Friday, May 29, 2015

Roosevelt & Hopkins: War Tourists, Congress and the President

The mythology of World War II has the United States, seeing Hitler as the evil threat he was, united to defeat him.  We've seen that wasn't true, before the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939 or afterwards, until Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor meant the US declared war not only on Japan but on its ally, Germany.

The mythology also has the homefront united in the war effort.  While the homefront was crucial and most Americans felt it was their patriotic duty to obey rationing and endure other sacrifices, collect materials for armament, and work overtime if asked in war production.  But private enterprise was not always so dedicated.

For instance, Roosevelt and Hopkins records this episode:

 “The ships moving along the Atlantic Coast at night, although showing no lights themselves, passed between the waiting [German]submarines and the glare of lights from the shore and therefore presented easy targets. Morison has written, ‘Miami and its luxurious suburbs threw up six miles of neon-light glow, against which the southbound shipping that hugged the reefs to avoide the Gulf Stream were silhouetted. Ships were sunk and seamen drowned in order that the citizenry might enjoy business and pleasure as usual.’
After three months of this massacre, the military authorities ordered the lights dimmed in coastal areas—it was called ‘the brown-out’—and ‘squawks went up all the way from Atlantic City to southern Florida that the tourist season would be ruined.’”

Pressure from private enterprise was applied to Congress.  Congress approved war spending routinely, with one exception:

“However, seriously controversial political issues were created by measures which involved arbitrary interference with the civilian economy. The American people, who were so willing and proud to give whatever was required of them in blood and sweat, were loudly reluctant to cut down on their normal consumption of red meat and gasoline and their use of such essentials as electric toasters and elastic girdles. More than any other people on earth, Americans were addicted to the principle that you can eat your cake and have it; which was entirely understandable, for Americans have been assured from the cradle that 'there is always more cake where that came from.'”

When Congress couldn't take the heat, they gladly passed it on to Roosevelt, and then criticized him for acting.  That they criticized his use of executive power--though they were glad he did them the favor of taking responsibility and acting--sure sounds familiar. In taking action against inflation, FDR told Congress to act or he would--which is what President Obama did on immigration.  In both cases, Congress failed to act, but the President did.

“The President had the power to stabilize prices and wages by Executive Order without reference to Congress and some of us believed that he should do just that immediately and not run the risk of hostile action or no action at all on Capitol Hill. There were unquestionably many Congressman who fervently hoped that he would do it this way and thereby absolve them from all responsibility for decision on such a controversial issue. (It was an ironic fact that many of the Congressmen who were loudest in accusing Roosevelt of dictatorial ambitions were the most anxious to have him act like a dictator on all measures which might be unpopular with the people but obviously valuable for the winning of the war.) 
 Roosevelt himself was in favor of an arbitrary Executive Order to achieve stabilization, and his speech was at first written as a proclamation and explanation of that; but some of his advisers, notably Hopkins and Henderson, strongly recommended that he ut the issue up to Congress in the form of an ultimatum—‘you act before October 1st or I will’—and their arguments finally prevailed.”

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Daily News

Predicted and observed effects of global heating include more frequent and more violent storms...

Texas storm has 'tsuami-like power says governor
Twister kills 13 in Mexico border city; 12 missing in Texas flood
Update 4/28: Continuing severe weather and flooding in Texas, 16 dead
and a Texas newspaper notices it's evidence of climate change.

and longer and more intense heat waves...

India heat wave kills more than 500 people.
Update 4/28: Heat wave continues--deaths now over 1,000
Update 4/29: Death toll of India heat wave at 1800

and combined with other effects of mindless industrialization and sprawl, is leading to species extinctions.

Obama's plan to save the Monarch butterfly from extinction

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Spring (or Summer ?) Flowering

Every Memorial Day weekend, my grandfather would change the winter glass storm doors for screen doors, bring the window screens up from the cellar, and remove the dark cover from the glider on the front porch.  It was the signal for summer.

Hereabouts there's something blooming at all times of year, but the spring flowers are into their summer.  We've got varieties of roses (yellow in front, red in back), Iris (though they tend to bloom earlier in the spring) and California poppies.  We've even got purple sage (that's it above, along with the two flowers I'm about to mention.)

But two kinds are dominant, and in our walks in the neighborhood, I don't see them as profuse (or even as present) as around our house. Nasturtiums (proper name Tropaeolum) are orange or orange and yellow striped flowers, with roundish green leaves.  The stems are attached to vines which grow at an incredible rate that accelerated in April.  They threaten to cover the back porch, and I confess to enjoy being surrounded by them in my usual chair.

Nasturtium flowers are edible with a kind of peppery taste, and contain high amounts of vitamin C.  We use them in salads from time to time.

The other kind is the Calla Lily.  Before I came here, all I knew about calla lilies was what Katherine Hepburn said in Stage Door--it became one of the standard lines for Hepburn imitators.  I first noticed them growing in the narrow strip between the north side of the house and the fence with the neighbor house.  There's only one small door on that side of the house, from the garage, and access from the front through a small garden gate.  This area has always been dense with bushes and, close to the house, with ferns.  Back in the far western corner is where I first noticed a few calla lilies.

They stayed pretty much on that side until recent years, then migrated to the front (also accompanying ferns) and now we have them in the back bordering the porch and near the small fruit trees (fernless however), as well as in the front under the picture window.  They are strange and strangely beautiful white flowers on long stalks that can get quite tall.  (The books say three feet, but several in the front this year were at least four feet.)  I'm fascinated by their large leaves with their curves and folds.  We seem to have the most callas in the vicinity.  I don't know why.  They bloom for a lot of the year.

Nasturtiums came from South America, calla lilies from Africa (though some species have been in northern parts of the US for a long time.)  So I don't know where you draw the line on native plants.  They probably do compete successfully with other flowers, though there are varieties scattered in our yards that I can't name that seem more like California flowers-- very complex, with bands and spots of colors, bell-like parts and other complexities, all so different. Even the wild iris are remarkable in their stripes and patterns, the subtle blend of colors.

By contrast, I remember the flowers of my western Pennsylvania childhood as simpler: violets, daisies, profusions of dandelions considered weeds, the purple flowers I never knew the name of because they too were "weeds," flower beds of gladiolas and roses.

I was musing on this topic while out on the porch in April, on one of the rare occasions that I took my laptop out there (it doesn't do well in bright light.) What I was thinking of when I was out there watching and listening to what goes on around the flowers and trees was the profusion I recall--accurately or not I don't know, but I think pretty accurately. Here I watched a single wasp, and three bumble bees who are working the same territory but seemed to stay together at a respectful distance from the larger pollinator.  I heard crickets, a fairly uncommon sound. The sight of a butterfly is rare, and the sight of more than one of any appreciable size is rarer still.

In my childhood backyard and the adjoining field there were lots of bumble bees to watch and be wary of, and wasps and hornets were regular residents around the outside of the house. Lots of butterflies, large and patterned, all summer. Our neighborhood lore included the difference between Monarchs and butterflies that looked just like them. My favorites were the patterned butterflies in shades of blue.

We've made things as bird friendly as possible here. I have a makeshift birdbath on an old picnic table and have watched birds splashing in it, though its been dry lately.  I needed to find a smaller dish I can refill every day without drought guilt.

 But the birds who visit us mostly chirp--songs are rare. There were a lot more songbirds in the east, particularly where I lived in Pittsburgh. There were also cardinals and goldfinches we don't have here at all. (On the other hand, I can watch hawks circling above the community forest almost any day.)  In spring however we do get species of bird visitors we may never see the rest of the summer, or rarely. And in April on the HSU campus I saw a pair of stellar jays--large jays, blue feathers--and heard what sounded like a macaw, or some bird call I remembered only from movies set in jungles or swamps.  That was weird.

El Nino Update

The El Nino story evolves.  The Weather Channel predicts a strong El Nino, adding to factors they say forecast a cooler than usual summer in the central and eastern US, and a warmer than usual summer here in far northwestern CA, with a very much warmer August for us.  Guess that means 80.  But apart from our coastal strip, higher temps and a dry summer mean more and bigger forest fires.  We've been bracing for that, even with the El Nino hope of a rainy fall and winter.

Other models agree on a cooler central US but predict a warmer summer on both coasts.  And a wetter than usual summer for most of the country.  But since El Nino usually adds to global temperature, 2015 is still on track to be the hottest year on record--hotter than any year since way back in...2014.  Sensing a pattern here?

Something I didn't know: the 1997 strong El Nino also started late, in summer.  I remember the winters of 96-97 and 97-98 as particularly wet here, with heavy rains and storms.  Rains that washed down denuded hills and washed away homes and parts of small towns led to outcries against overlogging, including a video I scripted for a local enviro group called Voices of Humboldt County: Cumulative Impact. All of that helped along Maxxam's local downfall, and to some extent the Headwaters Forest deal.  Anyway, those were our first years here--we'd heard the winters were rainy, but not that rainy.  So while we pray for rain, it can come with costs in flooding and storm damage.