Saturday, February 21, 2015

Less Than Zero

The first time the words "below zero" were impressed on my consciousness as a child, I was thrown into a quandary.  If zero meant "nothing", what could possibly be less than zero?  (Yes, this was before Robert Zimmerman got out of Minnesota.)  How could anything be below nothing?

But there it was, and my mother took it very seriously.  For years afterwards, any temp "below zero" was like a cosmic event, what "awesome" actually means.  And in western Pennsylvania in the 50s and 60s there were more than a few.

When I lived in Pittsburgh in the late 80s and 90s, that winters were shorter and milder was street wisdom.  I recall a veteran of the Squirrel Cage bar pointing to where ice used to form on the street in front of it in November, not to disappear until March.  Not then, though.  Not anymore.

So I appreciate that folks in that part of the world had to readapt to that kind of weather this winter, after a generation or so.  It's hard to judge at a distance whether it is more extreme now than even back then, but it does sound like it.  And a lot less predictable.

That global heating could lead to intense cold and big snowstorms may be counter-intuitive, but it was predicted long before it started happening.  The physics of it aren't complicated, though the many factors involved make the time and specific manifestations difficult to predict.  But readers of Kim Stanley Robinson's climate crisis trilogy from the 90s will recall that intense cold visited Washington as a consequence.  Cold and snow is there now.

Here we've had no winter at all.  The tulips are blooming (I took this photo however in March last year), the hummingbirds departed several weeks early, and it's generally been a warmer, sunnier winter than any in the 19 we've seen here.  Even last winter was not this consistently mild.  We also did not get the wet February we got last year.  We got some moisture from the storms earlier in the month, and some foggy days.  But the last appreciable rains were in early December.

The departures from normal here are certainly a lot more pleasant, which is some ways makes them more eerie.  But the new extremes in the East as well as most of the West, which right now may not be so far from normal variation to be intrinsically alarming, certainly add an edge to the kind of scientific speculation that emerged this past week, predicting mega-drought for the West, and significant deterioration of livability in New York--studies I'll review in another post.

In some ways, getting our heads around the climate crisis is a little like dealing with the concept of below zero, though even more complicated to contemplate.  We get to some understanding by degrees, by paying heed to what climate scientists say about the weather, and adjusting our ideas accordingly, about what the climate crisis is and what changes it can make.

For right now though, my thoughts are with those suffering cold and snow extremes in places I used to live (Boston, DC, PA etc.) or have visited, like Niagara Falls, where days of below zero temps actually froze parts of the falls themselves (photo above.)  But I'm still going out in the sunshine.

Friday, February 20, 2015

How To Create More Inequality Part 2

1.  After buying enough lawmakers, feel free to consolidate major products and services on which people depend into as few corporations as possible.

2. Severely reduce the workforce by automation and outsourcing to slave wage countries.  Reduce actual physical presence in places where people use your products and services so that they won't expect you to service or repair anything, and instead of paying people to spend time providing services, make customers spend their time trying to deal with automated responses on the telephone, and if they happen to survive long enough to get an actual person on the phone, make sure that person is very far away, and badly trained as well as, of course, poorly paid.

All this means fewer people in US communities have good paying jobs, everyone is enslaved to a few corporations that have as their sole aim to cut costs, drive up the artificial short-term stock valuation, and reward their executives with larger and larger shares of the profits.  

3. Without meaningful choices in the matter, people will have to put up with all this.  They are also more likely now to buy a new product rather than try to have their present one serviced or repaired.  They must spend whatever these corporations charge in fees as well as prices, with the money going straight to the top.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

How to Create More Inequality

1. Elect a Republican governor and legislature.  In many states that should know better, this is already a done deal.

2.  Governor announces lower taxes on the rich, which he promises will spur business investment and fill the state coffers with abundance.

3. Tax revenues fall and a big budget deficit results.

4.  Governor blames excessive pensions paid by state government, especially teacher pensions.

5.  Instead of being arrested for fraud or theft or whatever criminal statutes apply to people who abrogate contracts that one party has fulfilled, governor and legislature succeed in "reforming" pensions so that retirees get less.  Combine with other efforts to shrink public education, health and welfare, because the state can't "afford" them anymore.  So retirees and middle class teachers, government employees etc. make less or are fired.  Redistribute saved income upwards!

That's it, in five easy steps.  Oh, and the sixth---

6. Elect one of these governors as President of the U.S. so the same procedure can be applied nationally, and even more income transferred from middle class and poor people to rich and richer people.  It worked for Reagan, it can work again.  (Ask Scott Walker.)

Bonus: though this hurts some white people, it's predominantly old white people that it benefits  Everybody else loses.  In fact, everybody loses.

Monday, February 16, 2015


Paul McCartney brings the subversive power of rock and roll into the post-human future, with a poignancy at the end that speaks for all human music.  Watch and listen, you'll appreciate.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Beyond the Hashtag

Rather than a series of tweet-like posts on separate subjects--which I know is the proper way to do it these days--I'm going to catch up on non-climate crisis topics from the past week or so, all right here.

Brian Williams:  Evidence is starting to mount up, however dubious, in the same direction.  One thing seems pretty clear: he doesn't have a lot of defenders.  But my point about the wired lynch mob (by which of course I mean the spirit and function of it, not equating the outcome) remains valid.  So I don't know what the now-former governor of Oregon is guilty of, but these sentences from his resignation statement (as quoted by Reuters) seem apt:

"It is deeply troubling to me to realize that we have come to a place in the history of this great state of ours where a person can be charged, tried, convicted and sentenced by the media with no due process and no independent verification of the allegations involved," Kitzhaber said.

"But even more troubling – and on a very personal level as someone who has given 35 years of public service to Oregon – is that so many of my former allies in common cause have been willing to simply accept this judgment at its face value," he said.

Digital domination: In line with my accidental series on digital domination earlier this year, concern has been expressed that an entire generation or even century of data may be lost because it's all been digital or digitized and the paper thrown away (or never existed), but the programs to read this material are gone or certainly going.

 He was talking most specifically about emails and photos, but I've heard this about company records and even books, and probably have said it before myself. But what's remarkable about the warning is that it comes from the head honcho of Google, himself kind of implicated in the digital domain (Google was sued for digitizing copyrighted text but recently won the case.)  So maybe that gives it the extra weight it may take to wake up some people from their digital swoon.

I might also mention my tantrum on the subject of keyless car ignitions, which got some detailed rebuttals on another blog from someone who sounds like he's in the car business.  He talked about security but didn't mention what I didn't know about then, which is the vulnerability to car theft etc. by electronics via the keyless system.  Apparently a growing problem.

The President of Projection:  I wasn't going to dignify the rabid right freakout over President Obama's comments at a prayer breakfast by even mentioning it, but I've now got two reasons.  First, the two pieces (here and here) by Ta-Nehisi Coates on the subject.  In addition to providing actual history that rabid rightists ignore (big surprise) he led off the second piece with this great ascerbic comment: "People who wonder why the president does not talk more about race would do well to examine the recent blow-up over his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast."

Second is something that immediately occurred to me but I haven't seen mentioned.  Here's what President Obama said that offended these folks: "Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ."

Coates provides the history to back this up, my interest is in the "high horse" part of it.  It is precisely the high horse perspective that allows and fuels the kind of hysterical "patriotism" that the Bushites inflamed after 9/11 that resulted in inanities like "freedom fries" but also the emotional push behind the self-righteous invading of Iraq, which even then was obviously irrelevant to 9/11.

So while we revile the extreme inhumanity of ISIL, only riders on the "high horse" (which likely include the rabid right critics of this comment) can justify mirror-image atrocities like torture, or expand the targets to Muslims in general, or anybody different in any way--different that is from right wing Christian fundamentalists.   And this precisely is the effective reason for President Obama's remark.  He wants action against ISIL, but for us to keep our heads, and perspective.