Saturday, August 07, 2010

R.I.P. Tony Judt

Historian and essayist Tony Judt died Friday as a result of ALS. Despite the progressively devastating effects of this virulent disease, he continued to write his trenchant essays, including one in the new issue of the New York Review of Books. The NYRB web site currently links to all his recent articles there. I posted excerpts from his essay on Words here. Tony Judt lived and died a hero. Never were the words more appropriate: may he rest in peace.

Friday, August 06, 2010

The Week That Was

Not a bad week for the Prez. His Supreme Court choice, Elena Kagan, was confirmed. The worst seems to be over with the BP Gulf Oil Gusher (even though there's still a lot of oil out there), and the federal response is finally getting some credit. The Senate approved a bill to get money to the states so that they don't have to fire so many teachers and police (the House is coming back Monday to add their approval.) Together with the unemployment extensions, this helps people and the economy.

Meanwhile, President Obama got on the road to Detroit and Chicago, touting the success of the aid to auto industries, which helped them hire more workers this year than any year in the past ten. (That's a Chicago speech in the bottom photo.) Back at the White House, he met with young and perhaps future leaders from across Africa, and on his birthday gave out the 2010 Citizens Medals to a number of Americans who've done great work in their communities, including the woman in the top photo, Lisa Nigro, who started out with a food cart in the streets of Chicago to help the homeless, which led to a restaurant for the homeless, that employs homeless people and partners with other organizations to provide job training and housing assistance. Something we can all be happy about.
Update: But new unemployment figures, not so much.


I don't text or tweet, but if I did, I'd be way too frequently using this acronym I've just invented: WTWT: Wasting Time With Technology.

Lately I've been wasting time playing with blog site designs. Which is at least elective--product of my own whims and obsessions. But also: trying to figure out why the DVD recorder doesn't actually record. Or why it won't play a particular set of DVDs, won't even bring up the menus. Though they play happily on other machines.

But the biggest time wasters are in the normal course of navigating the net these days. We may have escaped the commercials on TV that seem to be entirely overtaking any other content, but recently they've become more ubiquitous and insistent online. Commercials that dance, that float and follow you, that send you to other sites if you brush your cursor over them to get somewhere else, that demand you close them or you can't see what you came to the site to see, except that they keep moving the place where you can click to close it.

Wasted time, as well as broken attention and frayed nerves from sites that load slowly or freeze up because of some new video or animation capability, which is only there for the commercials. And just the ads, cluttering up the pages, ads of the type that used to appear in tabloids and cheap magazines. Now they're everywhere.

Now I have a new printer I have to figure out how to hook up. It came with a power cord and a connector to the computer that are both absurdly too short to use. I can't even turn on my laptop without getting seven messages out of the ether about updates to this or that, so I am WTWT just fending off unwanted intrusions. Just to get to the spam, and the constant attacks for various nefarious purposes by invisible intruders from outer space, or at least Taiwan, Russia or for all I know, South Dakota.


Thursday, August 05, 2010

California Nightmare (The Continuing Story)

Ahnold the Terminator is the most unpopular governor in the U.S. A recent California poll has him running behind the Dem governor he got recalled, Gray Davis.

So far however the campaign for governor has been oddly quiet--that is, Jerry Brown has. Meg Whitmaniac has been loud loud loud for most of this year, and Brown's chief tactic seems to be to let her blow herself out. She's spending $100 million--more than the GDP of 8 countries. She's recently been spending more per day than Jerry Brown has spent all year. And he's letting people know that this is a key difference...but quietly.

Not that he's silent. He did a newspaper interview in which he said that California's climate crisis laws were key elements of his economic approach to building jobs in green energy.

Meanwhile, the state is quickly coming up to another budget crisis, maybe even worse that last time. The Terminator is trying to reduce state employees to minimum wage--literally, to minimum wage--and all that is apparently stopping him is the Dem official who says that the state's cranky old computer programs can't manage the change. But some state employees are already subjected to forced furloughs--this time, three days a month without pay. And major program cuts are again on the table.

But for the first time I know about, somebody has had the guts to talk about a tax increase. Sort of. Dems are proposing a tax swap, in which most Californians will actually pay less (more in income tax, less in sales tax.) Apparently this works out to increase revenues somehow. Yet some are wondering why not do the decent thing, as well as the simplest and smartest--increase taxes on the wealthy. Things have to be really desperate for that even to be mentioned, in this political climate of toxic insanity.

Weather or Not

How hot is it, still? Weather Underground forecast map for Aug. 5 high temps.
Update: Because of continuing extreme heat in Russia that is destroying wheat crops, Russian President Medvedev said: "What is happening now in our central regions is evidence of this global climate change, for we have never in our history faced such weather conditions in the past."

"The year 2010 is now tied with 2007 as the year with the most national extreme heat records--fifteen," Jeff Masters wrote the other day in his Weather Underground column. But then..."Seventy four extreme hottest temperature records have been set in the past ten years (33% of all countries.) For comparison, 14 countries set extreme coldest temperature records over the past ten years (6% of all countries.")

The New York Times reviews two new books on the Climate Crisis: one dealing with the politics of it in Washington, the other on what people can expect in the near future because of it. No surprises on future weather to devoted readers of this site, but perhaps Heidi Cullen's writing (as well as her highly presentable self) will get a wider hearing.

Meanwhile two interesting pieces of research, even considering the likely biases of the organizations issuing them:

First, an Australian study finding that real forests soak up more CO2 than do timber plantations, and for the same reasons that these forests are generally healthier and better for the overall environment: they are more complex and full of varied life than monoculture tree farms.

Second, a North Carolina study that shows that solar power can produce electricity cheaper than nuclear power. Though government incentives are in the mix, it is chiefly attributed to a marked decline in the costs of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems seen over the past decade. At the very least this challenges the growing assumption that only more nuclear power plants can scale up enough carbon-neutral energy generation to make a difference. Personally, I believe that even wind power technologies could turn out to be transitional. If some sort of civilization makes it through the next century, its future is in a combination of large scale (perhaps space based) and very small scale solar power technologies.

Updates on solar at Climate Progress: A major California solar power project has won state approval, and " Researchers from Stanford University in the US claim to have found a new solar energy conversion process that could be twice as efficient as current methods. The process, called photon enhanced thermionic emission or PETE, improves the conversion of solar energy to electricity by harvesting the waste heat generated by the process."

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The GOPer Strategy: Increase Suffering

The political dynamic is set by this perennial difference: Republicans depend on the rich (banks, corporations, lobbyists, certain big media) and promote policies which favor the rich. But that advocacy is only half of the political purpose. They also oppose policies which favor the non-rich--because Democrats depend on the non-rich, the sheer numbers of voters, with particular emphasis on the lower middle class and aspiring middle class, which often means minorities of one kind or another.

The natural constituency of Democrats theoretically should make them the dominant party, because they have the numbers. So how do Republicans win? By manipulating non-rich voters to vote against their own interests. They do this with an arsenal of time-tested techniques and issues. They absorb certain "social" issues that don't hurt the rich, like abortion, guns, etc.--and latch onto politically potent movements, like fundamentalist Christianity and the Tea Party. They divide the non-rich by promoting racial fears, fears of external or internal enemies (Communists, socialists, Muslims.) And they use the time lags and resilience in the political and economic systems to promise something for nothing: government services without taxes.

All of this is evident in pretty extreme form in the headlines of the day. The divide-and-conquer xenophobia over illegal immigration and a Muslim mosque in Manhattan. The corporate funding and direction behind the Tea Party "movement." The opposition to climate crisis and energy legislation, to protect the interests of Big Oil. And close to the essence of it all, the GOPer opposition to measures like unemployment benefits and continuing tax cuts to the middle class, while being in favor of continuing the tax cuts to the rich that by themselves pretty much account for the federal deficit, and that even GOPers like David Stockman recognize are behind the weakening of the very fragile American economy and the health and welfare of its citizens.

The main GOPer technique is the whopper. They lie, frequently and repeatedly. They claim illegal immigration is leading to runaway crime, especially violent crime, when the statistics show this is nonsense--crime in Arizona, for example, had been going down steadily in all categories for at least five years. Nor is there increased crime in border areas.

They claim that Americans are paying more taxes, and that the administration is proposing a tax increase. But the middle class has seen federal tax cuts under Obama. And while I for one predicted this outcome--that when the Bush tax cuts for the rich expired, GOPers would characterize this as a tax increase--it remains true, one way or another, that most Americans will not see their federal taxes increase, but will see the benefits of a declining federal deficit.

By preventing Democrats in Congress from addressing immediate and long-term problems, and thus benefiting their constituencies, GOPers are engaged in a strategy of increasing the gross national suffering, as economist Paul Krugman has pointed out in relation to their position on unemployment insurance.

So far polls indicate that the GOPer strategies are working. They may be working in part for the paradoxical reason that GOPer policies have ruined the economy and government to an extent that is becoming very alarming, very scary. The slack is rapidly running out of the system. State and local governments are starting to cut back essential services. In places like California, the poor have been all but abandoned, and here as elsewhere, cutbacks are affecting schools and even police.

Key businesses are increasingly fragile. The airline industry is on a path to self-destruction. Its attempts at imposing an array of stupid fees are being replicated in hotels. These are key indicators of the weakness in the white collar middle class. America has been on a trajectory since 1980 of dividing the few who are rich from the many who are not. That division has never been greater in terms of absolute wealth, and in social terms it is approaching the Great Depression and before.

It is now seriously being suggested that the economy of the rich can prosper apart from the economy of everybody else, and that they can maintain a society separate from everyone else, as they get ever richer, and everyone else gets poorer.

The resulting realities are accumulating in daily life, evoking powerful responses like this one from Daily Kos. These too will have political ramifications, as divisions increase even as they become starker and more pronounced.

If Republicans succeed in lying their way into control of Congress, especially given the extreme policies they advocate, this basic political division will only increase, and the economic division will increase, and among the non-rich the suffering will increase to levels unseen in generations. Ordinary people, as well as state and local governments, are going to be severely weakened in terms of the resources they can apply to coming emergencies.

Style Note

Blogger has made a number of new templates available, some new features and a new text editor. I am trying new templates on some other blogs (most recently, Blue Voice), but not this one. I've always liked the clean look of this template, and I've become fond of that little lighthouse logo.

Nor I am going to be using the new text editor immediately. It has new capabilities for integrating and sizing photos which I'd like to have, but it has actually made the process of ordinary posting more bothersome, at least for me. And there are a couple of specific capabilities lost that would affect this blog, though that's probably more than you want to know already.

However, I've made one noticeable change that's recently been enabled: I've changed the type size, made it larger. This should help those who prefer (or need) larger type and haven't been using (or can't use) a feature that generally makes the type bigger.

Monday, August 02, 2010

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

“Sooner or later life becomes a matter of being, or failing to be, loyal to to the beauty one has known.”
Michael Ventura
...and Happy Birthday to Mike K