Saturday, July 10, 2010

Emerson for the Day

"It is awful to look into the mind of man and see how free we are...Outside, among your fellows, among strangers, you must preserve appearances,--a hundred things you cannot do: but inside,--the terrible freedom."
painting by Kandinsky

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Emerson for the Day

"How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live!"
H.D. Thoreau
photo: Walden Pond

LeBronian Motion

2nd Update: Man, it's ugly. The NY Times, AP, Sports Illustrated and Washington Post --no doubt among others--join the negative reaction, turning LeBron from hero to villain instantly, and LeBron's ex-boss, dissed by hearing the decision on TV, unloaded on his erstwhile meal ticket, calling him a narcissistic traitor, and accused him of quitting during the playoffs. Here's a sample, from SI: "But James does not have the heart of a champion. He does not have the competitive fire of Jordan, the bull-headed determination of Kobe Bryant, the quiet self-confidence of Tim Duncan, the willful defiance of Isiah or the winning-is-everything hunger of Magic Johnson. He is an extremely gifted player who wants the easy way out."
Very ugly.

Update: It's Miami.

So tonight LeBron James is going to announce where he plays basketball next season. On a prime-time television special. About him. For an hour.

I may not be as exercised about it as this guy, but it is pretty weird. Nor have I paid that much attention to LeBron, except to note that he's a hell of a player, and his behavior in playoff games has been odd, to say the least.

But the stakes are beyond NBA basketball. James has apparently announced his ambition to become a billionaire, and if he chooses to leave his current city of employment (Cleveland), that city's economy could take a major hit.

So what will he do? Stay in Cleveland, where his team disgraced itself by quitting in their final playoff games, but where he will rake in the most salary, and be the undisputed King? Or go to Miami, where another star player (Chris Bosh) has joined the superstar Dwayne Wade, and figure to be clearly be the favorite to finally reach the NBA finals and get a ring--but where LeBron will no longer be the sole focus? Or will he go to New York, and become King of the supposed media capital of the world?

If he's serious about winning a championship and Miami can still afford him, he goes there. He is apparently less likely now to go to New York, and while there's a logic to him staying in Cleveland, I'd be surprised by that.

To suggest how really weird this is, apparently none of the teams he is considering knows whether he will choose them. He's not just announcing his choice to the world. He's announcing it to the team he will deign to play for.

For the past several decades, sports stars have made lots of money, comparable to Hollywood stars. What they do is singular, especially in the playoffs. So standards of what is obscene, especially when so many are unemployed and otherwise struggling, do change. But this is getting well into the territory of the disgusting.

So as an NBA fan, I'll want to know what he decides. But I can wait to check it online when I normally make the sports rounds. I hope whatever he decides that LeBron does make it into the finals next year, and that the Lakers kick his ass. Is that just because I'm a Lakers fan? Maybe. But I'll say this: even if he decides on the Chicago Bulls (a longshot now--it looks like either Miami or Cleveland), LeBron James is no Michael Jordan.

Consequences: Prepare Now

Catching up to President Obama's announcement on Saturday on a $2 billion federal investment in solar technologies: the significance of this is obvious economically and in the fight to save the farther future from runaway climate catastrophe.

Further, one of the technologies being financed includes ways to store sun-generated energy for use at another time--a key feature in an adapatable power generating and distribution system.

But investment in many solar and certain kinds of wind technologies have another important feature: these are decentralized, local power sources. The ability of communities and even households to be self-sustaining, especially in energy, are key to surviving the Climate Cataclysm period of the nearer future. Soon enough, the grid is going to be more expensive and less dependable. The entire nation will continue to be held hostage to oil supplying countries, or even to what other countries can do to our economy and currency. Wars over oil can continue to cripple our economy.

Anything that increases self-sufficiency, as part of the "resilience" that's become the buzzword in certain quarters, is important--like 82,000 homes to be weatherized this summer with funds from the Recovery Act.

And the homegrown answer can't be left up to coal, which is polluting in every possible way, damaging to the environment which more and more must sustain us, and leaves communities just as beholden to machinations from outside--maybe not in another nation, but in that other country of corporate rule.

So fortunately the ship of state is also turning away from coal, perhaps slowly and even quietly, but decisively. On Wednesday the Obama administration issued new rules governing coal plant pollution.

For the ever-moving target of now, jobs are a key to community and household stability. The writing is on the wall for fossil fuel related jobs. The Union of Concerned Scientists claim that wind power can generate two to three times the number of jobs as fossil fuels. I heard someone on TV assert than even now, there are more U.S. jobs in wind than in coal. Why is this a secret?

The answer for now, the near future, the far future, is all the same: clean local energy and conservation. Just think about what they both might mean for summers with more very hot days and nights, as well as winters with more snow and rain, when you really don't want blackouts and brownouts, or energy it is too expensive to use.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"The most radical, audacious thing to think is that there might be some point to working hard and thinking hard and reading hard and writing hard and trying to be of service."

Mark Vonnegut, introduction to Kurt Vonnegut's Armageddon in Retrospect. Drawing is also by Kurt Vonnegut. Note the "should have been." By 2005 Vonnegut believed: "Well, it's too late! Look, the game is over! The game is over. We've killed the planet, the life support system."

Consequences: Feeling It

The consequences of climate change begin to be acknowledged and understood, but slowly. In a human sense that's understandable--denial as well as distraction and unfamiliarity slow it down, but eventually it will sink in.

It's one thing to read about possible future consequences of, say, sea levels rising. The breadth and depth of these changes can be noted and comprehended intellectually, and by some, imaginatively. In fact, intellect and especially imagination are crucial necessities.

But when temperatures rise above 100F, as they are in cities in the US Eastern and Middle Atlantic states, the consequences of prolonged bouts of heat become viscerally evident. The external ones can be observed--machinery, wiring, urban infrastructure frying along with vegetables in the garden and crops in the field, while bodies of water begin drying up. And the internal ones can be felt as well as observed in others. The growing difficulties of thinking clearly, keeping a "cool head," and of acting with energy, in periods of high heat. The obsession with keeping cool, the exasperation becoming fear and desperation.

In a postscript to his visionary book, Down to the Wire: Confronting Climate Collapse, David W. Orr confesses the personal source of his concentration on the subject, which began in a blistering hot summer. "After the summer of 1980, climate change was important to me, not because I'd thought a great deal about it in an air-conditioned office, but because I had first felt it viscerally and somatically. My interest did not begin with any abstract intellectual process or deep thinking but rather with the felt experience of the thing, or what the thing will be like. That summer is recorded both mentally and bodily in memories of extreme heat with no respite."

There was another extremely hot summer or two at the end of the 80s, especially 1988 in the Eastern US. That experience is what drove my insistent focus on climate change and the future, as well as the more personal and selfish preference for the North Coast of California, where the heat rarely rises above 70F. Those late 80s hot summers led to some of the first public alarm reflected in books and other media, and inspired some interest in what I regard as still the best film about climate change, James Burke's After the Warming.

Surely there is some correlation between the killer heat waves that western European countries have experienced and their own focus on the Climate Crisis. As Stephan Faris's reporting in Forecast shows, people living in the most affected areas of the world so far--particularly those whose lives and livelihoods are tied to the land--experience, recognize and acknowledge the signs and the consequences of the reality that others foolishly and tragically reject.

So once again this summer, TV airheads chirp about "another hot one out there" and ways to beat the heat, as if the prospect of more and longer heat waves can be cured by more ice cream. Meanwhile, the vulnerable among us, already ignored and even targeted by shameful political callousness, will sicken and die silently from the heat, unknown, probably uncounted and unheeded. Especially the old.

My sympathies to those who must endure the heat today. Keep as cool as you can. And when your head is cooler, remember today. This is something we must all prepare for, while we try to prevent even worse for generations ahead.

A Climate Progress update on the heat wave and its relationship to the Climate Crisis.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Mankind's Greatest Invention

"Surely mankind's greatest invention is the sentence." So begins John Banville's essay on Robert C. Richardson's books on Emerson, in what has to be my favorite quote of recent years, perhaps of all time.

When you're a writer, no matter how famous or obscure, whether you're one of the handful anointed by income or crowned by royalties to bear the title of writer, or you're a wretch like me, insultingly underpaid for squeezing into dubious forms, sooner or later, what gives you the buzz and the meaning, is a sentence you see and hear that you've written.

Oh sure, some get off on paragraphs, and there's the lucky few that get to play with chapters or scenes, and whole books, plays, sagas. But even they share the secret (and often secretive) gleam of a shining sentence, appearing under their fingers.

I wrote a review of a book about a writer who made very good sentences: Jane Austen. And in it I wrote a pretty nifty sentence, at least I like it. And for once I will violate the code and call your attention to it. It is mere cleverness maybe, but it is musical and funny, with a touch of cultural wit at the center. Or maybe it's just cute, I don't care. These days I must take my pleasure where I can. And pointing out a really elegant sentence is forbidden. That's up to readers to discover, and if they don't, well, everybody loses.

So in connection with Jane Austen's journey from obscurity in life to Jane-mania in the 21st century, I wrote this: She has the fame of the single name: absent Tarzan, she is our only Jane.

Good. Now I can put the clipping away with all the other forgotten sentences, and make some more.

Where Are They?

Hey, GOPer Gulf Coast governors: where are the National Guard troops President Obama authorized you to call up to help clean up and protect the Gulf? In this emergency that you blame everybody else for not addressing, especially the federal government?

According to the Christian Science Monitor:

While most of the criticism has been heaped on federal agencies and the Obama administration, questions are being raised about the extent to which the four Gulf state governors (all Republicans) are responding too – specifically, on deployment of National Guard troops under their command.

In a recent investigative report, CBS News found that Louisiana's Gov. Jindal had deployed just 1,053 of the 6,000 troops available to him. "Alabama has deployed 432 troops of 3,000 available," according to CBS. "Even fewer have been deployed in Florida - 97 troops out of 2,500 - and Mississippi - 58 troops out of 6,000."

And, by the way, why do you keep harping on what you know won't work--like those phantom berms, that are destroying more than they are saving, and will likely dissolve in the next big storm?

Or all the hoohaw you're spewing about how the Jones Act is preventing foreign vessels from helping, when it isn't? And lots of skimmers and other vessels from elsewhere are deployed?

Maybe you're too busy helping the BP police state of the Gulf scare reporters away, or you're just serving your oil company masters. But hoping to pin failure on President Obama is no excuse for GOPer governors to be derelict in their duties. Stop the political flimflam and showboating, and get to work saving what's left of the Gulf.

Monday, July 05, 2010

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"He took out his union card from his wallet it and showed them, one by one. 'These words right here"--pointing to the slogan on the back of the card--"is what it all comes down to, you won't hear it in school, maybe the Gettysburg Address, Declaration of Independence and so forth, but if you learn nothing else, learn this by heart, what it says here--Labor produces all wealth. Wealth belongs to the producer thereof.--Straight talk. No double-talking you like the plutes do, 'cause with them what you always have is to be listening for the opposite of what they say. Freedom, there the time to watch your back in particular--start telling you how free you are, somethin's up, next thing you know the gates have slammed shut...Why you could write a foreign phrase book just on what Republicans have to say.'"
Thomas Pynchon
Against the Day

Hoedown of Shame

First they came for the undocumented, with vicious racism masked as self-preservation. Then for the homeless, including and especially homeless veterans. Then with state budget cuts targeting the old, the injured and the ill, but keeping corporate graft. Now GOPers and their well-fed leaders are coming for the working middle class, in trouble in an ugly and changing economy, or just doing the work of the people.

The now famous documentary about the plight of migrant workers was called "Harvest of Shame." But that was 1960. Now GOPers and their supporters have no shame. They have no conscience. And libertarians and their ilk have no sense of history, of what life was like for the less than rich and therefore powerless, before unions and federal and state law protected them, in the name of decency and community, as well as (it turns out) prosperity and democracy. Like all ideologues, they're willing to cause suffering for their theoretical purity, and like all right wing dupes, serve the interests of the rich and powerful. And this is the America they want to return to. This isn't just a harvest--it's a celebration of shame. If anybody remembers what the word means.

Sunday, July 04, 2010


All men--and all women--are created equal, that's pretty much how the Declaration of Independence (the July 4 we celebrate) begins. But when I google photos of Michelle Obama, I see just how racist this country remains. Such ugliness attacking this beautiful and good and profoundly patriotic woman, and you wonder about your fellow citizens. Which may also include the 26% who aren't real clear on which country the U.S. gained its independence from. Anyway, this photo and the photos below are some of Michelle that I've collected in the past few months, mostly from the White House. Today I celebrate that she is my First Lady.

P.S. And Happy Birthday, Malia!
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