Saturday, January 19, 2008

I used to respect this man. I voted
for him twice, stood by him in the
darkest days. But I respect him
no longer. This is why--and this, this
and this , this, this...
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Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Dreaming Up Daily Image

another fellow creature from the deep sea
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To Stop It: Not Easy But Easier

People in the developed world, and specifically in America, are showing their concern for the Climate Crisis and related energy issues by trying to do something about it. (After all, the Toyota Prius hybrid outsold the Ford Explorer SUV here in 2007.) Though the eventual need will likely be nothing short of transformational, there are places to start that could have profound effects on lessening greenhouse gas pollution, and on lower energy costs at every level, including to families and individuals.

In Tuesday's Democratic debate, Barack Obama brought up energy conservation as such a strategy. He mentioned replacing light bulbs with more efficient florescents, and various design changes to increase efficiency and use renewable energy. He referred to these as the "low hanging fruit"--that is, the easiest alternatives to harvest.

I have to admit that although I am transitioning to florescent light bulbs, I didn't quite realize the magnitude of what such a switch can mean. Here is what Lester Brown of the WorldWatch Institute writes about it (as excerpted in Sentient Times ), with my emphases:

Perhaps the quickest, easiest, and most profitable way to reduce electricity use worldwide—thus cutting carbon emissions—is simply to change light bulbs. Replacing the inefficient incandescent light bulbs that are still widely used today with new compact fluorescents (CFLs) can reduce electricity use by three fourths. The energy saved by replacing a 100-watt incandescent bulb with an equivalent CFL over its lifetime is sufficient to drive a Toyota Prius hybrid car from New York to San Francisco. ..

Shifting to CFLs in homes, to the most advanced linear fluorescents in office buildings, commercial outlets, and factories, and to LEDs in traffic lights would cut the world share of electricity used for lighting from 19 percent to 7 percent.

Here in California, CFLs are practically free, as the result of a state program. So except for lamps and fixtures that don't accept the current designs, there's no excuse not to switch--even given the disposal problems. By the time a new CFL gives out, they may have improved design to deal with that.

My latest conservation efforts have been in turning off as many appliances that are always on (in standby mode, like computers, TVs etc.) as practical, by plugging them into power strips, and switching off the power when not in use. We saw results in the electric bill immediately.

On a slightly larger scale, there are changes in home and workplace design, and eventually in community design as talked about in Lester Brown's article, and advocated by many, including writers Kim Stanley Robinson and James Howard Kuntsler. But again, the cumulative effect of gradually going green when repairs and replacements are necessary, and maybe making one major change every so often (like solar panels) when that's practical, can add up.

Then there are the decisions by communities that inevitably become political ones, that can have major consequences. To its advocacy for green design, a group called Architecture 2030 is calling for a complete end to building new coal-fired electrical plants. John Edwards advocated the same at the Tuesday debate.

This site has often emphasized the bad news and the likely outcomes if we don't change, as a way to emphasize the urgency of changing. (And more of that is coming, unfortunately.) But while the necessary changes are ultimately major, they can start with what's easy, and then what's maybe not easy but easier than ultimate change, which can come step by step. In fact, the people who deal with figuring out the details of solutions are much more hopeful that the necessary changes are doable than those who deny the causes of the Climate Crisis and then add that it's too difficult to deal with anyway.

Unfortunately a lot of these science and design types are not great communicators to the many of us who are not. (Lester Brown is one of the exceptions, so I refer you back to that article.) And while all the video and poster contests are probably helpful in getting young people involved, they need to do a little more towards informing and inspiring the adults who can actually do something now.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Dreaming Up Daily Image

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Stop the Silliness: Campaign Notes

Update, Tuesday night: After the Democratic debate in Nevada and the Republican primary in Michigan with the third winner in three contests, it feels great to be a Democrat. Trapper John liveblogging the debate at Kos said it best: "We've got three potential presidents up there -- they've got Lord of the Flies."

The three Democratic candidates came together to make the Democratic party stronger going into the decisive part of the primary campaigns and especially into the general election against the Republicans. This will help whoever the nominee will be, and also it will help elect a more Democratic and progressive Congress, which each will need to govern effectively.

Individually, I thought each had moments that helped them and hurt them, but on balance they all helped themselves. I feel better, although I don't think I'll soon forget how the Clintons behaved when they felt they were losing, in contrast to how Obama has behaved since his loss in New Hampshire. (There's more at American Dash.) END OF UPDATE.

On Monday Barack Obama held a press conference, at which he said:I don’t want the campaign at this stage to degenerate into so much tit-for-tat, back-and-forth, that we lose sight of why all of us are doing this,” Mr. Obama told reporters at a news conference here. “We’ve got too much at stake at this time in our history to be engaging in this kind of silliness. I expect that other campaigns feel the same way.”

“If I hear my own supporters engaging in talk that I think is ungenerous or misleading or in some way is unfair, I will speak out forcefully against it,” he said. “I hope the other campaigns take the same approach.”

“I think that I may disagree with Senator Clinton or Senator Edwards on how to get there, but we share the same goals. We’re all Democrats,” Mr. Obama said. “We all believe in civil rights. We all believe in equal rights. We all believe that regardless of race or gender that people should have equal opportunities.”

"I think that Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton have historically and consistently been on the right side of civil rights issues. I think they care about the African-American community and that they care about all Americans and they want to see equal rights and justice in this country.”

This was the first bit of sanity in several intense days in which identity politics reared its ugly head with charges and countercharges of racism and sexism whizzing back and forth. Though many of the charges were made, on and off the record, by staff and "surrogates" (an inaccurate use of the word, but that's the one everyone uses), Hillary and Bill Clinton did a lot of this to themselves by their clumsy statements, and their refusal to admit the statements were clumsy (though they wound up backtracking.) While I can see the points they were trying to make, and I understand that they were tired and perhaps desperate when they made some of these statements, they still reveal to me a small-mindedness and willingness to distort for political advantage that simply sickens me.

It seems a classic case of having suffered the vicious distortions of the right wing conspiracy, they've taken up the weapons of their erstwhile enemies. The irony of the week was that in the crossfire of statements by Democrats that might or might not have been conscious racial codewords, few noticed Karl Rove's overt use of racial codewords in his column. He must be pleased as punch.

The Clintons continue to distort Obama's record on the Iraq war, to the extent that his fellow Illinois Senator Durbin called it swift-boating. Obama himself didn't go that far, but he did say: "I have to say that she started this campaign saying that she wanted to make history and lately she has been spending a lot of time rewriting it. I know that in Washington it is acceptable to say or do anything it takes to get elected but I really don’t think that is the kind of politics that is good for our party and I don’t think it is good for our country and I think that the American people will reject it in this election."

The Offensive

This amidst a week of controversy over remarks that offend African Americans, including by a "feminist" defending Hillary. Controvery over remarks about Hillary that offend women, including remarks by other women. Hillary and her people were lambasted for being divisive, and defended as victims of a sensation-hungry media. Her staff and supporters are accused of engaging in racial politics. Then Hillary accused "the Obama campaign" of keeping alive the controversy over her remarks about Martin Luther King and LBJ. Yet it is her own words that haunt her.

One of her defenders specifically noted that the New York Times and other media are lifting her remark out of context. That does happen to be a nasty habit of our arrogant, theme-driven, cliche-making media. But here is the full quote as he produces it:

"I would point to the fact that that Dr. King's dream began to be realized when President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when he was able to get through Congress something that President Kennedy was hopeful to do, the President before had not even tried, but it took a president to get it done. That dream became a reality, the power of that dream became a real in people's lives because we had a president who said we are going to do it, and actually got it accomplished."

So this is supposed to make it better. Actually, I grasped the point she was trying to make the first time--it may take a village but in the end it takes a President, and in a narrow framework, I agree. That's why we need a President who will lead on the Climate Crisis in particular, but also many other issues.

It's a metaphor for a legitimate if insulting point, which is-- Obama (King): poet, dreamer, who can't get things done. Hillary (LBJ): no poetry but ready to execute. There's no real evidence this is so, but it does state an assertion of why she should get the nomination.

People are upset because she disses Dr. King, who did a lot more than make speeches, when and where even making speeches was pretty courageous and important. They are upset by the implication that black people are dreamers who aren't competent executives, and that black people always need white people to do the heavy lifting. I don't think they're impressed by the quite believable statement that this isn't what Hillary intended to say. They suspect unconscious racism.

But what did she intend to say? She was specifically countering the power of Obama's message of "hope." Hope isn't enough, she was saying, and she talked about failed hopes. And in this context, the statement actually gets worse.

Leave aside Dr. King for a moment--look at this part of the statement:
" when he [LBJ] was able to get through Congress something that President Kennedy was hopeful to do..."

That's when she utters the codeword hope. The implication is that here we have another dreamer, President Kennedy, able to inspire a generation and he makes eloquent speeches, but --let's straighten out her grammar for her--he only hoped to pass Civil Rights legislation, but apparently he failed. It took experienced pro LBJ to do it.

Well, it's true that JFK proposed the legislation that became the Civil Rights Act. But I wouldn't exactly call it a failure of leadership. It was more along the lines of somebody killed him.

So for my money, her expanded quote not only insults Martin Luther King, Jr., it insults John F. Kennedy.

And once again I remind her and you that the one experience in raising hopes that Hillary is known for was to bring universal health care to the U.S. in 1993 when it was a very popular idea. She was the point person on getting it done, and she failed. I don't think it was all her fault, but the fact is, the Clintons raised hopes, and those remain failed hopes, and people like me are affected by that failure. Kind of ironic, huh?

Are you experienced?

When you get to the nub of many of these charges and distortions the Clintons had engaged in since just before the New Hampshire vote, the intent on the face of it seems to be to support Hillary's claim of being experienced, while Obama is not.

It seems reasonable to talk about one's specific experience and how it contrasts or compares with the experience(s) of someone else also seeking the presidency. But Hillary's argument that she is qualified because she is Experienced and Obama is Inexperienced raises the basic question: what is she talking about? What experience?

Hillary was never elected to anything until the year 2000. Before that, she had accomplishments on various issues, as did Barack Obama. Obama was elected to the state legislature in 1997. Hillary has roughly four more years than he does in the U.S. Senate, while he has roughly three more years as an elected public servant. They both have specific accomplishments as Senators.

Yet Hillary is Experienced and Obama is not-- stated most offensively by Gloria Steinem who insisted that a woman with as little experience as Obama would never be considered for President. Only a man. Which apparently means that this society hates the idea of a woman President so much that it would even rather have an unqualified black man. How offensive is that? Steinem is having a very ugly 70s flashback.

But Steinem glosses over the uncomfortable fact that most of Hillary's "experience" is of being what she was so caustic about in the past: a wife. Hillary was the wife of the President of the United States, after being the wife of a Governor. She can claim all she wants to claim about what she did there, but on the face of it, this is the qualification for President of Laura Bush.

Hillary may be able to tell us what's specifically relevant about the direct experiences of a First Lady and the indirect experiences of observing what people with responsibilities as elected or appointed officials did. But as a general claim of experience, it just doesn't work for me. What probably qualifies Hillary even more these days in the minds of many--and Steinem must really be galled by this--is that electing Hillary is also electing someone with actual experience of the responsibility of the office, her husband. He seems to be running just as much as she is.

I don't argue with Hillary's qualifications to be President, especially compared to the guy in there now. I certainly don't argue against it on the basis of gender, and women--especially women running for office-- have specific "damned if they do/damned if they don't" problems due to stupid gender stereotypes. Though how the Clinton campaign plays the gender card is a fascinating and not altogether praiseworthy story. Right here I simply maintain that the "I'm experienced and he isn't" argument is false and insulting. And incidentally, would be ripped to shreds in the general election.

I agree with what Obama said in his peacemaking statement. But the last couple of weeks has reduced my respect for the Clintons markedly. I'll vote for her if she is nominated because we only get to hire one of two people for the job in November (although if Al Gore were to run at the head of a third party ticket, I would probably vote for him.)

On the other hand, as long as we're doing identity politics, maybe I should vote for Giuliani. It's true there's never been a woman or an African American elected President. There also has never been an Italian American elected President. You know, fuggedabadit.

It saddens me to say that I believe--more now than even two weeks ago--that I don't see anything really changing if the Clintons are returned, except perhaps somewhat reducing the damage Bush has done, but that's not enough to save the future. At this point I would vote for Hillary but without hope.

I'll vote my hopes for the possibility of what John Kerry calls a "transformative presidency" when I vote for Obama in the California primary.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Dreaming Up Daily Image

Posted by Picasaan unidentified floating creature in the unknown
world of the deep (very deep) blue seas.

The Species That Doesn't Know So Much

Here's another argument for human humility, as well as a stab in the arrogance of those who say there's nothing left on earth to explore. There is. In fact, there is, oh, nine-tenths of the planet.

From a review of two new books (The Deep by Claire Novian, and The Silent Deep by Tony Koslow, both from U. of Chicago Press) about discoveries in the deep (really deep) blue sea, I learned the following:

"Only the uppermost part of the oceans—the top two hundred meters—bears any resemblance to the sunlit waters we are familiar with, yet below that zone lies the largest habitat on Earth. Ninety percent of all the ocean's water lies below two hundred meters, and its volume is eleven times greater than that of all of the land above the sea."

How deep is it? The Marianas Trench off the Phillipines goes down 11,000 meters. Just what does that mean? "Ships plying the waters over the trench glide as far above Earth's surface as do jet aircraft crossing the face of America."

Scientists know that "the most common backboned creature on our planet is a fish known as the benttooth bristlemouth, and it is only found in the deep sea." But we don't know a lot more--because less than one percent of the ocean deep has been mapped. By our standards, there are very strange creatures down there--some of them, in the deeper of the deep, are wispy, transparent animals barely different from the water around them, whose metabolisms are incredibly slow.

But there are also large animals about which we know next to nothing. And by large, they mean: very large. In this elegantly written review, Tim Flannery notes: "It says much of our ignorance that the very largest denizens of the deep have never been captured or seen alive." Scientists now believe that the fabled giant squid is a shrimp next to "the colossal squid...recognized as the largest of all invertebrates." They've figured this out mostly by examining the stomach of whales, that feed on them. "...for the great majority of squid families, the very smallest squid eaten by the whales exceeds in size the largest examples ever caught by a scientist."

The deepest of the deep is so far from sunlight that literally no light penetrates it. Yet the deep is not completely dark: bioluminicent creatures, who supply their own light, are far more common there than on land.

We know so little about the deep, and we aren't learning much more now, because there was only one vehicle capable of reaching the deepest ocean, and this robotic craft was lost at sea in 2003. There is no other.

But our persisting ignorance doesn't prevent us from destroying what we know not of. Our deadly chemicals are drifting down, and massive radioactive waste has been dumped into the depths (the Russians deep-sixed seventeen complete nuclear reactors into the Arctic Ocean.) Massive quantities of chemical weapons have been dumped, and lie on the sea bottoms.

Industrial waste has deformed and destroyed undersea life, and as our pollutants literally rain down into the oceans. The Climate Crisis will have its effects as well, particularly on the sea life known as coral. Vast coral forests, each of which can "support an abundance of life that rivals a tropical rainforest," have already been severely damaged and destroyed by fishing fleets--some of these forests were more than two thousand years old--scooping up the fish known as orange roughy, a deep sea perch, which otherwise has an estimated life span about twice that of humans.

Flannery concludes:

"The ocean depths are not some hellish and distant zone, but are an element of our living planet which is connected in very intimate and immediate ways to ourselves. They are also our last frontier, where wonders innumerable await the next generation of brave bathynauts who choose to journey there. Let us hope that we do not destroy this amazing place before they get their chance. "

Mice Studies Prove Humans Are Dumb

Nothing says more about the state of humanity than our attitudes towards animals and our treatment of them. We in our modern scientific civilization have depended on a view of animals as machines, or as dead meat even when alive.

As machines we use them for our experiments. But they aren't machines, which not only calls into question our ethics but our science. An article in the New Scientist last summer (not online) by two American scientists describes how willful blindness has compromised experimental results, with consequences for human health as well as morality.

Because rodents are treated as machines, and machines don't care where they are as long as they are maintained, mice are kept in bare cages while their bodies deal with our drugs and their genes are taken away or new ones introduced. But those cages aren't neutral. They cause stress that manifests in fairly obvious but ignored ways. These manifestations are either considered "natural" or otherwise discounted. They include aggression in males, so "males in particular will spend much of their time fighting if kept in these conditions. However, if they are given a couple of simple diversions...the fighting disappears."

Physiology is affected as well as behavior, which compromises results by adding "uncontrolled variables," not to mention suffering. "Moreover, we now know that mice display stress experienced by one animal can affect others, too."

Noise is "a major source of stress for lab animals," which again causes physical effects and comromises results. The authors point to a study on genetic mutations that initially concluded that mice missing a particular gene developed a heart defect. Yet when the experiment was conducted again on mice living in better conditions, "those defects virtually disappeared."

This study shows "that lab animals' environmental conditions can completely change the results of a genetic study" ("one of the most clear-cut types of animal studies") But, the authors conclude, "This too seems to have fallen on deaf ears since it was published in February [2007]." This article in New Scientist was published in the June 2 issue, and apparently roundly ignored as well.

So lab mice are showing that environmental factors affect health, and that humans are blind and deaf to the power of environment, the interplay between psychology and physical health and behavior, and the biological realities of nonhuman animals. Makes you wonder who is experimenting on who.