Thursday, June 04, 2015

A Family in Grief

I've moved this back to the top today, in honor of the official mourning period for Beau Biden.  Here is the White House page on Beau Biden, text and mostly photos, many with his two small children.  May he rest in peace.

Two similar pieces appeared recently in the wake of the death of Beau Biden, the Vice-President's 46 year old son, from a brain tumor: one in the New Yorker, one in Politico (not otherwise known for kindness towards Democrats.)  They both noted the tragic nature of this death, of a young man with an already distinguished record, who seemed to have no enemies, and who was headed for the governorship of Delaware and perhaps beyond.  They both noted all the tragedies endured by Joe Biden, including the deaths of his wife and child blindsided in their car, and the injuries of two other children including Beau.

But both pieces center on the universally recognized authenticity of Joe Biden and his family.  Without much saying so, they certainly imply the rarity of that authenticity in American political life.  This is especially obvious when this sad news broke the same week as revelations about the secret crimes of the former Republican Speaker of the House and multimillionaire, Dennis Hastert--a man so utterly not what he seems that fittingly enough, he has completely disappeared.

Joe Biden was "a surprise pick" for v.p. nominee, as the Politico piece says, but evidently Obama saw something authentic in the man and his family, and the the two families quickly bonded.  The Politico piece passes on an observation by David Axlerod, who was in the Obama White House in its first years:

Axelrod said the only day in his two years on staff at the White House that he remembers Obama being distracted was the day in 2010 when Beau Biden had his stroke — the first public sign of the brain cancer that took his life. “He just stared out the window and started talking about how hard this would be for Joe,” Axelrod recalled.

This piece implies that one reason Joe Biden wasn't actively pursuing a presidential nomination this year was his concern for his son's health.

Apparently, being asked to run for vice-president surprised even Joe Biden.  The New Yorker:

He rose through the Senate, ran twice for the Presidency, said things he wished he had not, paid for them, recovered—only to find himself, to his surprise, asked to join a fellow senator, Barack Obama, in a historic run for the White House. In the Vice-Presidency—the most maligned job in Washington—Biden has often projected the look of a man who can’t quite believe his good fortune. Ted Kaufman, his friend for more than four decades, once told me, “If you ask me who’s the unluckiest person I know personally, who’s had just terrible things happen to him, I’d say Joe Biden. If you asked me who is the luckiest person I know personally, who’s had things happen to him that are just absolutely incredible, I’d say Joe Biden.”

The New Yorker quotes President Obama:

After the news broke on Saturday, the President praised Beau Biden for “a life that was full; a life that mattered.” He said it was a testament to Jill and Joe Biden that Beau lived “a life that reflected their reverence for family.” “The Bidens,” he said, “have more family than they know.” 

There is something to that. In a town where “family” is often brandished as a political prop, the Bidens have never attracted a cynical reading. In their tragedy, their striving, their survival, and their improbable optimism, the Bidens are a deeply American family—a clan that, even as it edged into privilege, has never looked out of reach or out of touch.

Both pieces have variations on "an American family" in their titles.  Perhaps the Bidens are more like American families than most people in Washington.  It seems so plausible as to be obvious, so perhaps this moment should jolt us into realizing how seriously warped that is.  Really, once the Obamas and the Bidens leave, who is left?

On the other hand, maybe there aren't enough families like them to constitute anything but an ideal American family.  Which may be even worse.  But both pieces note the outpouring of real emotion from Washington and elsewhere. Perhaps they are models to aspire to and identify with, in our national heart of hearts.  And so we grieve with them.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Heard These? Probably Not.

Two bad news stories you probably haven't heard or seen or read: one of them very bad, and the other astonishingly bad.

There's an ongoing heat wave in India that has killed thousands. It's become the fifth deadliest heat wave in history. The Minister for Earth Sciences of India noted that this heat plus the predicted failure of this year's annual monsoons after last year's complete failure, indicates that climate change is involved.

"So, let us not fool ourselves that there is no connection between the unusual number of deaths from the ongoing heat wave and the certainty of another failed monsoon,” said Dr. Harsh Vardhan. He recalled President Obama’s candid statement on the three-year-running drought in California which has ruined that state’s fruit crop.

He pointed out that the Indian monsoon is known to be heavily dependent on oceanic, atmospheric and land surface conditions. The drastic changes brought about through change of the character of land and resultant atmospheric pollution are definitely influencing the monsoon. Dr Harsh Vardhan remarked, “Scientists till now had not considered the local implications of global change. Think global act local is happening now.”

That's the very bad story.  The possibly worse story--though no present deaths are involved--is a new study predicting that global heating is melting glaciers in the Himalayas so fast that by century's end their volume will be decreased by 70 to 90%.

Like other key areas of the world, the effects on local populations will be immense:

The food and livelihoods of more than a billion people living in Asia would suffer greatly by drastic glacial retreat in the Himalayas, a report by The Guardian says. Both the generation of hydroelectric power and agriculture would be severely affected. And, in addition to a dramatic reduction in meltwater, glacial retreat also can trigger a chain of events leading to avalanches and catastrophic floods, the authors say.

But that isn't the end of it.  For reasons not entirely understood, the Himalayas (especially near Tibet) are important to the world's weather.  The area greatly influences the atmospheric tides that govern global weather and climate in real time.  So in addition to local effects of the climate crisis, we're seeing the possibility of global consequences from local effects.

But of course all that isn't nearly important as the big stories of the day, like multimillionaire Caitlyn Jenner and granny panties.