Saturday, March 04, 2017


I took these photos of the linden tree on the last sunny day, earlier in the week.  It's windy, cold and wet today.  So consider this an attempt at sympathetic magic, to bring back the sun.  (This format slices off some of the right side of the photos, so click on them to get the full picture.)

Civilization Warp

The Los Angeles Times began its story with the apprentice dictator in the White House: "agitated by mounting pressure for an independent investigation into his ties to Russia, unleashed a startling and unsupported attack on his predecessor Saturday, accusing Barack Obama of wiretapping his phones during the 2016 election.

Trump’s tweet storm, which was backed by no evidence, was bizarre even for a White House with a history of broadsides against political opponents. Throughout the day, administration officials refused to offer any explanation for the president’s missive or any evidence to back it up."

Every legitimate news story had essentially the same headline as the Washington Post:  Trump, citing no evidence, accuses Obama of Nixon/Watergate plot to wiretap Trump Tower. 

This comes, by the way, days after Homegrown Hitler accused President Obama of organizing all the protests against his regime.  The stories however have a function for the regime, in shaking out all known information about possible Justice Department and FBI activity, and further publicizing the alt.right story that was likely the source of the accusation.  These stories also include a categorical denial from President Obama's spokesperson.

As David Remnick and Evan Osnos note in the New Yorker, one of Trump's "most consistent rhetorical maneuvers is a fairly basic but often highly effective one—the diversionary reverse accusation...He fogs the language and clouds the issue."

So now fewer voices are talking about Jeff Sessions and the Russian connections, because they're repeating this baseless charge, even as they say it is baseless.

The Post also quotes:

Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, issued a statement chastising Trump for leveling a "spectacularly reckless allegation" against Obama without evidence.

Referencing Trump's description of Obama as a "bad (or sick) guy," Schiff said, "If there is something bad or sick going on, it is the willingness of the nation's chief executive to make the most outlandish and destructive claims without providing a scintilla of evidence to support them. "

The New York Times added:

Ben Rhodes, a former top national security aide to Mr. Obama, said in a Twitter message directed at Mr. Trump on Saturday that “no president can order a wiretap” and added, “Those restrictions were put in place to protect citizens from people like you.”

The New York Times also quotes:

"Even some Republican lawmakers questioned Mr. Trump’s accusations. Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska issued a statement demanding that the president reveal everything he knows about any wiretaps or warrants.

“The president today made some very serious allegations, and the informed citizens that a republic requires deserve more information,” Mr. Sasse said, adding that “we are in the midst of a civilization-warping crisis of public trust.”

The Atlantic story details procedures and safeguards concerning wiretaps.

If any further evidence were necessary that this country has a seriously unhinged chief executive in the White House, this was it.

Meanwhile, President Obama was in New York recently, attending a new production of Arthur Miller's play The Price, with his daughter Malia.  At every stop he made during the day, cheering crowds gathered.

Friday, March 03, 2017


As we wait for the next scheduled storm to roll in--momentarily, according to forecasts--let us reflect on this wet winter.  Hereabouts on the North Coast, where winters are traditionally wet, the amount of rain we got in February was more than twice that of  "normal,"  according to National Weather Service stats.

That brings the rainfall since October to nearly twice the normal.  Just since January 1 we've had 22 inches.  Since October, over 47.  We had our El Nino above-normal rains last January and February, but this year we topped those.

So: wet.  Not the big storms we had back at the turn of the century, but the slow accretion of wet, a lot of it seemingly falling at night.  The skies are maybe not so different from the normal of say ten years ago, but in recent years we've gotten used to more sunshine.  So, even despite what it may portend, it is missed, and eagerly anticipated.

Tonight's storm is coming in from the north, but the last big round was from the south, what used to be called the Pineapple Express, but now has the more impressive title of the Atmospheric River.

So in honor of this wet winter, which I hope is mostly over, here's a reprise of my Atmospheric River song. If you care to sing along, it's to the tune of "Up A Lazy River" which is by Hoagy Carmichael and Sidney Arodin. So follow the bouncing ball...

Atmospheric River by the old jet stream
Atmospheric river of the rain supreme
Linger in the shade of your umbrella tree
Soak in all your sorrows, float out to sea...

Atmospheric river up above will loom
Atmospheric river in the noon day gloom
Gray skies are all set
Everyone gets wet
Atmospheric river how drowned we all will be
Atmospheric river, you’ll see!

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Ethical Sense

“Although humans inherit a biological basis that permits them to feel anger, jealousy, selfishness and envy, to be rude, aggressive or violent, they inherit an even stronger biological bias for kindness, compassion, cooperation, love and nurture—especially towards those in need—because an ethical sense is a biological feature of our species.... I can assure you as a student of children for 40 years, developmental psychology affirms the validity of that claim."
Jerome Kagan

Jerome Kagan has been a highly respected researcher and writer in psychology for decades.  Now an Emeritus Professor at Harvard, he has become a critic of many of psychology's assumptions and practices today.

So this claim--as boldly stated as a clarion call--is contrary to much if not most of the prevailing conventional wisdom on this basic question of human nature.  It's not even often that today's experts even admit that there is any inborn impetus to "kindness, compassion"etc. but that any such expressions are elaborate strategies by genes to insure their survival over the genes of others.

The best that many can say is that there are good qualities and bad qualities inborn, and it is up to individuals and societies to support making choices for the good, even if they are not obvious winners in the struggle for survival.

Which makes Kagan's assertion that the biological bias for the good is stronger a bold one.  Yet his standing as a scientist provides credibility, and so his view demands to be taken seriously.

It at least helps counter the idea that everybody who knows anything knows that kindness and cooperation are unnatural, and people who are committed to them are deluded.  Which suggests the work of building a better future is organic, not foolish, and once again, not hopeless.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Not Hopeless

  The news from Washington is nothing short of horrific, at a relentless pace.  News from places that Republican ideologues control--like the 17 states currently trying to pass new laws to stop protestors--isn't any better.  But all that isn't everything.  It isn't even most everything.  Even in a Dark Age there are areas of light.

Our Member of Congress, Jared Huffman, held a Town Hall meeting at Arcata High School a few days ago.  I didn't attend but I watched the entire video of the event, via Lost Coast Outpost.  Huffman is very smart, affable, courteous and witty.  In manner and appearance on the podium he reminds me of Kim Stanley Robinson.

After reflecting on what I saw, one impression that stays with me is that belief in misinformation isn't limited to the extreme right.  Among the estimated 1200 attendees were a lot of Bernie supporters (he handily won the primary in Humboldt) who were not very clear on what the Democratic National Committee can actually do, or actually did in Bernie's elections.  There are also a lot of stories prompting fears among immigrants.  Bad as things are, they aren't as bad (yet) as feared, and some of the stories just aren't true, according to Huffman.

For example, immigration agents aren't sweeping schools and hospitals looking for undocumented individuals, so people should not be keeping children home or avoiding healthcare.  There are some alarming instances in the news--such as the outrageous detaining of Muhammad Ali’s son at a Florida airport where he was questioned about his religion--but so far very little in general practice has changed, especially in California.

Similarly, Arcata and other cities are debating what to do about the threats made by Homegrown Hitler to stop federal funding to so-called "sanctuary cities."  Huffman said it is an empty threat--that it is unconstitutional to do so, and that the state of California in particular is ready to take the matter to court.  They've hired a lawyer for that, he said, the former US Attorney General Eric Holder.

Huffman was reassuring on other issues.  He doesn't believe Obamacare will be repealed, citing no less an authority than former R House Speaker John Boehner, who presided over an endless set of resolutions to do just that.  (And now, suddenly, Obamacare has visible political support.)

But his comments on the climate crisis were the most interesting.  While he doesn't dispute the obvious, that environmental protections and policies are being rapidly destroyed by the regime, he notes that there is enormous support for those policies built into the efforts of states and localities.

Huffman noted that almost 200 countries signed the Paris Agreement--which didn't simply state that they believed the climate crisis is real, but set detailed goals for addressing it that they pledged to meet.  Not only that, but some 700 non-state actors--cities, regions, companies and investors signed it right away, with more doing so since.   They include major cities, regions and corporations in the US.  They are still committed.  What the Washington regime does or doesn't do will likely not affect these efforts.  President Obama was instrumental in putting this together.  The current incumbent will not tear it apart.

For me this is another reminder that civilization is complex.  First of all, there are common decencies that people enact in their lives and work every day.  They may be under attack from political zealots, fueled by the darkness unleashed by fear, but these are long established behaviors part of institutional and personal identities.  They are resilient.

There is still hope when people represent what I regard as the most important phrase in common relationships: "You'd do the same for me."

Secondly, the demagoguery that moved enough votes to win an election did not as quickly destroy the regional, state, local, community and individual sense of reality and sense of values.  Even corporations cannot ignore reality for very long.

 The work goes on.  Success was never guaranteed, on the climate or anything else. The work is its own reward, as is life in community, life with integrity.