Saturday, November 19, 2016


The Resistance to the home-grown Hitler's regime is organizing at all levels and among all groups, from environmentalists to civil rights advocates, even including Democratic officeholders.  And now a leader:

"President Obama is rethinking his plans to withdraw from the political arena after he leaves office next year, hinting to friends and supporters that he wants to add his voice to the shellshocked Democratic activists and elected officials who are now angrily vowing to oppose Donald J. Trump’s presidency."

"In his remarks to activists, Mr. Obama urged them to stop moping and to ratchet up their opposition to Mr. Trump by Thanksgiving. He promised to join their cause soon after, telling them: “You’re going to see me early next year, and we’re going to be in a position where we can start cooking up all kinds of great stuff to do.”

The rest of this New York Times article is about Democratic officeholders and advocacy groups resolved to oppose the coming tide of catastrophe.  A Politico piece is about Obama campaigns and White House alums organizing a Resistance.

The New Yorker has a long piece based on David Remnick's recent conversation with President Obama.  He's engagingly honest, and let's hope his hopes work out.  But if not, and in the meantime, the Resistance.

Remnick quotes President Obama on Internet information and the climate crisis:

The new media ecosystem “means everything is true and nothing is true,” Obama told me later. “An explanation of climate change from a Nobel Prize-winning physicist looks exactly the same on your Facebook page as the denial of climate change by somebody on the Koch brothers’ payroll. And the capacity to disseminate misinformation, wild conspiracy theories, to paint the opposition in wildly negative light without any rebuttal—that has accelerated in ways that much more sharply polarize the electorate and make it very difficult to have a common conversation.”

That marked a decisive change from previous political eras, he maintained. “Ideally, in a democracy, everybody would agree that climate change is the consequence of man-made behavior, because that’s what ninety-nine per cent of scientists tell us,” he said. “And then we would have a debate about how to fix it. That’s how, in the seventies, eighties, and nineties, you had Republicans supporting the Clean Air Act and you had a market-based fix for acid rain rather than a command-and-control approach. So you’d argue about means, but there was a baseline of facts that we could all work off of. And now we just don’t have that.”

That can't be the whole explanation, because the rest of the world is not fooled. Meanwhile, internationally, an angry world prepares to resist any Trumped-up efforts to derail the Paris climate agreement:

...with the election of Donald J. Trump — and his threat to withdraw the United States from the accord — shellshocked negotiators confronted potentially deep fissures developing in the international consensus on climate change. On the sidelines of the negotiations, some diplomats turned from talking of rising seas and climbing temperatures toward how to punish the United States if Mr. Trump follows through, possibly with a carbon-pollution tax on imports of American-made goods.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Be Kind, Be Useful, Be Fearless

"Be kind, be useful, be fearless."  President Obama's discussions with young people, especially White House interns, are full of acute observations and advice.  This quote was lifted by the WH in its weekly summary from his final session with this year's interns.

Unfortunately, it isn't on the very brief excerpt from this session posted on YouTube.  A longer and earlier q & a from a previous session is most interesting. President Obama talks about the origin of his optimism and is especially good on success.  He reminds them that they are "the most privileged people at the most prosperous and secure period of human history."  So the opportunities for doing good are enormous.

He reminds them that becoming President or a successful tech entrepreneur or film director involves a lot of luck. It depends on "certain breaks that you get, it's not because you're so much better than everybody else."  "But being useful, having a satisfying life, making a contribution--that is entirely within your control."

They are both worth seeing precisely at this difficult moment.  Unfortunately this simple phrase that is really worth absorbing right now, that should go viral and achieve lasting life, isn't on these videos.

"Be kind, be useful, be fearless" is to me the mantra for this moment and for the future.  I've added it to this site as a stand-alone quote and on the marque above, substituting for the Dylan song quote: "It's not dark yet, but it's getting there."  Because we're pretty much there.

It's a question now of how do we find our way in the dark.  "Be kind, be useful, be fearless," is a good start.

The Internet of Nothing

I'm currently having Internet connection problems, due almost certainly to wiring coming into the house, which also affects the landline phone.  It's acting like a short circuit--a problem we've had before in this old house (built in the 1950s and added onto.  The previous/original owner liked to do his own wiring.)

Right now it seems we have reasonably reliable Internet only when the sun shines.  Which given that it's November on the North Coast, prone to rain and fog, isn't very reliable at all.  (How could this be?  Wet wiring, a dodgy connection, heat expands to solidify it, how the hell should I know.)

Anyway another object lesson in fragility, on the folly of assuming things, especially in ignorance, as if things will always be as they are, and the Internet works by magic.

So consequently posting here will likely be dodgy for awhile.

On the bright side, we got a lot of rain in October and a fair amount this month, so we are the one area in California that is now officially out of drought.

During the Flood

Before the Flood is the documentary on climate change created by Leonardo DiCaprio and associates.  It was available free for several weeks, and still may be but it might require a search on YouTube or some process on the National Geographic Channel site.

I've posted here a few minutes that occur near the end of the film.  Its DiCaprio's short speech at the UN signing ceremony for the Paris agreement, intercut with images from earlier in the film.  I watched the complete film in sections, because these early parts were so devastating.  It's one thing to read about or even imagine the devastation that we, through our corporate servants and masters, are wreaking on this planet, but it's quite another to see it.

The clear-cutting of vast Canadian and Indonesian forests is bad enough.  But this segment posted here doesn't refer back to what hit me the hardest: the contrast between the ocean's underwater world--filled with the colorful life of countless fish and other species--and the vast dark empty grave when coral reefs die.  And they are dying all around the world, due directly to global heating.

Everywhere color and life is turned into gray death, either by industrial processes (tar sand oil extraction, perverse industrial agriculture) or by the deadly effects of climate change itself.

Later in the film, there are voices of hope if not optimism:  Elon Musk on alternative energy's future, a dying NASA scientist, President Obama talking about Paris and the path to the future. This docu was released shortly before the election, but DiCaprio asks the President if his successor is a denialist, could he unravel the progress made?  President Obama gives the same answer as in his press conference, that the reality will be powerful, and if it is ignored, public outcry will come.  He then outlines the immediate danger in national security terms.

DiCaprio begins and ends this film with the Hieronymus Bosch triptych "The Garden of Earthly Delights," a poster of which hung above his bed as a child, thanks to his counterculture parents (it was a widespread poster in the late 60s and early 70s as I recall.)

He notes that the apocalyptic vision of the third panel is where we are rapidly heading, and by the end of the film, the lurid dark portrait of destruction simply refers back to scenes we've seen already.  So the documentary has an artistic shape as well as well-organized and visually compelling content.

I've long advocated (mostly by muttering into the wind) that celebrity voices could help generate emotional consensus on the climate crisis, and DiCaprio has done his best.  The risks he's taken are part of the film, as in the clips of rabid right commentators making fun of him.  But his final statement at the UN states the situation as well as anyone has: "Massive change is required right now, ...that leads to a new collective consciousness, a new collective evolution of the human race, inspired and enabled by a sense of urgency."     

  If you look this up on YouTube you may find some crazy responses from both the right and left. It looks like an impossible job still, but all we can do is our best. This may be hard to watch, even as beautiful as it is. That's in part what makes it hard to watch. But it's worth watching.
If your taste is for more talk, there's a related video discussion involving DiCaprio, President Obama and a very articulate climate expert Catherine [didn't catch her last name](who works in Texas now but clearly she's from Canada.)  This is a fine discussion which includes very direct explanations of related climate change phenomena.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

It's His Side Now

If anybody operates on the sunny side of the street, it's still President Obama.  Looking fit, rested and in complete control, President Obama's press conference on Monday was a remarkable exercise in leadership.

I'm not sure how long these links will last, but here is the video, and here is the transcript.  I've embedded it, too.

He exuded ease as the President, pride and confidence in the shape of the country now versus when he took office, and in the achievements of his administration and what the US helped to institutionalize internationally.  He put the best possible face on the transition, and clearly he used his considerable powers of persuasion to urge a realistic approach.

While the headlines belie his hopes for a smooth and more realistic transition--he said he stressed the difference between campaigning and governing--his continuing attempts to nudge it all in at least a safe direction is, at the very least, intriguing and interesting to watch.  It might turn out to be very canny as well.

President Obama was most reassuring on the big changes we all fear.  He said it will be very difficult to unravel Obamacare without dire consequences, for example.  Without (of course) being asked because why would the media be suddenly interested, he talked about the Paris climate agreement:

"For example, the Paris agreement. There’s been a lot of talk about the possibility of undoing this international agreement. Now, you’ve got 200 countries that have signed up to this thing. And the good news is that what we’ve been able to show over the last five, six, eight years is that it’s possible to grow the economy really fast and possible to bring down carbon emissions as well.

It’s not just a bunch of rules that we’ve set up. You’ve got utilities that are putting in solar panels and creating jobs. You’ve got the Big Three automakers who have seen record sales and are overachieving on the fuel efficiency standards that we set. Turns out that people like not having to fill up as often and save money at the pump, even if it’s good for the environment.

You’ve got states like California that have been moving forward on a clean energy agenda separate and apart from any federal regulations that have been put forward. In fact, 40 percent of the country already lives under -- in states that are actively pursuing what’s embodied in the Paris agreement and the Clean Power Plan rule. And even states like Texas that politically tend to oppose me -- you’ve seen huge increases in wind power and solar power. And you’ve got some of the country’s biggest companies, like Google and Walmart, all pursuing energy efficiency because it’s good for their bottom line.

So what we’ve been able to do is to embed a lot of these practices into how our economy works. And it’s made our economy more efficient, it’s helped the bottom line of folks, and it’s cleaned up the environment.

What the Paris agreement now does is say to China and India and other countries that are potentially polluting, come onboard; let’s work together so you guys do the same thing.

And the biggest threat when it comes to climate change and pollution isn’t going to come from us -- because we only have 300 million people. It’s going to come from China, with over a billion people, and India, with over a billion people. And if they are pursuing the same kinds of strategies that we did before we became more aware of the environment, then our kids will be choked off.

And so, again, do I think that the new administration will make some changes? Absolutely. But these international agreements, the tradition has been that you carry them forward across administrations, particularly if, once you actually examine them, it turns out that they’re doing good for us and binding other countries into behavior that will help us."

This of course does not guarantee, or even indicate, that the next administration will deal with reality rather than impose ideology and the short-term interests of their biggest fossil fuel industry backers.  But President Obama makes a good case here of at least how hard it will be, and merely stating this puts everyone on notice to watch for consequences.

China has already announced that its support for the Paris treaty is unwavering, and if India stays the course then some progress can still be made.  China will of course use US federal intransigence to accelerate its clean energy manufacturing, positioning itself to be the economic leader, for as long as that means anything.  The people here who will suffer most directly from the lack of new clean energy jobs will be precisely the people who formed Trump's core support.

So I add these comments by President Obama partly because they bear on my gloomier assessments on the same topic.  And also because I was approaching my intended task of a visual retrospective of the Obama administration with a heavy heart.  I feel better about it now.  I can celebrate what President Obama accomplished, and do so in this period in which those accomplishments are ongoing.

 But as he said, his responsibility was to leave the country better off than it was when he took office, and he has done that.  And as he almost said but certainly implied, he's leaving the country in good enough shape that the new administration can flounder around and even screw things up for awhile without needing to deal with external crisis.  The problems they are having now are of their own making, and they will be causing many more problems and crises once they take power.  But I understand the perspective.  And I sure hope he's right.

R.I.P. 2016 Leonard Cohen

"And I've seen your flag on the marble arch
And love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah"

Leonard Cohen
September 21, 1934 – November 7, 2016

When Leonard Cohen died last week, he was most often described as the writer of the song "Hallelujah."  My generation knew him first as the guy who wrote "Suzanne." "She feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China." Very exotic in 1967, long before everything came from China--tea, oranges, teacups, etc.

He was also a poet and a novelist (I remember Beautiful Losers) which confirmed new possibilities for the rest of us.  His time as a monk informs the imagery in a lot of his lyrics, including "Suzanne" and especially "Hallelujah."

 But his song "Hallelujah" is widely recognized as a classic, and it has quite a story--one version told in this Washington Post piece, which includes a few versions recorded by Cohen and others (although the one from Shrek is credited to Rufus Wainwright, but it's actually John Cale.  Cale's version was in the movie, Wainwright's on the CD soundtrack.  I love Wainwright's voice but for me Cale's version is the most moving.  Here's a link to a youtube of it without the cartoon sounds.)  Different versions (k.d. lang, Jeff Buckley, Bob Dylan, etc.) have different sets of lyrics.

The song came into prominence again this week because Kate McKinnon sang it to open the first post-elect Saturday Night Live, in character as Hillary.

May he rest in peace.  His work--very obviously--lives on.

Monday, November 14, 2016

2016: Further Conclusions

It's been six days, the initial adrenalin surge has abated.  People have talked to me about it, I've read a little and listened to a little, I've heard about reactions among community people. I had a particularly potent conversation with some redwoods.  I'm still not sleeping well or long, and although I've sampled some reactions from Washington etc. that says this is reversible in coming elections, I find my views softened only a little. (Though I must say that President Obama's press conference today suggests better potential.)  I allow for possibilities that I'm wrong and they are right.  And as I've said before, I know I am seeing things from my specific perspective, emotionally as well as intuitively, intellectually and through selective observation.

I'm also aware of how vulnerable people are right now, and maybe it's best to be quiet.  But I'll have to be selfish here, and express myself, if only in the hopes that it may help me sleep better soon.
From a 1930s Federal Theatre Project production of Sinclair Lewis' "It Can't Happen Here"                  
Hillary Clinton made two particularly true assertions during this campaign. This: "Sometimes the fate of the greatest nations comes down to single moments in time. This is one of those make-or-break moments," she said.

 And this: "I'm the last thing standing between you and the apocalypse."

It was a make it or break it moment.  And now it's broken.  This was a pervasive failure of our political system in the US--in all aspects of it.  Consequently there's nothing--or nothing much--between us and the apocalypse.

 Our political system first of all failed to repel two new threats: intrusions by a foreign and hostile power, and intrusion by the federal police.  But to really face the comprehensive failure, one must withdraw the instant legitimacy that the election gave Trump, and recall that he was not in any sense an acceptable  political candidate.

 He had no experience in government whatsoever.  He was almost completely ignorant and ill-informed about issues, the Constitution and the powers and responsibilities of the office he was running for.  He demonstrated all the knowledge and curiosity of someone deeply afflicted with attention deficit disorder.  He bragged of not paying federal taxes and disdained releasing his tax returns,  the simplest test of veracity and conflict of interest.  

As a candidate, he was revealed to be a compulsive liar and a crook, who assaulted women and bullied anyone who didn't worship him constantly.  He made racist statements. The extremists who supported him included white supremacists, and that includes the man who will now be his chief policy advisor in the White House. He showed himself to be temperamentally childish, with a fragile ego. He is a charlatan and a Philistine.

Very few newspapers or other media outlets endorsed him, and most warned that he was unfit and dangerous.  Prominent members of his own party, especially those who had served in high positions in previous administrations, also warned that he was unfit.   He was accurately described as a demagogue and an authoritarian threat to constitutional democracy.

It is unprecedented in my lifetime that major news media figures, political analysts and other prominent voices would routinely describe a presidential candidate as a proto-fascist, a Mussolini or a Hitler. (Recall that the UK had a parliamentary debate over whether he should be allowed in the country.)  But Trump was so described, around the world and also in the US.

Those who have warned in the past of a fascist takeover usually suggested it might happen in a time of economic, political and social crisis.  While there are some serious underlying problems today, there is no major and pervasive economic and social crisis in 2016.  The country is as politically stable as it has been in 20 years.  I'm pretty certain that in coming years people will look back on this year as a high point of prosperity and stability, compared with what it likely to be coming.

Despite all this and more, the nightmare came true.  I cannot view this as other than a complete failure of the entire system: Democrats failed, Republicans failed, the consultants and experts failed, the pollsters failed, the entire media (old and new) failed.  Some of them even did a reasonably good job.  But they still failed.  In fact our entire culture and society failed. It's a failure both pervasive and pervasively consequential.

I do not believe it is a failure with temporary consequences. Once ushered into power, our home-grown Hitler and his alt.right Nazi party control the entire
federal government (including the courts and the federal police.) They also control many state governments who will decide apportionment in 2020.  It seems likely to me that they will wield power for many years to come.

 Republicans and the alt.right in particular have used with decisive effectiveness the technique of attacking opponents for doing exactly what they themselves are doing.  This makes their opponents defensive, and inoculates them against the same charge. So by charging rigged elections, they get away with voter suppression and intimidation.  By a persistent effort to portray President Obama as a dictator who wanted to cancel elections, they may get away with a brand of authoritarianism this country has not seen.

Republicans will also take advantage of the fact that Democrats are actually committed to solving problems with government action.  So congressional Democrats will not automatically oppose everything as Republicans did.  For example, after years of opposing infrastructure spending solely because President Obama proposed it, Republicans may suddenly and shamelessly support it--and take the credit.

 In any case, even if it lasts only four years plus the years necessary to try to repair the damage, it's a very consequential failure.  That's what makes it a failure.

Some of this failure is more widely shared beyond the U.S.  Xenophobia is on the rise around the world.  Its eruption in the UK has shaken the western world, doomed the UK to a generation of decline, and weakened Europe.  Now it is openly triumphant in what was the world's model of a diverse society, resulting already in violence and supremacist preening.

It has tipped the balance of a complex culture, but worse, it may well be a tipping point.

For there is one failure--the one with very probably the greatest consequence--that belongs to the US alone.  The US is alone in the world in having a major political party oppose all efforts to address the climate crisis, or even to acknowledge its reality. That party is now in power.

Efforts, I see, are underway already to withdraw this nation from the Paris climate treaty.  It is likely that very soon, federal carbon pollution regulations will end, pipelines will get the go-ahead and the extraction and use of fossil fuels in and by the US will accelerate (as will the deforestation and pollution in Canada.)

Serious push-back from other nations and from US military and security experts on climate change realities is also happening already, but it's unclear whether any of the alt.right administration's evisceration of climate and environmental protections can even be blunted.

It is clear now in retrospect that a major failure of this campaign was not demanding that the climate crisis be among the top issues discussed.  It wasn't discussed at all.

The Obama administration managed to do a lot without making a big issue of it--it wasn't discussed in the 2012 campaign either.  That came back to haunt us this election.  At a time when it is crucial that efforts to address the causes of climate change be accelerated, we will have an administration that seeks to destroy all progress so painfully made.  And at the moment there is no obvious US political consensus or even large visible support as a counterweight, to prevent this from happening.

The Paris agreement was a triumphant moment for a world that has to be united if civilization is to survive.  But it came too late to keep the climate from seriously changing.  It did however feel like turning the corner on attention to addressing the causes so that the worst might not happen for coming generations, and also to address some of the effects that are being experienced, and will be experienced by people now alive.

The United States was a leader in this effort over the entire extent of the Obama years.  Now that leadership and even participation is to be withdrawn.  It makes it deeply, deeply humiliating to be an American, to know that our political system has quite possibly doomed human civilization, and a great deal of the life now existing on this planet.

Is it really that bad? It's true that there is uncertainty about how much time we have to work with. Through the application of our science and technology, we know where things are heading and why.  We know the range of consequences.  The climate, the Earth as a system of systems, is very complex in its interactions, so we do not know where we are in the process.  But quite a few anticipated possibilities have happened well before worst-case scenarios suggested they might.

And we pretty much know there are tipping points--circumstances that will create self-perpetuating cycles--global heating feeding on itself, a long chain of ocean death-- that in turn will create conditions that will not support our current civilization, and may send the human race on the road to extinction.  Once passed, there is nothing known that humanity can do to stop these processes, and only surmises on how even to cope with them.

We may have already reached one or more of those tipping points, but if we proceed with the insane Republicans plan (and the fact that they are serving the most powerful destructive industries is part of that insanity) we are rushing towards those tipping points.  Right now, four years is itself a dangerous and I fear fateful amount of time.  Especially since it would take more years to reverse course again.

For humanity, Paris was a demarcation point that said: humanity as a whole has unknowingly deformed the climate, but now organized humanity as a whole has consciously acknowledged this and has decided to stop doing it, hoping it is not too late.  As part of this, there was some acknowledgement that humanity unthinkingly if relentlessly destroyed conditions that supported many species of life, especially the larger animal and plant species, and that this, too, had to be addressed, beyond climate change consequences.

This election in the US has riven this tender new consensus.

How can one election do this? In the observable present, huge glaciers the size of states and icebergs the size of cities are breaking apart, melting and sliding into the sea.  But they don't break apart all at once.  Perhaps after years of strain, it starts with invisible cracks, that in prior seasons would have sealed when cold descended.  But the small cracks lead to a larger crack. As water pours through it, that crack determines the glacier's fate.

I offer this as a metaphor, not a scientific description.  So in this metaphor, the consequences of this election make that large fateful crack in the world's resolve and ability to address the causes and consequences of deformed climate.

There is a sense in which it is the answer to the question of whether humanity and human consciousness has evolved quickly enough to survive massive environmental change, and now I fear we have the answer, and it is no.  Because the test is whether we effectively act, and it may take only the US to prevent it.  It is an even greater failure because it was humanity and aspects of consciousness that created the environmental change.  It's not only necessary to our survival, it's our moral responsibility.  And if we don't meet it, we're the curse of the planet.

That, at any rate, is what I felt in my conversation with the redwoods.  I was there not as usual, as member of a fellow species, admiring, breathing in life, paying respects and communing.  I felt I was dead to those redwoods.  That they really don't want to have anything to do with a failed species that is taking down their species and the environment that supports it. They were telling me that our kind of consciousness is a failed evolutionary experiment, a mutation that worked for awhile but in these new conditions it largely created, couldn't cut it.

 It may be outlandish projection, but it suggests why I feel as I do about this election and its consequences.  And while I respect those who will continue to engage in the political arenas, for me the failures are so stark and pervasive--at a time in my life when there isn't a lot of time left--that I must look elsewhere.

I don't yet know where this leaves me.  I hear people determined to experience what survives of our planet while they can.  I hear people looking for one specific area in which they can offer their efforts, and make some sort of difference.  Those seem like good ideas to me.

At this point in life you don't want to waste too much time (knowing full well that the cycles of life involve a lot of waste.)  I just want to make more realistic choices about how to spend my time.  I know the dangers of letting unconscious factors like emotion rule decisions too much, but emotions and intuitions can't be ignored either.

Hope as always is a commitment more than a feeling.  Hope is an activity of the present that is necessarily oriented to the future.  The future may be an illusion, but it is a necessary one.  Another consequence of this election is that the future is even less knowable, but it's probably not going to be a matter of smooth or even moderately bumpy transitions.

Finally a point that deserves its own space, but it is relevant to all of this.  In times when it seems even more important to savor what we have around us, the elusive quality of being "in the moment" with minimal distraction becomes more valued.  And rightly so.

But being in the moment, and experiencing the world of this moment with gratitude, is not the same as living only in the present.  There are evaluations to make of the influences of social media and smartphones and other manifestations of the Internet-dominated culture.  For now, I note that a lot of people believe they are changing important aspects of consciousness.  One of those is a restriction to the present.

Back when Facebook was taking off, I asked someone who worked there what people found to talk about on it so constantly.  He said they were engaged in answering the question "What are you doing right now?"

When more and more consciousness is absorbed only in "right now," through social media, texting, smartphone alerts and so on, it reduces the density and complexity of consciousness and of identity.  At least that's the conclusion made by Edward Mendelson in the New York Review of Books.  "The more you dwell in the past and future," he writes, "the more solid your persona...You cannot reduce your engagement with the past and future without diminishing yourself..."

Mendelson's use of "persona" is a bit ambiguous, as this usually refers to what others see of you.  What you are may be described as your personality or identity, and it may also be called your soul.

I suppose this post is partly about looking at this election with the past and the future in mind.  And my conclusion about what the hell do we do now is: how the hell should I know, but I believe we need to retain and develop the skills to apply the past and future to the present.  Or anyway I do.  And my initial conclusion is: everything is changed.  Pretty much everything.  And start from there.