Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Dreaming Up Daily Image

click on image for gorgeousness. From
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Normal Viciousness

For Bushites, (right) winger pols, media bobbleheads, bloggers, and often enough, Republicans in general, no "new low" stays new very long, before they take themselves and the political dialogue even lower.

There's the latest attacks on the children and their families who provided their stories to support what's called the S-Chip program, that helps working families pay extraordinary medical bills for their children. A couple of families made commercials explaining how the program made a major difference in their lives, and supporting its expansion to other families.

The attacks include the usual viral lies but also a call for them to be hanged. These are children severely injured in an accident, and even after extensive care, the boy speaks with a lisp and the little girl is blind in one eye. When Keith Olbermann asked New York Times columnist Paul Krugman (who'd just written about why Al Gore drives Republicans insane) if this attack didn't just leave him speechless, Krugman said it was not really exceptional, that it was "normal in its viciousness."

What happens to a democracy when viciousness becomes normal? Some say it has always been so, but I wonder if that's much consolation. I think we all wonder what happens to a society when viciousness really becomes normal. The answer would seem to be: it ceases to be a society. There is a continuum between civilization and savagery, and we are clearly moving towards savagery--faster than we realize.

But apart from the pragmatism of those like Krugman who are exposed to this political viciousness pretty much every day, this savagery can be seen to follow logically from the belief that this is a dog eat dog world, that the winners are those who destroy their competitors by any means necessary. Ironically, it is a twisted variation of Darwinism, a natural selection based on the simplistic but (to some) viscerally convincing criteria that the winners win by being clever (including deceptive) as well as by using power (including violence) without conscience.

Our "entertainment" these days is often about those situations in which survival depends on using any means necessary, especially violence. There is something reassuring about these movies and TV shows, in an elemental way--the way that children are reassured by stories in which the hero and heroine survive the wicked witch in the forest, the ghosts, the monster. It reassures us that the bad forces aren't all powerful, and in this bewilderingly complex society, we aren't powerless.

But we all know that these situations are relatively rare--that more often, in our human-dominated world, we survive through non-violent means--through responsibility and keeping our word, through negotiation, conciliation, cooperation--as well as by helping each other. That's the basis of every civilization, including (ironically again) the ones we consider primitive. It's not the kings and the armies--they change things, they destroy, but they mostly serve the rulers, not the society. For most people, it's playing fair and expecting fair play, it's empathy and altruism, and there's no getting around it. It's the Golden Rule, it's "you'd do the same for me."

And not very ironically, in fact both sadly and grandly, civilization depends ont is precisely the people the wingers are going after now: the families who are grateful that their government helped them literally save their children's lives, and provided them with help towards something like a normal life, but who haven't just taken what they were given--they want it for others, as many others as possible. And they have the courage to say so.

It's absurd to think we can't afford such a program. There are other reasons for Bushite opposition, which I'll get into later, but this isn't about the program--it's about who we are, what we value, and what kind of a society we want to live in. We might start with a civilized one. We're going to need it.

"Good Germans"

The earliest reference the Wikipedia has to the expression, "good Germans," is a New York Times report from 1945: "There's a saying among our troops, that there are no real Nazis in Germany, only 'good Germans.'" The phrase dripped with hypocrisy, and came to mean Germans who claimed not to have supported Hitler, but did nothing to oppose him.

The truth is, for a long while, that described many people in Europe and elsewhere, but the phrase stuck, and as the Wikipedia says, "The term has come to be used to refer more generically to people in any country who observe reprehensible things taking place — whether done by a government or by another powerful institution — but remain silent, neither raising objections nor taking steps to change the course of events."

Like anything to do with Hitler and the Nazis, the phrase is heavily weighted. And so when on Sunday New York Times columnist Frank Rich used it to describe contemporary Americans, it ignited a controversy that still rages across the Internet.

But it is an historical analogy that is work taking seriously, especially given the case Rich assembles. “BUSH lies” doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s time to confront the darker reality that we are lying to ourselves, he begins.

That the Bushites have been able to perpetrate a dizzying array of policies and activities that for at least the past few generations would have seen impossible, that no Americans would stand for torture, rendition, domestic spying, armed thugs, better equipped and much better paid than U.S. troops, acting beyond any laws in Iraq and then brought back to the U.S. to patrol the streets of New Orleans; the attempted hijacking of the justice system for partisan and ideological gain; the suffering being caused or tolerated in Iraq, Africa, so many places...the list just goes on and on. And a President, with the support of less than one quarter of the country, continues without effective public outcry. How in the world can this be explained?

"Good Germans" comes as close as anyone has. Maybe because people don't want to lose what comforts they have--and those closest to centers of power have quite a lot.

Rich begins at the centers of responsibility: Both Congress and the press — the powerful institutions that should have provided the checks, balances and due diligence of the administration’s case — failed to do their job. Had they done so, more Americans might have raised more objections. This perfect storm of democratic failure began at the top.

But he does not absolve the rest of us, nor should he: As the war has dragged on, it is hard to give Americans en masse a pass. We are too slow to notice, let alone protest, the calamities that have followed the original sin.

He brings the analogy closer to the source: Our humanity has been compromised by those who use Gestapo tactics in our war. The longer we stand idly by while they do so, the more we resemble those “good Germans” who professed ignorance of their own Gestapo. It’s up to us to wake up our somnambulant Congress to challenge administration policy every day. Let the war’s last supporters filibuster all night if they want to. There is nothing left to lose except whatever remains of our country’s good name.

Sometimes such a shocking analogy cuts through the fog, helps us find a moral definition. The analogy of the Good Germans is much too close for continued comfort.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Dreaming Up Daily Image

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The China Syndrome

Bringing the Dalai Lama to the White prior to officially presenting him with the Congressional Medal of Freedom was a welcome distraction for the Bushites. Photographs with one of the most respected and beloved people in the world and especially in the U.S. helps diffuse the image of the vetoer of life-saving medical care for children, and it draws attention to the 1989 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and away from this year's winner, Al Gore, whose honor is yet to be acknowledged at the White House.

But it sure pissed off the Chinese government. Like most imperialists, it goes nuts when its brutal aggression and even more brutal colonial administration is even implictly, even theoretically or possibly questioned. In this case, China's armed takeover of Tibet included the murder of thousands of Buddhists, and its war against the Dalai Lama (the traditional political as well as spiritual leader of Tibet) has forced it into absurd embarrassments, the most recent of which is outlawing reincarnation without government approval.

But the White House doesn't want to piss them off too much. "We in no way want to stir the pot and make China feel that we are poking a stick in their eye for a country that we have a lot of relationships with on a variety of issues," said press secretary Dana Perino. " No, not with China financing the Iraq war and the further mega-enrichment of Bushites and their cronies, and leaving the piper to be paid by future American generations, one way or another.

Besides, China has become a kind of model for the Bushites: it has shown that a nation can get good p.r. for coming out against tyranny and murder in Darfur and Burma while still do nothing to endanger profits gained in relationships with those countries. And above all, the greatest lesson of China today, though no one wants to say it out loud, is that capitalism without democracy works just great. Something that the Bushites have certainly taken to heart.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Dreaming Up Daily Image

An unusual cloud formation, called lenticular
clouds. Click on image to enlarge.
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It's Not Just the Heat

It's also the humidity, among other things. The planet is getting more humid as well as hotter, according to a new study. "This humidity change is an important contribution to heat stress in humans as a result of global warming," said Nathan Gillett of the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom, a co-author of the study. According to this AP story:

The finding isn't surprising to climate scientists. Physics dictates that warmer air can hold more moisture. But Gillett's study shows that the increase in humidity already is significant and can be attributed to gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.

And that's just One More Thing. This same story says that climate scientists have now seen the man-made fingerprint of global warming on 10 different aspects of Earth's environment: surface temperatures, humidity, water vapor over the oceans, barometric pressure, total precipitation, wildfires, change in species of plants in animals, water run-off, temperatures in the upper atmosphere, and heat content in the world's oceans.

The Climate Crisis will continue to offer surprises to nonscientists and scientists alike, because one big shift like this leads to consequences that result in other changes. Some, like drought, are big and obvious. Others, like excessive pressure on plants (including trees) and animals, play out over time, but when plants and animals leave an ecological niche, a cascade of effects can follow fairly quickly. And then there are more prosaic problems: for instance, U.S. retail clothing sales had a bad September, partly because it was a warm one and people weren't buying fall or winter clothes. That's likely to happen again for October, and also likely to happen more regularly in autumns to come, so there will be changes in the shopping mall.

But let's get back to the humidity. High humidity causes physical stress to humans, but as we all know it also shows up in behavior---people get short-tempered and miserable, and their judgment is often impaired. The Nobel committee officially recognized the part that the Climate Crisis can have in causing warfare over resources. But it is also likely to cause other stresses that can make warfare an impulsive choice, when cooler heads don't prevail, because there might not be any.

Right now humidity isn't rising everywhere. Australia, South Africa and the western U.S. are getting very dry. There's drought in the American southeast and now in the Great Lakes region (although that is probably caused by warmer winters and less ice melt.) But the humidity is getting higher in the eastern U.S.--you know, where New York and Washington are.