Saturday, December 09, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 08, 2006

Posted by Picasa
The Sea Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 07, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Blue Night by Paul Klee Posted by Picasa

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

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

Jim Harrison
True North
Chalk Up Another One for the Planet

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you really take it all in, the news most days tells you that the human species is not fit to live. What we've done with our power is scandalous to the extreme. We destroy the planet that sustains us. We destroy the habitat and the lives of the life that also sustains us, and the creatures that are our only known companions in the universe. And we destroy each other--we kill and maim strangers, and we kill and maim members of our own communities, and those entrusted to our care.

We look at Darfur and elsewhere in Africa, in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, and anywhere there is cruel violence and great poverty, disease and lots of guns, and the only reactions possible begin with horror and shame. But we in the U.S. don't any longer have to look that far. Apart from the normal neglect of the poor and physically and mentally ill, and besides what our firepower is doing elsewhere, we can look to our torture camps, our prisons and our own armed forces, just for starters.

Today we see what one man has endured, with hardly a peep from his community, or another man treated perhaps with less violence but with the kind of injustice that should not be tolerated in this nation. (Both of these links are to Glenn Greenwald's excellent blog, but they in turn link to the appropriate New York Times reportage.)

This violence--and there is no other name for it--extends to our own. Today's NPR report is the latest to highlight the scandal of how the U.S. military treats its own--specifically in this case, those with mental and emotional trauma caused by the warring that the military sends them to do. But the U.S. military and U.S. government shirking their responsibilities to soldiers in the most cynical ways is even more widespread than this. Substandard medical care, and the refusal to even give that; using every pretext and gimmick and trick to deny veterans their benefits; the failure to take care of soldiers' families, and on and on.

The denial of mental and emotional trauma benefits is part of the denial of mental and emotional trauma, which is part of the lie of military service: because they are afraid that if the true cost is known, they will have fewer bodies to throw into battle. Yet it has been clear for a hundred years that virtually noone who has been in battle or even in the armed services escapes some mental and emotional consequences.

And why do authorities get away with torture under any other name? How could so many people be held and subjected to torture without charge or trial for so long, without journalists clamoring for facts and the community clamoring for the truth? It's the denial that is the cold part of war fever.

War Fever--it is expressed in so many ways, actively when bloodlust takes over, passively when flagwavers get a thrill regardless of consequences, and darkly threaten anyone who isn't feverish, who asks questions. We've known about War Fever since before Shakespeare--that's part of what "let loose the dogs of war" means--and yet it comes upon a society in the 21st century as if brand new.

What must we do to deserve to live as a society, as civilization, as a species? We have to get better. To do that, we must first of all believe that we can get better. We aren't fated by human nature or selfish genes or any other propaganda that soothes our conscience while it promotes the interests of those who exploit us for their wealth and power. We must have hope, and faith in ourselves. And all of this will be harder than the reflexive excuses or reversions to violence, projection, scapegoating and denial, and all the other easy steps in the perennial spiral to self-destruction.

Then we have to do something about it. We can't throw up our hands--and apparently it's not enough to know the facts of how we behave badly. We must develop and use the skills that will help us to be better.

We can't revert to managing behaviors because some greater power will punish us. We have to go beyond other kinds of fevers that draw their power from guilt and despair of who and what we are, and that in the guise of religions inevitably lead to the exploitation by the few and war of sect against sect in the name of love and truth.

From traditions and new knowledge in the West and the East and everywhere in our world, we have skills and vocabularies that begin with self-knowledge and embrace better ways of communicating and resolving conflicts. Jung issued his great cry nearly a half century ago--that our problems begin in the human psyche, and yet we know nothing about it. And what we do know, we don't use.

This is hardly a gooey sort of prescription. Because in the course of learning about ourselves, our psyches and our nature as human beings in this world, we learn how we are manipulated and exploited to serve the selfish and cynical interests of the destroyers, and how we can prevent their efforts from succeeding.

We have a long way to go, in a very short time. Whether we as a species and a civilization are fit to live--in the Darwinian as well as the moral meaning of those words--will be decided by our interactions with the planet, with each other and within ourselves.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

African gray parrot. Posted by Picasa
City of the Future: City of Broad Waters?

What is the future of the city? A contest set up by the History Channel gave eight teams of architects in Chicago the chance to (quickly) come up with their visions. As described at World Changing, all of the entries were inspiring. Perhaps because, unlike the utopian visions of the recent past, they were both imaginative and realistic in terms of ecology and energy. And not simply in how the city preserves or enhances its own ecology while using energy efficiently--but in how the city responds economically to the challenge (and the opportunity) of future ecological and energy needs beyond its own borders.

For example, the winning entry was a plan to make Chicago, the city of broad shoulders, a prime producer and exporter of...water. Yes, cool, clear water, pure water, drinking water, because water is likely to no longer be everywhere. The Climate Crisis as well as pollution is very likely to make water the most important natural resource of the near future.

This vision (by UrbanLab) lays out an elegant plan for how Chicago can use its river and access to Lake Michigan to produce clean water and export it, and in the venture, become a greener city, with far less dependence on automobiles.

This will become an entry in a national competition, but the beauty of it is that it is site specific--it could really work for Chicago. While politicians and the media babble on, at least some engineers and architects are looking realistically at the likely needs, conditions and opportunities of the 22nd century (though the water crisis is likely to be a mid-21st century situation, if not sooner) and coming up with imaginative solutions that are of the kind that can very well characterize such future planning: win/win, non-zero sum change.

Asmussen in SF Chronicle--click to enlarge. Posted by Picasa

The Daily Babble


Got a nondescript looking envelope in the mail, almost threw it out, though the lack of any information on the outside made me curious (for as we all know, CHECK ENCLOSED on the outside only announces a scam, and I got one of those this week, too.) But when I opened this anonymous looking envelope, it did contain a check--for over a hundred dollars.

So of course I read the accompanying material to see what the scam was--like I could cash the check as soon as I bought one of their 20 thousand dollar stadium-size TVs or something. But no. This was a real check, one I had actually earned. It was for the Google ads that have appeared on this blog, and several of my other ones, for years now. It's the first money I've ever seen from blogging. And it took a long time--so long that I stopped checking the account. I couldn't understand it anyway. But I gather that it all accumulated, until it passed a hundred bucks worth, the threshold for writing the check.

The ads pay because of traffic, or click-throughs, or something like that--lots of hits involved anyway. These blogs are not particularly successful in terms of numbers--this one is just now approaching 25,000 total hits, while Soul of Star Trek inches closer to 100,000. But it took years to get even those numbers. Still, it was a nice surprise--and came in handy less than 24 hours later when my fan belt broke as I was passing an auto repair shop. So the money's gone already, and I'm not yet done with repairs apparently.

Numbers aren't everything. I get nice comments at Soul of Star Trek, even a compliment on my Gojira essay, the occasional nice comment here, and even a complaint yesterday that I wasn't writing often enough.

As for that, I've just had a run of deadlines, pretty much done now, and besides the insecurity of steady (part-time) work not resuming for a couple of months, I do hope to pay more attention to my blog garden. This one I'm once again going to try to focus, maybe starting with better links. We'll see.

And now, the news.

Here are a couple of hopeful items to explore: Americans drove less in 2005 than they did the year before, according to a study--the first year-to-year drop in 25 years. Higher gas prices, aging population, are among the factors the study cites, though the linking to higher prices is disputed elsewhere. And...another study suggests that globally, deforestation may be slowing down, and cumulatively, regeneration is on the rise--meaning that instead of dropping steadily, forests may be increasing by 10%. Here's the BBC article, and here's an evaluation from

“How does it feel to be a war criminal, Henry?” Peter Jennings asked Henry Kissinger at a media-heavy dinner party, hosted by Barbara Walters, some years ago. Undeterred by the general embarrassment, he asked him again. I wonder when Don Rumsfeld will start getting that question over his soup?

What's really happening in Iraq? Steve Gilliard has a pretty simple explanation. It has the ring of truth, which to me means that I'll keep an eye out for confirmation.