Friday, July 14, 2006

Whirlpool Galaxy ngc5194 Posted by Picasa

Fix It and Stop It: The Two Climate Crisis Tasks

Now that Al Gore's movie and the resulting media attention is bringing the Climate Crisis into wider public awareness and discussion, a major problem of perception that I've been anticipating may be about to sow confusion, shortcircuiting effective efforts to deal with it.

This confusion is due to the nature of the Climate Crisis, which essentially is two crises: the one that's here and will be here for a decade or more, and the one that we're causing now but that won't show up for years beyond that.

They're aspects of the same phenomenon, but they require different actions. The problem is that people are talking about the evidence of the first crisis--the extreme weather, melting glaciers and other visible and measurable effects--but they are talking about solutions for the second crisis.

Here's what I mean: Carl Pope, head of the Sierra Club wrote last week about the effect of an ongoing pattern right now of unaccustomed torrential rains on the city of Bombay, India:

Friends in India tell me that a strong consensus is emerging among meteorologists there that global warming has permanently intensified the monsoon pattern on India's west-central coast, and that Bombay simply was not built for, and cannot handle, the kinds of rainfall events it can now expect routinely.

For Bombay to function properly, an entirely new underground drainage and sewer system will likely be required -- a monumental challenge, as it will have to be built underneath an existing city of 18 million people. The price of such a construction project is virtually inconceivable, and in a country as poor as India, dubiously affordable. Yet all this is the result of very modest climate change. It doesn't begin to answer the question of what happens to Bombay when the Indian Ocean rises as predicted.

The problems these rains are causing to Bombay are happening now, and are likely to happen for some years to come. They are largely the result of climate change caused by the infusion of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere that has already happened. No drop in CO2 emissions due to solar panels or unplugging TV sets is going to keep Bombay from being inundated by these rains. Nor will hybrid cars rebuild New Orleans or prevent it from being devastated again.

The first result of accepting the reality of the Climate Crisis should be that we pay attention to its current consequences instead of trying to ignore them just so the oil companies don't have to admit the Climate Crisis is real. We need to fix what needs to be fixed, and that alone is going to take focused attention as well as enormous creativity, commitment and resources.

We need to be ready for what may come, to anticipate and prepare for these problems. Mobilize creative engineers, get them working with scientists; get public health ready for new patterns of disease. Nations must come together for mutual aid, before we start fighting over water and food as well as energy sources, as climate patterns change.

And while we are fixing what we can't stop from happening, we need to be working to stop further damage in the future, because we can do something to prevent even worse consequences down the road. That's the saving the planet part. That's where energy conservation and new clean energy technologies come in. We're saving a future for our grandchildren and future generations, and for the kind of earth that has sustained us.

In other words, we need to fix Bombay's current problems. And we need to stop future heating so the future flooding of vast areas of coast, including Bombay, doesn't happen, or is considerably less than projected. And the apocalyptic effects that passing a tipping point would make inevitable for a century or more.

In both cases we're fighting for civilization's survival. People can talk blithely about how the odds are against us anyway, and some people or at least some lifeforms--some nice roundworms perhaps--will survive anything the Climate Crisis can throw at us. That's probably true, but it doesn't say much for us if we don't use all we've learned and all this civilization has given us to keep it going, in a necessarily improved form.

I agree that the Climate Crisis is our best candidate for either pushing us into our next stage of evolution, or finishing us as a civilization. With the world as it is going, one ugly, monstrous conflict on top of another, high tech death and billions to a predatory few while the duped and the unfortunate suffer horribly, it's not hard to conclude this civilization is not worth saving anyway. I just don't think we're morally true to life if we don't do our best to reduce suffering, step up to the challenge, and take that next step.

But we'll stop ourselves in our tracks if we don't get it straight. We have to fix it and stop it. We have to do both, separately and simultaneously.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Captain Marvel Posted by Picasa

Around the Galaxy

A couple of observations about performer Sara Felder and her new show, as performed at the Mad River Festival hereabouts this past weekend at This North Coast Place.

Some thoughts on the O'Neill Center National Playwrights Conference (in progress at the moment) since Lloyd Richards' tenure at Blue Voice.

A reprised review of the 1960s classic film, The Americanization of Emily, is at its permanent home, the Boomer Hall of Fame.

The first Captain Marvel cover. There's an Art Deco
quality that I responded to without knowing what it was,
but it was a bit different from the comic book art
I was seeing at the barber shop, circa 1956. Posted by Picasa

Captain Future's Log

On Captains and Kings, Heroes and Fools,
and Democratic Decadence

I was surprised and heartened by the wonderful response to my piece, "My Name is Captain Future," which I posted at the Booman Tribune, European Tribune and E Pluribus Media this past weekend. I'm very grateful for the good words and the birthday wishes.

I realized later there were a couple of Captains missing in my list of homages. One was Captain Marvel, the superhero with perhaps the strangest pop culture history, being the name of several characters in comic books published by three different companies. The Captain Marvel I knew was the original, from the Fawcett comic books. He was a homeless and orphaned boy selected by a wizard to be given powers of classic figures: the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, courage of Achilles and the speed of Mercury. Acronyms of these heroes combined in the magic word that young Billy Bateson invoked--SHAZAM!--that, with a flash of lightning, transformed him into Captain Marvel.

During the 1940s, this Captain Marvel was the most popular of the comic book superheroes, even outselling Superman. But DC Comics successfully sued Fawcett, claiming the Captain was copied from Superman, and Fawcett stopped publishing in 1953. (D.C. later revived the character, Marvel comics has had several versions, etc.)

I only learned of Captain Marvel by accident, and as one of the few good results of my father's understandable but usually disappointing parsimony. Our family was financially barely afloat for much of my childhood, so instead of the actual toys I craved (like Robbie the Robot) I would typically get a cheaper knockoff. But my father's eye for a bargain had this one benefit. Once when I was probably around 10, and sick in bed for a week (measles, mumps, chickenpox, I had them all) I asked for comic books to pass the time. My father drove all over our neck of the western Pennsylvania woods, selling and repairing Singer sewing machines. There were a lot of small neighborhood stores then, forerunners of 7/11s, and some sold comic books for half price--the top half of the covers were torn off, sent back to the distributor for refund, and the books were supposed to be thrown away.

Somewhere out in the boonies he picked up a pile of them, probably for 2 or 3 cents each. They had to be years old, because they included titles I'd never heard of. (And since my grandfather's tailor shop was attached to a barber shop where I would sit and read all the latest comics, I had a pretty good idea of the up-to-date.) One title was the Three Little Wise Guys. Others featured Captain Marvel.

Like the young in the 40s and early 50s, I was entranced by this idea of a weak, poor and often tyrannized boy whirling around and shouting a magic word to become "the world's most powerful mortal." And yet he didn't use his power for personal vengeance or gain--he used it to help others. I was so taken with that I sent for a membership in the Captain Marvel club, only to receive a return note in the mail that the club had been "discontinued." That word has haunted me ever since.

I was awed as well by Captain Marvel's identificaton with classic heroes, who I knew from the My Book House book series (twelve dark blue volumes that were the magic books of my childhood) and the Classic Comics (which were stories of classic heroes and classic novels in comc book form), as well as from movies and school. All of the superheroes and TV heroes were my links to mythology, and to the hero myth that Joseph Campbell abstracted from the most important stories of many human cultures.

Heroes are admired for their power and exploits, but that's not the entirety of the myth. Campbell emphasized the journey, which is probably most meaningful to us as we mature. In my youth I of course admired the power to act effectively, but what I learned just as strongly is the importance of using power for others, for the common good. Steadfast principles, nobility, courage and sacrifice were what made the hero admirable.

Today I still believe in the hero. On the other hand, while I recognize the King as the expression of a significant archetype, in practical terms I'm convinced that kings are the worst idea in humanity's history. Beginning with large scale agriculture and urbanization, the king became so central to civilization that we probably find it hard to believe that kings are just a bad idea rather than a natural human expression.

Thomas Jefferson and those guys despised kings, and they were right. That should have been the true American revolution, but we haven't shaken the need for kings yet (partly because kings and kingmakers are rich and powerful, and have always worked hard to keep everyone enthralled and enslaved ).

Instead we've apparently dumped heroes, who are often poor peasants and outlyers, orphans whose "noble birth" is a secret even to themselves (from Moses to Harry Potter.) Some see this as a feature of our "democratic" society, where everybody is supposed to be "equal."

“In ancient Greece, people expected their heroes to be different," wrote Dylan Evans in the Guardian last year. "Nowadays, if someone is vastly more talented than us, we don’t congratulate them—we envy them and resent their success. It seems we don’t want heroes we can admire, so much as heroes we can identify with…We allow halfwits to become celebrities precisely because there is no great gap separating them from us. That consoles us, because it makes us think that we could be famous.”

I don't think this is true of everyone--lots of people still need heroes, role models and mentors, or simply admire skill and achievement--but there is definitely something to this, or else so-called "reality" TV wouldn't be so popular. And some of the response is just as classic as the hero---in her recent interview with Bill Moyers, Jeannette Winterson talked about the Greek heroes: outside forces will always try to destroy the heroes. Because actually, heroes are objects of envy, as well as suspicion.

What we perhaps have invented in our age is a king we don't have to envy. Since the 1940s we've occasionally elected Presidents who dazzled us (FDR, JFK) and we accidentally got smart ones who charmed us with folksiness (Carter, especially Clinton) but we've also gone for guys we knew weren't that smart---quite deliberately, in my opinion. G.W. Bush is the epitome of that, and it was extremely clear in 2004 when we were neoconned into considering John Kerry as practically un-American because he was intelligent.

What does this mean? Probably it's all part of the same fantasy: in America, anyone can become famous, therefore anyone can become rich. And with the ability to forget G.W. Bush's birth into wealth and power, the fantasy that anyone can be King. Because if George can do it, anybody really can be president. This is a little lesson in the decadence of this democracy.

Jeannette Winterson warns: I think in our society, we are quite uncomfortable now with the hero figure because we're told we live in a democracy, and everybody's the same, and everybody's got to be treated equally. But it doesn't really seem to work like that, because it's always an individual of some kind, who then pushes things forward. Things don't happen in mass movements, they happen because somebody has a vision, or an idea, or a brainwave, and that changes things for the rest of us. It's always about the individual. It's never about the collective in that sense.

That's the hero as illuminator, visionary and perhaps leader--but in a democracy (which is about equal opportunity and equal say, not equal talents), the rest is up to us, working together.

Yet even this hero is not a cardboard cutout--not G.W. in his flightsuit. And Winterson is right to point out that superheroes are often too one-dimensional, especially when compared with Greek heroes, who acted like jerks at least as often as they acted like heroes. But superheroes and the Captains of our mythology (which would also include the Great Captain, a name given to Abraham Lincoln, and the title of a three-volume biography of Lincoln I remember being on my mother's bookshelf) exist in story, and the stories often do make them more complex figures.

Which brings me to the other Captain I was reminded of, by a comment on dkos, that quoted the song, "Hooray for Captain Spaulding"--a comic explorer played by Groucho Marx. Groucho is another of my heroes, who demolishes the king with wit, and his own pretensions with pratfalls --that is, the archetype of the Jester, the Fool. So Hooray for Captain Spaulding as well: the Wise Fool who sang the perfect Zen song, summarizing life thusly:


I must be going

Been There

In our age of instant analysis and experts who haven't lived long enough or been anywhere to give depth and perspective to their "expertise," it's certainly worthwhile to bend an ear to someone who has been on the front lines of reporting and political thought for long enough to know history by having some.

I've been reading Robert Scheer since the late 1960s, and his new interview with Amy Goodman is the best possible short seminar in foreign policy history and the U.S. presidency since World War II. If you read just one piece on foreign policy this month, this is the one.

Scheer also points out that amidst all the U.S. hysteria over North Korea firing some missiles, the most important of which didn't work, there was near total silence this weekend when India tested missiles capable of hitting China.

India is a nuclear power, and the Bush administration has given them a go-ahead to expand their capability and arsenal, and join the U.S. in kissing off international non-proliferation agreements. But India and Pakistan, as Scheer points out, are more likely to start a nuclear war than North Korea. Just another indication of the criminal foolishness of the neocons/Bushites, and their threat to the future.

Monday, July 10, 2006

nematode roundworm. According to E.O.Wilson,
they comprise 80% of the living creatures on earth. Posted by Picasa

The Climate Crisis

Links to the Future

"The way we're going now, we're not being responsible," says scientist Wallace Broecker in one of Paul Solman's compelling reports on the Climate Crisis on the PBS Newshour. " We're saying, 'We want energy as cheap as we can get it, damn the future.'"

Bruce Sterling does one of his naughty and incisive interpolative commentaries on an article by New York Times writer and author of a book on the Climate Crisis, Elizabeth Kolbert. Where Kolbert does the usual Times perhaps this, maybe that, Sterling offers his more pungent--and pretty downbeat--views on the likelihood of our current civilization doing anything effective to prevent its destruction by global heating effects.

On the up side, Sustainablog collects more links on the growing Christian movement supporting environmental "creation care," and the moral imperative to do so. One interesting quote he quotes: "Religion is built on story telling. The stories reach people in ways that academics or activists or NGOs cannot," said Victoria Finlay, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Religions and Conservation, a London-based group founded by Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth.

According to Joel Makower's report from the Aspen Ideas Festival of heavyweights, famed biologist E.O. Wilson also spoke of the need for an alliance of science and religion, as well as the world's poor and their stewardship of the environment:

One of the central problems of the century -- lifting the world's poorest out of poverty -- represents, in many respects, a biodiversity challenge: How do we make it worthwhile for them to be stewards to the vast array of species to which they've become accidental heirs? asks Wilson. Perhaps ironically, the poorest of the poor and the world's richest biodiversity are concentrated in the same parts of the globe.

"The solution," says Wilson, "must flow from the recognition that one depends on the other. The poor have little chance to improve themselves in a devastated environment. Conversely, the natural environment cannot survive the pressure of a land-hungry people who have nowhere else to go." Wilson says his other big challenge is to bring together the scientific and religious communities to "set aside our differences in order to save the creation. The defense of living nature is a universal value. It doesn't promote any religious or ideological dogma, and it serves the interest of all humans."

Newsweek believes environmental awareness and action are becoming priorities with Americans, both in terms of policies (corporate as well as government below federal level) and individual choices in ordinary life. Why? But probably the most common formative experience is one that Wendy Abrams of Highland Park, Ill., underwent six years ago, as she was reading an article about global climate change over the next century; she looked up from her magazine and saw her four children, who will be alive for most of it.

The New York Times editorial board seems to feel that the Supreme Court has a fairly simple job of interpreting the Clean Air Act in the momentous global warming case they accepted for next term, and that the outcome will be to mandate federal regulation of CO2 emissions.

UPDATE: Former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw hosts a new Discovery Channel documentary on the Climate Crisis that visits places where global heating and its effects are already evident, and interviews scientists on future possibilities. According to an AOL news story about the docu: More frightening are the scenarios that scientists can see for the future: increased sea levels swallowing cities like New York, more vicious hurricanes like Katrina, more land turning to desert. One expert even envisions half of the planet's species disappearing by the end of this century. .. The same scientists who warn of dire consequences also say that there are things that can be done to greatly slow the rate of global warming.

This documentary, made in partnership with the BBC, will first be shown on Discovery Channel this coming Sunday (July16) at 9 pm.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

"Changes" by Susan Point at Posted by Picasa
Looking Back from Two Futures

She asked her grandfather if he could remember when he knew that America and much of the world were sliding back into these new Dark Ages of tyranny, fear and chaos. Was it the stolen elections in 2000 and 2004, the illegal and immoral Iraq war, the country's leaders championing torture and authoritarian rule, the assertion of Empire with the rhetoric of freedom, denying real threats and global catastrophes, while America slept? Or was it the rise of the Rabid Right, the new fundamentalist Inquisition, the growing distance between the ultra rich and almost everyone else, while America slept?

He answered that it was certainly all those things that suggested it, but what convinced him finally that the Dark Ages were upon them was the vicious vengefulness of the Internet Rabble of the Rabid Right. From Glenn Greenwald:

This week, Bartholomew's Official Notes on Religion reported on the new "project" implemented by the group As that group describes it, the project is called "Expose the ACLU Plaintiffs," and promises to publish the home addresses of all individuals who are "using the ACLU" in any First Amendment lawsuit based on the Establishment clause which challenges the constitutionality of governmental promotion of Christianity. The first such enemy targeted for this treatment is a Jewish family in Delaware who sued their local school district over its alleged promotion of Christianity in the public schools. StopTheACLU published their home address and telephone number on its website, and the family -- due to all sorts of recriminations and fear of escalating attacks -- was forced to leave their home and move to another town, which was one of the apparent goals of StopTheACLU in publishing their home address.

Greenwald had said this was not an isolated case, and his grandfather knew that to be true. He'd heard of even a local official in rural Pennsylvania whose family was harrassed and terrorized with threats, over a zoning issue.

Greenwald and others pointed out that those advocating this terrorism were not just fringe players but major figures in the right wing and Republican media. "These self-evidently dangerous tactics are merely a natural outgrowth of the hate-mongering bullying sessions which have become the staple of right-wing television shows such as Bill O'Reilly's and websites such as Michelle Malkin's (who, unsurprisingly, has become one of O'Reilly's favorite guests). One of the most constant features of these hate fests is the singling out of some unprotected, private individual -- a public school teacher here, a university administrator there -- who is dragged before hundreds of thousands of readers (or millions of viewers), accused of committing some grave cultural crime or identified as a subversive and an enemy, and then held out as the daily target of unbridled contempt, a symbol of all that is Evil."

Her grandfather recalled what his own grandfather told him about the rise of Fascism in Germany, and what his mother had told him about McCarthyism and the Blacklist in America, and this was of a piece. Everyone who disagreed with them, who opposed them, who questioned their dogmas of belief or power, were evildoers, terrorists, the Enemy, and should be shot, gassed, put to death.

Combined with so many immense and serious challenges on the horizon, this vicious distracting and destructive idiocy was the nail in the coffin of the future, he felt. Civilization itself was so weakened that when trouble came, it would break in panic. That was when he knew.

Then there is another future, in which a boy asks his grandmother, did she always know this age of wonders would come to pass? No, she said, at times it looked pretty bad. But things had to get very bad, the last gasp of evil and envy, the fear of little minds in high places, and the greed of an aimless society addicted to mediocrity and advertising lies, before it all fell apart, almost overnight. It got so bad that people were going mad with hate and fear, a mob of them inflicting a rein of terror in the name of defending against terrorism. But nothing could hold back their terror until they wore it out.

In the meanwhile, his grandmother said, there were people doing great work to save the future, although they were not yet heard over the din of disaster. Individuals and small communities, some of them virtual, were rehearsing for the leadership of the better future they were dreaming up daily.

Now we know, his grandmother told him, that it was the end of a bad time while the new time was growing in the skin of the old. We know now it was the pitiful last gasp of a dying ideology.
They had fumbled away their power, the people they had counted on weren't listening to them anymore--their media ratings were way down--so they just shouted and pouted in a louder frenzy. Oh, they could still hurt people, and they did. They could still send young Americans and entire families in foreign lands to their deaths, and they did. But their day was ending.

Still, you should remember these awful things, she said, because even now that they seem impossible, they could happen again. But you won't let them, will you, children? You will continue to work for an even better future for all, for the life of the planet and the human adventure, that you are dreaming up daily.