Saturday, August 26, 2006
Let's say there are three kinds of writing I do that gets out into the world. I write for publication (in print, usually), for community blogs on the Internet, and for this blog (and my other blogs.) Each has different challenges and rewards.
Publication is the only time I get paid. For that, I give up more control, and I'm often writing about what others want me to write about (even if I came up with the idea) and in their formats. I have limited control of the final published piece. There are challenges to doing that well, and the reward (apart from the daily bread) is doing it well within those constraints, and maybe transcending them a little.
But my work for publication seldom gets a direct response. People tend to write letters to the editors only to complain. When I do hear about a piece from someone personally, it's often weeks or months later, when I feel pretty separate from it as a published work. It's interesting to observe how a piece continues to live, though. An article I did for the North Coast Journal many months ago on the efforts of local Quakers to visit Guantanamo is continuing to ripple outward in Quaker and "torture" circles, as it gets passed around at the yearly regional and national meetings. That kind of response I hear about second or third hand is gratifying but distant.
Writing for community blogs (like dKos) has the virtue of response. I've received generous comments on long pieces that few publications would touch, and even a short piece that nevertheless reflects some serious thought and intent, like this one, got a few appreciative comments. A few is better than none.
I don't get paid for what I write there, or here. (Despite the ads, I have yet to see a penny.) I also don't get many comments here. But I do have control. I can add the graphics I want. I can continue to rewrite the piece (though I guess this is blogging heresy) as many times as I like, even after it is "published."
So it's mostly for the pleasure of making something I more or less like, in the time I have to do it. Apart from Captain Future saving the world, it's the pleasure of building an identity for the site, and a ouvre of past posts, which people find through searches by topic or names. When I was in 5th grade I made up some comic book characters and drew my own strips. This is kind of like that, except with an audience. The number of daily visitors is still growing, though very slowly, along with the number of those who return, so I'm guessing that the proportion of visitors who read something here is pretty high. So that's good. (And hi to my fans in Thailand, Afghanistan, GB, Aus., India, Suisse, Italia and Washington, D.C. )
That's about the extent of it, except for the Soul of Star Trek blog, which has gotten me invited to the 40th Anniversary Star Trek convention in Seattle, to moderate a panel called "The Soul of Star Trek." It also means on the actual anniversary night of Star Trek's first episode aired on US TV, I'll be lifting a glass of champagne with Majel and Eugene Roddenberry, Jr., and several members of the bridge crew of the starship Enterprise and the Next Generation Enterprise, up in the Space Needle... Where no blog has gone before.
Category 5 Hurricane Ioke, a rare Pacific hurricane,
poses no risk to land. But tropical storm Ernesto
in the Carribean may be another story. Navy Research
As of early Saturday morning, tropical storm Ernesto may become a hurricane that threatens the Gulf Coast by early next week--or (as it stands at the moment) it may not. According to Weather Underground, the various prediction models disagree on the effect of some complex wind effects. Some models predict it will intensify to hurricane status, others that it will dissipate. More should be known by Sunday, but for now the Gulf from the Florida Keys to Texas should be on the alert.
Meanwhile, there is a huge category 5 hurricane called Ioke--but it's in the Pacific, the first recorded hurricane in the Pacific Ocean since 2002, and it's not threatening any land areas. But it is fierce, with exceptionally low pressure.
Anyone who advocates for elements of a better future, whether real (in the present, somewhere) or as yet only imagined, risks being called utopian, idealistic, new agey, not to mention pitifully deluded. Holding hands and singing Kumbayah seems to be the insult of the age. But in fact advocating for a better future is utterly pragmatic. If we don't make civilization better, if we don't get better ourselves, civilization is doomed, and soon.
Not everyone accepts this premise, and frankly, a lot of people don't care. They're so disenchanted with things as they are (even if they repress that despair by adopting "survival-of-the-greediest and most violent" views that would scandalize Social Darwinists) that they'd probably welcome the end of civilization. Given the decadent state of things, many of us have those kinds of feelings. But a few minutes contemplation of all the innocent suffering that might entail, and all the needless waste of the sacrifices made, should bring us back to trying our best.
What is additionally interesting is that some of the most "idealistic" attempts to make things better come from people who've endured more than most hardnosed pragmatic critics, in parts of the world where suffering is far worse and more widespread than nearly anywhere in North America, at least for now.
So when a real, large-scale effort to make healthy food a right, and to make that right real, comes from Brazil, it doesn't require a Vangelis soundtrack. Six years ago, activists in the fourth largest city in Brazil declared that right, and now it is becoming a widespread reality.
Their innovations, coordinated by a new city office of food security, range from twenty-five fair-price produce stands supplied by local farmers to open-air restaurants serving 12,000 subsidized meals daily to city-sponsored radio broadcasts leading shoppers to the lowest-priced essentials.
These and many more city-led initiatives to end hunger consume only 1 percent of Belo's budget, but they're working. Hard evidence is the city's infant death rate, a widely accepted measure of hunger, which fell an astonishing 56 percent over the first decade of these efforts. Belo's approach has inspired multiple right-to-food initiatives nationwide as part of President Lula's Zero Hunger Program.
As author Francis Moore Lappe reminds us, the UN Declaration of Human Rights made access to food a human right in 1948. International efforts to make it real in the 90s and so far in this century have resulted in, among other things, 187 nations signing on to voluntary plans and "twenty-two countries have enshrined the right to food in their constitutions, either for all citizens or specifically for children."
The nasty, brutish secret is that it's long been possible to feed the world, to eradicate poverty, end the diseases that kill and maim the most people in the world, and to do so with little inconvenience, let alone sacrifice, by the comparatively rich, and with less ecological destruction than is now visited upon the planet. Safe drinking water for all is also possible, if somewhat more difficult, and with some lead time and a lot of organization, so is adequate energy. But food, water and minimal preventive health care plus a few inexpensive medicines are supremely possible, and would make a vast difference.
The rest of Lappe's piece is about the real politik realization of these universal rights, which involves political power. Hunger strikes for food may be necessary, but that doesn't make them any less absurd. There is no point in arguing about whether we can get better, only whether we should. And if we should, then we try to figure out how to proceed. And proceed.
Friday, August 25, 2006
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
The debate on global warming is over. Present levels of carbon dioxide--nearing 400 parts per million (ppm) in the earth's atmosphere--are higher than they have been at any time in the past 650,000 years and could easily surpass 500 ppm by the year 2050 without radical intervention.
So begins the overview of a series of articles in Scientific American on the Climate Crisis. Most are about Stopping It--that is, preventing the worst from happening: a runaway heating that could end civilization. The overview doesn't mince words on what is required:
Preventing the transformation of the earth's atmosphere from greenhouse to unconstrained hothouse represents arguably the most imposing scientific and technical challenge that humanity has ever faced. Sustained marshaling of cross-border engineering and political resources over the course of a century or more to check the rise of carbon emissions makes a moon mission or a Manhattan Project appear comparatively straightforward.
Are we up to it? At least some people are thinking in practical terms where to start:
Industry groups advocating nuclear power and clean coal have stepped forward to offer single-solution visions of clean energy. But too much devoted too early to any one technology could yield the wrong fix and derail momentum toward a sustainable agenda for decarbonization. Portfolio diversification underlies a plan laid out by Robert H. Socolow and Stephen W. Pacala in this single-topic edition of Scientific American. The two Princeton University professors describe how deployment of a basket of technologies and strategies can stabilize carbon emissions by midcentury.
Link here to these articles. Get hard copies and send them to science teachers in your childrens' schools. They may as well get started on the problems that are going to dominate their lives.
As for the climate debate being over, it's of course been over for awhile among scientists, but according to a new poll, it may also be over among Americans, 70% of whom believe the Climate Crisis is real, and that recent extreme weather and weather events are part of it.
Monday, August 21, 2006
To negotiate for peace on earth
And it may be idealistic baby
But I know what peace of mind is worth
Everybody aired their grievances
And they threw away the suture
They opened up all the wounds of the past
As they failed to find their way to the future
They said we'd better check the weather chart
Before we tie our colors to this mast
It's just too hard thinking about the future baby
So let's just get on with the past...
From georgia10 at Dkos:
Allow me to introduce to you to Staff Sgt. Michael "Chad" Lloyd. His name is not John Mark Karr. He died recently while on foot patrol in Baghdad. His flight to the United States won't be in business class, and reporters won't scramble to sit next to him. His body's journey across the Atlantic won't be traced with flashy graphics or estimated time of arrivals. Flag-drapped coffins, you see, aren't as sexy as murder suspects.
Meet Trinette Johnson. Her name is not John Mark Karr. I doubt that her story will capture headlines in 10 years. Since returning from Iraq two years ago, she has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. "She's not the same mommy," her children say. No one, save her troubled family, really gives a damn what she had to eat today, or how she's dealt with her pain these years. No one is asking "Who is Trinette Johnson?" and no one--especially not the press--seems to give a flying fuck that there are thousands of Trinette Johnsons out there, living (if you can call it that) with PTSD.
There's more. Unfortunately, there's always more in Iraq, where July recorded the most deaths in the entire occupation--an unbelievable 3400, eclipsing some 3100 Iraqis killed in June. And always more decadence revealed to us by our disgraceful masquerade called TV news.
Then again, we've got georgia10. One of the reasons we should be grateful for the blogosphere, especially in an era when the barbarians are inside the gates.
While Oliver Stone reminds moviegoers of the tragedy of 9-11, Spike Lee's tv film premiering Monday reminds us of the even more inexplicable tragedy of New Orleans after Katrina--all the more maddening because it is a tragedy that continues nearly a year later. (An informative review here.)
Who is responsible for this mess, asks Editor and Publisher magazine, for a barely functioning city with large swaths still uninhabited — or uninhabitable — a year after Hurricane Katrina?
Housing and rebuilding are particularly obvious failures, as is continuing uncertainty about the city's safety in future storms. We looked at images from New Orleans and the Gulf Region during the initial crisis--families stranded on rooftops, incarcerated in the dome, starving and sick--and asked, how could this happen in America? Now a year later we look at New Orleans, still a devastated husk of its former self, and ask the same question.
The Independent suggests more of what happened:
A year after Hurricane Katrina, the reconstruction of the devastated Gulf coast is being severely hampered by waste and inefficiency overseen by "disaster profiteers" who are making million of dollars, according to a watchdog group. The group claims the inefficiency - along with the companies' political connections - follows a pattern similar to what happened in Afghanistan and Iraq.
With much of New Orleans still in ruins and its population half of what it was before the hurricane, a new report claims millions of dollars has been squandered by wasteful processes that have seen 90 per cent of the first wave of reconstruction contracts awarded to firms outside Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Local firms have been frozen out while immigrant workers have been exploited and often unpaid.
Emergency Assistance: A June report by the Government Accountability Office concluded that FEMA wasted between $600 million and $1.4 billion on "improper and potentially fraudulent individual assistance payments."
Cleanup: The job still isn't done. More than 100 million cubic yards of debris have been cleared from the region affected by Katrina. So far the government has spent $3.6 billion, a figure that might have been considerably smaller had the contracts for debris removal been subject to competitive bidding. Working through the US Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA gave each of four companies contracts worth up to $500 million to clear hurricane debris. This spring government inspectors reported that the companies - AshBritt Inc. of Pompano Beach, Fla., Phillips and Jordan Inc. of Knoxville, Tenn., Ceres Environmental Services Inc. of Brooklyn Park, Minn. and ECC Operating Services Inc. of Burlingame, Calif. - charged the government as much as four to six times what they paid their subcontractors who actually did the work.
And as hurricane season heats up, FEMA admits it is understaffed.
Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute suggested last week that the estimated 250,000 Katrina evacuees who may never return to their former homes should be considered "climate refugees," a category that will grow as the Climate Crisis takes hold. "What we're looking at is the potential not of displacing thousands of people, but possibly millions of people as the result of rising seas and more destructive storms in the years and decades ahead if we don't move quickly to reduce CO2 emissions," he said.
That's strong motivation for working to Stop It, but also for getting serious about Fixing It--understanding the dimensions and consequences. Seeing what happened in New Orleans doesn't inspire confidence, especially since quite a few climate refugees are likely to be poor people and people of color. One need not buy into conspiracy theories about deliberately exploded levees (though in fact levees were deliberately breached in the past in poor black areas of New Orleans to relieve pressure on rich white areas) to understand that had Katrina hit Palm Beach, things would be much, much different today.
We're going to be hearing a lot more about Katrina in the coming days, and we should.
Conservatively unhinged Faux talker (though he's on Another Network) Joe Scarborough continues to draw comment for his segment last week entitled, "Is Bush an Idiot?" According to this report, the segment consisted of "a montage of clips of Bush's famously inarticulate verbal miscues" and discussion with right and center guests on "whether Bush is smart enough to be president."
The story then quotes Joe concluding the segment with his bold belief that "we do need a president who, I think, is intellectually curious," though not, perish the thought, a thoughtful person.
"And that is a big question," Scarborough said, "whether George W. Bush has the intellectual curiousness -- if that's a word -- to continue leading this country over the next couple of years."
No, Joe, it is not a word. The question with Joe and GW seems to be, which one is dumb and which one is dumber? And just out of curiosity... can anybody here speak this language?