Saturday, May 06, 2006

Perseus Cluster Posted by Picasa

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"Make mad the guilty and apal the free
Confound the ignorant and amaze indeed
the very faculties of eyes and ears..."


Click to enlarge. Don Asumussen, San Francisco Chronicle. Posted by Picasa
The Wheels of Justice

do seem to grind slowly, but they're grinding on the Big Smirk bigtime, and it's just beginning.

Antifans of Karl Rove didn't get their indictment on Friday but the sudden resignation of Porter Goss as CIA Director may have plenty to do with the ongoing investigation and court cases involving various lobbyist scandals, in which mucho money and ladies of the evening are suddenly in the mix along with influence peddling and various other improprieties. A Goss senior appointee's name has surfaced in such a connection, and it's being reported that he will resign next week as well.

Meanwhile Senator Arlen Specter is making louder noises about investigating Smirk's wiretapping, while the Boston Globe and New York Times are questioning the Smirk's penchant for signing statements attached to laws that Congress passes saying that he has no intention of abiding by them. Both seem clearly unconstitutional and join a long line of impeachable offenses, but as none involves a blue dress, I must be wrong about that.

But Friday was also notable for an utter smackdown of Bushite lawyers. A U.S. Court of Appeals Judge called the Bush position on internet wiretapping "nonsense." The Bushites wanted to infer broad rights for the executive from the supposed intention of a law passed by Congress (where have we heard this before?). The judge had a different opinion: "There's nothing to suggest that in the statute. Stating that doesn't make it so."

What? Of course stating it makes it so. That's the whole Bushite rationale for everything. Bush is President, he's the decider, he's the guy who knows and always tells the truth, and so when he says it, it is so.

This is the same logic the Bushites tried to use on the UN panel on torture. Responding to one charge after another--to what one UN official called "the longest list of issues I have ever seen"--the Bushites simply repeated the same denial: the U.S. never under any circumstances employs torture, and any charge to the contrary is "absurd." Including the 29 documented deaths of detainees, presumably caused by cooking accidents.

The UN wasn't buying it. But their report won't be official for a few weeks. Those wheels.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Early morning smog in Capetown, South Africa. Posted by Picasa
Fuel for Thought

Talk is cheap. Gasoline is not."
--Keith Olbermann

Jon Carroll's column on the subject in the San Francisco Chronicle says a great deal of what needs to be said about the current gasoline price/oil supply/what do we do about it mess. Though there's also the Keith quote above, and his observation that the oil companies claim the high prices are merely a product of supply and demand, which he interprets as meaning they've got the supply, and we'll damn well pay whatever they demand.

After Jon Carroll skewers the posturing politicans in Congress (They are talking bravely of taxing windfall profits, and prohibiting accounting tricks that keep profits high, and -- well, a bunch of stuff that will never happen) and the oil companies( ...did you even try to follow it?We're rolling in money, but we're not actually rolling in money! This is not money! We are not here! Unless you're a stockholder, in which case we are here and this is money.) he next reminds us of just who put these people in charge, and who keeps them there.

One might say to the American people: What did you expect? You voted for a guy who made his money in the oil business. (What he did in the oil business: not so clear.) You voted for a vice president who set energy policy by having secret meetings with oil company executives. You were in favor of a war that was fought to guarantee our oil supply. You cheered when economy-stimulating tax cuts were enacted. You are now paying $3 a gallon at the pump in what Daniel Yergin has called "the permanent shortage," and you feel betrayed? This was an act between consenting adults; it's a little late for buyer's remorse. Not that one would expect the Democrats to do much better. Our political institutions are, in the area of corporate governance, largely irrelevant.

We could quibble with this: that it's not so clear that these guys ever got a majority of our votes, and besides, up here gasoline is $3.50 a gallon. But Carroll definitely nails our responsibility in other ways, at the same time as he offers hope, and provides a plan. Not for the talkers. For us.

In fact, we are the problem. There are no large oil companies without large demand for oil, and we are doing the demanding. If you were running a business where people would apparently pay just about anything to get your product, wouldn't you keep raising your prices? If gas is a large part of your budget, make it a smaller part of your budget.

I understand that it is hard for some people to drive less...But the pain is going to come, one way or another. We can choose to control the pain ourselves, or we can wait untilit gets so bad we have to accept whatever solution is at hand. The sooner you choose, the more choices you'll have.

Four percent of the world's population; 25 per cent of the energy use --that's us. And, maddeningly enough, the world wants to catch up. It wants big cars and bright lights and the wonders of exurban commuting. We've led the way in excess, and now we're going to lead the world in regret.

And noone will feel sorry for us, because we've pillaged and invaded and belittled and overthrown and generally wiped our feet on the rest of the world. I know, I know, it wasn't you. But it's your problem anyway; it's your karma anyway.

We do understand, have always understood, that the deluded narcissists in Washington are not going to help us out. We might be able to help ourselves out. We might form communities of interest, communities of need,and figure out how to share energy expenses. Neighborhood shopping trips;neighborhood carpooling; neighborhood consciousness-raising.

It's happened in race relations; it's happened in women's rights; why can't it happen in energy policy? I do not believe that there's one big solution for this mess. I do suspect that there are a million small solutions.

To which I add, besides amen, that though there is no one big solution, there needs to be a mix of small, medium and large solutions to really get it done. But he's certainly right that we can't wait for leaders, even though we're eventually going to need real leadership. Because even in the most recent period of easy oil, there are people who have been working hard and effectively in developing alternative, clean and sustainable energy systems and technologies. All they need are customers, and investors will soon follow.

Anyway, I urge you to read the whole column, which is here, partly because I edited out some of the funny parts, and I hate it when editors do that to me.
Almost Official: The Climate Crisis

Apart from skewed statistics and creatively dissembling charts and graphs, the argument against the reality of global heating has largely rested on a discrepancy between temperatures at the earth's surface (which are rising) and satellite reports of temperatures in the lower atmosphere (which didn't seem to be.) Now that's over.

"This significant discrepancy no longer exists because errors in the satellite and radiosonde data have been identified and corrected," researchers said in the first of 21 assessment reports planned by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program.

What does this mean in the political scheme of things? As the Washington Post reports, A government study released yesterday undermines one of the key arguments of climate change skeptics, concluding there is no statistically significant conflict between measures of global warming on the earth's surface and in the atmosphere.

Yesterday, in a different report, the government affirmed that greenhouse gases are still building up in the atmosphere. This report also asserted that data on surface, low, middle and upper atmosphere (which have all warmed) and the upper stratosphere (which has cooled) all conform to computer[models which support the global heating scenario.

And the observed patterns of change over the past fifty years cannot be explained by natural processes alone.

Perhaps the most telling part of this story was the White House response. A statement by the White House Council on Environmental Quality said only that the purpose of the climate change program was to reduce scientific uncertainties, and "we welcome today's report because it represents success in doing so with respect to temperature trends."

The Post story quotes Rafe Pomerance, chairman of the Climate Policy Center, saying--as other have said in response to previous reports--that"This puts the nail in the coffin of [the skeptics'] argument as much as anything I've seen," Pomerance said. "It may not be the first time it's been said, but it's the clearest I've seen it stated coming out of a government agency. Game over."

A separate study released Wednesday says that global heating is weakening a major wind circulation pattern over the Pacific Ocean, which could alter climate and affect the marine food chain. The effects on weather could be similiar to those associated with the El Nino/La Nina phenomena, which are manifested coast to coast in North America. This phenomenon could also lead to drought in Malaysia and the western Pacific, and exacerbate the already critical condition of many species of fish and ocean creatures, that we either eat or that otherwise contribute to human life as well as the health of these vital waters.

You can add this report to those suggesting global heating has warmed ocean waters in the Atlantic and Carribean, affecting the strength and number of hurricanes, and to disapearing glaciers and icepack in the Arctic and Antarctic. Put it all together, and there's an increasingly obvious Climate Crisis that no phony science paid for by oil and gas companies can deny.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Great apes are among the many primate species that face extinction. Posted by Picasa

Gazelles, new on the Red List Posted by Picasa

Cheetah Posted by Picasa

ocean shark Posted by Picasa

Polar bears threatened with extinction in as little as 25 years. Posted by Picasa
Faster Than the Dying Dinosaurs

Life as we know it on earth is dying off at a rate and to an extent that challenges and goes beyond the mass extinctions that ended the dinosaurs. Without the benefit of asteroid impact or years of a blacked out sun. Thanks to the cancer on the planet that the industrialized human race has become.

The World Conservation Union's survey shows that more than 16,000 species of animals and plants are (in the words of the Guardian story) "at the highest levels of extinction threat, equivalent to nearly 40% of all species in its survey." The endangered include a quarter of all mammal species, a third of amphibians, and a quarter of coniferous trees.

Many species of fish, including freshwater species and ocean species of sharks and rays are near extinction. And among the flowers and other plants, the species that most of us don't know exist, there are some familiar ones: hippos, gazelles and of course, the polar bear, going extinct 1,000 times faster than normal, thanks to the ongoing melting away of the Arctic. It could happen within the lifetimes of today's young adult humans. Many other animals and plants, from bears to butterflies, will struggle to relocate and survive in areas most affected by the Climate Crisis.

Five hundred species have been added to the critically endangered list just since 2004. And these are among only the comparatively few species that human scientists have even catalogued. They estimate there are some 15 million species, and only 12% have even been named. But the underlying causes of species they know about that are going extinct argue that many others are similiarly affected, by factors such as decreasing biodiversity, development replacing habitat with concrete and fields, pollution and global heating. Says the Guardian:

At present, animals are believed to be going extinct at 100 to 1,000 times the usual rate, leading many researchers to claim that we are in the midst of a mass extinction event faster than that which wiped out the dinosaurs.

This new study extends ongoing concerns over the imminent extinctions of many if not all species of primates (Great Apes, chimps, bonobos, etc.), big cats (cheetah, species of lion and tiger) and many species of sharks, whales and other fish and ocean creatures.

Human life is currently supported by the rest of the planet's life in ways that few of us notice, and even scientists do not fully understand. Our survival as a species on a depleted planet is unlikely at best. Part of getting smarter fast is understanding this, and doing something about it. Otherwise, the dinosaurs R us.

Monday, May 01, 2006

May Day: Los Angeles  Posted by Picasa

May Day: Orlando  Posted by Picasa

May Day: Washington, Iowa Posted by Picasa

May Day: New York City Posted by Picasa

May Day: Detroit Posted by Picasa

May Day: Milwaukee Posted by Picasa

May Day: Detroit Posted by Picasa

May Day: Los Angeles Posted by Picasa
A Nation of No Immigrants

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of immigrants stayed home from work, boycotted businesses and marched through U.S. cities on Monday, urging Congress to create a way for them to work legally and become citizens.

Police in Chicago said about 300,000 people joined a demonstration there, one of several massive rallies across the nation to demand rights for an estimated 11.5-12 million illegal immigrants in the United States.

Police in Los Angeles were bracing for up to a million people in two marches there. Other large rallies took place in Houston, Denver and many other cities. Thousands also marched in Mexico in solidarity with their U.S.-based compatriots.Reports from around the country suggested many immigrants were staying away from work, despite a mixed message from immigrant-rights organizations, some of which opposed the one-day strike.

In New York City, demonstrators formed "human chains" at several points around the city. Hundreds, including school children, lined up in Queens, stretching for three blocks on both sides of the street waving U.S. and Latin American flags and banners saying, "We are Americans" and "Full Rights for All Immigrants."

We are all losers if we continue to play this sinister game of condemning a segment of the population to live and work in the conditions of modern-day slaves," said Juan Jose Gutierrez, director of the Latino Movement USA.

The House passed a get-tough bill last December that would reclassify illegal immigrants as felons, punish those who help them and build a fence along much of the U.S.-Mexican border.
Chicago teacher Francisco Palomo, 46, said he had skipped work to protest against the House bill, which could penalize anyone who extended help to an illegal immigrant. "I don't want to be criminalized. If I help out some guys, if I give some lodging, that's a felony?" he said.

Adut Wol Manuer, in Washington, DC Sunday. Photo: Jim Young Posted by Picasa

Darfur demo in San Francisco Sunday Posted by Picasa

Darfur demonstration in Cleveland Sunday Posted by Picasa
Never Again-- and Not Now

from the San Francisco Chronicle:

Washington -- Young and old, rich and poor, black and white, students and retirees, Muslims, Jews and Christians, nearly 100,000 people from all stations of life rallied Sunday in Washington, D.C., San Francisco and other U.S. cities to urge the Bush administration to take decisive action to stop the genocide in Sudan.

The rallies nationwide were the most emphatic and symbolic expressions to date of growing outrage over the hundreds of thousands of deaths in Sudan's Darfur region since early 2003.
Speaker after speaker at the National Monument in Washington -- including Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, former pro basketball player and Sudanese expatriate Manute Bol, and actor-director George Clooney -- called for the deployment of international peacekeeping troops to Darfur and implored Americans to make their voices heard.

"Silence helps the killer, never his victims," Wiesel said. "Darfur today is the capital of the world's human suffering. Darfur deserves to live. We are its only hope."

"The U.S. policy, the U.N. policy, the world policy is failing," Clooney told the crowd. "Well, fortunately, this is not a dictatorship. You make the policy." Rep. Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, a survivor of the Holocaust, said America's "patience is over. ... We shall no longer mourn this genocide. We shall stop it."

"Stand up, America, and protect Darfur from the longest-ruling genocidal regime in modern history," San Francisco activist Elvir Camdzic, a survivor of the Bosnian genocide, told the Washington rally.
There were several Darfuri and Muslim speakers. "Most of us can easily recognize racism in others. It is difficult to acknowledge that it exists within our own Muslim ranks," said A. Rashied Omar, a coordinator for the Program on Religion, Conflict and Peacebuilding at the University of Notre Dame. "We need to purify and heal our souls and rid our communities from the scourge of racism. ... The teachings of Islam leave no doubt about the importance of peacemaking."

In San Francisco, some 15,000 people turned up at Crissy Field for an afternoon of political speeches on Sudan. There also were rallies in Portland, Ore., Austin, Texas, Toronto and Wellington, New Zealand.

Many participants came with Jewish groups, including two dozen who flew up from a temple in Los Angeles, but Bay Area Christians and Muslims also turned out in steady numbers, and San Francisco Archbishop George Niederauer was a featured speaker. Jews feel a special connection to the situation in Darfur because of their own experience with genocide, said Rabbi Sydney Mintz of San Francisco's Congregation Emanu-el, the Bay Area's largest Jewish congregation.
"After the Holocaust, people said, 'Never again.' As Jews, you can't sit idly by now," said Mintz, whose congregation has been working with the American Jewish World Service, an aid group sending money, supplies and workers to help in refugee camps in Sudan and nearby Chad.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, who has twice visited refugee camps in Sudan and Chad, called the situation a "humanitarian disaster." "This is a moment of truth for the world," Lee told the crowd at Crissy Field to wild applause. "You are the conscience of America. Not on our watch will we remain silent while genocide takes place."

The liberal organization had collected 95,042 signatures by Sunday afternoon for a "virtual march" of people who want U.S. foreign policy in Sudan to change.

John Kenneth Galbraith Posted by Picasa


John Kenneth Galbraith: Wisdom and Style

John Kenneth Galbraith died Sunday at the age of 97. It was my good fortune that the first book on economics I read was his The Affluent Society. It became central to my first college paper, and had no small influence on my book, The Malling of America.

Galbraith was not only an economist whose analysis of the place of corporate power in capitalism is perhaps more pertinent today than ever, but he was a great stylist--an economist, political observer and teacher "addicted to writing," and also very good at it.

His sense of style carried over into his life, and perhaps that also made him a natural for the Kennedy administration. He also served FDR and was a principal author of LBJ's Great Society, (he wrote LBJ's speech on it as well) though disagreement over Vietnam drove him away from government, and from keeping his ironic eye on implementation.

He remained an active and popular lecturer at Harvard for many years. A photo of him in 1998 shows more vitality than many others decades younger could muster. One of his 33 books--and another of my favorites--is called Economics, Peace and Laughter. That was John Kenneth Galbraith. Here's his lengthy and fascinating obit in the New York Times.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

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Books in Heat

Of Fads and Redemption

My reviews are up of two recently published books that deal with two characteristically American ideas. The favorite theme of American success stories, from Emerson to Oprah, from slave narratives to self-help books, is described in The Redemptive Self: Stories Americans Live By, by Don P. McAdams.

Flavor of the Month: Why Smart People Fall for Fads, Joel Best analyzes institutional fads, and why we run around in Quality Circles before embracing Six Sigma. A slightly different version of this review appears in today's San Francisco Chronicle.

McAdams shows that redemption is not a fad, because it is a perennial feature of the stories Americans construct about their lives, or at least the lives they hope to have, and the lives they admire. But it's interesting to speculate how institutional fads are themselves attempts at redemption---each one worshipped for redeeming the mistakes of the past, before being found wanting, as we anxiously await the next new best-selling redeemer, who is never long in coming.

Antiwar march in Manhattan Saturday.
All photos AP. Posted by Picasa

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