Saturday, May 19, 2012

Good News from Gee, Ate

Good news from the Gee, Ate meeting at Camp David.  Seriously.  President Obama announced that the European emphasis is shifting from austerity to jobs and economic expansion.  He noted that the path of encouraging growth while working on reducing longterm deficits has been his own policy, and left the conclusion to observers who might note that the U.S. economy is growing while Europe mostly isn't.  Unemployment in some countries is 20%--for young men, 50%. 

We'll see if policy follows but if it does, it is a test that European democracies pass--the ability to change to avert disaster, which doesn't seem within the capabilities of the U.S. political system at the moment.

Paul Krugman is among those who warned of such disaster if Europe--especially Germany--remains stubbornly committed to austerity, though in recent days he seemed fairly confident that they would be able to contain the Greece situation.  I expect he'll see this as an unexpectedly good sign, provided there is something more than rhetoric behind it.

If Europe averts crisis and the brightening prospects of defusing the Iran situation move towards fruition, then the major drag on the American economy comes from the GOPers and their wealthy supporters who want the U.S. economy to be as bad as possible.

President Obama also announced progress on combined plans to confront the Climate Crisis.

A little media note.  When the President made his statement today, the networks didn't carry it; MSNBC was in prison, CNN started it late and cut it off abruptly, apparently afraid of their viewers attention span--they had to get back to rerunning segments from Friday.  Only FOX news carried the statement from beginning to end, and did a fair summary afterwards.

Update: Here's a more detailed story from the NY Times.

Coming Soon? Computer Generated Hate

When the Times broke the story of the Ricketts Rev. Wright project, and it was repudiated by Ricketts and Romney hours later, it seemed like it could be a one day story.  But it was still alive on Friday and is to be a topic for the Sunday mostly Republican white guy talk shows.  It's being kept alive primarily by FOX News, which I should have realized would happen, because I happened to catch a reference to it the evening before the Times story broke--so the plan to bring it up as a campaign issue was obviously coordinated.

One part of the Ricketts proposal that caught my eye and I haven't seen commented on: the centerpiece of the project was to be a five minute "unusually unique" film (their words), which would not use mostly old footage like most political ads but new footage shot in high definition which would utilize "face replacement technology" to place President Obama's "computer-generated face on the body of a similarly sized actor."

In other words, the film would not just tell lies, it would lie with the images used to tell them in an unusually unique way.

For example, the sample script makes the point that instead of helping the economy, President Obama devoted his time to starting expensive unnecessary socialistic Obamacare. So in one scene, a "proud struggling family" would be shown in front of their house, as "BO" strides by, pushing a gurney, and smiles at the camera.  The family looks on in disgust. (It's on pages 21 and 22.)

As far as I know, this level of deceit hasn't yet graced a political ad, but its potential is clear.  Shots of tornado and hurricane victims, and there striding through the devastation laughing and singing an Al Green song is "BO."   And look--who is that in the first row as Reverend Wright shouts about goddamning America? And smiling too!

Of course, as the proposal notes, face replacement technology is expensive.  Good thing these guys have unlimited funds to go with their complete lack of ethics.

Friday, May 18, 2012

A Cautionary Tale

The revelation on Thursday of the plan to cause the "demise" of President Obama with a $10 million smear campaign has obvious racial elements, and I do think the media is a bit naive thinking it wouldn't work.  It wouldn't work with everyone, but older white male voters who fancy themselves Independents are more than susceptible, with older men in general and older white women in the mix.  As I've pointed out before, racism is already coded into the GOPer campaign.

But even if this line of attack has been blunted by the Times story, the actual document the Times links to online shows the dangers ahead in detail: the kind of thorough, managed blitz in various forms through all the relevant media that ten million dollars can buy.  The purveyors were especially hot on using Twitter to start a firestorm, and the irony for the moment is that a Twitter firestorm is what got the whole thing collapsing within hours of the Times story hitting the wires and the streets.  But the danger remains---there are billionaires willing to pour millions into these efforts, and p.r. whores as well as ideologues ready and willing to put them into play, regardless of how lying, crazy and mutually assured destructive they are.

We can be grateful to whoever leaked this, and to the NY Times for breaking the story.  There's some hope in that.  But the money has just started to talk--or swear. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Dreaming Up Daily Quotes

"So don’t accept somebody else’s construction of the way things ought to be. It’s up to you to right wrongs. It’s up to you to point out injustice. It’s up to you to hold the system accountable and sometimes upend it entirely. It’s up to you to stand up and to be heard, to write and to lobby, to march, to organize, to vote. Don’t be content to just sit back and watch.

Those who oppose change, those who benefit from an unjust status quo, have always bet on the public’s cynicism or the public's complacency. Throughout American history, though, they have lost that bet, and I believe they will this time as well. (Applause.) But ultimately, Class of 2012, that will depend on you. Don’t wait for the person next to you to be the first to speak up for what’s right. Because maybe, just maybe, they’re waiting on you."

"My last piece of advice -- this is simple, but perhaps most important: Persevere. Persevere. Nothing worthwhile is easy. Noone of achievement has avoided failure -- sometimes catastrophic failures. But they keep at it. They learn from mistakes. They don’t quit."

President Barack Obama
Barnard College graduation
May 14, 2012

And congratulations to the Class of 2012 everywhere

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Monster in the Room

Another way of looking at the reaction to change (see previous post)  is in terms of the principal emotions it engenders.  For some, change represents opportunity, or simply the wonder of the new.  For others it represents danger, a threat.  The emotion it stirs is fear.

Fear is immediate and can be overpowering.  It is meant to motivate--to escape the danger, or to fight off the threat, with little time for thought.  But it can have other effects, especially if the fear is not responding to a threat that is seen and heard.  To a threat that is anticipated, imagined.  Then the reality of the threat is questionable, its imminence and proportions open to being minimized or greatly exaggerated.  Sometimes the response is denial, sometimes paralysis.   If the threat is abstract enough and far enough off in time and space, then denial and paralysis can become rationalized.

ABC News science reporter Bill Blakemore posted a commentary he titled "Hug the Monster’ for Realistic Hope in Global Warming (or How to Transform Your Fearful Inner Climate)"   I've written several posts about "the climate within" on some conceptual tools for understanding responses to the Climate Crisis.  But Blakemore is writing about a specific response to the Climate Crisis, not by denialists or the polled public but by climate scientists and officials.  He reveals:

"Global warming’s “risk to the collective civilization” (meaning global civilization) has been continually spoken of in secret or unofficial or private conversations among engaged climate scientists and government and policy leaders around the world.  Such terms — catastrophe, threat to civilization itself — have been commonplace in carefully worded private discussions among peer-reviewed experts that this reporter and other journalists have often experienced and sometimes engaged in."

But this isn't how many of these people have talked in public about the Climate Crisis.  Blakemore says why:  "Careful not to prompt destructive panic, nor to lose credibility, responsible experts have been careful to temper their public depictions of what the world’s climate science has been revealing about the worst effects — if humanity does not handle the problem immediately — of the rapid climatic and oceanic changes already under way."

Or more specifically:  "A few years ago, this reporter heard a prominent climate and environment scientist speaking at a large but off-the-record conference of experts and policy makers from around the world.... He told us that he and most other climate scientists often simply didn’t want to speak openly about what they were learning about how disruptive and frightening the changes of manmade global warming were clearly going to be for “fear of paralyzing the public.”

But Blakemore is writing about this now because he sees a change.  "References in some media to looming catastrophic consequences of climate change seem to this reporter to be more frequent."  My presumption was that recent research, particularly in the polar regions, has made this clearer and more urgent, but Blakemore suggests there is another reason, which he explains with the metaphor of hugging the monster:

“Hug the monster” is a metaphor taught by U.S. Air Force trainers to those headed into harm’s way.
The monster is your fear in a sudden crisis — as when you find yourself trapped in a downed plane or a burning house. If you freeze or panic — if you go into merely reactive “brainlock” — you’re lost. But if your mind has been prepared in advance to recognize the psychological grip of fear, focus on it, and then transform its intense energy into action — sometimes even by changing it into anger — and by also engaging the thinking part of your brain to work the problem, your chances of survival go way up.

Blakemore suggests that while scientists and officials have been getting used to hugging the monster in their discussions with each other, they are now going public because it's necessary for society as a whole to hug the monster or perish.

Besides officials and scientists, Blakemore also include journalists among those who have been reluctant to talk about the extent of the threat.  He points to a recent article in the New York Times about the possible consequences of the Climate Crisis as one of the indications that reporters as well are ready to hug the monster in public.  "As a growing number of professional journalists around the world are finding, the story of manmade global warming (and the other evil twin of excess carbon emissions, the rapid acidification of the oceans) is unprecedented in its scale, almost “too big to cover,” and frightening. But there are now signs that, little by little, voices and personalities are beginning to emerge around the world who are starting to hug this monster, manage the fear, and turning the emotions it causes into action."

Blakemore quotes a book on the psychology of survivors in life-threatening circumstances: " Survivors aren’t fearless. They use fear: They turn it into anger and focus.’ The good news is that you can learn to subdue the monster and extinguish some of the clanging bells. The more you practice, the easier it becomes. Indeed, with enough hugs, you can even tame the beast and turn him into your best friend and most dependable ally.”

Blakemore's article is an important one, and certainly worth reading in its entirety.  It calls for more courageous reporting, and it ends with a "to be continued."  But even in these excerpts, its revelations are huge.  So are its challenges: applying the lessons of survivors of immediate situations to this different order of threat--another way of saying what's always been the challenge here: humanity's opportunity to take a leap forward by anticipating and dealing with a threat to civilization before it becomes simultaneously obvious and unstoppable.

But to circle back to this issue in the context of fast and pervasive change: for people who fear (with some degree of justification) that their way of life is being destroyed by change, there could not be a bigger change than this.  Gay marriage won't mean much in this world.  Plus the dogmas they cling to either discount the possibility of the Climate Crisis, or see it as God's will, as the Final Judgment, as the Apocalypse that will end all this change, forever and ever.   

USA 2012, An Explanation

What can explain this country today?   Issac Newton + Alvin Toffler.

Alvin Toffler wrote a book called Future Shock in 1970.  Future Shock is "too much change in too short a time."   It leads to disorientation and dismay.  Remember, that was 1970.  Things were changing--in some ways, we haven't had a more intense period than 1968-1973 since.  But in general, things are changing more and faster--and future shock is a permanent condition, which I experience as moments of anxiety in a vast sea of numbness.  As fast as technological change was in those days, it seems to be much faster now.  And if not a lot faster, social change in a country with roughly twice the population is probably more intense for a lot of people. 

I first encountered Newton as a cartoon figure in a Disneyland episode on space travel.  He intoned the principle used in rocketry: "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction."

Put them together, and you've got the USA 2012.   This theory of cultural physics explains the force of reaction by--well, they aren't called reactionaries for nothing.  By the measures of 1970, change is faster, more pervasive and complete, and to this action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  So by the measures of 1970, political and cultural conservatives are more extreme, and religious conservatives are back at least in the 19th century and heading back fast towards, well, Newton. 

So in 2012 we have politicians who are to the right of Barry Goldwater in 1964, and Christian churches without a trace of the 20th century.  But the reaction is not exactly along the timeline--it's towards certainties, which are almost always divorced from complex realities.  Certainties in a time of change.

This doesn't mean that the opposing forces are Progress versus Regression.  Yes, a lot of progress has been lost and the forward momentum in some areas has been slowed, stunted, maybe stopped. But essentially this is a reaction to change--change with no identifiable direction to it, except to threaten the status quo.

Another sense of the status quo is homeostasis, the means by which an organism regulates itself and its environment as far as possible, to stay the same.  A threat to that is a threat to life, at least until the change can be assessed, absorbed, accommodated.  Which takes time.

There isn't enough time in this twitterverse.  Technology is assaulting every aspect of our lives at almost every instant, on the scale of tiny devices and global corporations than can eat us alive in the blink of an eye.  In fact, we have every reason to be afraid.   Not that clinging to dogmas and guns will help.  But it does help to explain things.

Toffler + Newton= USA 2012.