Saturday, December 23, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pema Posted by Picasa

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


Friday, December 22, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Posted by Picasa
More Darfur

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

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

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

Monday, December 18, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steelers 37 Carolina 3 Posted by Picasa