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.

Thursday, May 21, 2015


"When you’re on deck, standing your watch, you stay vigilant. You plan for every contingency. And if you see storm clouds gathering, or dangerous shoals ahead, you don't sit back and do nothing. You take action -- to protect your ship, to keep your crew safe. Anything less is negligence. It is a dereliction of duty. And so, too, with climate change. Denying it, or refusing to deal with it endangers our national security. It undermines the readiness of our forces.

It’s been said of life on the sea -- “the pessimist complains about the wind, the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” Cadets, like you, I reject pessimism. We know what we as Americans can achieve when we set ourselves to great endeavors. We are, by nature, optimists -- but we’re not blind optimists. We know that wishful thinking in the face of all evidence to the contrary would set us on a course for disaster. If we are to meet this threat of climate change, we must be realists. We have to readjust the sails."

President Obama
graduation address, US Coast Guard Academy

Meanwhile, California Governor Jerry Brown announced a multi-state agreement to set and meet goals to reduce carbon pollution:

The agreement includes the states of Oregon, Washington and Vermont, as well as the provinces of British Columbia and Ontario in Canada, the states of Baja California and Jalisco in Mexico, and the British country of Wales. Also involved are states and provinces in Brazil, Germany, and Spain.

"We will strive to bring more states into this agreement," Brown said at the event.

Although the terms are not legally binding, by signing the agreement the leaders are committing to specific targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. At that point, emissions would either need to be at least 80% below 1990 levels, or less than 2 metric tons per capita.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Best of What's Still Around: Message in a Bottle

Sting's songs are, as he says, "muscular."  They can be done in all kinds of ways and still keep their integrity.  He's proven this point with a lot of them, by doing them in different styles and with different instruments and bands behind him. Lately he's taken to singing one of his best and most popular, "Message In A Bottle," originally recorded with The Police in 1979, with just his voice and an acoustic guitar (as at the end of his Ted Talk.)

Probably the first time he did this was as an encore to his first concerts after leaving the Police.  The gestation of the band that recorded his first two solo albums with him is chronicled in one of my favorite movies called Bring On the Night, that builds to their first concert in Paris. I saw it in a shopping mall theater when it came out in 1985 or so, watched it on cable TV, taped it off cable, bought the VHS tape on sale and most recently the DVD.  This version of "Message" --with just his electric guitar--runs with the end credits of the movie, but it's one of my favorites mostly because of the gentle French voices singing along.  The lyrics make it one of the most appropriate songs to sing along to.

From an encore to the song that began the concerts on the 2008 Police reunion tour. Its joyous power with the biggest three-piece band that's ever existed, and the bond with the audience are evident in this contrasting version.  This audience for the concert in Japan is actually a little muted compared to others, but the video is HD--and free.  

Update (sort of): There were actually two stories in the news today about messages in bottles that were found--one 21 years later, another 40 years later.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Day of Infamy

A kind of coda to the beginning of the U.S. in World War II from Roosevelt and Hopkins.  Even in my childhood in the 1950s, the story of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was powerful and unequivocal.  The surprise or "sneak" attack, the destruction and damage to the large battleships and the deaths of some 2,000 sailors could still provoke outrage and anger.  Iconic photographs and Hollywood movies kept the imagery alive.

The series of defeats to Allied forces in the Pacific immediately after the U.S. entry reinforces what seems obvious: in just 90 minutes, the U.S. Pacific Fleet was largely destroyed.

Military historians since then, both American and Japanese, suggest this attack didn't turn out to be as damaging to U.S. capabilities and the early course of the war as it appeared.  It turned out that the three most important ships in the fleet, the aircraft carriers Enterprise, Lexington and Saratoga--the only carriers the US had at the time--weren't in port, but safely out at sea. Though battleships were the "prestige vessels" in public perception, they would turn out to be less important than aircraft carriers.

The Japanese hoped the attack would demoralize Americans but after FDR named December 7 "a day that will live in infamy," the opposite happened.  The attack was used to motivate American resolve for the rest of the war.

What's interesting however is that even at the time, the White House knew that apart from the deaths and injuries, the US military capability had not suffered as badly as it appeared.  The weakness that led to those early defeats had their source in the isolationist votes in Congress. Here are some relevant passages from Roosevelt and Hopkins:

“There was fortunately a minimum of crying over the milk spilled at Pearl Harbor. The swift destruction of the ultramodern Prince of Wales showed that would have happened had the antiquated battleships of the Pacific fleet attempted to operate in the enormous area controlled by Japanese air power west of the international date line and north of the equator, Roosevelt said in February [1942,} “The only way we could use those ships if we had them now would be for convoy duty in case the Japs ever started using capital ships to break the life line to Australia.” 

 This, however, never happened, because American and Australian air power was established and maintained over that life line and the Japanese were reluctant to risk their own battleships within its range. American weakness in those days could not be attributed to what happened at Pearl Harbor, where the enemy could have done far more serious damage had he attacked the vital installations of the base itself rather than the defensively huddled battleships; the weakness was the obvious result of years of puerile self-delusion which had manifested itself in such errors of calculation as the refusal to appropriate funds even for dredging the harbor at Guam.”

Historians also agree with this assessment that destroying the base itself would have hurt more, possibly extending the war by another year.  The Japanese had a plan to do so, but US resistance (including planes from the Enterprise) convinced them to call off the third wave of their attack.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Weekend Update

A few stories from the past week, notably linked.

The War on Trains (and Infrastructure in General): In the wake of a major train crash on the highly traveled eastern corridor that could have been prevented by equipment that has since been installed but wasn't before because Congress won't appropriate enough money, Adam Gopnik's NewYorker piece  on why it's happening, why it matters and especially what trains are all about, is definitely worth a read.  (Some more specific political/ideological reasons for infrastructure opposition here. )

Antarctica Preview: Ice Sheet to Collapse in Five Years or Fewer:  From NASA: "Ice shelves are the gatekeepers for glaciers flowing from Antarctica toward the ocean. Without them, glacial ice enters the ocean faster and accelerates the pace of global sea level rise. This study, the first to look comprehensively at the health of the Larsen B remnant and the glaciers that flow into it, has been published online in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters." Conclusion? A new NASA study finds the last remaining section of Antarctica's Larsen B Ice Shelf, which partially collapsed in 2002, is quickly weakening and likely to disintegrate completely before the end of the decade." 

I've read a little about glaciers collapsing and was amazed at how fast it can happen (but then so were scientists.)  This study suggests the nature of that speed: After the 2002 Larsen B collapse, the glaciers behind the collapsed part of the shelf accelerated as much as eightfold – comparable to a car accelerating from 55 to 440 mph.

El Nino Looks Real.  According to Jeff Masters' blog at Weather Underground: The robust El Niño event anticipated for more than a year is finally coming to fruition, according to the latest observations and forecasts. NOAA's latest monthly analysis, issued on Thursday morning, continues the El Niño Advisory already in effect and calls for a 90% chance of El Niño conditions persisting through the summer, with a greater-than-80% chance they will continue through the end of 2015.

The blog notes this is pretty unusual. "Forecasters and computer models alike have been confounded by this event."  That's partly because stuff is happening out of its usual season.  That's climate change for you, it changes things."If this El Niño event does intensify, as models strongly suggest it will (see below), it'll be one for the record books. There are no analogs in the database for a weak event in northern winter that becomes a stronger event by summer. Persisting into northern fall will also greatly raise the odds of this becoming a rare two-year event."

So if it happens, what will happen?  Nobody knows really.  Could mean more rain this winter for California, and then again, maybe not.  It has however meant rain for southern California last week, which is weird.  But that's climate change for you, things get weird.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Greatest Possible Challenge

Last week there was a rather quiet commemoration of the 70th anniversary of one of the most important achievements of the twentieth century: the Allied victory over the Nazis in World War II.

Indispensable to that victory was the US President, Franklin D. Roosevelt.  My next few excerpts from Roosevelt & Hopkins will pertain to that, especially as it is the actual subject of this long book.

The book chronicles the months and years after German invasions began the war in Europe but before US formally entered it.  That period was characterized by growing desperation, especially from England, for US help.  While western civilization and liberty arguably hung in the balance, FDR was stymied by a recalcitrant Congress, especially the Republicans who were in the main Isolationists, and viewed with extreme suspicion any attempt to increase US military readiness or aid European allies.  Some factions and celebrities (notably Charles Lindbergh and Ann Morrow Lindbergh) praised the Nazis and called them the wave of the future.

The US public was traumatized by World War I to an extent that history seems to have forgotten.  But the Republicans weren't pacifists--they were Isolationists, opposing American involvement beyond US borders or at least outside its hemisphere.  This isolationism was in part domestic politics, for it gave them a clear identity in contrast to FDR.  They used this important issue about the future to make outrageous charges and gin up their supporters.  And they took it to ridiculous extents, refusing to pass appropriations bills for anything that even sounded like supporting military overseas. Sound familiar?

But that changed on December 7, 1941, with the Japanese attack on ships of the US Pacific Fleet at the US base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  When Congress voted to declare war on Japan and its allies the next day, the US was woefully underprepared.  Only the quiet build-up FDR had engineered (partly by refocusing Depression work programs) ran counter to the obsolescence of US forces, in a war that more than any in history would depend on the quantity and quality of ships, planes, weapons and technologies, and the ability to keep producing them and getting them where they were needed--not only to US forces but to allies, in huge numbers.  How all that happened is covered in great detail in this book.

But US forces in the Pacific suffered defeat after defeat in the first months of the war. In January 1942, everyone knew that the US would have to massively step up its war production or face complete defeat, with Europe lost to the Nazis as well. FDR had gathered experts who went over figures of what the US was producing, and what industry estimated they could produce.  Under FDR's influence, they set goals for the coming year--astounding goals.  Here's Sherwood:

“The production goals determined upon the Arcadia Conference and announced in part by Roosevelt in his Message to Congress were so astronomic that they were greeted with derision and, in some cases, despair by military and civilian authorities alike. Some officers in the War Department were passing the remark, “The President has gone in for the ‘numbers racket’! Others could see nothing humorous in these impossible figures; believing that the goals could not possibly be realized, they foresaw grave criticism and probable injury to public morale when failure became evident.”

As usual, when critics in the press or among Republicans were afraid to lambast FDR directly they went after Hopkins, the "free spender," for unduly influencing FDR.

"However, as Hopkins had once told Quentin Reynolds, he was no Svengali, and Roosevelt was in no trance when he proclaimed the Victory Program of production. It was in Roosevelt’s nature to believe that the surest way to capture the imagination of the American people was to give them the greatest possible challenge.[my emphasis]

The total cost in money bothered him not at all; he always believed it was far better to squander the taxpayers’ dollars than to squander the taxpayers. As a matter of fact—and I can state it as such because I was one of those present when it happened—Roosevelt himself arbitrarily revised some of the figures upward on the eve of his speech to Congress. When Hopkins questioned him on this, Roosevelt said, ‘Oh—the production people can do it if they really try.’

 He did the same thing years later en route to Chicago where he proclaimed a national, postwar goal of sixty million jobs. He was never afraid of big, round numbers.”

Roosevelt the master politician and now leader of the Allies turned criticism into cheers by making these production goals a patriotic statement:

“When Roosevelt announced a part of the Victory Program to Congress, he said, ‘These figures and similar figures for a multitude of other implements of war will give the Japanese and Nazis a little idea of just what they accomplished in the attack on Pearl Harbor.’ The Congress cheered that vociferously and proceeded to appropriate the necessary funds with few of the quivers that assailed those who were responsible for carrying out the incredible program.”

The United States met and surpassed FDR's production goals, widely credited as a crucial element in winning the war.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

It's Getting There

It was one small step for political hacks, one giant leap backwards towards the new Dark Age.

The Republican Congress has passed a budget which slashes funding for NASA's earth sciences research.  There are many other preposterous cuts in their budget so when it comes time to compromise with the White House on a final budget, this funding may be sacrificed.

The cuts are obviously aimed at NASA's climate research, which includes weather forecasting.  Republicans and their fossil fuel masters are at war with reality, but everyone else is going to pay the price.

Jane Jacobs wrote a book, her last, called Dark Age Ahead, published in 2004.  Jacobs, along with Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, Frances Perkins, Halle Flanagan, Eleanor Roosevelt and others, was one of the great women of the 20th century.  She was famous for The Death and Life of American Cities and other books on cities, and she changed what cities look like and what they are today.  But this last book was ignored.  It's time for it to be revived.

She writes that a Dark Age is not just some primitive state.  It is a time when what was once known is culturally forgotten.  It is when knowledge is at first denied and ignored, and then it disappears.  Once started, it can become very extreme.  In the last Dark Age, people lost the skills required to measure time, and so in a sense in daily life, time itself was forgotten.

"Cultural xenophobia", a "fortress or fundamentalist mentality" are the signs that the fall into an age of darkness has begun.

In the New Yorker article I linked above, Elizabeth Kolbert uses a term I've used here before: willed ignorance.  That's what is happening among our "leaders."  That's why, if it's not dark yet, it's getting there pretty fast, and this latest effort--especially if it succeeds--is a notable step towards that darkness.  With chaos ahead.

The cost of willed ignorance is increasingly steep, as is the lack of societal will to do the difficult things necessary to stop our self-destruction.

So the news is always the same, and yet significantly worse.  Species disappearing from the planet,including large herbivores like elephants and rhinos and species of primates, with consequences of the crash of natural systems we can't predict.  And of course, the continuing acceleration of pouring carbon pollution into the atmosphere, condemning our progeny to a hotter, more violent and in many ways, a poorer world.  This week it reached a long-feared record.

Meanwhile the rabid right grows ever more extreme and perverse, with the latest feverish delusion of an ordinary military training exercise really being an Obama-led military takeover, because (as columnist Gene Lyons wrote) "where else would you start a military takeover but the strategic hamlet of Bastrop, Texas, commanding the crucial highway junction between Elgin and LaGrange?"

 And when it doesn't happen, rabid rightists and their pandering politicians will brag that their vigilance stopped it.  It would be nothing but funny if it weren't another de-legitimizing tactic that has consequences for the planet and the future well beyond the petty careers in the tiny lifetimes of power-hungry hollow men.

Friday, May 08, 2015

The Doctor Won't See You Now

"People don't eat in the long run, they eat every day."  That Hopkins quote is, in a nutshell, why I supported Obamacare.  It did  not solve the increasingly stark problems of medical care in the US, but it made improvements in the insurance system that are already proving for some many Americans to be the difference between getting medical care and not getting it, and therefore, between health and pain, between life and death.

But the successes of driving a stake in the heart of the worst private insurance excesses (like "pre-existing conditions") and making insurance available and more affordable to more people haven't driven the utter insanity out of the system.  Some of the less publicized reforms--in efficiencies and so on--may eventually make some difference.  But the basic system is still out of kilter, and very onerous.

One simple but massive disproportion: There are now diagnostic and treatment methods using expensive technology that didn't exist a generation ago.  According to the true cost of using this technology and the time of skilled personnel, one would expect them to be more expensive, and even "expensive" relative to other costs and income.

But one would expect that procedures that are simpler, that don't require these technologies, would be cheaper--that is, affordable, as they were before.  But mostly they are not.  In America, absolutely anything that requires hospitalization, and almost anything that requires a physician, is impossibly expensive.  What was once a relatively minor illness or injury can easily become financially ruinous.  In this respect and others, affordable medical care for many in America has deteriorated from what it was 40 or 60 years ago.

The cost of medical care to patients has gone up faster than most peoples' incomes, and this has been going on for so long that the disproportion is extreme.  And that's for people with insurance.

Opponents of Obamacare from the left called for a public system dubbed "Medicare for all."  In the debate before the Obama bill was written, I favored this alternative.  But I knew then and I certainly know now that even this is not the solution.  Relative to what recipients receive in Social Security, Medicare is expensive insurance.  It is not free--the part that covers doctors costs in the neighborhood of 15 to 20% of an average Social Security monthly payment.  And there are deductibles and copays, just as in private insurance.  And there are enough holes in coverage that supplemental insurance is a big business (with the usual fraud we've come to expect from insurance companies.)

Moreover, between the machinations of private health care companies contracting with Medicare, and the bureaucracy of Medicare itself,  getting care is at least a part-time job.  And not a nice one.  It's a lot to ask of people who are old and sick as well.

Add to that the tests and procedures that aren't needed, but that involve time, expense and anxiety:

"In 2010, the Institute of Medicine issued a report stating that waste accounted for thirty per cent of health-care spending, or some seven hundred and fifty billion dollars a year, which was more than our nation’s entire budget for K-12 education. The report found that higher prices, administrative expenses, and fraud accounted for almost half of this waste. Bigger than any of those, however, was the amount spent on unnecessary health-care services. Now a far more detailed study confirmed that such waste was pervasive...

Virtually every family in the country, the research indicates, has been subject to overtesting and overtreatment in one form or another. The costs appear to take thousands of dollars out of the paychecks of every household each year. Researchers have come to refer to financial as well as physical “toxicities” of inappropriate care—including reduced spending on food, clothing, education, and shelter. Millions of people are receiving drugs that aren’t helping them, operations that aren’t going to make them better, and scans and tests that do nothing beneficial for them, and often cause harm."

This hodgepodge of systems has roiled the world of physicians, clotted their hours with paperwork and thrown everything into chaos.  The money involved means that physicians are clustered in high income urban areas, and leaving places like Humboldt County in droves--there just aren't enough rich people here to make up the low income from Medicare and programs for the non-rich.  The number and proportion of doctors who will not see Medicare patients also seem to be increasing.

Getting sick or injured is always a crapshoot, and so is getting the right medical care for it, especially in proportion to your wealth.  The odds are increasingly against.

Think They'll Go Back to Alberta

Electoral politics is a mug's game.  Maybe it never made much sense but these days it seems all about money and whim.  I have no idea what just happened in the UK and apparently the experts there don't either.  There was a surprise earlier this week in the province of Alberta, Canada, when the iron grip of a conservative party very friendly to fossil fuel industries was defeated for the first time since Caesar.

David Suzuki has an analysis at the Guardian full of green hopefulness.  Another analysis suggests the electorate just didn't like the snobbish conservative candidate.  But one thing from Suzuki stands out: though the province has been and is being literally carved up (forests downed, as in the photo above) and polluted by immense tar sands oil projects, the provincial government didn't get much of a cut from the immense revenues.  So very friendly to the companies; I assume the suddenly unemployed leaders responsible will find cushy jobs there.  But the province is unable to handle a drop in oil prices, because it was operating too close to the margins to support its services in bad times.

So maybe a motivation among the electorate was regret.  I'm betting that in future years in the US, regret is going to be very big.  

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Roosevelt & Hopkins: Every Day

I'm about to let go and take this book back to its home in the library.  It's a first edition of Robert Sherwood's Roosevelt and Hopkins: An Intimate History.  It's not everybody's idea of a great read, not at more than 950 pages with notes.  And it basically covers only the years of World War II, though there's biographical material and material about the Depression early on.  Although a playwright, Sherwood was also a writer and adviser for FDR, and he witnessed this history in the White House.  He had access to documents, to actual notes in the hand of FDR and Churchill, etc.  So there is a lot of detail.  The book was published in 1948, but both of his subjects-FDR and Hopkins--were several years dead.  It's clear from this book that they'd given their lives for their country.

I suspect not a lot of people have read this book, let alone re-read parts of it, but some have. One of the things I love about old library books is the Date Due sticker, and this one shows that at least one or a few people have taken it out every decade, beginning in April 1948 and ending so far with me in 2014.  I do worry that the library will get rid of it, as they have so many books (all the better to give more space for computers.)  But I think I've saved it for awhile--they tend to go after books that haven't been taken out for 10 years.  There is something special about this very book being a first edition, the feel of the paper and the typeface as well as the language and punctuation all shouting 1940s.  (This photo of the spine seems to be of the first edition; the HSU library edition is red and black, and this spine title is worn to almost illegible. The cover above appears to be a later edition.)

But I'm not bidding farewell to all that just yet.  I've typed out a number of especially interesting passages, especially those that still pertain.  I'm going to reproduce them here now and again.

In my first post I'll give my favorite Harry Hopkins quote, and one of my favorite quotes of all time.  It probably came directly from this book.  But before then...a little background.

Harry Hopkins, born in Iowa (small town, lower middle class), graduate of Grinnell College in Iowa (member of the Midwest Conference with my Illinois alma mater Knox College), he had a few jobs in New York City administering programs for the poor, worked for the Red Cross in New Orleans, returned to Manhattan and caught the eye of then Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt by his efficient administration of a state relief program in 1931.  FDR brought him to Washington to run New Deal programs including public works.

Though he also helped organize the American Association of Social Workers, he loved the Manhattan night life, and knew a lot of celebs.  He had a talent for friendships, which eventually included Eleanor Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and even, to a degree, Joseph Stalin.

 People liked him because he was trustworthy, direct and to the point. (One of the reasons he was also vilified by political opponents.) Sherwood writes that Churchill teased him with the prospect of a royal title to be conferred after the war.  He said it had already been picked out: Lord Root of the Matter. (p.5)

Harry, Sherwood wrote, "could slip now and then into skepticism but...always returned to a state of passionate hopefulness." [15]

Now a story with that quote from Hopkins very early in the New Deal. Hopkins boss was Harold Ickes, Secretary of Interior.  But his real boss was FDR.  When public works projects weren't getting started fast enough for FDR, he made a change by establishing the Civil Works Administration.  (Now I quote directly from Sherwood, p. 52.  The only changes I'm making are dividing the text into shorter paragraphs, placing FDR's words in italic and adding my own emphases in bold.)

 “...Civil Works Administration which put four million people to work in the first thirty days of its existence and, in less than four months, inaugurated 180,000 work projects and spent over $933 million. It was the parent of W.P.A. and marked the real establishment of the princple of the right to work from which there could be no retreat.

Of the formation of C.W.A. Roosevelt wrote:

‘The Public Works Administration (P.W.A.) had not been able by that time to commence a very extensive program of large public works because of the unavoidable time consuming process of planning, design and reviewing projects, clearing up legal matters, advertising for bids and letting contracts.’

This was Roosevelt’s tactful means of explaining why he took nearly a billion dollars away from Ickes and entrusted the spending of it to Hopkins at that time (he eventually did the same with many times the sum.)

Ickes was a very careful, deliberate administrator, who took pains to examine personally every detail of every project and the disposition of every nickel that it cost, whether it be a village post office or a Triborough Bridge. This is hardly to his discredit for it was the approach to each problem of a hardheaded businessman as well as a conscientious public servant.

 Ickes was concerned about the return on the taxpayers’ investment. Hopkins did not give a damn about the return; his approach was that of a social worker who was interested only in getting relief to the miserable and getting it there quickly. His ultimate argument was “Hunger is not debatable.”

 Ickes thought primarily of the finished job—Hopkins of the numbers of unemployed who could be put on the job. As an instance of Hopkins’ impatience: someone came to him with an idea for a project which would take a lot of time to prepare in detail but which, Hopkins was assured, “will work out in the long run,” and his exasperated comment on this was, “People don’t eat in the long run—they eat every day.” [end of excerpt]

Long range planning is important, as is envisioning the future.  But we must always remember that people eat every day--the present, especially for people at the edge of need, can be more important.  Reconciling the two is the art of policy.  But the point Hopkins made is about not forgetting the most important and urgent task (Lord Root of the Matter, remember?) in the fog of planning.

The debate over spending money to meet infrastructure needs as well as for social good continues in our time along some of the same lines.  However we've even further behind that debate in acknowledging the real problems.  Jonathan Chiat today writes about a "debate" over poverty ostensibly between NY Times columnists David Brooks and Paul Krugman.  Krugman alludes to "some people" who insist people in America are poor because of moral failings and wrong values.  Krugman, sounding a little like Hopkins, writes: "The poor don’t need lectures on morality, they need more resources — which we can afford to provide — and better economic opportunities, which we can also afford to provide through everything from training and subsidies to higher minimum wages.”

But even this debate pales against the stark realities that Hopkins recognized by addressing them directly.  And by building the public infrastructure that is still the foundation of economic as well as public and personal life in America.  Including infrastructure now crumbing dangerously, more than 80 years later.  Which our elected representatives ignore.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Emerson for the Day

“Silence is the communing of a conscious soul with itself.—If the soul attend for a moment to its own infinity, then and there is silence. She is audible to all men—at all times—in all places—and if we will we may always harken to her admonitions.”

Saturday, May 02, 2015

In Hot Water

Global heating on its own is causing significant damage and is predicted to do more.  But its greatest current role is as another destructive factor added to others.  Over time, for example, it contributes to the ongoing crash of species, last week predicted to add extinction for one-sixth of those existing now, if present greenhouse gases pollution continues at current growth rates.

But right now we're seeing it and feeling it in California as a strong contributing factor to our drought, and now to the record-breaking temperatures along our shores. Weather Underground's Dr. Jeff Masters: "Ocean temperatures off the coast of California were at record or near-record levels for this time of year on April 29, 2015. Ocean temperatures off the coast of Los Angeles and San Diego were more than 4°C (7.2°F) above average, an astonishingly high anomaly." (See illustration above.)

These temperatures result from an atmospheric trend now 3 years old and a decades-long natural oceanic pattern--and global heating.  It's global heating that has shoved these temperatures into the extreme range.

Hot Pacific waters off our shores does not bode at all well for fish and other marine species.  Farther from shore there's more going on, as something called the Madden Julian Oscillation broke its records for intensity, leading to 3 strong cyclones in the western Pacific in March.   Before that, in February other factors combined for other record-breaking effects that started this heating of our coastal waters and the death of sea life dependent on smaller creatures who thrive in cold water.  This included a sea lion die-off.

The hot Pacific waters are leading several forecast models to predict the likelihood of a strong El Nino emerging this summer.  That's more bad news for ocean life.  It's potentially good news for California as it increases the chances of a wet winter.  But factoring in global heating gives us two general principles: whatever happens is more likely to be unprecedented in some ways, and in some ways more extreme.  So it may be that the rains don't come ashore in the volume expected, or that they sit on one part of the state causing havoc.

To actually break the drought they would have to be close to three times normal winter rainfall, though where the precip goes and when makes that a suggestive if perhaps not totally relevant estimate.  On the other hand, if we do get two or three times the normal rain, that itself is likely to cause havoc with flooding, mudslides, erosion, and other effects we're even less prepared for.

While some experts are betting on this super El Nino, Dr. Masters is holding back for the moment.  It may be June before there's something like consensus.  But even then it's a matter of getting ready for the unknown.  Because global heating screws with everything.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Holy Grail of Sun Power

Elon Musk of Tesla, with headquarters on his native planet of Vulcan, has announced what every techie outfit craves and hires p.r. people to crow they've got: a potential "game-changer."

No, not the electric car.  Old news.  Not even Space-X.  The announcement today concerned the alternative energy holy grail: a battery capable of storing solar energy.  And he's got a fleet of them.

And Tesla isn't the only company going in this direction.  When energy storage via battery gets cheap, big and reliable enough, it becomes the missing link in clean energy, further enabling everybody--from individuals to individual households on up--to liberate themselves from dirty grids and fossil fuel billionaires--and even future clean energy megacompanies and billionaires.

The Best of What's Still Around

A third outstanding performance from a Sting birthday concert involves somebody I'd never heard sing before, though I'd certainly heard of her--her public image was, well, public and highly theatrical.  But Lady Gaga can sing--this is a great version of "King of Pain."  The band is really great too.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

President Obama Unleashed

President Obama names his choice as the worst President of his lifetime, gives his rhymes-with-bucket list,  responds to people who say he is arrogant ("Some people are really dumb") and says what he really thinks about climate crisis deniers.

Friday, April 24, 2015

End of A Recycling Era

In my previous post on this subject I described aspects of the changeover here in recycling systems in terms of a philosophical change: from "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" to "If in doubt/Throw it out."  But there's a little more to the local story.

The previous system I described--hauling our recycling to the Arcata Community Recycling Center at our own discretion--was otherwise without cost to us.  ACRC was a nonprofit enterprise.  Eventually they charged for certain kinds of electronic recycling, but they also paid cash for certain items.  Basically however, the price was in the effort to get it there, which wasn't much effort, and was often enjoyable.

Now our recycling is picked up weekly, and we pay for that service.  It is mandated by city government--a weekly recycling charge no matter what.  Part of a dubious trend of government forcing you to pay money to a profit-making business. You can have less than fits into the bins but not more.  This requires tearing cardboard into strips rather than simply flattened boxes.  So there's still work we do, but we also pay.  Arcata Garbage is a profit-making company.

Last week saw the official end of Arcata Community Recycling Center as an entity.  After they closed the local center shortly after Arcata Garbage started curbside, they maintain a sorting center nearby, and continued to bid for recycling from local communities.  After allegedly tricking them into revealing details of their operation, another profit-making company underbid them for a big contract.  They sued, and last week, facing more attorney fees and legal costs, they settled out of court for a piddling amount, and announced they were folding.

There is still some community-based nonprofit reycling going on--ACRC cites Zero Waste Humboldt as one.  Still, ACRC's demise seals the end of that era, with the reminder that we're paying for it--Arcata Garbage makes money not only on recycling but from us.  And lessens our involvement in the process, as well as personally my confidence that much of this stuff is actually being recycled.

Yet Another Reason to Avoid Adam Sandler Movies

I've had a fairly longstanding policy regarding Adam Sandler movies, which is that I would not only not ever pay to see one, I would have to be paid a substantial fee just to sit down for one long enough to eat a bag of popcorn.  He's one on my list that involves a sliding scale of fees, but he's definitely near the top of it.

His brand of humor has never struck me as funny, being of a kind that invites what has finally happened: twelve Native American actors have walked off the set of his latest film, protesting the utter racism of its humor.  Now I am on my guard about overdoing this sort of thing, but even without examples of the actual lines etc. I have no trouble believing they're right.  

Thursday, April 23, 2015

That Which Must Be Named

That which must not be named in Florida was named in Florida, big time, as President Obama marked Earth Day with a speech in the Everglades about the climate crisis.

“This is not a problem for another generation. Not anymore,” he said. “This is a problem now."

One of many stories on Florida in the climate crisis. Here's another from National Geographic.  Here's the speech, which included these words:

"And here in the Everglades, you can see the effect of a changing climate. As sea levels rise, salty water from the ocean flows inward. And this harms freshwater wildlife, which endangers a fragile ecosystem. The saltwater flows into aquifers, which threatens the drinking water of more than 7 million Floridians. South Florida, you’re getting your drinking water from this area, and it depends on this. And in terms of economic impact, all of this poses risks to Florida’s $82 billion tourism industry on which so many good jobs and livelihoods depend."

"So climate change can no longer be denied. It can’t be edited out. It can’t be omitted from the conversation. And action can no longer be delayed. And that’s why I’ve committed the United States to lead the world in combatting this threat."


Here's an article on e-waste with an unsurprisingly theme: there's a lot of it, it's growing fast, especially in big countries that talk big about environmentalism.  But there are two interesting elements in this story: what constitutes e-waste, and what a waste it is.

Most of the e-waste in this model, in bulk at least, is made up of "fridges, washing machines and other domestic appliances at the end of their life."  In other words, large appliances that have some electronic components I guess.  60% by weight comes from these sources, and only 7% by computers, printers, cell phones etc.--stuff that we more readily think of as e-waste.  Weight and number are two ways of measuring it but neither quite gets at environmental impact.  But there's quite a bit with contaminating metals, compounds, chemicals and gases.

However, there's this: "Waste that could have been recovered and recycled was worth $52bn, including 300 tonnes of gold – equal to 11% of the world’s gold production in 2013."

Which suggests further problems with recycling and recycling industries.  It seems to me that after a much publicized start, government at all levels have dropped the ball on making recycling work, let alone the priority it must be.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Best of What's Still Around

I saw this for the first time in the full concert footage and didn't recognize the performer.  I heard a good voice and especially heard good diction--as great as Sting's lyrics are, he doesn't always sing them clearly, especially with the Police.  So I understood some of these lyrics for the first time.  Turns out of course that it's Robert Downey, Jr, aka Ironman etc.  With Sting (yeah the shaved head looks weird, don't know what that was about) and a great backing band.

I've been aware of this concept of the Bucket List for a few years but didn't have one.  Now I've got one item.  I'm not deluded enough to say "sing with Sting" or in a particular venue.  I'd just like to sing on stage with two or three hot lady backup singers.  Just one night.  I've got sweet backup voices on my one and only record but we did our parts separately (I didn't even meet the sax player whose solos are my favorite moments until years later.)  But I've never had that experience in real time.  I suspect it would be a bit of an out of body experience, but maybe a video of it would allow me to savor.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

This Is Not The Technological Age

This is not the technological age.  We may be seduced into believing this by the tiny devices that increasingly rule our lives, and the rooms of books, records, photo albums and letters that have vanished into electronically accessed clouds in the ephemeral realms of cyberspace.

Even the names that dominate our days--Google, Yahoo, Apple, Twitter, Facebook, Amazon--suggest the whimsical worlds of make believe.  But this insubstantial pageant masks the hard and increasingly terrible truth: we still live in the Industrial Age.

Technology may have revolutionized our lives, and may well change our circumstances even more in the near future.  But we are too easily deceived by the bright screens and images at the speed of a fingertip, and by all the giddy power that fits in the palm of your hand.  For despite its seemingly inconsequential size and weight, this device is manufactured out of materials mined and constructed in huge industrial operations, and gathered together from many distant places.

There is no "cloud."  There are only miles of  servers, requiring gross and exotic materials, vast quantities of electrical power which in turn requires vast quantities of fuels.  And that's true of all other new technologies, in medicine, communication, and industry itself.

 Technology is a subset of the industrial age, because without the systems of that industrial age, there would be no technological marvels in your hand.

For a generation or more we in the US have been told that we live in a service economy, dominated by communications--that manufacturing and mining are occupations of the past.  The manufacturing and mining, the industrial byproducts of deadly chemicals, poisoned land, water and air as well as cheap labor and pitiless human health risks, may mostly exist now in distant and hidden places, but their scale is ever more immense and growing.

Industrialization in those parts of the world where it did not exist means that industrialization is spreading and accelerating to far larger sizes and impact than the "Machine Age" of textbooks and museum shows.  3-D printing and the Internet of Things do little if anything to change this fact.

In fact the Industrial Age has spread beyond the processes of manufacturing things to the industrialization of the food supply--crop farming (with heavy use of GMOs and pesticides), livestock (with heavy use of antibiotics, engineered feeds and chemicals) and fishing (with the collateral damage of other species and habitats.)

Though attention has turned away from it, clearcutting and other industrial timber cutting continues.

The Industrial Age is vast and insatiable.  Capitalism's addiction to relentless growth insists on this.  It is also increasingly fragile.  Fossil fuels are harder to find and extract, requiring more complex machinery and greater damage to the natural world, both in remote and biological sensitive locations, and dangerously near human communities.  The metals and minerals that computers need are especially vulnerable, as some vital ones come from few countries, which may be in strife or controlled by criminals.

Industrial farming is depleting soil that only thousands of years could nourish.  Industrial logging continues to destroy all that supports the life of forests, streams, wildlife and ultimately people.

Garbage and waste is itself a huge industry, poisoning land and now immense areas of the oceans, which among other things, regulate global weather.

Transportation is perhaps the defining industry of our age, so comparatively cheap that much of our material goods come from afar, including our food.  Transport that uses fuels, power and packing materials in massive quantities.

Disruption of  transportation is now easily the most consequential of industrial processes. Disruption of computerized communication may overall be worse in the short term, but its effect on transport could be deadly.  With our lives so dependent on multiple industrial processes far away, they are stunningly fragile.  How many of us can depend on even locally produced food, once the supermarket shelves and the cupboards are bare?

It may be comforting to think it's the technology age--it sounds smarter, cleaner, smaller.  The reality is larger, dirtier, more violent and ultimately horrifying in its abuse and insanity. It is important to recognize that our shiny technologies and the culture's obsessions with them may blind us to realities that need to be addressed.  Both to our fragile dependence and to the effects of industrialization on our planet and its ability to sustain life.      


I've posted the paragraph below as an update to a previous post but it got me thinking.  In 1972 the Firesign Theatre troupe fielded its own presidential candidate: George Papoon, candidate of the National Surrealist Light Peoples Party.  I'm not even going to try to explain Firesign Theatre to people who didn't experience them.  If you did, you can probably still repeat lines from their records.
("I'm not talking about hate...")

But the point is this was a comedy group, however hip and intelligent.  And the entire Papoon candidacy was predicated on his single slogan: Not Insane.  

With Nixon in the White House (and Watergate already unfolding), the Vietnam War inexplicably continuing etc. that slogan was a sly commentary on the Zeitgeist. I probably still have one of these buttons and bumper stickers somewhere.

But in 2016, it is apparently a main argument for a major party candidate advanced by a sophisticated political commentator.  And one that Jonathan Chiat  believes will carry the day.  Following arguments from demographics and surveys, complete with charts and graphs, he concludes:

"The argument for Clinton in 2016 is that she is the candidate of the only major American political party not run by lunatics. There is only one choice for voters who want a president who accepts climate science and rejects voodoo economics, and whose domestic platform would not engineer the largest upward redistribution of resources in American history. Even if the relatively sober Jeb Bush wins the nomination, he will have to accommodate himself to his party's barking-mad consensus. She is non-crazy America’s choice by default. And it is not necessarily an exciting choice, but it is an easy one, and a proposition behind which she will probably command a majority."

There it is: "Not Insane."  End of campaign.  I'm ready to vote.

P.S. Firesign Theatre is still around.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Canada and the Climate Crisis

The climate in Canada appears to be changing on climate change.  A meeting (or summit) of provincial leaders made news, first for climate crisis activists staging a protest march of some 25,000 people in Quebec City, and secondly for some action--as the premiers of Quebec and Ontario provinces signed on to a cap and trade deal.   British Columbia province had earlier instituted its own carbon tax.

This means that the three most populous provinces in Canada, accounting for nearly 90% of the country's population, are instituting carbon pricing schemes.  However, several of the major fossil fuel energy producing provinces are not participating.

These provinces are joining several US states like California in taking state and regional action to price carbon. Unlike the US at the moment, the federal government of Canada is unsympathetic (it's still Bush up there.)  Nevertheless, though the Obama administration has taken meaningful actions to regulate carbon and encourage clean energy, Congress has stymied federal participation in a carbon tax or the previously Republican-proposed alternative of cap and trade.

The complexities (and perhaps futilities) of states and provinces acting without broader participation is analyzed from a business orientation here. The need for national government action was a point made by protesters, especially regarding oil pipelines in Canada.  The premiers themselves called for federal action in their final statement.

As even the business analyst admitted, something is better than nothing.  For at least one Nobel Prize winning activist however, it was the march itself that will have the most lasting consequences, as opposition grows to a pipeline in eastern Canada, within the context of growing concern over the climate crisis.