Friday, April 26, 2013


The Boston Marathon bombing and aftermath brought out the best and the worst in American life.  You could see them both for example on the same Rachel Maddow program (Wednesday's): the millions in contributions to help the victims, the Rabid Right conspiracy theories and xenophobia.

There are also many kinds of attempts to figure out how to prevent such destructive actions in the future.  Because of the as-yet unknowns and the complexities of the Boston bomber situation--the dynamics of personality, age, family, unique experience as well as political and religious beliefs and information--that add up to never-to-be-completely-knowns.

But surely the point is that whatever those beliefs, motivations, etc. might be in this case or any other, what matters most are the actions taken.  And dealing with those require what much of the Rabid Right won't deal with.

In previous posts I noted various intersections of the bombing and gun debates.  Now there are clear relationships.  It's the NRA and its successful efforts to prevent background checks for people who buy the gunpowder (the "black powder") of the kind used to make the Boston bombs.  And the NRA's very successful efforts to prevent the powder from containing "taggants" or very small markers that could trace the powder back to the person who bought it.  It's been technically possible since the 70s, and advocated by law enforcement etc. but the NRA and its congressional minions have prevented it.

Rachel detailed the absurdity of the current situation regarding background checks.  A person can be put on the terrorist watch list, and therefore be prevented from getting on a commercial airliner.  But they can leave the airport and buy as many guns and as much gunpowder as they want, legally.

In a sane society it might be noticed that  while you can't tell how potentially dangerous someone is from what they say about their beliefs or what they read, you have a better chance by knowing how many weapons and how much bomb-making material they've acquired.

That doesn't make sense to the Rabid Right, because government is the enemy, and they need those guns and bombs to defend themselves, or kill abortion doctors and other evil people.  They are so close to being the GOPer mainstream now partly because of gun manufacturer money, on top of all that oil money etc.

In terms of the electorate, we're probably seeing a time lag phenomenon: their time is demographically gone, but demography hasn't quite caught up to political structures.  However, this reactionary phase is lengthened and made more powerful and dangerous by the uber-wealthy who use this dwindling group for their own interests.  Money has a multiplier effect.  Together these elements are paralyzing the federal legislature, weakening government's ability to respond to needs at every level.  We're in the deep water of insanity, with no clear idea how close to shore we might be.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Forest Planet

Earth was a forest planet.  Forests and oceans.  Humankind cut down most of the forests, thereby longterm cutting its own throat.

Emerald Isle?  Ireland has no forests anymore.  The Black Forest of Germany?  It's a cake.  Greece?  Not for milennia.  The great pine forests of eastern America, gone, gone, gone.  The precious redwoods of California, 95% gone.

Forests (and oceans) have been protecting us from our own idiocy throughout the industrial age by compensating for the carbon overload in the atmosphere.  It's a losing battle now.  And as temperatures rise (or fail to fall as far) more diseases and insects that prey on trees are successfully killing the remaining forests.

Humankind, more powerful that smart, is just learning how little it actually knows about forests, about trees and the Earth.  Earth Day is a good day to remember that.

Over at Books in Heat  is my review of a book that notes this context in the course of telling the remarkable story of David Milarch and his project to clone the champion trees and reforest the planet.  The project has had its ups and downs, but today it got some fanfare for planting two dozen clones of California redwoods in seven countries around the planet.  These include clones taken from a stump, 35 feet in diameter, some 4,000 years called the Fieldbrook Stump, which sits nursing new growth redwood just a few miles from where I live.

It's a publicity move that worked, timing it to the U.S. Earth Day, but the project is not all feel good public relations.  For one thing, there's an easily understood rationale for cloning the biggest and oldest trees: their DNA is survivor stuff.  As threats to forests from climate, weather, pests and disease increase in the Climate Crisis era, surviving is going to be a challenge.

It's also a more sophisticated project than even that, because these trees are just not planted randomly anywhere.  Though our redwoods got the headlines today, champion trees of various species are planted where they can thrive and do the most good, and in ways that encourage forest growth, not just tree growth. For instance, willows are particularly good at detoxifying rivers.

Plus the "cloning" may get attention and sound all high tech, but many of the methods are very old, and don't involve test tubes.  They do involve a lot of care and precision.  And luck.

There are a lot of efforts underway to get Gaia through this long crisis.  Some are simple (though not simple enough for politicians) and some are complex, technological and visionary.  (Some of course are technological and stupid, guaranteed to make things a hell of a lot worse.)  But there are few as simple and soaring as this, as grand and as just very clearly right.  Reforest the Earth.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Week in Review

Of all the moments in the Boston events last week, this is the one that sticks most in my mind--the audio of the firefight in Watertown, recorded from a home that's both near and far from the action--far enough that amidst the sound of the shooting, there's the sound of barking dogs and a bird.  It's the barking dogs and the bird that got to me.

Otherwise, there's this summary of the events, with all the misinformation left out.

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"The most inspirational literature I ever read was Dostoevsky or Camus.  Then I believe his assertions when he says you only have one choice in your life: it's whether or not to commit suicide.  If you don't commit suicide, you have to treat your life with a great deal of energy and assertiveness."

Jim Harrison