Saturday, February 04, 2017


Early this drizzly afternoon, I opened the front door to an unusual chatter of birds.  And there they were--perched on bare branches of every tree around, including the big Linden next door.  They seemed to gather there, and I had time to go around back with a better view of this tree and snap a few photos.  Before long they were all gone.

I'm not very good at identifying birds, though I love them all.  So I'm not sure if these were locals.  But from this behavior it seems possible that they are migrants, either leaving here for elsewhere, or pausing here in transit.  This area near Humboldt Bay is a flyway for various bird species, and February is a month some travel.  Anyway, I enjoyed seeing them and especially hearing them.  I miss the songbirds back in western PA.

This is also about the time that the hummingbirds chow down before they abandon the feeders fringing the back porch, usually later this month.  Some leave the area (the Allen hummers) though others stay (the Anna hummers.)  Even the ones that stay don't check the feeders very often if at all.  I see them in the front yard, if anywhere.  This year we've had our normal minimum of three regular visitors, a family that nests nearby for generations I suspect.  I didn't see much of them this year.  Time flies, along with the birds.  

Friday, February 03, 2017

It's Not Accidental

“The Occidental burns incense to himself, and his own countenance is veiled from him in the smoke.”

[Occidental: people from the West, as distinguished from Oriental, from the East.  In modern terms, white civilization of white people.]

Climate Reality Check 2017

Whatever the state of the battle with reality in the US, the rest of the world knows what it is worried about, and that's the climate crisis.

2016 was the hottest year on record--so much expected that I didn't even bother mentioning it here.  But global experts in fields that have to deal with the effects as well as the causes of climate change have a clear idea of what they're worried about.  Even economists, notably lagging in taking the climate crisis seriously until recent years, are waving their hands of graphs and jumping up and down with their charts.

After polling their 750 international experts, the World Economic Forum recently released this year's list ranking the impact of global risks in 2017.  Being economists, their impact is largely measured in how much money they will cost to deal with, but also the chaos they cause that can prompt even more expensive problems.  (Here's the PDF of the report, and a story about it--with the graphs of course...)

 Note that these aren't risks for the far future, or even the fairly near future.  They are for this year.

The top risk in terms of likelihood is Extreme Weather Events.  The next two are also climate related: Large-Scale Involuntary Migration (which can result from extreme events, droughts and wars that are in part caused by droughts and extreme weather), and Major Natural Disasters.

Large-Scale Terrorist Attacks is fourth.

Massive data fraud is fifth this year, which adds a worry to the top five of 2016, all of which were directly or indirectly related to climate crisis effects.  Climate crisis related effects were in the top five for the past five years, and of course, there were in that time extreme weather events and natural disasters that cost billions, and created involuntary migration.

In terms of degree of impact, the only thing worse than the four climate related categories-- Extreme Weather Events, Water Crises, Major Natural Disasters and Failure of Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation (i.e. causes and effects)-- is Weapons of Mass Destruction.

The general state of knowledge and some political nuances are nicely presented in this NY Times article.  But what scientists hadn't quite predicted turns out to be how bad it is getting and how fast.  For instance, the Washington Post:

"The Arctic is so warm and has been this warm for so long that scientists are struggling to explain it and are in disbelief. The climate of the Arctic is known to oscillate wildly, but scientists say this warmth is so extreme that humans surely have their hands in it and may well be changing how it operates.

Temperatures are far warmer than ever observed in modern records, and sea ice extent keeps setting record lows.

2016 was the warmest year on record in the Arctic, and 2017 has picked up right where it left off. “Arctic extreme (relative) warmth continues,” Ryan Maue, a meteorologist with WeatherBell Analytics, tweeted on Wednesday, referring to January’s temperatures.

Veteran Arctic climate scientists are stunned.

“[A]fter studying the Arctic and its climate for three and a half decades, I have concluded that what has happened over the last year goes beyond even the extreme,” wrote Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., in an essay for Earth magazine.

It's situations like the Arctic and the breaking up of huge ice shelves in the Antarctic that renews the study of--and the worry about--tipping points.  

Paris (AFP) - Of the many things that keep climate scientists awake at night, tipping points may be the scariest.

To start with, these thresholds for deep, sometimes catastrophic change in the complex web of Earth's natural forces, caused by man-made global warming, are largely invisible. You can't see them on the horizon, and could easily cross one without noticing. Also, there is no turning back -- at least not on a human timescale."

While the borders of some are suspected, most are unknown.  So the prudent course would be to not test those borders, and to pull back as far as possible.

Much of the world gets that now.  Most of the US does, more or less.  Just not its government, apparently.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

"Repelled by the butcheries of the world war 1914 we surrendered to the arts. We looked for an elemental art that would free the people from the insanity of the times, and for a new order that might establish a balance between heaven and hell.”
Hans Arp, a founder of Dada, and creator of both these collage works

Posted in honor of the birthday of James Joyce, his contemporary.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Rights Roots

For those of us who lived through it, the narrative is familiar.  The Civil Rights movement grew through the confrontations in the South in the 1950s and 1960s over rights guaranteed and affirmed by the Supreme Court such as voting rights and school integration, and generally the end of public segregation in the South.

 Eventually, through federal legislation, many of these rights were won, but there also resulted a realignment of political parties, in which the previously solid Democratic South moved towards state's rights Republicans, while African Americans moved more definitely towards the Democratic Party which had supported these rights.

In the later 1960s, the unified Civil Rights movement splintered, and a new movement arose called black liberation.  The burgeoning antiwar movement, plus the example of black liberation, seemed instrumental in creating the women's liberation movement in the early 70s, with its emphasis on sexism and equal rights.

But of course these weren't the first such American movements, and in a way they were recapitulations of  a previous series of movements in the 19th century.

These movements are described in The Slave's Cause: A History of Abolition by Manisha Sinha (Yale U. Press.)  It was reviewed by James M. McPherson in the New York Review of Books (October 27, 2016.)  They happened when slavery was still legal and practiced in the US South.  The issue was abolition of slavery, and an international abolition movement arose as early as America's founding.

The abolition movement that ended slavery in England and its colonies, and finally in the US North, began in the 18th century and continued into the 1830s.  It was a largely based on the immorality of slavery.  Quakers and members of other religions were earliest abolitionists. By the 1830s it was a mass movement.

Opposition was fierce. Abolitionists in the South were assaulted and imprisoned.  But while mobs broke into post offices to destroy abolitionist pamphlets in the South, mobs in the North attacked abolitionist lecturers, smashed printing presses, nearly lynched the most prominent advocate in the country and did murder abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy in Alton, Illinois.

"These mobs consisted mainly of lower-class whites who feared that emancipation would loose a horde of freed slaves to come north and compete with them for jobs and social equality," McPherson notes.  But wealthy men doing business in the South also participated.

Then as the 1830s ended the abolitionist movement entered a new phase, and became part of the political process.  With the more radical and uncompromising voices keeping up the pressure, abolitionist politicians gradually but firmly prevailed in taking over a new political party in the 1860s, the Republicans.  It was this support that enabled President Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

Authors Henry Bibb, activist Sojourner Truth, poet Frances Ellen Watkins
Sinha makes some cogent points often lost to simpler historical accounts.  First, that the abolitionists weren't all well-meaning white people.  Black voices were crucial to establishing credibility.  "Sinha has rescued scores of black writers, lecturers, preachers, organizations, and activists from undeserved obscurity."  Lawsuits and petitions by slaves were instrumental in ridding the North of slavery.

By the second wave of abolition, the movement was interracial--"the first genuinely integrated movement in American history...The prominent place of blacks sustained the movement's goal of equal rights as well as abolition."

The dividing line between the first and second wave of abolitionists was women's rights.  The early movement was led by men but peopled largely by women, and women got fed up with it.  Noted one, "the investigation of the rights of the slave has led me to a better understanding of my own."

Sinha concludes that "the nineteenth-century woman rights movement, as it was called, grew out of abolition."  That movement officially began at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848.

As President Obama said often, the struggle for rights and for justice is a long process, with peaks and vales, steps forward and steps back,  common purpose and common forgetting.  So without knowing how or meaning it, sure enough, it often rhymes.  Burying the history in comforting platitudes may obscure this.  But accounts like this bring it alive again.

Civil War.2

"A bipartisan group of more than 70 former federal prosecutors -- including 50 who served in Republican administrations -- issued a harshly worded statement Tuesday in support of former acting Attorney General Sally Yates.

The former prosecutors also said they could not have defended Trump's order had they been asked to do so."

And some interesting details about fired Acting A-G Sally Yates:

To begin with, Yates’ temporary ascendance to the job of attorney general was no fluke. It was Trump’s own transition team that asked her to remain, and with good reason. Over a 27-year career with the Justice Department, spanning both Republican and Democratic administrations, Yates earned a reputation as not only a skilled lawyer, but also as someone who was fiercely independent and above politics. This, in part, explains how she managed to be confirmed to the department’s No. 2 post in a Republican-controlled Senate, receiving 84 votes in 2015.

At her Senate confirmation hearing that year, Yates was asked by, of all people, current Attorney General-designee Jeff Sessions whether she was capable of standing up to the president if she ever believed his actions to be unlawful.

Yates answered unhesitatingly that she would do just that."

The above Politico article by former director of public affairs for the Justice Dept. Brian Fallon outlines why Yates was doing her job correctly, why her firing and the subsequent hiring of a regime loyalist trashes the Justice Department's legal independence, at a time when several regime members are under investigation, with more likely to come.

And more generally...

NY Times:
Even after years of unbreakable gridlock and unyielding partisanship, it was a jarring new level of confrontation and conflict, and it was contributing to a building sense of crisis...

Monday, January 30, 2017

Civil War

There is civil war in the Justice Department, in the State Department and I'm guessing in the US military and every other part of the federal government, thanks to the Machiavellian blitzkrieg by the apprentice emperor and his minions (or banions.)

Concerning the immigration ban,  acting attorney general Sally Q. Yates (pictured)
issued this statement: "My responsibility is to ensure that the position of the Department of Justice is not only legally defensible, but is informed by our best view of what the law is after consideration of all the facts," she wrote. "At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the executive order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the executive order is lawful."

She instructed the Justice Department not to defend the immigration ban against the multitude of law suits on their way, and apprentice emperor promptly fired her.  It took Nixon years to start firing attorneys-general for political reasons but this regime hasn't even been in power a fortnight.

This followed Homegrown Hitler's mouthpiece suggesting that people at the State Department who disagreed with the efficacy of the immigration order should leave their jobs.The NY Times:

"Career officials at the State Department are circulating a so-called dissent cable, which says that Mr. Trump’s executive order closing the nation’s doors to more than 200 million people with the intention of weeding out a handful of would-be terrorists will not make the nation safer, and might instead deepen the threat."

This is just some of what is apparent.  There's chaos even in the Republican party and within its donor class.  But truly dangerous civil war is suggested by another story in the Guardian, of border guards refusing to obey court orders halting deportations, and instead adhering to their leader Homegrown Hitler :

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents defied the orders of federal judges regarding Donald Trump’s travel bans on Sunday, according to members of Congress and attorneys who rallied protests around the country in support of detained refugees and travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries.

On Sunday afternoon, four Democratic members of the House of Representatives arrived at Dulles airport in Virginia on word that people had been detained and denied access to lawyers.“We have a constitutional crisis today,” representative Don Beyer wrote on Twitter. “Four members of Congress asked CBP officials to enforce a federal court order and were turned away.”

"Late on Saturday night, federal judges in New York, Virginia and Massachusetts ordered a temporary halt to the president’s deportation of people who had arrived in the US with valid visas.

“Rogue customs and Border Patrol agents continue to try to get people on to planes,” Becca Heller, director of the International Refugee Assistance Project, told reporters on Sunday morning at JFK airport in New York. “A lot of people have been handcuffed, a lot of people who don’t speak English are being coerced into taking involuntary departures.”

Apart from constitutional crisis, this indicates the nature of the civil war.  Just as  FBI agents deeply opposed to Hilary Clinton were reportedly behind efforts to undermine her candidacy, there are likely far right authoritarian elements embedded in the government now emboldened to aggressive action, opposing and opposed by others more devoted to constitutional law and values.

When "rogue customs and Border Patrol agents" become the Gestapo, along with previously rogue elements of the national police force (the FBI) and other federal police agencies,  Homegrown Hitler can work his will on everyone.  But before that happens there will be civil war within those agencies.  How long that war will be, and the outcome, remains to be seen.

Perhaps the most dangerous place is the U.S. military.  With the leadership very much undermined with what one publication called a "palace coup," replacing the Joint Chiefs of Staff with an alt.right conspiracy theory zealot as national security advisers, previously rogue elements will be emboldened.

Through the 50s, 60s and well into the 70s, top military leadership was dominated by warmongers, that gloried in the wealth spent on suicidal nuclear weapons (Dr. Strangelove's General Jack D. Ripper was not all that satirical), counselled President Kennedy to nuke the Soviet Union at the start of the Cuban Missile Crisis and got America into the national nightmare of Vietnam and kept us there.

But that leadership changed dramatically over the decades, so that for all its many faults, it became more sober, measured and professional.  After much struggle against the including of blacks, women and homosexuals as equal members, it has led in these efforts, causing internal strife.

The military not so incidentally is at the forefront of both clean energy conversion and in taking the climate crisis seriously.  Then there's the question of The Button.

We may never know the extent of the civil war now likely brewing in the military because of Homegrown Hitler, and then again, we may know it very soon.

And a P.S. to my "Digital Resistance" post:   Someone is already calling for a general strike.

And He Thought He Could At Least Get Some Sleep

One of my faithful readers kindly wrote in to request I keep everyone informed on what President Obama is up to.  So here you are:


Breaking his silence only 10 days after he left office, former President Barack Obama backed nationwide protests against President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration Monday.

In a strongly worded statement issued through a spokesman, Obama said he was "heartened by the level of engagement taking place in communities around the country."

"Citizens exercising their Constitutional right to assemble, organize and have their voices heard by their elected officials is exactly what we expect to see when American values are at stake," he said.

Digital Resistance

The potential for social media to quickly and widely organize was amply proven in the many women's protest marches on January 21, in which millions participated nationally and worldwide.

Similarly the more targeted but quicker response to Homegrown Hitler's immigration blitzkrieg that got demonstrators to airports around the country and the world.  Digital media doubtless also helped organize the more direct help by lawyers helping people in the chaos of an unconstitutional sneak attack.

The internal blitzkrieg appears to be a current strategy for the apprentice emperor and his regime, so counter-moves will need to be nimble.  But when things get more widely consequential, digital communication won't be enough in itself.  Serious disruptions and true resistance will take cool heads, careful strategy and planning, and courage.

Social media can help spread the word, but can also spread panic and misapprehensions.  There is power in the spontaneous and instantaneous, but also danger.

I foresee the possibility of the ultimate weapon of peaceful resistance, the strike. There will probably be sit-ins, occupations and so forth, especially on the appropriate issues.  But for actions with economic consequences, or actions that try to force good people to commit injustices and cause others to suffer, we may see strikes of some kind, and maybe many kinds, including a general strike.  I would have said 'eventually' but that may be sooner than later.

It may be best if people start thinking about this now, before the back and forth gets out of hand, or before people get tired of demonstrating with no result, or get exhausted by Homegrown Hitler's unrelenting blitzkrieg.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Digital Degradation

Criminals love Facebook Live
The Guardian:
"The number of people live-streaming their criminal acts on Facebook is on the rise. A few days ago, three men in Sweden were arrested for live-streaming themselves raping a woman. A young man with disabilities was tortured on camera in Chicago, the musings of a spree killer being chased by police and more have also been live-streamed on Facebook. Criminals have historically committed crimes with an audience in mind and now it has become easier, as Facebook provides access to its 1.79 billion users."