember all this isn't just now. It's the next time someone tries to reignite War Fever.

James Montgomery, Iraq vet and Steelers fan, at Heinz
Field Thursday. Photo: Pgh. Post-Gazette. Posted by Picasa

Friday, December 08, 2006

Posted by Picasa
The Sea Change

The most dramatic consequence of this year's election exhibited so far is the changeover on the Senate committee on the environment from Climate Crisis Denier, James Inofe, who spent his last hours upon the stage railing against media alarmism over global heating, to Senator Barbara Boxer, who said:

"Any kind of weakening of environmental laws or secrecy or changes in the dead of night - it's over. We're going to for once, finally, make this committee an environment committee, not an anti-environment committee. ... This is a sea change that is coming to this committee."

One of many articles reproducing this statement, in Forbes, went on to add:

Boxer's first hearing next month also will be devoted to global warming, but from an opposite point of view from Inhofe's. "This is a potential crisis of a magnitude we've never seen," she said Tuesday, explaining that her goal is to impose mandatory caps on carbon dioxide, a step vehemently opposed by Bush's top environmental advisers.

Nonetheless, she promised to hear from all sides before trying to move a bill to Senate passage. "I very much want the environment to go back to being a nonpartisan issue," she said. She said her model will be a new California law that imposes the first statewide limit on greenhouse gases and seeks to cut emissions by 25 percent, dropping them to 1990 levels by 2020. "Real goals, real percentages," she said.

"We want to send a signal to the world," Boxer said, complaining the United States now lags behind more than 50 other countries addressing global warming. She said she has received calls from several foreign leaders expressing hope for a new U.S. environmental policy.

All of that sounds promising and exciting, but the very fact of the change from Inofe to Boxer is certain to have positive effects on Climate Crisis science, regardless of the outcome of those hearings. In "State of Denial," a special report in the November 4 issue of New Scientist, Fred Pearce outlines the efforts of Inhofe and others to intimidate scientists whose conclusions on global heating run contrary to the Deniers' agenda, and the threat to withdraw federal funding.

Inhofe was conducting "investigations" into agencies conducting research he considered hostile, including demands for documents and financial records. All of this was happening as climate scientists are finishing the next report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Its 1995 and 2001 reports provided overwhelming scientific support for the reality of the human- induced Climate Crisis. The new report is due in February 2007.

Of Inhofe's investigation, the magazine wrote: "many climate scientists contacted by New Scientist regard it as a tactic designed to intimidate those working on the IPCC report. "Inhofe's actions appear to be an effort to discourage leading US scientists from being involved in international scientific assessment processes such as the IPCC," Mann says.

This is potentially disastrous for the IPCC. Out of 168 scientists listed as lead authors or reviewers involved in assessing the science of climate change, 38 are from the US - more than twice as many as the second-largest national grouping, the British.

IPCC scientists who spoke to New Scientist insist they are not trying to turn science into politics or to shut down genuine debate. They do, however, worry that their conclusions might be drowned out by some politically motivated and industry-funded sceptics. "I'd hate to see hundreds of people putting years of their lives into producing a report that is then trashed by these people for political ends," says Santer. "That is what happened in my case, and I felt very bad about it."

But Inhofe's McCarthyistic investigations are over: the Boxer Rebellion has begun. Her first Climate Crisis hearings should be happening as the IPCC report is issued, and instead of a hostile Congress, it will find a larger stage than it has ever had. The Deniers are still around, and are still well-funded, but they are about to learn what difference a Senate committee chairperson can make, especially when the whole world and most of the country is ready to hear the truth, and getting ready to act on it.

Willie Parker broke the Steelers single game
rushing record as the Steelers beat the Browns
to win their 4th out of the last 5 games, at snowy,
cold Heinz Field, Pittsburgh. Post-Gazette photo.Posted by Picasa

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Eagle and Dreamer by Gene Thomas
(Onondaga) at Posted by Picasa
The Last Worst War

The Iraq Study Group report has been made public. It's being characterized as a devastating indictment of the Bushwar policies, not only in Iraq but in the entire Middle East. Last week President Carter said he thought GW would go down in history as one of our worst Presidents; Wednesday, President-elected Al Gore called Iraq "the worst strategic mistake in the history of the United States" but urged Bush to get over himself and understand that it's about the troops (ten more died Wednesday) and the Iraqis and America's future and not about him, so do the right thing. Some people don't think Bush will, or is even capable of that. And some aren't very impressed with what the Group recommended anyway.

But before this all gets lost in details and then forgotten, I want to make one point. While this is clearly among the worsts war this country has ever perpetrated, the real shame--and the shared shame--is that we didn't learn enough from the previous ones.

We have a President whose first impulse and first resort is to make war--to kill and destroy--in order to achieve his ends. He is the American Presidency's first fundamentalist warmonger--it's war first, last and always. The progress made over more than a century in governing the world and settling disputes and solving problems regarding crucial and deeply important and deeply dangerous matters through diplomacy and treaty, negotiation and agreements and commitments, has all been reversed. It was progress paid for partly by the blood of millions, utterly disrespected by this U.S. regime.

And how did this war happen? Because we let George do it. Once again, this country injected itself with War Fever, as if we were born yesterday. This is the shame of this generation. Or one of them anyway.

The Bush legacy has already permeated domestic politics and changed the international arena. Internationally, nobody with half a brain trusts the United States, and trust is the basis for world order. Domestically, it is permissable finally to be against this war, but now more than in a generation, the idea of war as the last resort, as horrific, and the priority of solving problems without violence, are all considered signs of weakness.

In the midst of the past campaign, one "progressive" blog railed against a Republican charge that the Democrats want to start a Peace Department as more reprehensible GOP slander. Clearly the blogger felt that this could lose the election for Democrats. Strictly speaking, it wasn't true (just about the only Democrat to go on record in favor of a cabinet level Department of Peace is Rep. Dennis Kucinich) and the intent was to slander Democrats.

But here at the dawn of the 21st century, that's where we are. In the 1990s, the military challenges the U.S. faced had to do with something called "peacekeeping," which we failed to do in Rwanda but finally did attempt in Bosnia. But U.S. commanders quickly realized that they didn't have any idea how to do it. Their troops are trained to make war, not peace. They haven't called it "peacekeeping" in Iraq, but for much of the past 3 years, it was pretty similiar.

What they found was that it takes skills--different skills, but just as war requires skills, so does peace. A civilized society in the nuclear age, faced with challenges of terrorism arising from a complex of disputes over land and rights, involving poverty and hopelessness, cultural and ethnic conflict, oppression and disrespect--would be devoting as many resources to developing and using the skills of peace as whatever skills of war are finally necessary. A Department of Peace is long overdue.

What did this report say about Iraq, what have generals been saying from their experiences in Iraq but this simple fact: there is no purely military solution. And there never is.

The only way to redeem this shameful time--and we will be paying for this for years---is to see to it that it is the last worst war. And that will require a commitment to developing, learning and using skills of peace--and doing so with the utmost dedication. They go beyond "peacekeeping" in the Bosnia sense, and they involve us all, from understanding as well as practicing diplomacy, communication and conflict resolution, to conscious self-innoculation against push-button War Fever. The survival of civilization depends on it. There are those among us who don't much care about that. Those who do should think very carefully about what this war is really telling us.
Now That's A Gap

While we are all being whirled around by the emotional crosscurrents of spending money to show love, here are a few statistics to ponder: according to the study released by the World Institute for Development Economics Research of the UN University, half of the wealth in all the world is in the possession of 2% of the world's people.

Ten percent of the world's population own 85% of the world's wealth.

If you are an adult worth more than $2200, congratulations: you are in the top 50%. If you're worth half a million, you're in the elite 1%.

That second set of statistics may be pretty meaningless in ordinary life, but the first set is not. The gap between rich and poor has been growing for a generation, and one of the countries with the greatest income inequality in the world is the USA.

This means something. The poor in the world, particularly in poor countries, are consigned to poverty for generations, because they don't have the means to break into the higher brackets--there's no money for education, mobility, investment, starting over.

In America, it's more complicated, yet maybe not so much: how does a democracy function, with a few plutocrats and a lot of losers? We could go on for awhile discussing the ramifications on political as well as personal psychologies. There are dark arguments about how income equality is bad for the economy--some of which are beginning to be confronted.

We've known for half a century that there is more than enough wealth to make everyone reasonably wealthy. Even in the past year, it's been demonstrated how painlessly most of the poverty in the world could be eradicated in a few years. Back in the 1960s, economists worried about what people would do with all their leisure time in the 21st century, because so little time would be required to make a sumptuous living. There were also quite serious proposals for a Guaranteed National Income, which would solve all kinds of social problems, while increasing national wealth in the long term.

But we're leaner and meaner now. That is, the plutocrats and the oligarchs are meaner, and most of the world's people are leaner. (Except, in an irony that Kafka and Kierkegaard might mordantly savor, in America it's the rich who are physically lean. As for the rest, let them eat fatburgers.)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Blue Night by Paul Klee Posted by Picasa

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"When we were children we were errant enough to want to be birds for the day but there's nothing easier to lose than playfulness."

Jim Harrison
True North
Chalk Up Another One for the Planet

Despite continuing evidence of humanity's inhumanity to humanity, the planet scored another victory, courtesy of some of humanity bravely holding off the rest of humanity to save a small but significant chunk of what once was the pride of planet Earth: its forests.

Specifically in this case, the crucial tropical rainforest. Brazil announced it will protect a significant portion of very endangered rainforest, which also will link existing preserved portions in three other countries, creating an important corridor for wildlife.

According to ABC News: Known as the Guayana Shield, the 57,915-square-mile area contains more than 25 percent of the world's remaining humid tropical forests and the largest remaining unpolluted fresh water reserves in the American tropics.

The article quotes Conservation International President Russell Mittermeier as saying:
"If any tropical rain forest on Earth remains intact a century from now, it will be this portion of northern Amazonia." That's great, but if it indeed is the only intact tropical rain forest, it won't be nearly enough. This is part of a beginning. No less, but no more.

UPDATE: A real good diary on this topic at dkos.

Mixed-race Korean children at Hines Field in Pittsburgh this
Sunday, brought over by Steelers wide receiver and Super Bowl
MVP Hines Ward, himself of mixed-race Korean ancestry.
Photo: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.Posted by Picasa