Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012 Tributes

I'm about done with my annual tradition of paying tribute to some of those who died in the past year--the authors, theatre people, science fiction figures, baby boomer icons.  This is more than a journalistic exercise for me.  First there's the respect for their work. And tribute to pay to those who've meant something to me.

There are ironies.  I didn't know any of these people.  On the other hand, the degree of separation seldom goes beyond two.  I briefly met Neil Armstrong, George McGovern, Nora Ephron (I was introduced to her in the Esquire magazine office) and Robert Hughes.  I had long funny interviews with Mark O'Donnell and all of Firesign Theatre, including Peter Bergman. I heard Doc Watson play live. And most of the others--the ones who mean something to me--I've probably met someone who knew them. 

At Books in Heat, I mention books of particular significance in my life, like Robert Hughes' Shock of the New and Paul Fussell's Class (oddly these two men came to look like each other.)  Books have often made a stronger impression--a stronger change--than a lot of people.  The same can go for performances--music, movies, etc.  For instance, I haven't read much Gore Vidal, but hearing him talk on TV--especially in the 60s--was not only informative but heartening.  Even when he went far afield he did it with intelligence and articulation.  It suggested possibilities, and hope.

 There are a few special names I haven't written about here before, with some personal meaning.

I had what I knew would be my last opportunity to hear Ravi Shankar in person when he played one of his last concerts, right here at Humboldt State.  But I didn't go.  A combination of money and time.  It's a big regret, right up there with failing to get myself into Pittsburgh to see a LA Lakers exhibition game, with Magic Johnson and Kareem.  But I've been listening to his music since George Harrison revealed him.  He stood for principles and disciplines, but had flexibility, kind of like the Dalai Lama.

I was in high school when Dave Brubeck's Time Out caused a sensation.  It was the first--and really the only--jazz album I listened to repeatedly, and even studied (I had a musician friend who talked about the time signatures.)  I listened to more, particularly an earlier album called Jazz Red Hot and Cool, but also work after that.  I related to how Brubeck played the piano.  If Bach had played jazz (well, he did, but you know what I mean) he would play it like Brubeck.  But partly because he got popular, it became unfashionable to like Brubeck.  He wasn't cutting edge enough.

I'm ashamed I gave into that at times.  Think however of what it might have been like to be Brubeck, to hear the disdain as well as praise.  And to just keep on making your music.

The more I learned about Brubeck, the more admirable he became.  Here's a really interesting piece about him.  He kept playing almost to the end, and it always sounded new.  A great model for getting old.  At least I heard him play live once.

I don't know what to say about Whitney Houston.  There was something special about her--her voice certainly--but more.  She's a haunting figure.

Dorothea Tanning died this year at the age of 101.  I first became aware of her name when I saw a photo of surrealists in Paris in the 20s or 30s, which noted that she was the only woman and only American in that group, and that she was born in Galesburg, Illinois.  That's where I went to college, and it turns out she went to Knox College, too. 

I got a book of her paintings and read her autobiography.  She became a poet and novelist in the latter years of her long and eventful life.  A woman who went from Galesburg to Paris to the American Southwest and New York City, all that created lines of attention and sympathetic vibration.  Her powerful imagination, her bravery, her persistence.  And her memories.

But I could write similar things about my responses and recollections concerning Ray Bradbury or Barry Commoner's The Closing Circle, Levon Helm's voice, Victor Spinetti's comic acting, Mary Tamm as a Time Lord, Forbidden Planet and Earth v. the Flying Saucers, Davy Jones and the Monkees--all brought back to mind by the event of a death, to recall their contribution to the texture of my life.  Much of it is still alive to me.  I suppose memories are that way, but those who leave behind their performances on film or recording, their words in books and on stages, live in the new experiences and possibilities. 

So of course in thinking of them I am thinking of myself.  They are part of the library of me--a library that will one day burn down.  I leave just these traces. 

And so I say again as I've said before and on each of those other posts: may they rest in peace, and their work live on.

Friday, December 28, 2012

I've just returned from a Christmas visit with Margaret's daughter Amanda, her husband and their son (and therefore Margaret's grandson) Beckett, who turns two years old today. 

So what's new in toys for two year olds?  It seems to be magnets--pretty powerful and adaptable magnets on all kinds of toys, puzzles and games.

There is another trend, as reflected in that book (which Beckett received) and its title, at least in tech-centric Menlo Park.  Beckett gets a single session per day (15 to 20 minutes) on the ipad. His ipad time is after dinner, and sometimes he watches episodes of Mister Rodgers.   But mostly he plays games and puzzles.  The one I saw that I remember is a virtual broom that can sweep up virtual dirt.  But another requires matching icons, which he does at such a speed that I couldn't figure out what the object of it was.  He obviously was getting it right, though.

Apparently disengaging from the ipad is such a widespread problem for children that this book was written.  Treated as a parody it nevertheless does ritualize the transition from ipad to dreamtime.  And that's the two year old news for today.  Happy birthday, Beckett!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Last News Before Christmas

On Friday, Lawrence O'Donnell in 18 minutes eviscerates the NRA press conference and the NRA as the lobby for mass murderers, and its CEO as the most responsible for the shooter's ability to kill 20 first graders in minutes.  (I was going to embed that video but I can't deal with having that NRA Moloch's face on my blog. Instead I'm substituting a photo of President Obama and staff observing the moment of silence at 9:30 a.m. in honor of the victims of the school murders exactly a week before.)  
Also Friday, Rep. Mike Thompson, who is heading up the House Democrats efforts on gun control measures, affirmed that an assault weapons ban should include the type of weapon used in the Connecticut shooting, which by some interpretations would have slipped through the old assault weapon ban.  I'm proud and happy to say that Mike Thompson is currently my Congressional representative, although redistricting has redrawn the boundaries so he won't be after January.  He'll still be in Congress, as will the Democrat we in the new District 5 elected in November.  Thanks for everything, Congressman Thompson.
Also on Friday, President Obama talked to Speaker Banal and Senate ML Reid about crafting a simple bill (already dubbed Plan C) to ensure taxes won't be raised on the non-rich and unemployment benefits will be extended, all before the 1st.   He said: "So, as we leave town for a few days to be with our families for the holidays, I hope it gives everybody some perspective. Everybody can cool off; everybody can drink some eggnog, have some Christmas cookies, sing some Christmas carols, enjoy the company of loved ones. And then I'd ask every member of Congress while they’re back home to think about that. Think about the obligations we have to the people who sent us here. Think about the hardship that so many Americans will endure if Congress does nothing at all."
President Obama also announced that he was appointing Senator John Kerry to be Secretary of State.  A story I saw somewhere last week suggested that the climate crisis is likely to get more attention from a Kerry-run State Department.  That must be true, because the professional deniers are already slamming the appointment.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Wrong Doomsday????

Despite all the weird flourishes and theories, the Mayan calendar prediction of doomsday is an unusually short apocalyptic tale: one day (Dec. 21 or 23) the world ends. End of story. It’s not very satisfying.

We usually prefer our doomsday stories to be longer and more elaborate, with a hint of redemption and a happy ending. The oldest stories involved gods and human sins, with doom coming from nature, especially the sky (the Flood.) That changed in the early 20th century to humanity and its technologies as the predominant cause (according to W. Warren Wagar’s survey for his 1982 book Terminal Visions.)

In modern doomsday stories there’s usually a specific cause. It might be a violent end to civilization (thermonuclear war, pandemic) or the most subtle doomsday of dystopia: a Nineteen Eighty-Four, The Hunger Games, Brave New World-- the living death of an inhuman society.

These doomsdays, set in the future with a causal chain of events to get there, are often cautionary tales. The implication is that it’s in the power of the present to avoid them.

For example, the first modern doomsday story and cautionary tale was H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, which took the growing distance between rich and poor in industrial England to the logical conclusion of a split into two human species, the effete Eloi and the marauding Morlocks. The future divided between rich and poor in The Hunger Games series seems a point between Wells’ 1890s and the far future of The Time Machine, as well as a little beyond our present.

These days there are also post-apocalyptic tales (from Mad Max to The Road, and arguably the fashionable zombie and vampire stories) that seem to articulate a feeling that avoidable apocalypse just isn’t going to be avoided.

Why not? Oddly common to Christian and other religious doctrines and their apparent arch-enemies, scientific evolutionists (from Social Darwinists to “selfish gene” adherents) is the basic take on human nature as predominantly selfish and sinful. Receptivity to scientists emphasizing the role of cooperation, empathy and altruism in animal and human behavior is only now becoming widespread.

So why are doomsday tales so popular? Here’s my theory. Animal intelligence is focused most basically on finding stuff to eat, while avoiding being eaten. More broadly, that translates as probing the environment for two categories of information: opportunities and dangers. Both of these get our attention, but dangers get very quick, intense and visceral attention, for obvious reasons—like a growling tiger. Doomsday is a very dramatic danger (particularly in IMAX 3D with special effects.)

Because a definite doomsday on a particular date is a clear-and-present danger, it’s the kind we respond to best. We don’t handle indefinite doomsdays as well. Much of humanity lived for decades with doomsday from thermonuclear holocaust as an everyday possibility. We still live with other indefinite doomsdays hanging over our heads, but the constant possibility plus its unpredictability leads to what Robert Jay Lifton called “numbing.” We can’t keep feeling it and stay sane.

A definite doomsday is a dramatic release. It permits feelings and expressions of dread, fright and regret, and focuses whatever ideas, faith or hope one has about a next world.

Why the Mayan calendar, though? Perhaps the doomsday we fear is no longer purely technological. We’ve returned to fearing doom from the skies (asteroids, aliens etc.) and from nature and the gods.

The most likely apocalypse is still that causal combination of technology and nature that is the climate crisis. Denial has been a remarkably strong response to its reality. But focusing on the Mayan doomsday exemplifies another psychological dodge called displacement. The numbed and repressed feelings in response to the future that is rapidly becoming the present can be released in what for most people is this slightly thrilling but mostly comic pretext. It’s a few days of social media buzz over a dubious interpretation of an ancient calendar’s non-prediction that conveniently displaces the indefinite doomsday of the climate crisis.

The climate crisis has been a test of the aggregate human intelligence of civilization: can we respond to a grave danger in the future that we can anticipate but isn’t actually growling at us? We’re not passing that test so far. Maybe any imaginary doomsday can eventually help focus our attention.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Cliffnotes: Is This the End of the World?

In Washington terms at least, Speaker of the House John Banal's failure to get enough GOPer votes to pass his pandering Plan B, with its cuts to Meals on Wheels and other GOPer goodies, was spectacular.

Now the House has gone home for Christmas, and may not be back this year.  It seems that short of a last ditch final deal effort on Dec. 31, which Banal may very well not have the power to guarantee, it's over the fiscal cliff for the USA.

TPM seems right on this--it shows that Banal never had the votes to support any deal he was negotiating, and unless he is willing to take something to the House floor that can pass only with mostly Dems and a few GOPers, he can't even be considered a viable partner to negotiate with. 

Here's Andrew Sullivan:

"But the GOP appears incapable of acting for the public good. They cannot operate responsibly within the constitutional framework of this country. Their absolutism even in the face of stinging electoral defeat and hefty public opposition is a function of their existing in a hermetically-sealed ideological universe where the only thing they care about is not being primaried by someone even further to their right. That's right: the only thing. Not the country; not the debt; not the global economy; not the voters; not the American economy. They are vandals, not representatives, a rogue threat not just to this country but to the wider economic system in the world."

"We have a constitutional crisis: an opposition party so ideological and so bent on its own power at the expense of everything else, that the system cannot work. Only public opinion has a chance of swaying them. But when you're as fanatical as these zealots, public opinion is about as relevant as the thought that they should actually exercize basic responsibility."

Sounds like doomsday to me.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Moral Moment

As the funerals for the very young victims of the Connecticut shooting proceed, two each day so far, the story continues to dominate the news and the national conversation.

There is growing support for once again banning assault rifles, for making high capacity ammunition illegal and for expanding background checks to gun shows and the Internet--all of which the White House announced that President Obama supports.

There is also a great deal of skepticism that any of this will get through the U.S. Congress.  Others say this is the moment of opportunity and it won't last long.

  But one thing may be happening: Americans are waking up to the fact that things have gone very far wrong, while they mostly weren't paying attention.  Sales of assault weapons and 30-round clips have soared, guns (including these) are allowed in more places than they were in the Old West, much of this driven by greed--for the money to be made by the sale of more expensive and lethal weaponry.

The gun lobby has no boundaries, even successfully censoring information gathered by the federal government on gun violence--the public is kept in the dark by congressional fiat.  The gun lobby has also successfully restricted federal research into gun violence, and presumably non-federal as well.  It won't do for citizens to see who pays the price for these weapons, or that the assault weapon ban and other bans in the past have actually worked to reduce the number of these weapons and the violence associated with them.

It's difficult to know how surprising all this is for much of the public, since a meaningful dialogue on gun violence has been missing in America for a generation, while guns have become easier to fire, faster in firing more bullets, and generally more lethal.

 The tag I use for posts like this is "land of guns," which comes from a line of a poem written after Bobby Kennedy was gunned down in 1968, while his wife was pregnant.  I think the poem was mine but frankly I don't remember.  There was some gun legislation after that, not enough, as LBJ said, principally because of the power even then of the NRA.  The blizzard of assassinations joined the violence of Vietnam and police tactics against demonstrators etc. led to an impassioned discussion on a whole range of matters that was described as the culture of violence.  Maybe it was too impassioned, but the total lack of it hasn't resulted in more rational laws and boundaries.

Today gun culture is ingrained further in popular culture.  We all see this.  Guns are linked to manhood in gun ads, without irony.  There is hardly a hero in an American movie or TV show who isn't blasting away with a gun.   The big cultural advance is that sexy women are shown blowing people away with the same aplomb. 

What we do not all see is how much this translates into reality, into an actual gun culture that worships and fetishizes firearms. For all their actual or pretend technical knowledge, that doesn't make the people involved in gun culture any more realistic.  Like everyone else in America, they see their heroes dodge bullets and only protect the good people and blow away the bad.  Like too many scenes in too many movies and TV shows that depict heroes walking away from explosions that in real life would have splintered them, they believe in the immortality--and maybe even morality--of the hand with the gun.

The slaughter of children is unspeakable, impossible to dwell on for long, for anyone.  But for some active or passive captives of the gun culture who never even imagined the possibility, it is a sudden awakening from a deep delusional dream. 

Of course there are many immune to even this.  They are out there right now buying up the same assault rifle with the same clips before they're banned.  There are the officious idiots calling for the arming of teachers.  But at least for the moment their voices are not the ones speaking most clearly. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Cliffnotes: No Deal or Bad Deal

Nobody seems to know what John Banal is doing with his Plan B, but the deal that some (but not all) are saying is close includes a provision to cut Social Security benefits.  Well, thanks a lot.  It's supposed to be the "least painful" option.  Least painful to who?  Not to me.  I don't think this is what I voted for.  Why is hitting the most vulnerable the "least painful" option?  Why is this limited damage?  It is, as Krugman says, cruel and stupid.  And as he points out, it's not justified except politically.  Not the change I believe in.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Into Each Moment

Without disputing the immense tragedy of the deaths of children, in Connecticut or anywhere--for infants and children die unspeakably every day, often of easily preventable diseases-- there is also the solace of the life they had.  I thought especially of these words by playwright Tom Stoppard.

In Stoppard's play Shipwrecked, the middle play of his Coast of Utopia trilogy, Alexander Herzen has just suffered the sudden death of his young son.  Michael Bakunin attempts to comfort his by saying, "Little Kolya, his life cut so short! Who is this Moloch...?"  Herzen replies:

 "No, no, not at all! His life was what it was. Because children grow up, we think a child’s purpose is to grow up. But a child’s purpose is to be a child. Nature doesn’t disdain what lives only for a day. It pours the whole of itself into the each moment. We don’t value the lily less for not being made of flint and built to last. Life’s bounty is in its flow, later is too late. Where is the song when it’s been sung? The dance when it’s been danced?...   Was the child happy while he lived? That is a proper question, the only question." 

We Will Have To Change

At the memorial service in Newtown, President Obama gave voice to the weight the nation feels because of this tragedy.  He also expressed the anger and the resolve many are feeling, that action must be taken to prevent whatever future violence of this kind it is possible to prevent. "Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?" the President asked, and answered, "I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change."

 He brought both sentiments together in the simple act of reciting the first names of the 20 children who were killed.  Children's names often have a fashion according to the years in which they were born, so millions of Americans know children with these names--perhaps 6 or 7 years old, as these children were--or a little older, a little younger.  My own grand-niece Oliva.  My friend's new grandson Benjamin.

Additionally we may know people very much like the heroic teachers and administrators at the school who without hesitation put the lives of the children first, and some of these adults were also killed.  One of the heroic victims looks much like one of my nieces, who teaches children of just that age at a small school in a small town.  As President Obama said, this was something that could have happened anywhere.

We are only beginning to learn as a nation the extent to which guns and gun culture have overtaken sanity, in Newtown as well as elsewhere. We are perhaps wakening to what we have let get out of control.  But we must do what we can.

Charlotte. Daniel. Olivia. Josephine. Ana. Dylan. Madeleine. Catherine. Chase. Jesse. James. Grace. Emilie. Jack. Noah. Caroline. Jessica. Benjamin. Avielle. Allison.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Sane Comment

This comment posted on Andrew Sullivan's blog:

Guns don't kill people - people do. By the same token, planes don't kill people - people flying them into buildings do. And yet, I recall that we immediately and decisively worked to keep deranged people from gaining possession of planes when a handful of those people used them as tools of mass murder; indeed, we made it much more difficult for the overwhelming majority of peaceful, law-abiding citizens to board a plane.

The Story's Story

This is not about the horrific events at the Newtown school, where 20 first graders as well as 6 teachers and administrators were shot to death with a semi-automatic military assault rifle with bullets designed for maximum injury and death.  It is about how the story of it was told.

I leave it to others who followed the news concerning the Connecticut school shooting via social media, Twitter, etc. to describe the ebb and flow of that information. (Apparently the name of the shooter went out via social media as the actual shooter's brother; he contradicted it by posting on Facebook, and police later verified he was not involved.)  Being a child of print and television, I followed it mostly by cable "news" stations on Friday afternoon and thereafter online, favoring established newspaper web site stories.

The narrative of what happened has changed many times over the first 36 hours of coverage.  How did the gunman gain entry to the school?  At first there was no information on school security.  Then the NY Times posted the letter sent to parents about the new system in which visitors had to be identified and buzzed in before allowed entry.  This system (according to the letter, which was months old and stated that the procedure might be refined after first implemented) was to kick in at 9:30 a.m., after the ordinary entry of students.  The Times blog entry suggested that the shooter got in before 9:30.

The newspaper's story overnight Friday presumably for the Saturday edition stated something different: that the shooter gained entry because the principal recognized him as the son of a woman who had worked at the school.  There was a different account reported by either NBC or CNN, that the shooter had shot his way through the barriers.  By late Saturday, the Times story revised its account to conform with this narrative of how the shooter got in.

This is relatively ordinary revision of what is known, although the Times story that said the principal had let the shooter in did not say how it came by that knowledge, since the principal was one of the adults who was killed.  That the information was incorrect was one thing.  That the Times did not couch its account as what x source said was sloppy journalism, at least by the standards I knew.  The same was true of accounts I read in other newspaper stories and web stories.

Then there is the matter of the shooter's mother.  For much of the day Friday she was reported to be a teacher in the school where the shooter attacked.  By nighttime this was called into question, and she was variously described as a substitute teacher, someone who volunteered at the school, or someone who had worked in the school in the past.  By Saturday night, accounts were referring to her as having no job or employment, and dropping any assertion that she was involved in that school in any way.

I bring up these two changing assertions of fact principally to point out their effect in the age of 24 hour cable coverage.  The effect generally is that the "facts" as they are known or assumed get quickly absorbed into a particular narrative, which is repeated, embellished and commented upon.  Pretty much exactly like gossip.

Some "expert" commentators and some politically motivated ones on FOX (which predictably saw the shooting as an argument for more guns) railed against the school for having no security and no barrier to entry, before the existence of both were known.  Similarly, I heard commentators talking about the shooter going to the school to kill the children his mother taught and "loved."  Yes, I heard the word "loved." 

Not all the reporting was slipshod, and the circumstances were very difficult.  But these examples suggest the danger of poorly sourced information being strung together in a narrative that people repeat because they have to say something to fill the time during continuous coverage.

Friday, December 14, 2012

American Slaughter

This is the blackest day for America in this decade.  The slaughter of innocents is testimony to our collective inanity and insanity.  That we produce such horrific weapons is bad enough, that young adults or even boys and girls use them against each other in war zones is worse.  But the worst is permitting them to be used against helpless children in our own communities.

Nothing else correlates with gun violence than the laxity of gun control laws.  Days ago Michigan passed newly lax laws to permit concealed weapons in schools, dormitories and sporting events.  And today those who voted for those laws demanded that the governor sign them, as their response to the slaughter in Connecticut.  It is this deification of guns that is the most insane.  Guns will solve every problem.  What problem did these guns solve?

It is long past time that this insanity is addressed.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Brink Too Far

UN Ambassador Susan Rice has withdrawn from consideration for Secretary of State, and most reporters say that Senator John Kerry is now almost certain to be nominated and approved by the Senate.

President Obama is meeting with Rice on Friday afternoon, at which time it would be most appropriate to announce that she will be his White House National Security advisor in his second term. 

Personally I doubted she would be appointed Secretary of State.  She obviously has the credentials, the intelligence, the experience and the contacts.  But she is the public face of the U.S. abroad and sadly that face cannot smile, at least not convincingly.

I fully sympathize.  I can't either anymore.  But in terms of ceremony and confidence, the job requires somebody who has the look and the political skills.  Secretary Clinton is a perfect example.  Sure, the job has had its share of stiffs in the past, but this is a different world.  The way Susan Rice was hounded from the nomination was despicable and dishonorable.   But maybe she wasn't right for that public part of the job.  I don't really know, of course.  But that's how it looks from a distance.

Nevertheless, she is a brilliant, capable woman, and President Obama should bring her to the White House--and stick it in the eye of the GOPer critics.

Now a little credit for not making a single rice pun.

I heard several voices on TV suggesting that not nominating her after defending her so passionately makes President Obama appear weak.   We'll see what they say after tomorrow.  And we'll see what they are saying after the fiscal cliff nonsense is over, and in particular after the congressional GOPers take refuge in their delusional "leverage" by threatening not to approve the required rise in the debt ceiling. 

When defending Ambassador Rice, President Obama said that if he decided she were the best for the job, he would nominate her no matter what her GOPer critics said.  But on the debt ceiling he was not at all conditional: he said "I will not play that game" over the debt ceiling, adding that he would stop negotiating with GOPers on budget etc. if they even suggested that the debt ceiling vote was on the table.

Apparently GOPers were not as sure as I was what he meant, because they are still talking about doing it.  Ezra Klein spells it out:
"Whatever House Republicans might think, the White House is all steel when it comes to the debt ceiling. Their position is simple, and it’s typically delivered in the tone of voice that Bruce Willis reserves for talking to terrorists: They’re happy to raise the debt ceiling on their own, as would be the case under their proposal to take authority for the debt ceiling away from Congress. But if Congress rejects that offer, then the debt ceiling is Congress’s problem, and the White House will not help.

The Obama administration is utterly steadfast on this point: They will not suffer a repeat of 2011, when they conducted negotiations over whether the United States should default. If Republicans go over the cliff and try to open up talks for raising the debt ceiling, the White House will not hold a meeting, they will not return a phone call, they will not look at the e-mails. They will move to an entirely public strategy, rallying voters and the business community against the GOP’s repeated brinksmanship." 

It would be unfortunate if GOPers saw their disgusting political character assassination as a success, and an indication that President Obama doesn't mean what he says on the debt ceiling.   This is December 2012/January 2013,  not any other time or circumstances.  Taking the world economy hostage is not going to be a successful strategy.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


We're getting close to the Mayan calendar apocalypse date (which is either 12/21 or 12/23, depending on...something.)  But today's is the date that may really be freaking people out.

Sure, for some it's a great day to get married, gamble, hold a benefit concert, or ascend into a higher consciousness.  But beneath the shininess, isn't there something ominous?

Why?  I'm guessing it's because it will the last of its kind for a long while. With the possible exception of some of the infants among us, it's the last of our lifetime.

As I've mentioned, there were repeated digits in the 20th century--I even recall 6/6/66 being noted on the Huntley-Brinkley Report.  The exact repetition of three dates however hadn't happened in my lifetime until the 21st century, when we had a bunch: 1/1/1, 2/2/2 etc.  But this is the last one.  After this, the numeral of the year outruns the 12 month cycle.  So there will be slant-rhyme dates like 12/21/12, 3/1/13, 1/4/14 or 5/15/15.  An even closer symmetry won't happen until 2/22/22, and it gets more distant after that (there will be no 3/33/33, unless our calendar runs out.)  It won't get to the pure repetition until the 22nd century. 

So what does it mean?  I can't recall anything memorable about those previous dates. It's all basically artificial: not just the notation (the full date, after all, is 12.12.2012, which is close but not a full repetition --12.12.2112 comes closer ) but just the fairly arbitrary dating system, a relatively recent calendar in its details and its wide acceptance.  Nevertheless, this one may be "the luckiest day of the year" for some, but for others it may also add a little to the general apocalyptic anxiety that seems to be the unconscious undertow of our present.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Monday, December 10, 2012


What political speculation there is--and there's as usual too much--is about 2016.  Will Hillary run?  Should she? Can anyone defeat her? 

But by that time it may not matter in substantive ways.  What has become increasingly clear in the first weeks after the 2012 election is that we are still in the dark power of 2010.  The dreaded off-year election (as it's called, because it isn't a presidential year) when a comparative handful of voters even show up, and yet those who did in 2010 empowered those who are still busy destroying the future.

Yes, part of the devastating effect was due to it being a census and therefore reapportionment year, and so GOPer state houses could rig congressional elections according to party, which is why the GOP retained control of the House even though Democratic candidates got more votes, and under the redistricting of 2008, would have won it back.  So we may be living with those effects for a long time.

But it was the dramatic takeovers in governorships and state legislatures, largely fueled by big money unleashed for the first time by the Citizens United decision of the GOPer Court.  The mildest thing about the resulting stranglehold on state governments in many states was that it quickly became very extreme, and its extremism was coordinated from state to state.

The worst of it we see most dramatically right now in Michigan, where Governor Snyder and the lame duck legislature has suddenly rammed through a union-busting law (with a provision apparently preventing it from being overturned by voters) with blinding speed, without advance notice or the usual hearings or debate, really in a matter of hours on an otherwise ordinary Thursday.  Taking away union rights in Michigan is a breathtaking step, and this is being done without public support--the latest poll shows all of 6% of Michigan citizens support it.

Snyder could sign this into law on Tuesday, ignoring the warnings of political chaos that could result.  Demonstrations are ongoing and are likely to be massive Tuesday. These people are being silenced as a result of elections.  (Hitler too, it must not be forgotten, was elected, at first.)  There could be no more graphic lesson of the need to organize and vote in 2014. 

For this totalitarian blitzkrieg is only the latest iron fist of autocracy to take off the glove in Michigan.  There are entire cities now ruled by a state-appointed dictator, superseding all elected officials.  Funny how those folks afraid of nonexistent interference by the UN are silent on the very real dictatorships in Michigan.

The voter suppression laws, the anti-choice and anti-health laws, all of that, all coming from the states. They all are intrusive, autocratic (even if Theocratic) attempts that take away rights and freedoms.  In states like PA and Ohio, the fracking-happy state governments are helping to destroy communities and the environment.  Many of those governors and many of the legislatures must face the voters in 2014.  All it will take to ruin the last years of the Obama presidency plus the next one will be voters not paying attention again in 2014.

It's going to be hard enough even if they are.  Michigan couldn't pass a strong pro-union initiative, and Wisconsin returned their legislature to GOPer rule in the big Dem year of 2012.  But if voters don't return sanity to their state capitals in 2014, 2016 may be nothing much but show biz.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

The Crisis of Cause and Effects

The Climate Crisis is two crises.  There are the causes and there are the consequences.  The causes of global heating--carbon and other greenhouse gases pollution--are about the future, because there is a time lag in when they add to the ongoing heating of the planet and what that does to change the Earth for the worse, and for a long time.

Although there are some efforts on the agenda of this year's climate talks to address at least procedures for addressing causes, the UN is scheduled to once again revisit what the nations of the world can do, separately and together, to deal with those causes in 2015.

The effects that are being felt now and will be felt in the near future were caused by greenhouse gases pollution that happened years ago.  Nothing can be done about that pollution now.  But those effects are already wreaking havoc around the world.  Rich countries can still absorb the costs of extreme weather, sea level rises and other land displacements, upticks in related diseases, economic losses from forest fires and droughts and floods.  They can still do so even while ignoring the reasons for these changes.

But poorer countries can't afford to deal with the effects, and they also can't afford to ignore what caused them.  What the rich countries should and can and will do to help poorer countries address the effects of the climate crisis is the chief subject of the 2012 UN climate conference, which is at the moment struggling to make some sort of agreement before it ends.

According to this story, things are going just as badly in dealing with effects as in addressing causes.  This report tells basically the same story.   Poorer countries are basing their requests on justice: the richer countries caused the pollution, they should pay for the effects they caused.  A mechanism to assign responsibility and create a fund has been proposed, but rich countries are very reluctant, and unless last minute negotiations result in a miracle, the best that will come of this is  some advance in the debate, and the worst even more bitterness and division.

Basing this on justice is perhaps not the best approach or the most practical, since rich countries are not wild about being locked into levels of participation by law, regardless of what's going on in their own economies. In any case, the world is very far from where it needs to be on both causes and effects

Update: The final agreement did establish the principle of compensation by rich countries, and formally extended the Kyoto Protocol, though it may be superceded by an agreement on causes in 2015.  

The New York Times account ended with this paragraph: “What this meeting reinforced is that while this is an important forum, it is not the only one in which progress can and must be made,” said Jennifer Haverkamp, director of the international climate programs at the Environmental Defense Fund. “The disconnect between the level of ambition the parties are showing here and what needs to happen to avoid dangerous climate change is profound.”

In his remarkable novel 2312--about the future three hundred years from now--Kim Stanley Robinson calls the historical period we're now in "The Great Dithering."  Surely future generations will see it as such.  Even while issues get clarified and some progress is made, it is not fast enough or big enough to address this long crisis.  But let's have a little sympathy for the people who go to those meetings and fight the good fight, even knowing that little if anything will be accomplished.  It may pay off one day.  In any case, what else can they do but the best they can do right now.    

Friday, December 07, 2012

Cliffnotes 2: Everybody Strikes Back

Last week or maybe the week before who can keep track President Obama offered his proposal for budget and taxes, which the GOPers literally laughed at, and that's what made the news.  What didn't was that it was a detailed proposal, with facts and figures.  Congressional GOPs offered their "counterproposal" which was a letter with no actionable specifics.  And since then the two sides have been publicly criticizing each other, while (it is rumored) coming closer to a deal.

Most--let's make that almost all-- of the news noise has been about tax rates.  The CW this past week was that GOP will cave, somehow, sometime, and there will be a middle class tax cut (or status quo) but a marginal tax hike on incomes over $250,000 per year.  (The people really fighting this have incomes of over $250,000 a day or an hour, because the great bulk of their money would see a tax hike, whereas everybody else will see it only for the portion of their incomes above 25K.)

But GOPers want budget cuts as part of a package which gets complicated, and it's not altogether clear Speaker John Banal can deliver the votes for anything.  There are several paths that require varying degrees of participation on his part.  There's a deal.  There's a backdoor of allowing (either directly or through allowing some GOPers to sign on to the discharge petition) a vote on the pending middle class tax cut from the Senate.  And then there's the ultimate punt: on Jan. 1 all the Bush tax cuts expire, and on January 3 the new Congress can vote to cut m.c. taxes, leaving the 2%ers tax intact at Clinton era levels.  Politically this still seems the most likely, unless Banal's power over his GOPer members has increased more than anybody knows.

The past couple of days has seen the trial balloon go up for raising Medicare eligibility age to 67 over a decade or more, as a face-saver for GOPers in a bigger deal.  Bad idea.  REALLY bad idea.  The idea of a political maneuver to save face by penalizing seniors while not really saving all than much money is repugnant.  It's symbolically a terrible move as well.  It reads like a betrayal of what people voted for.

President Obama hasn't spoken to this in public but otherwise he's been firm on three basic and vital issues: cut middle class taxes, raise tax rates on the rich, and stop the nonsense of holding the world economy hostage by means of the ridiculous debt ceiling vote.  By now everybody knows or should know that GOPers lie about this--it doesn't authorize new spending, it just says sure the U.S. is going to pay its bill rung up by--guess who?--Congress.  Because the Executive can't spend a dime that Congress doesn't appropriate.  So it's a stupid vote in the first place.  And President Obama announcing this week that "I'm not going to play that game" this time is fair warning, and GOPers better take it more seriously than the media seems to so far. 

What people aren't talking about are all the other components of what is about to take effect or stop taking effect on Jan.1, like the huge across-the-board cuts that includes defense, the payroll tax cut, the unemployment extension.

And then there's the Senate filibuster.  When the new Congress convenes in early January, its procedures say any rule changes have to happen that first day.  So whether and how to change the filibuster rule is being discussed, with little apparent agreement.  The issues came together this week when Senate minor leader McC asked that the Senate immediately consider a proposal to give the President responsibility for raising the debt ceiling, because he thought the Dems didn't have the votes to pass it.  But maj leader Reid agreed to an immediate vote, at which point McC filibustered his own proposal.   So it goes.

This is the Senate where 38 GOPers voted against ratifying a treaty that suggests that the rest of the world follow the U.S. guidelines to bring the disabled into a tolerable public life because of some right wing apocalyptic fantasy about the UN taking their children.  It ranks among the most disgraceful votes this decade, and it demonstrates just how extreme the GOP has become.  Those 38 probably feel no urgency to deal with the fiscal or any other problems on Jan. 1--problems that by the way were all created by this Congress-- because the world will have ended by then, as the popular and profitable interpretation of the Mayan calendar foresees.    

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Progressively Worse

There's another round of UN climate talks underway, predetermined to be useless.  Which is not to say there isn't any climate crisis news.  There is.  Well, it's news but not new.  More evidence that the climate crisis is well underway.  And more evidence that not nearly enough is being done to prevent it from becoming far worse.

The climate crisis now: A UN report finds that sea levels are rising 60% faster than predicted.  The European Environment Agency issued a report saying that the climate crisis is evident across Europe, and it's about to get worse.  Etc.  Update: In a new NOAA study, which sounds exactly like old NOAA and other studies, the Arctic experienced record sea ice loss in 2012.

The future impacts: Another UN report quantifies the consequences of a permafrost thaw that releases methane stores.  A research paper suggests that regional consequences of global heating will likely be more complex and extreme than previously thought, due to atmospheric flow.  And the World Bank released a report on the consequences of a 4C rise, and they are dire, and unsurprisingly hit the poorest areas the hardest.

Previous international efforts have been aimed at capping the temperature rise at 2C.  But according to the latest report on actual carbon emissions, goals set at the Copenhagen and Kyoto are becoming "unattainable."  Carbon emissions increased 3% in 2011 to their highest levels ever, and are set to increase another 2.5% in 2012. 

Depite the treaties and all the efforts, only two major countries reduced their carbon output: Germany (by 4%) and the U.S. (by 2%.)  Japan was up very slightly, and Canada was up by 2%.  But by far the biggest addition was from China at a 10% rise, followed by India at 7%.

The burgeoning industrialization of China and India are not covered in the Kyoto Treaty, which sought to bring carbon pollution down 5% from 1990 levels.  Carbon pollution is now 54% above 1990 levels.

Yes, the phrase "we're cooked" does spring to mind.

There's ample reason to note the contribution of China and India, for economic growth.  But none of us are immune to denial, displacement and excuses.  China's factories are busy making stuff for the U.S. consumer market, and prices are kept low not only by low low wages but low energy costs from China's most abundant source: coal. 

There's no sense in guilt-tripping ourselves as individuals and measuring carbon footprints with a meaningless precision, versus the large scale changes that must be made.  Still, let's not kid ourselves either--especially the tech-happy progressives, who frown deeply at conspicuous consumption but snap up the latest instantly obsolete electronics: the cell/smart phones, etc. that will be ewaste in months.  Not to mention the vast amounts of power and manufacturing involved in server farms and the Internet.  It may seem ethereal, but it is based on wires, cables and machines that eat energy sources that all together account for a big chunk of energy costs.

So merry fuck the planet fuck the future Christmas.

There are positives--that sneaky 2% drop in a country that can't even talk about the climate crisis without starting a flame war.  Progress on scaling up clean energy and promising new clean energy tech.  And one little story from today:  President Obama is "putting in place the building blocks for a climate treaty requiring the first fossil fuel emissions cuts from both the U.S. and China," Businessweek reports.

"State Department envoy Todd Stern is in Doha this week working to clear the path for an international agreement by 2015. While Obama failed to deliver on his promise to start a cap-and-trade program in his first term, he's working on policies that may help cut greenhouse gases 17 percent by 2020 in the U.S., historically the world's biggest polluter."

The headline on this Political Wire item is that President Obama is "quietly" working on this.  In the current political climate this makes sense, and there's an historical template for such an effort.  The U.S. and the Soviet Union quietly negotiated on a nuclear test ban treaty in the early 60s.  Powerful elements within both nations were against it, fervently. When the talks stalled, President Kennedy made his historic American University speech on the issue, and it so impressed the world--and the Soviet Premier--that it instantly revived the talks, which (thanks in part to the work done already) quickly came to an agreement.

There was substantial political opposition to the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963 in the U.S. Senate (which had to ratify it.)  The country was split.  But President Kennedy went out and made speeches supporting it all across the U.S., and by the time the Senate voted, it had clear public support and the political opposition faded.

Nothing now is going to change the climate crisis we need to prepare for, and need to prepare for the world of the next several generations.  The world is not likely to ever be as it is now for maybe thousands of years.  But we can do quite a bit so it doesn't become even worse, hundreds of years from now.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Fiscal Cliffnotes

Besides being a painful waste of time, following the so-called fiscal cliff shenanigans is at least marginally more fun than last time.  Watching GOPers roil as their own alternate universe comes in contact with the real one--like matter and antimatter clashing at the edges--has become at best boring, but it has unfortunate real world waste in economic terms, which always get paid ultimately by the least able to pay and the most vulnerable. (This link also source of this cartoon.)  The last insane fight, over the debt ceiling, cost over $16 billion just to the federal government.  This time the entire economy is likely to take a big hit.

But it's worth at least a few notes.  First, the White House is sticking to what it believes the economy and the country require.  President Obama's opening proposal was delivered to Congress by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and quickly leaked to the press by GOPers in the act of rejecting it.  The Washington Post:

President Obama offered Republicans a detailed plan Thursday for averting the year-end “fiscal cliff” that calls for $1.6 trillion in new taxes, $50 billion in fresh spending on the economy and an effective end to congressional control over the size of the national debt.

But it also offered some $60 billion in budget cuts and savings, which GOPers lied about before they rejected it.  GOPer congressional leadership had hissy fits over it, but don't seem able to come up with their own proposals, only demands on what the President should and shouldn't propose.

A few days later comes word (at least unofficially) that President Obama and the Dems are not going to make another proposal until GOPers agree to higher taxes on the wealthy.  And why should they?  Several polls show strong public support for it, and Warren Buffett went public again with a minimum tax proposal for the rich.

President Obama is out making speeches about this tax proposal, but also supporting the bill the Senate passed to make sure the tax cuts for the middle class remain past January 1.  A couple of GOPers in the House said publicly the GOPer should take this deal right away, but the leadership is balking, or perhaps just floundering.

On Friday, House Dem Leader Nancy Pelosi said if the House leadership doesn't schedule the Senate bill for a vote, she would circulate a discharge petition, which would overrule the leadership and bring it to the floor.  The petition requires 218 votes and therefore some GOPer support, and while it is unlikely to get 218 right away, it will be there as an alternative as time goes on and the cliff gets closer.  Once it gets to the floor, it will be hard even for GOPers to vote against a tax break for 98% of the population.

Meanwhile,  Michael Grunwald at Time called out the media for its mindless reporting on GOPer hypocrisy and nonsense (as Rachel did last week) :

"Mainstream media outlets don’t want to look partisan, so they ignore the BS hidden in plain sight, the hypocrisy and dishonesty that defines the modern Republican Party. I’m old enough to remember when Republicans insisted that anyone who said they wanted to cut Medicare was a demagogue, because I’m more than three weeks old.

I’ve written a lot about the GOP’s defiance of reality–its denial of climate science, its simultaneous denunciations of Medicare cuts and government health care, its insistence that debt-exploding tax cuts will somehow reduce the debt—so I often get accused of partisanship. But it’s simply a fact that Republicans controlled Washington during the fiscally irresponsible era when President Clinton’s budget surpluses were transformed into the trillion-dollar deficit that President Bush bequeathed to President Obama. (The deficit is now shrinking.) It’s simply a fact that the fiscal cliff was created in response to GOP threats to force the U.S. government to default on its obligations. The press can’t figure out how to weave those facts into the current narrative without sounding like it’s taking sides, so it simply pretends that yesterday never happened.
Whatever. I realize that the GOP’s up-is-downism puts news reporters in an awkward position. It would seem tendentious to point out Republican hypocrisy on deficits and Medicare and stimulus every time it comes up, because these days it comes up almost every time a Republican leader opens his mouth. But we’re not supposed to be stenographers. As long as the media let an entire political party invent a new reality every day, it will keep on doing it. Every day."

Friday, November 30, 2012

We don't get much autumn up here in far northern California.  For those of us who remember it from other places, or even for those of you in those other places, this is a pretty neat time lapse film in which you actually see the leaves change color in Central Park, NYC.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Today's Crazy

I'll tell you a secret--I thought I'd be making some big changes by now.  I thought I'd stop my concentration on electoral politics with the election, cut down on blogging altogether--and really, finally give up cable TV.

Then I got hit with the second part of a double-dip virus, and barely could keep up with my external responsibilities let alone change much.  So here I am.  But...we'll see.

Anyway, today's crazy.  Senator John McBlame and Lindsay "head dick" Graham are making a spectacle of themselves over UN Ambassador Susan Rice.  The CV news figures it's because they want John Kerry to be Secretary of State--instead of Rice-- so his Senate seat opens up for a special election that Scott "Asshole" Brown might win. Besides that they can't stand uppity black women.  And they want revenge for all the nasty things Dems said about Condi Rice.  It's all crazy because Susan Rice is not going to be nominated as Secretary of State, the country's head diplomat.  And it's not because of her talk show appearances (not exactly) or where she stands on policy, etc.  It's because she can't smile.

The CV news has it that the GOPers in Congress haven't learned anything and are intent on destroying millions of dollars in wealth and threatening the economic recovery by resisting and dithering on the lineup of fiscal decisions that must be made in the next month or so.  The politics are complex but basically stupid and crazy.  The stock market is already swooning, though consumers seem unrattled.  But never underestimate the lunatics running the asylum known as congressional GOP.  According to a CNN poll, a majority of Americans are ready to blame them for failing to agree on taxes, the budget, debt ceiling, etc.  70% say they haven't done enough to cooperate with President Obama.  So everybody knows they're going to cave somehow, but they have to make everybody miserable and anxious for a month first.  See, that's why I wanted to ignore politics for awhile.

I also accidentally had the sound on for a commercial for some product that doses the armpits of men old enough to watch the news with testosterone. This commercial began with one, maybe two sentences describing the product, with no great claims for its benefits.  And the rest of the commercial--at least ten minutes--was an increasingly alarming and horrifying list of possible side-effects, first to any women and children nearby, and then to the men with the armpits.  And this was a commercial FOR this product?  This is yet another reason that cable TV is some hellish booby hatch.

Oh, and the latest stories on that Mars thing claim it was all a misunderstanding.  There's no life on Mars, nor presumably among brain-dead reporters for NPR.   How long do you suppose it will be before there's a conspiracy theory about this?  Don't tell me.  It's been Twitter # for hours?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Forward! Continued

The news continues from the November 6 elections:  While Mitt Romney has been variously described as the sorest loser and most immediately repudiated and irrelevant candidate in presidential election history, President Obama's victory continues to look stronger--even in the South.  The Washington Post via Political Wire: "President Obama finished more strongly in the South than any other Democratic presidential nominee in three decades, "underscoring a fresh challenge for Republicans who rely on Southern whites as their base of national support."

"Obama won Virginia and Florida and narrowly missed victory in North Carolina. But he also polled as well in Georgia as any Democrat since Jimmy Carter, grabbed 44 percent of the vote in deep-red South Carolina and just under that in Mississippi -- despite doing no substantive campaigning in any of those states."

Which suggests again the subject of race.  Right after the election, Chris Hayes at MSNBC  had a perceptive commentary that began with the overwhelming support one racial group gave President Obama--but probably not your first assumption.  Asian Americans.  Among Asian Americans are a substantial number with high incomes, but they did not vote very much for Romney.  Still, what do all these people in this category have in common--with roots in China, Japan, Korea, Pacific Islands?  Not a lot, Hayes said, no more than many members of other racial groups.  That's because, he said, race doesn't exist.  It's a construct, a category.  There may be similar cultural backgrounds, but that's not the same as race.

Race is essentially maintained by racism. What turned non-white individuals into racial voting blocs, Hayes said, was the race-based hostility and disrespect Romneyryan and the Republicans showed to President Obama and various non-white communities. 

It's a profound point, and one that TPM is humanizing with reader responses--for example, here and here.   So it's the other side of dog whistle politics: the groups being dissed hear them, too, loud and clear, and as one of these readers wrote, race-based disrespect to a black President reminds them of their own experiences with racism, sexism and other forms of prejudice.

Meanwhile, the Obama army is not disbanding, even though they've gone home.  They're being mobilized on behalf of the President's agenda, starting right away.  As the NY Times reports:  "The president is planning rallies in influential states to remind supporters of the need to keep the pressure on lawmakers during the fiscal talks. And should negotiations break down, Mr. Obama’s team is arranging for Republican lawmakers to hear from of tens of thousands of riled-up activists through angry Twitter posts, e-mails and Facebook messages."

But it won't stop there: Obama aides view keeping their grass-roots supporters energized as important to the president’s second-term success on broader tax changes, an immigration overhaul and efforts on climate change.

Chris Hayes, by the way, had one of the better tributes to the Obama army organizers and volunteers--starting with his brother.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Hats Off to Jerry

I don't want to write no damn Black Friday post.  Instead I'll write about Jerry's Records.

Jerry's Records is a used record store in Pittsburgh.  Jerry used to have a shop or two in Oakland but now he's got one big one in Squirrel Hill.  He sells music in other new and used formats but vinyl is his specialty.  Like a lot of quality used stores, he does business on the Internet (the photo is from his web page.)

I shopped at his Squirrel Hill store when I lived there, and sold him about half my record collection when I left.  He dealt fairly and I enjoyed talking to him.  He's about my age and when the conversation drifted to how the ecological shit was certain to hit the fan someday soon, he owned what is our generation's secret guilty thought--fortunately by the time it gets really bad we'll be dead.

Recently Jerry has had one of those rare and maybe once in a lifetime experiences--in a pile of old records, most of them in bad condition, he founds gems--and one major gem in particular: a very rare original Robert Johnson record: the 1936 Vocalion release of "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom," the second song the reclusive Johnson is known to have recorded.  All Robert Johnson records are rare.  This one, says Jerry, is the "Holy Grail of 78s."

True to his nature (and besides, it's good for business) Jerry is sharing this wonder by playing it for anybody who comes by the store on the next few Saturday nights.  I'll be there in spirit.  The last time I talked to him (about 2  or 3 years ago, when I went in to buy back an album I sold him years before--might have been the same copy) it was clear that the used record business was becoming a tough one.  Now that the sale of new vinyl records has reached its highest volume since the 1990s, maybe interest in the old stuff will also increase.  This one record is bound to pay off pretty big.

So good for Jerry is all I want to say.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Gratitude 2012

It's only been a couple of weeks since the election, and so perhaps appropriately it comes to mind when considering this year's reasons for gratitude.

Of course there are the personal and family things--everybody being healthy at the top of that list.  Several of our younger generation bought homes in recent months, despite recent tough times.  So there's that.

But considering how close we came to disasters of amazing breadth and proportion, and how important these election victories are to the near future and hopefully to the farther future, it's hard not to think of gratitude at the outcome.

We need not even speak of the poetic justice of Mitt Romney's final share of the popular vote likely being 47%.   But considering the consequences of electing him and fellow GOPers is inevitable even while viewing the consequences of the positive outcome.  For example, President Obama's southeast Asia trip, and his successful gaining of a cease fire in the Middle East, with the important assistance of Secretary Clinton.  President Obama is pursuing a forward-looking Pacific strategy that has vast potential for American benefits for decades to come.  No GOPer these days seems to have any conception of a forward-looking foreign policy.  They don't even approach a sane one.  Mitt Romney and Ryan were together the least experienced, least interested and most incompetent candidates in history on foreign policy and diplomacy.  It should be shocking, and maybe, judging by the election returns, it was.

As details about the election continue to come out, we can become even more thankful for the volunteers and the staff of the Obama campaign that worked so hard and so well for so long. And again, as GOPers in several states push even more voter suppression, we can be thankful for those who stubbornly stood in line for hours to make sure their votes counted.

I'm still a little wary of the talk about amity in Washington and the new weakness of the GOP--we heard it all right after the 2008 election.  Then came 2010, and soon comes 2014.  But maybe the mood has changed.  It's one thing to give a brand new President a vote of confidence in approval ratings, etc.  But it's something more to boost a reelected President's approval rate (to 58%), and to have more confidence in his leadership (and his party) to solve pressing problems by a wide margin, as evidenced in other recent polls.

The country is perhaps ready to treat this President as their President, more openly than before.  That photo above, for instance, is the most shared photo in the history of Twitter, and the most liked photo in the history of Facebook.  Not long histories exactly, but that's overcoming some big, big numbers.

But this President very deliberately campaigned on a philosophy and a set of policies, so they won, too. There has never quite been as stark a choice before.  In terms of general issues like fact-based science, womens rights over their bodies, equal rights, against growing income inequality, for universal health care, etc.--the future was affirmed.  A diverse American community was affirmed--even slightly in advance of true demographic equality. 

And so, perhaps most appropriately to the holiday, let's note that compassion won.  "We're all in this together" won.  "You'd do the same for me" won.  

So with wishes for a happy thanksgiving to U.S. readers (and belated greetings to readers in Canada, who celebrate their thanksgiving in October), once again here's a link to excerpts from Joanna Macy's essay on Gratitude.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Shhhh--The Biggest News Story in History

News from the NASA Rover on Mars has been pretty perky lately.  For instance, that surface radiation isn't as bad as feared for humans--it's about the same as in low Earth orbit.

But today NPR has a story about a story that can't yet be told.  It's about data that suggests a discovery by the Curiosity rover--"a big" one--but that has to be further evaluated before an official announcement is made.

It's pretty clear what that story might be: life on Mars.  Probably not alive now, but evidence of it in the past.  Or at least the organic compounds.

Other news, of Curiosity moving to a new location, tends to cast some doubt on how strongly NASA feels the data is.  Still.

It would be the biggest news story in human history, unless we're contacted by intelligent extraterrestrials before then.  Life has existed somewhere else.  In the broadest sense, but a very profound one, we are not alone. 

It may take several weeks to test this data.  Which means that an announcement, if it comes, might be made very close to the winter solstice, and all the holidays that celebrate birth, life emerging from winter, life emerging from darkness.
Click on it to make it readable. Check out daily Doonesburys here.

Monday Night Football

It's a pretty sad contrast.  Both the Pittsburgh Steelers (who played Sunday night) and the San Francisco 49ers (who played Monday night) lost their primo quarterbacks to injuries before an important game.  The Steelers defense stopped a mostly inept Ravens offense, but the Steelers' backup quarterback, a skilled veteran, and their beat-up running backs couldn't score more than 10 points, and gave up 3.  Special teams gave up another 7, and that was the ball game.

On Monday, the 49ers backup quarterback, a first year player, became a future and maybe present star. True, they beat another backup quarterback, but the 49er defense totally dominated.  They won easily over the Chicago Bears.

I was bred a Steelers fan and always will be loyal.  But the truth is that the Steelers haven't been fun to watch for awhile.  And the 49ers are fun to watch, as they certainly were Monday night.  (They're also easier for me to watch--more of their games are broadcast here.)

It's also true however that for me pro football is increasingly hard to watch in general.  There's just so many guys you can watch being carted off the field in pain, before it's not a fun game anymore.  And when so many of the best players are injured--as is increasingly the case, certainly this year but for at least the past few--the games are less interesting, less admirable.