Saturday, March 25, 2006

Mandala-glastonbury Posted by Picasa
Thank You for Writing Well

The San Francisco Chronicle is more or less the nearest major city newspaper to where I live---it's the one that's on the stands here, anyway. So I read it as much or more than any other daily newspaper. There may be writers as good or better in papers I don't read.

And I've been published in 5 different sections of it over the past several years, so I am prejudiced by that, though not altogether for.

But it's hard for me to imagine that there can be better writers than some now writing for the Chron. Columnist Jon Carroll is so good at what he does, and what he does is so unique, that the high quality of the writing is just part of the package. Mark Morford, who cut his teeth as an on-line only opinionator (a proto-blogger, as it were) has found his voice as a regular columnist. A terrific writer. As is my old friend and colleague, Kenneth Baker, the art writer. I've admired his writing for many years, even when I wasn't so crazy for the art he wrote about. Tim Goodman, the TV guy, is pretty good, too, although they give the TV writers about twice the space they need to say what they say.

But what prompts this effusion is Mick LaSalle, the chief movie critic. He is simply the best writer on film I know of. His reviews are the best written, most knowledgeable, most trenchant and most interesting of anybody's I've read since at least Frank Rich (and I mean his movie reviews in the 70s and 80s.) His Sunday question-and-answer column is terrific, too.

Friday he reviewed "Thank You for Smoking," about a tobacco lobbyist. I saw the writer of the book (Christopher Buckley), the screenwriter (?), the director (Jason Reitman) and the star (Aaron Eckhart) on Charlie Rose. Such a group of self-satisfied cynics, it was dismaying. Wondering if I got the right impression of the film, I went online to read reviews. "Rotten Tomatoes" had a ton of them, and I read several of the major ones, learned a little, but not very much.

Then comes LaSalle in the Chron on Friday: "Thank You for Smoking" is a glib satire with a slick surface, lots of snappy patter and nothing to sell but its own cleverness. It's as smooth as its tobacco lobbyist hero and almost as empty, for despite the incisiveness of its observations, about the nature of media and the idiocy of the public, it operates without a strong point of view. This results in a lack of passion and intensity, but the movie has something else going for it, something that's not as entertaining but interesting all the same: a deep-down hopelessness. "

So this is exactly what I wanted to know about this movie. It confirms the feeling I got from the Charlie Rose show. Now I know I'm not going to rush out to see it. But I keep reading---because the review is itself compelling.

""Thank You for Smoking" doesn't exactly represent our era. Rather it is, in itself, an embodiment of it, a litany of complaints followed by a shrug of the shoulders, a movie about the morass that can't see through the morass. "

This places the movie in the cultural context, which is the context in which we'll see it. But there's the form of the movie itself, the approach it takes:

"This lack of vision limits the film. After all, seeing through the morass is precisely what great satire does -- it takes a position above the current situation, sees past it, understands it and gives a warning. "Network," "MASH," "A Face in the Crowd" and "The Manchurian Candidate" all belong in that exalted category, whereas "Thank You for Smoking" is more along the order of spoof, a send-up of identifiable types that is meant to amuse all and offend none. "

Maybe it's a measure of the dumbed-down mediaverse we're used to now, but to be reminded of the difference between "satire" and "spoof," is a real gift these days, and it means something. Something besides making me wonder how many other film reviewers know the difference, since most seem to use the terms interchangeably.

The review then closes the deal:

"Yet at the heart of "Thank You for Smoking" is a belief in the importance of one thing: success. Nick's talent is real, and in the construct of this film, it would be a terrible thing if he did not get a chance to practice his gift and enjoy its rewards. That's an amazing way to see Nick, a point of view that's cynical in the extreme without the filmmaker seeming to notice. Obviously, just a little beneath the surface of this supposedly biting satire, there are attitudes and assumptions in serious need of satirical treatment. "

The deal is: I learned enough about the movie to make a decision about seeing or not seeing it. And I've learned something by reading the review, and I've enjoyed the reading experience. I got pleasure from the writing. Confirmation of my intuitions about the movie is a big bonus.

Of course these aren't the only fine writers on the Chronicle, not to mention those perspicacious editors. But I should mention one more, a writer in pictures and words: Don Asmussen. I must mention his comic genius, as I steal his panels every once in awhile for this blog. (Fully attributed to him and the Chron, mind you---don't go recommending me for a Washington Post blog.) But I reproduce them from the web site only at least a day after they appear in the print edition. This thief has some honor.

Shepard Glacier U.S. in 1913 Posted by Picasa

was the headline yesterday in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Glaciers and ice sheets on opposite ends of the Earth are melting faster than previously thought and could cause sea levels around the world to rise as much as 13 to 20 feet by the end of the century, scientists are reporting today.

If the researchers' estimates are correct, a rise in ocean waters projected by the new studies not only would drown many of the low-lying inhabited atolls and islands that are already endangered by rising ocean waters, it also would threaten coastal cities and harbors on every continent.

Scientists have been warning for decades that greenhouse gases from autos and industry are warming the planet and raising the seas, but the studies appearing today in the journal Science are the first to suggest that sea levels could climb as high as 20 feet as a result of global warming.

The studies by two teams of researchers are the first to combine data on long-term climate change and sea ice melting from both the north and south polar regions.

Are we living in a science fiction movie? Because it's this kind of headline that the camera fixes on, with dramatic music underneath. Yet this is a real one.

We know we're not living in a science fiction movie because the next scene would have all the world leaders gathered to decide what to do about this crisis. When in the real world they are much more level-headed. Well, level-headed on the greens. On the fairways they bend a little, as their foursome of lobbyists and corporate racketeers chuckles about Miami disappearing under the waves in a few decades. But Jeb will be out of office down there by then, so who cares...

Meanwhile those dizzy scientists, unaware that they are tools of green nazis and the liberal media conspiracy, are saying in relatively plain English:

This is a real eye-opener set of results," said geoscientist Jonathan T. Overpeck of the University of Arizona, who led one of two teams of university and government climatologists. "We need to start serious measures to reduce greenhouse gases within the next decade, (and) if we don't do something soon, we're committed to 4 to 6 meters (13 to 20 feet) of sea level rise in the future."

The premier climate scientist in the world, NASA's James Hansen's reaction:

"The further implication is that we have to get serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions now, not wait 15 years until some magic new technology is available."

Michael Oppenheimer, a Princeton geoscientist and member of the university's Atmospheric and Ocean Sciences Program, agreed with Hansen. "These are important papers," he said in an interview, "because they provide new insights into the effects of temperature change on melting ice at both poles. They show how even modest increases in global temperatures could put the Earth in a dangerous spot. "We don't have to know for sure how fast the glaciers and polar ice sheets would disappear to realize that this is a serious warning, and by the end of this century we could be locked into an irreversible trend that no technology could reverse."

The conclusions of these scientists came after studies involving several methods of discerning temperatures in the past. The advanced state of glacier melt is confirmed by satellite imagery, the Chronicle story says. The New York Times adds that observation of the glaciers themselves indicates that ice is breaking apart in warming periods, evidence that the process is underway sooner than expected.

"Models are important, but measurements tell the real story," Dr. Zwally said. "During the last 10 years, we have seen only about 10 percent of the greenhouse warming expected during the next 100 years, but already the polar ice sheets are responding in ways we didn't even know about only a few years ago."

But of course these are all delusional radical Muslim Frenchmen who hate our freedom. For the truth on the climate crisis, best check out the sites where rabid right plagarists foam at the mouth on command.

But for the sane among us, what does this all mean? This is just--if you pardon the expression---the tip of the iceberg. This is the interface of the ongoing Climate Crisis we face now with the Earth=Mars doomsday scenario we begin to enter if we don't pay attention and change our ways. From last year to the end of the century, no matter what we do to limit greenhouse gases, we will face Climate Crisis problems. We can ignore them, as we apparently are currently ignoring the prospect of another devastating hurricane season. Or we can deal with them one by one, as if they aren't related, which means we won't anticipate them well enough or in enough time to apply resources most efficiently or even prevent some problems (by protecting cities against sea surges, for instance), or to prepare for them far enough in advance. Only when you see the pattern can you develop a real strategy.

Or we can get over ourselves, stop this immense waste of time and energy, acknowledge the reality of global heating and the Climate Crisis, and do what even those cheap 1950s science fiction films do---get serious about what we can get together and do about it. First, to deal with the problems that could happen because of the heating that is going to happen (caused by greenhouse gases in the past decades), and then significantly lessen the heating we're now creating and will create in the next decade, so that by the end of the century, we might still have coastal cities and a few fellow species to rebuild the planet with.

If you want to get more specific on global heating, what its effects are likely to be and what some "solutions" being researched look like, you can go to this page, where you'll also find more before and after glacier photos.

Shepard Glacier 2005 Posted by Picasa
Evolving Some Reality

So this evolution v. creationism thing is just a local sideshow here and there, with few real consequences? If you believe that, you need to see this article in the Arkansas Times. It tells of a well-equipped school science lab, a smart and enthusiastic geology teacher, and bright and eager students, and a school board so afraid of losing everything to fundamentalist fulminations that they're censoring the science out of science, leaving behind--what?

Teachers are forbidden to use the "e-word" (evolution) with kids.They are permitted to use the word “adaptation” but only to refer to a current characteristic of an organism, not as a product of evolutionary change via natural selection. They cannot even use the term “natural selection.”

"Bob," the geology teacher, said: “I am instructed NOT to use hard numbers when telling kids how old 'rocks are. I am supposed to say that these rocks are VERY VERY OLD ... but I am NOT to say that these rocks are thought to be about 300 million years old.”

Why not? It's not that school officials don't themselves believe in the 4.5 billion year age of the earth, especially since knowledge of it is part of the state benchmark for fifth graders. It's the ruckus it could raise:

With regard to Bob’s geologic time scale issue, the program director likened it to a game of Russian roulette. He admitted that probably very few students would have a real problem with a discussion about time on the order of millions of years, but that it might only take one child’s parents to cause major problems. He spun a scenario of a student’s returning home with stories beginning with “Millions of years ago …” that could set a fundamentalist parent on a veritable witch hunt, first gathering support of like-minded parents and then showing up at school board meetings until the district pulled out of the science program to avoid conflict. He added that this might cause a ripple effect, other districts following suit, leading to the demise of the program.

Essentially, they are not allowing Bob to teach a certain set of scientific data in order to protect their ability to provide students the good science curriculum they do teach. The directors are not alone in their opinion that discussions of deep time and the “e-word” could be detrimental to the program’s existence. They have polled teachers in the districts they serve and have heard from them more than enough times that teaching evolution would be “political suicide.”

So let's be equally practical. It's not enough to be scandalized, or to see this is a modern Red Scare and Blacklist combined with some witchhunt crossed with medieval Church power of heresy. What I want is some teacher to lay it all out: what are the precise consequences for students who don't learn geologic time when studying geology in fifth grade, and don't learn natural selection when studying biology. We can guess that if this continues, these kids aren't going to become geologists (a pretty well paid profession wherever there are energy companies, like in Arkansas) or doctors. Maybe pharmacists who can make a living denying women birth control? I don't know.

But only real practical facts are going to stand up to this kind of repression. There's the shame of being considered a creepy little backwater lost in some prior century, which likely has broader economic consequences as well. But I'm interested in the parents who may or may not believe in their preacher's version of Genesis, but who damn well want their kids to get the education they need for a decent job and a decent life.

If anyone knows of such a statement, let me know. We'll tell the world.

Friday, March 24, 2006

at Sirena Posted by Picasa

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"This is the time. And this is the record of the time.
This is the time.
And this is the record of the time."

Laurie Anderson
What Are They Thinking?

You might well ask. First it was the Los Angeles Times, banishing veteran journalist (but embarrassingly left-leaning) Robert Sheer from his opinion column, and hiring a right wing twerp to replace him.

Now it's the Washington Post, adding red meat to its online presence with a rabid right blogger and former Smirk-appointed whiz kid, Ben Domenech. Imitator of the increasingly tired and reliably rancid hyperbole and mendacity which is the rabid right's contribution to discourse, it turns out he is more than an Ann Coulter wannabe. Southpaw blogs have found multiple instances of gross plagarism. I mean word for word stuff, from established publications like salon and--get this--the Washington Post. And we're apparently not talking about blog entries where he neglected to close quotation marks, but movie reviews and other signed pieces he represented in non-blog publications as his own. They weren't.

What happens now? Media Matters, bloggers at dKos , Booman Trib and elsewhere are calling for not only his head but the head of Jim Brady, the WaPo online editor who hired him. So is salon columnist Joe Conason.

It's worth noting that the Post has no left-leaning opinion blogger. Dan Froomkin is their on-line columnist who gets heat for his stinging analyses of the Smirk's regime and press gooniness, but he is an actual journalist, and his columns include sources and links.

What's going on? These papers weathered the worst of the "liberal bias" mantra years, and now when every sane person with a sensory array realizes that it's a rabid right Big Lie, they start caving. Or is it that newspapers feel compelled to ape Faux News even after CNN and MSNBC have proven what a stupid fruitless fruit-loopy strategy that is?

But while the blogosphere may take awhile for them to figure out, the charge of plagarism is something that yon high editors understand. Plagarism is a print sin. And as they may have now figured out, it is also a blogosphere sin, which other bloggers enforce.

I saw in comments somewhere that a pool is in the offing---on which heads roll and how soon. Smart money when is late Friday, when all the good stuff politicians want to hide tends to happen. No doubt a newspaper looking at the circulation of its Saturday editions will figure that out.

P.S. dKos was down for awhile so I've only now gotten to read all the comments and the newer diaries on this situation. I still think the Post online has to own up to this by accepting his resignation and that of the person responsible for not vetting him. The kid himself, I'm beginning to feel a little compassion for. (Yeah, the great liberal weakness.) His plagarism, mostly in his college paper but also in the National Review and elsewhere, and another situation where he may have made up a quote and then covered it up, is so self-subverting that it's like an unconscious cry to be discovered as not the faultless wonderkind everybody says, or everybody expects. There is no way such obvious and persistent plagarism could have gone undetected in the long run. That feeling of inferority often goes hand in hand with apparent self-confidence, the mask of arrogance that even he may believe.

Well, before this becomes even more amateur psychologizing, another observation: I've noted before that the rabid right has been very good at identifying young up and comers (especially those vulnerable to their flattery and their ideological certainties), supporting them with money and jobs, getting them quickly into their power networks and giving them responsibility. Democrats have not done this nearly as well, not at least since the weakening of the labor unions.

But the downside of this is now apparent. Young ideologues have been put in very responsible positions in the Bush government and elsewhere, where they are in way over their heads, and have done and are doing considerable damage to the country, the world and the future. Now it appears that at least one has done a lot of damage to himself.

UPDATE: Ben Domenech resigned on, um, Friday afternoon.
Bush Family Values: Making Lemonade from Iraq, Terror and Katrina

You didn't think it was just Cheney's Halliburton, did you? A company that got lots 'o contracts for Iraq war stuff was just sold, resulting in a big profit for The Smirk's Uncle Bucky, his dad's younger brother, who had been one of the lucky owners.

How about that other big moneymaker, Homeland Security and the war on Terra? Dad's got that covered---he's getting his from a company contracted to inspect ships for nukes that might be sneaking into the U.S. through the Bahamas. Of course the company is in China, and it's the first time American equipment will be used to scan for radiating stuff without any U.S. officials nearby, but that's the wide flat world of outsourcing for you. Besides, since China might be a source of nuclear outflow they'll know just what to look for.

And in that still other big moneymaker for Bush cronies, Katrina aid, Smirk's mom is giving a hand up to lesser brother Neil by earmarking a Katrina contribution to his software company's business with schools.

We wouldn't want to call this a family business, though, because that might imply the family would be stuck with the losses as well as reaping the profits. Such of course is not the case. Welfare mothers are in charge of the deficit these days. Paying it off, that is.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Pleiades Posted by Picasa

from San Francisco Chronicle. Click for larger image. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Captain Future's Log

Globs of Warning

"Mass extinctions, more Hurricane Katrina-like disasters, widespread droughts: A majority of climate scientists say these are just a few of the roads ahead if our consumption of oil and coal go unchecked."

What far left blog or liberal magazine, or alarmist special interest is that from? Well, actually it's
Wired magazine, introducing an interview with Lester Brown of Worldwatch, which also includes a couple of downloadable texts on the matter.

I have to admit that the blithely confident doubters are getting to me a little, but I'm determined not to waste too much time on convincing those who don't think gravity makes sense, or that the earth revolving around the sun is a government plot, or they have graphs which show that elephants are actually larger than Jupiter.

I understand a little about the psychology of denial. I certainly understand those who have a financial interest in selling as much oil as they can before they die, and the scientists and think tanks who wallow in oil company troughs. But some others stump me a little. Why do they insist their homemade science and primitive math is better than the most universally respected experts in the field, like James Hansen of NASA?

Is it that they hate government so much they will resist recognizing any crisis that might require governments as well as the rest of us to do something about it? I'd like to hear them explain that to their grandchildren in the not too distant future.

There is one person who has kept his cool long enough to compile detailed answers to the usual objections from the doubters. Coby Beck in his blog A Few Things Ill Considered offers a primer with links to individual topics called
How to Talk to a Global Warming Skeptic. Bookmark it. I sure have.

For those with the patience I wish I had, the best suggestion I've come across is from Fran Peavy in her treatise on Strategic Questioning. She says one of her favorites is "What would it take for you to change on this issue?" This question lets the other person create the path for change. I'd like to hear an answer to this, but I suspect there isn't one, until maybe Ayn Rand rises from the dead to say it's okay to believe the scientific consensus, or Rush Limbaugh recants and decides obscuring the reality of the climate crisis is a liberal media plot engineered by Michael Moore and Bill and Hill Clinton.

Meanwhile, back in the real world... Real people are affected. In Wednesday's
Washington Post:

The global warming felt by wildlife and increasingly documented by scientists is hitting first and hardest here, in the Arctic where the Inuit people make their home. The hardy Inuit -- described by one of their leaders as "sentries for the rest of the world" -- say this winter was the worst in a series of warm winters, replete with alarms of the quickening transformation that many scientists expect will spread from the north to the rest of the globe.

"These are things that all of our old oral history has never mentioned," said Enosik Nashalik, 87, the eldest of male elders in this Inuit village. "We cannot pass on our traditional knowledge, because it is no longer reliable. Before, I could look at cloud patterns or the wind, or even what stars are twinkling, and predict the weather. Now, everything is changed."

The Inuit alarms, once passed off as odd stories, are earning confirmation from science.

But it's not just hot weather in the frozen north, or those quaint residual populations and their Indigenous cultures--which I would argue are at least as necessary to our future as technology and western or eastern cultures--but the global effects (which, in case this news hasn't penetrated, doesn't manifest everywhere at every time as heat waves. Big snows can be global heating indicators as well. Of course that doesn't make sense, so it must be wrong. What electrons do doesn't make sense either, so that's why atomic bombs never explode.)

Where was I? Oh, yeah, the New York Times Wednesday did a story on a survey of climate crisis consciousness among major corporations in the world, and found that internationally there is growing awareness though the U.S. lags. And why is this Ceres, the outfit that did the study, so concerned? Are they a lefty George Soros think tank, part of the liberal Big Government plot? Not exactly.

What upsets them is that companies not facing up to the needs of the future are real bad long term investments. "Dozens of U.S. businesses are ignoring the issue with 'business as usual' responses that are putting their companies, and their shareholders, at risk," said Mindy S. Lubber, president of Ceres and director of the Investor Network on Climate Risk, a group whose members control a total of $3 trillion in investment capital.

Did I mention James Hansen? The NASA scientists who other scientists say is the best on climate? Whose statements and predictions in the past have proven true? He was interviewed on CBS 60 Minutes last Sunday, and there's a story on the CBS site:

I can't think of anybody who I would say is better than Hansen. You might argue that there's two or three others as good, but nobody better," says Cicerone.

And Cicerone, who’s an atmospheric chemist, said the same thing every leading scientist told 60 Minutes. "Climate change is really happening," says Cicerone. Asked what is causing the changes, Cicernone says it's greenhouse gases: "Carbon dioxide and methane, and chlorofluorocarbons and a couple of others, which are all — the increases in their concentrations in the air are due to human activities. It's that simple."

The rest of the story is about how the Bush administration censors the science, muzzles scientists (or attempts to) and casts doubt where there really is none on the basic findings, as stated above. But the Bushites insist on keeping it fuzzy.

Annoyed by the ambiguity, Hansen went public a year and a half ago, saying this about the Bush administration in a talk at the University of Iowa: "I find a willingness to listen only to those portions of scientific results that fit predetermined inflexible positions. This, I believe, is a recipe for environmental disaster." Since then, NASA has been keeping an eye on Hansen. NASA let Pelley sit down with him but only with a NASA representative taping the interview. Other interviews have been denied.

Later in the interview:

"We have to, in the next 10 years, get off this exponential curve and begin to decrease the rate of growth of CO2 emissions," Hansen explains. "And then flatten it out. And before we get to the middle of the century, we’ve got to be on a declining curve. "If that doesn't happen in 10 years, then I don’t think we can keep global warming under one degree Celsius and that means we’re going to, that there’s a great danger of passing some of these tipping points. If the ice sheets begin to disintegrate, what can you do about it? You can’t tie a rope around the ice sheet. You can’t build a wall around the ice sheets. It will be a situation that is out of our control."

"I think we know a lot more about the tipping points," says Hansen. "I think we know about the dangers of even a moderate degree of additional global warming about the potential effects in the arctic about the potential effects on the ice sheets." "You just used that word again that you’re not supposed to use — danger," Pelley remarks. "Yeah. It’s a danger," Hansen says.

There are other reputable scientists who are much more pessimistic than Hansen, and almost none who say he is overstating things. We know global heating is happening. We know we're in the early stages of a climate crisis. An intelligent species with the ability to anticipate the future should be imagining possible consequences of what's already going on, testing hypotheses and preparing for possibilities.

An intelligent species that cares about its future and that of the planet that nurtures it would be doing everything possible to slow down and stop doing what's so demonstrably harmful, so that the kinds of life that are on this planet now (be it evolved or created) has a chance to continue into the future. Is that really so much to ask? Because change is coming. We can either deal with it, or it will deal with us.

UPDATE: Reuter's reports today: In an issue of the journal Science focusing on global warming, climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck of the University of Arizona reported that if global trends continue, Earth could ultimately see sea levels 20 feet higher than they are now. That's enough to wipe out Miami and some other coastal cities. His baseline is the last big melt 130,000 years ago, and he stresses that he's being conservative in saying it might take several centuries to melt the icesheets. We're on track to get as hot as that last time but we could easily surpass it, hastening the full meltdown. Plus global heating is global, whereas the last melt was due to warming in the northern hemisphere only.

The climate warming we're in now is global and it's year-round and it's due to human influences on the climate system," he said. "That will be more damaging to the ice sheets than the that warming we had 130,000 years ago."

The ice sheets are already melting, accelerated by relatively warm water that eats away at them, said NASA' s glacier expert Bob Bindschadler.

"It's not really a debate any more about whether sea level is rising or not. I think the debate has shifted to, how rapidly is sea level rising," Bindschadler said in a telephone briefing.

Leave it to those radical alarmists at Science and NASA to get us all rattled about mere seasonal variations they are too stupid to have taken into account in the first five minutes of their analysis. Better they should listen to rabid right wingers cooking their two-dimensional data in their bedrooms, and the libertarians who would rather be free of unpleasant knowledge, as would we all.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

aurora in Alberta, Canada Posted by Picasa

Captain Future's Log

Two Americas and the Heart of Katrina

I'm not turning this into an Al Gore fan site, but you don't want to miss this post at Huffington Post, or rather the comments. The post itself by Jamal Simon is a nice reminder of what Al Gore did, as opposed to what GW Bush didn't do, during Katrina. Simon worked for Gore's 2000 campaign. He praises Gore's efforts to rescue Katrina victims, although he doesn't mention similiar efforts by others, including John Kerry. But the real eye-openers are in the comments.

There are incredibly callous comments by right wingers on how "no one starved" in New Orleans. But the real information is in a detailed description of exactly what Gore did, and all the resistance he encountered. Reading this description it became clear to me once again that there are two Americas, not identical but perhaps related to the two Americas of rich and non-rich: the America that is compassionate, public spirited, that knows we are all in this together. And Bush's America: selfish, self-serving, self-satisfied and self-righteous, ideological to a demonic degree. There was a war within Katrina between those two Americas, just as there is to some extent inside each of us. Which America will win?

. After a series of back and forths on some winger defenses of Bush, there's a long dose of reality: 2questions posted a piece by Greg Simon, President of FasterCures, which begins:

On September 3rd and 4th, FasterCures worked with a small dedicated group of people to airlift approximately 270 medical patients and evacuees from the New Orleans airport to hospitals and shelters in Knoxville and Chattanooga, Tennessee. This is the story of how it happened.

It began with a network of personal associations. A neurosurgeon who had operated on Al Gore's son was at Charity Hospital in New Orleans, in dire straits. Information went back and forth, and Simon learned that there were patients in serious condition who had been evacuated from the hospital but were stranded at an airport. With Gore's help, he found a Memphis hospital ready to take them, and he found planes to charter. Gore immediately said he would pay the $50,000.

The rest of the story is of efforts of Americans to rescue other Americans, and of the resistance and barriers placed to their efforts. They were helped by some people in government, including FEMA, at national and state and local levels. Some individuals in government, particularly in the military, tried very hard to stop them. According to Simon, it was Gore's will to do it--he was on one of the planes--that decided the matter. But it was also many other people who stepped up.

Here are the concluding paragraphs:

Gore said that on the second trip to New Orleans, the doctors at the airport told him that the evacuation of the first 90 ambulatory patients had been the tipping point in their ability to adequately care for the other bedridden patients. They also noted that the military evacuations did not really pick up steam until after we "motivated" them with our private effort.

Of note: Throughout the entire operation in Tennessee, EMS operations in Chicago had stayed prepared to handle patients or evacuees. None ever arrived because the military did not want us to use Chicago. The volunteers in Chicago were amazing in their desire to help. Mayor Daly had been rebuffed earlier when he offered a complete mobile hospital unit for the airport and a tent city as well. Sen. Barack Obama called Gore and asked how had Gore managed to land in New Orleans when the Senator had been refused landing rights to help.

None of the airlines involved required a contract or any written guarantee of payment before sending their planes and volunteer crews - the first time Steve Davison had ever witnessed that in 15 years of chartering planes for political campaigns and other events. One official said if Gore promised to pay, that was good enough for them.

These are the two Americas we saw after 9/11 as well: the America that wants to help, that is ready to do whatever it takes, and do right by each other. And the America that doesn't care, that just looks for enemies and excuses, while it looks for bureaucratic or political advantage;, that uses dire situations to advance its agenda.

It is a matter of which America we will honor, empower and build. It is a matter of which America we will become. We will never banish selfishness and cynicism from our hearts or our political system. But we should not hold these qualities up as ideals. The country's character becomes a matter of emphasis. What will we emphasize? George Bush's America, or Al Gore's?

Today GW Bush held a press conference, again defending every outrage his administration has sponsored and committed, and stating that he expects U.S. troops to still be in Iraq when his term expires.

This is Bush's America, the America we will become if we allow this to continue. If you work for congressional candidates to get Democratic majorities, and work to make sure that investigations and Impeachment will result, then you work to take back America.

But even speaking out, and expressing shame, (in this connection, see Georgia10's eloquent and impassioned post at dkos) and standing for the America we cherish, is important. Because if the next generation accepts Bush's America, all is lost. I know people who are peace activists, working against torture, who when they doubt their effectiveness, simply look at their children, because they know their children are watching them. I'm sure there are others who work against the destruction of free speech, civil liberties, and the natural world, who feel the same way. Yet also be heartened by the stories of people who cared, who rose to the occasion in Katrina and other disasters. Who rise to the occasion every day, as underpaid medical workers, teachers, child care workers, and others who toil in government and nonprofit social services. As well as those with better paying careers who risk some significant portion of their status and wealth when they buck the Bush leaguers and do the right thing.

Talk the talk, walk the walk. It's all we can do. And yes, be ashamed. Be very ashamed of what this country has come to.
Climate Crisis Effect on Disease

One of the problems made worse byt the Climate Crisis is the spread of contagious diseases, particularly those transmitted to humans by insects. In northern areas or high elevations, warmer winters can upset the seasonal control on the numbers of insects such as wood ticks, because the cold isn't enough to kill as many. In more southerly areas, an increase in temperature can provide insects such as mosquitoes with the tropical climate in which they thrive.

This has been documented in various places in the world, and now it is suspected in a large area of Africa. According to the BBC, temperatures in East African highlands--including parts of Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, have risen by half a degree Celsius in the last 50 years (mostly since 1970) and incidence of malaria has also increased. Though other factors are likely to contribute, a computer model shows that this rise in temperature could mean a 100% increase in the mosquito population.

The Daily Babble

Site News

Readership of Dreaming Up Daily has increased ever so slightly in the past few months. The most encouraging aspect is the increased number of readers who return (and since not all returnees show up as such on the counter, it's a conservative proportion.) Total numbers are still pretty small, though. The biggest one-day spike was due to a link from a West Wing fan site.

Interesting thing with the last post to Soul of Star Trek. It's the second of two dealing with evil and war, through original series episodes. This latest one includes relevant Vietnam era history, and only a few pointed references to today's echoes. This post, which one of the big Star Trek sites (Trek Today) linked to, got the fewest total hits of any that had been so linked in the past couple of years. But the proportion of page hits to visitors was high. That translates to fewer visitors, but (I believe) a large proportion of them actually reading the entire essay. Or if not the new one, then something.

I've got a lot of other work to do this week, but I've been planning some changes which I hope to talk about soon.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Al Gore Direct

American Prospect is out with a penetrating article on Al Gore since 2000. It chronicles his apparently scattered but actually related activities after his election to the presidency was successfully stolen, some of them more successful than others. One of the less successful was teaching a journalism class that challenged conventional wisdom. The article quotes Josh Bearman, editor of the L.A. Weekly and a student in that class:

And along with that backlash, the old anti-intellectualism Gore experienced in 2000 made a reappearance. As Bearman tells it, “He knew more than everyone in the room. So the class basically turned against him because he was smarter than they were, and they didn’t like that. We witnessed exactly what had happened on the campaign plane in the year prior.” Gore did not return to teach the class in 2002.

Gore's message on media distortion was personal:

Gore’s own view,” says Hundt, “is that he sighed noisily in the debate and used the wrong telephone line to ask for money and the media said these are momentous events. Meanwhile, they ignore global warming and the failure to catch Osama and the destruction of the safety net.”

Few recent politicians have been as victimized by media as Gore. TV pundits and so-called news reporters as well as print columnists created an image of Gore as a liar, because (for example) he claimed to have invented the Internet, something he never said. As this article shows again, he was in fact instrumental in providing the early Internet with the resources to get started.

So Gore found ways to go directly to audiences, first by an arrangement with that got his speeches directly to activists. Which would have been the kiss of death, if they hadn't been remarkable speeches---candid, incisive, relevant, smart, eloquent and important.

The article moves quickly through Gore's move to the center in the Clinton years but marks his endorsement of Howard Dean in 2004 as a declaration of independence. The article concludes:

Since his loss [in 2000], that old populist tradition has burst through the membranes of caution and ambition that once constrained it, and Gore has exploded back into the Democratic consciousness. In the late 1980s, his reputation as a New Democrat propelled him to the party’s vanguard; in 1992, it netted him the vice presidency. Today, his leadership as a New New Democrat, enabled by his disintermediated communication strategies, has begun restoring his reputation among liberals and allowed him to step forth from the wreckage of 2000 as a progressive statesman. The question, of course, is whether he could retain that standing in the chaos of a presidential campaign. The Internet may well have reinvented Gore, but for Gore, the issue may be whether it’s done the same to politics.

Gore for president in 2008 would be a dramatic story, and what the article doesn't mention is the residual desire of voters to right the wrong of 2000, which will only grow if he indeed becomes a candidate. I'm assuming it will take something very new but in an old tradition--what they call "drafting" a candidate. But as the article points out, with the Internet as it is today, anything can happen, and quite quickly.

Gore's next time in the spotlight will probably be in May: On May 26, Paramount Pictures will release “An Inconvenient Truth,” a made-for-theatres version of Gore’s digitized global-warming movie presentation. (Hundt says Gore views global warming as “the biggest challenge this species ever faced, the ultimate nightmare of technology, the ultimate nadir of pure capitalism unfettered.”) Deadening as it sounds -- Gore giving a slideshow on climate change -- the film received a standing ovation at Sundance and excellent reviews that seemed to leapfrog consideration of the work and trigger a larger reassessment of the man.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

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Captain Future's Log

What Good Is Protest?

There are really two questions here: what good is protesting the war, and how can protest be effective? My answer to the second question is likely to upset some people. So I’ll start with the first.

My first protest march was in Washington in 1963, the famous Civil Rights march. I’ve participated in many civil rights and peace marches since, along with vigils, sit-ins and a building occupation during Vietnam. Saturday I marched again, as I have since before the Iraq war began.

This year’s march seemed to be about the same size as the others, and not very well organized. People were kept waiting in the cold wind for an hour past the announced march time, for an unannounced program of speakers; there would be another one after the march as well. From where I stood, the crowd showed a lot of gray hair, and there were mothers with small children. People were clearly giving up a few hours of precious time on a weekend for a symbolic act, and were kept from doing it for an unnecessarily long time.

There didn’t seem to be much spirit in the march after that, but I could be projecting my own foul mood. We saw one great sign: THE RAPTURE DOESN’T COUNT AS AN EXIT STRATEGY. The best moment for me was before the march started when a group of musicians were rehearsing. The core knew each other but other players joined, mostly brass and drums but with some reeds. They were really good players. Most were pretty old, and their instruments looked even older. Gray hair and gray brass. They did one number with the clarinets taking the melody and it sounded really great. They also did a jazz version of "Feel Like I'm Fixin' To Die Rag--which took the tune back to its roots. I forget what it was originally called, but I have a Louis Armstrong version of it somewhere. Strangely, I never heard them during the march itself.

Still, there is no question: protesting does good. An email I got on march day quoted George Orwell: In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." That’s what we were all doing—telling the world that we aren’t taken in by the Bush deceit. We were symbolically linking hands and hearts with people around the world, and that’s not nothing.

I’ve also never understood the cliched dismissal, “preaching to the converted.” Exactly how many preachers preach to anyone else? There are multiple functions in strengthening emotional, communication and community ties, sharing information and learning.

But how effective is protest? In direct terms, protesting the Iraq war and other actions of the Bush administration have not been effective at all. The war goes on. One large protest a year in scattered cities has probably not done much to focus attention. Perhaps the most effective protest was Cindy Sheehan’s when her encampment outside Bush’s ranch caught the Republicans flatfooted, with no good options. Protest is theatre to some extent, and this show got attention.

Protest tends to polarize at first, but eventually people take a look at what the protest was about. Those who had private doubts about the war now had a means of expressing those doubts. They saw a soldier’s mother as well as a protestor.

Anti-Iraq protest has been non-violent which is a prerequisite for being effective. Only nonviolent protest is effective. But nonviolence is a necessary condition, not a sufficient one. Protest hasn’t been effective and will not be, in my view, because it hasn’t exacted a cost. And to exact a cost usually means it costs the protestors something as well.

Today’s marches are modeled after the early to mid 1970s marches—large gatherings with some festive spirit as well as earnest opposition to the war. But earlier anti-Vietnam protests as well as Civil Rights protests were different. Except for rogue incidents, they were also nonviolent, but they often involved civil disobedience. People faced down police and tear gas, they sometimes tried to block access to some important place, or they did the equivalent of sit-down strikes, and often they expected to be arrested.

Rogue elements use mass protests to commit politically pointed vandalism. The vandalism gets attention. The issues usually don’t. Destruction is not protest. It crosses that line into something else.

Another form of protest in the Vietnam era unrelated to marches was refusing to pay taxes, usually proportionate to the military budget (for instance, people would pay half of their federal income tax but not the half that went to the Pentagon.) This was potentially the most potent form of protest, and it was the most dangerous to both protestors and the government. Protestors faced prison and the collapse of their economic lives. The government faced a number of real problems, including real challenges to its legitimacy, and therefore usually cracks down hard on this form of protest.

Were these protests really effective? They were effective in getting attention, in focusing the nation on the conflict over the war. They also made people angry, and that anger has lasted far longer than the war did. These antiwar protests began in 1965, and the war went on well into the 1970s.

It could be argued that the polls show that Americans are just as angry about Iraq, and just as against continuing war there, as they were concerning Vietnam in the mid-1970s, after eight or ten years of protests.

So maybe today’s symbolic protests are working just as well by not alienating people. But lots of people were talking last week about the speech James Spader delivered on “Boston Legal.” His character, lawyer Alan Shore, said that when Americans learned the rationale for invading Iraq was specious, he thought they would rise up but they didn’t. And then when they learned of torture in their name, and then of illegal wiretapping, he expected them to finally rise up, but they didn’t.

But why would he expect that? Americans never “rise up.” It just doesn’t happen. In terms of protest, the only kind that has demonstrated “rising up” has been by a very active minority, costing themselves something—jail time, injury, maybe screwing up their college year or their career. Who exact some kind of price by their actions. Then, eventually, there are large symbolic protests that show solidarity with those who paid the price.

So I don’t think anyone should expect protest to be effective unless it involves massive, serious non-violent civil disobedience, and massive tax protest.

Even then it would take a long time. Corporate media won’t cover it, not even as badly as they did in the 1960s.

People were also talking last week about the E.J. Dionne column that said the Democratic party doesn’t know how to work with its activist wing. But there is very little in the way of an activist wing, in terms of protest: of organizing for active opposition expressed in real civil disobedience and tax protest.

Instead we get urged to show our “rage.” There’s nothing more empty than rage.

There is activism in the electoral realm certainly. But those who live by electoral politics die by it as well. Everything has to get solved in elections, or in acts within the government, like bills passed or defeated, filibusters and censure motions. Of course, all of that is essential, but it is limited to that field of action. Electoral defeat is defeat. The next field of action is the next election.

Electoral activism, which is the chief activity of the blogs, properly has little if anything to do with protest. I don’t believe in protest candidates. I believe in trying to elect the best people, and in general elections, the better person for the office.

The blogs play one definite role for protestors: as media of information. The Dkos post of photos of police presence in my old haunts of Pittsburgh points the way to citizen journalism in covering protest.

But if people are not satisfied with electoral activism, and they wonder why people aren’t “rising up,” I believe one reason is because protest has become mostly symbolic. And even the symbolism isn’t what it used to be. Alan Shore spoke pointedly about silence on the campuses. Campus protest always was a minority activity. But for all the crap we Baby Boomers get from younger generations, and all the accusations that we only protested the war because we were being drafted (which certainly was a clear and present motivation), I see we’re still out there. I saw more gray hair than college age in the march where I was. (To be fair, the local university was on spring break, though they’re officially back Monday.)

The role of protest may be to stir people up, to assert an issue’s importance, to force its priority. When it costs people something to protest on an issue, the public knows that at least some people think it’s pretty damn important. And maybe they pay a little more attention. All of that is independent of electoral politics, and no one can blame elected officials/ politicians for doing their jobs. But once civil rights civil disobedience and protest reached a critical mass, JFK used it for political leverage to introduce civil rights legislation. Eugene McCarthy and RFK used Vietnam protest as leverage in trying to end the Vietnam war as president.

One reason that Cindy Sheehan remains an antiwar protest leader (though the blogs haven’t paid her as much attention) is that she uses civil disobedience as part of the mix. But we face other very clear and present dangers: the threats to constitutional government represented by illegal wiretapping and other acts; the need to deal with the Climate Crisis before it overwhelms us, and at the moment, the crucial necessity of making sure this president cannot attack Iran and plunge this country and the world into a sudden and devastating darkness.

Can electoral activism handle it? I wonder.

UPDATE: I posted a version of this on dkos, with a poll. Only about 50 responses so far, but the vast majority believe that protest is an important component along with electoral activism. One comment made the additional point that protest marches in the U.S. are also important to maintain the connection to Europe and other places where larger protests occur.

The West Winger

How Angry Are They?

That's the big question: how angry are they? The people who create "The West Wing," about being cancelled? Angry enough to leave us with a Republican President, and then they disappear?

The better Democrat Matt Santos' chances look, the more tension about the outcome. They can't just let him sail through to the election. This week's episode ended with Vinick's apparent revival, and Santos apparently dodging a bullet in the form of a sex scandal. Great line about the French, too. But while next week's ep might be lighter, the scenes from coming episodes promise a shock in two weeks. Is it Leo? Or what?

Just four more episodes before it all ends. Tonight's was set two weeks before the election. Will the rest follow that scenario? Is the shock going to come on election day itself? Let's hope the last episodes are at least as good as Sunday's.