Saturday, July 22, 2006

From the film version of "All Quiet on the Western Front,"
a classic World War I antiwar story from the German point of view. Posted by Picasa
The Evolution of Brutality and the Skills of Peace

UPDATE: Leads the list for "diary rescue" at Dkos and front page at E Pluribus Media.

We are in a period of brutalization that continues to intensify. The latest uptick in violent language and brutal policy may be evidence of the Bushites and the Rabid Right fighting for their political lives in the face of majority opposition, but it sets a new standard of brutality that affects the whole public dialogue, and all of us as individuals.

“Brutality” means humans acting like beasts (or at least how humans interpret animal behavior.) It carries with it the expectation that human beings in a civilized society should progress beyond this automatic behavior when it is clearly inappropriate and counterproductive, especially in the long term. It assumes a consensus on life as sacred. Progress used to include moving farther away from brutality to the rule of consciousness and more “human” means of solving conflicts.

Brutalization is shifting individual and societal standards to accepting higher levels of brutality as normal and acceptable. In civilized humanity, it is retrogression. So how in the world, early in the twenty-first century, did we get here?

Our sense of the word “brutalization” comes from historian George Mosse, in his analysis of French culture during World War I. In a recent issue of the Times Literary Supplement (June 16, 2006), Jay Winter characterized the “war culture” of the period, as described by two other historians, concluding:

“Thus the war became a kind of crusade, a morality play in which good and evil were evidently divided that those who cried ‘enough’ were deemed either deluded or dangerous.”

World War I remains such a profound event in European culture that a colloquium was held recently “on the explosion of extreme violence in 1914-15, marking a kind of degeneration of war into slaughter on a scale the world had never seen before.” France and England lost 2 million men, four times the number killed in World War II.

The slaughter on one battlefield in 1917 was so extreme and so needless that a half million French soldiers refused to fight. This forced a change in tactics, and changed the nature of the war. After the war, a vast veterans movement of some four million arose in France. They formed “overwhelmingly pacifist associations, determined to make war unthinkable…They hated politicians, those self-serving evildoers who sent men to war, but never paid the price for their policies. Their voices were angry. They had a cause and defended it as fiercely after the war as they had defended their part of the front during it.”

This war and this movement, Winter writes, had a lasting effect on French culture and policy. He does not explicitly say it affected the skepticism and refusal of the French government to get involved in the US invasion of Iraq, but the implication is there.

French filmmaker Abel Gance made two versions
of "J'Accuse." In both he used footage of actual soldiers
on the front in World War I playing ghosts of themselves
coming back to haunt the world. Many of them died on
the battlefield within days. Posted by Picasa
We recognize the us/them buttons that politicians push, and their manipulation of our natural impulse to defend ourselves when threatened. When Shakespeare wrote the phrase, “let loose the dogs of war,” he knew that war releases instincts that can become uncontrollable, and that feed on themselves. A pack of violent dogs is a self-reinforcing mechanism. Humans can rationalize and compartmentalize, and so appear to themselves rational even when they aren’t. Humans also can escalate violence beyond anything a pack of vicious dogs can accomplish, and justify it with the logic of attack and counterattack, with defense soon becoming pay-back and vengeance. War fever is not even assuaged by victory, for there are always new groups to be defined as enemies, and to conquer.

But war itself does not necessarily start the brutalization process that can result in war, or determines how that war is conducted. During the brutality of the Vietnam war, an immense dialogue took place on the meaning of war as well as that particular war. It found in history a long list of voices crying out against the futility of war, the needless brutality and its ineffectiveness in solving problems. It demanded that war be evaluated not just with numbers and geopolitical theories, but by suffering, especially of the innocent, and the brutalizing effect on those who inflicted this suffering as well as its victims. As the soldiers in World War I learned, they are often the same people.

This dialogue was central but also other dialogues were part of it. The Civil Rights movement sensitized us to the racial and ethnic component of the us/them equation, to the fear of difference, of the alien. Prejudices of the past were recalled, and the images of those Other racial groups that by then were obviously false. The examination of socially supported gender roles and their implication in violence and oppression began even before the feminist movement, and men reevaluated what it meant to be a man. Many started on a journey then to revive and refine techniques for solving problems without violence, and to develop new ones.

Today there are thousands of Americans involved in developing, learning and using what I call the Skills of Peace. I divide these interrelated skills into outer (learning about cultures and histories), inner (learning about ourselves, our responses and motivations, as well as cultivating attitudes and learning skills to clarify our relationship to the world) and interface (methods of communication, negotiation; skills of mediation and conflict management and resolution.)

The skills of peace are applicable in our families, schools and neighborhoods, in our political and on-line associations, as well as in international war and peace. They give the lie to the cliché that although “we all want peace” it is unattainable, or we don’t have any idea of how to achieve it.

Our society and our culture spends billions on the skills of war and conflict. We pay little official attention to the skills of peace. We even send soldiers into “peace-keeping” situations with little or no training in how to keep the peace, other than waving weapons, storming homes and conducting interrogations. We do essentially nothing to counter the brutalizing effects on society, or the psychological traumas suffered by the children we turn into killers, and the resulting impact on their families and society. But then, we’ve been notoriously lax in even tending to their physical injuries.

We spend a disproportionate amount of money and time on the skills of war, and that disproportion is one of the causes of brutalization. The self-perpetuating, self-reinforcing, and naturally escalating violence unleashed by war is another. But brutalization can also begin in political choices.

"The Defenders" was a classic, and unfortunately
almost unique, early 60s drama series about
the law defending rights of individuals. Posted by Picasa
The brutal road to Iraq and Torture

How has America in the early twenty-first century come to the point of justifying the capture, imprisoning and torture of people almost at random, with no regard for rights under the Geneva Conventions and more importantly, for generally accepted minimal rights in the civilized world? How has this prosperous and advanced society turned back the clock on the painful progress towards a more civilized and less dangerous world, for which thousands if not millions have sacrificed their lives?

I believe much of the current attitude can be traced back to the 1980s, when the neocons in the Reagan administration pumped up the rhetoric to absurd heights to justify a proxy war in Central America, while they exploited a highly publicized and inflated rise in urban crime, which led to the reversal of trends in criminal justice. In the 60s and 70s, there was an emphasis on the rights of the accused, to redress the balance of individual rights and society’s interest in preventing crime. Perhaps most importantly as well as symbolically, capital punishment was no longer considered a just sentence or effective deterrent.

The subtext of that trend was this: A civilized society does not enact revenge for its own sake, nor does it feed a spiraling culture of revenge. A modern civilized society finds more effective ways to deter crime and deal with criminals, just as many previous societies had done: without capital punishment. Capital punishment brutalized society.

Though this is now accepted in much of the rest of the world, it is likely to be news to anyone who came of age in the US in the 1980s or after. The culture has turned completely around, and justice is equated with vengeance. You need look no further than the ever-popular crime dramas on television. In the 60s, popular series like “The Defenders” and “The Law & Mr. Jones” portrayed defense attorneys as heroes, protecting individuals against abuses by prosecutors and police, against juries being swayed by emotional appeals to exact revenge, and against aspects of the law that treated the “innocent until proven guilty” unjustly.

In today’s crime shows, the heroes are prosecutors and police who use any means necessary to convict suspects. In surfing TV channels the other night, I caught a minute of a willowy blond prosecutor objecting to an accused killer not getting the death penalty because he had a biologically caused mental illness. “We’ve convicted psychotics and schizophrenics before,” she complained. This is typical. You can see the difference even over the life of one series: “Law & Order.”

We all know of the cases of mentally deficient prisoners who were executed. We know of other cases in which prisoners who committed crimes in their youth were executed many years later, when they were demonstrably no longer that person. We also know that the US has the highest proportion of its population in prison than any other “civilized” democracy. We know that there are innocent executed because they could not afford a decent defense, and that African Americans and other minorities are disproportionately jailed because of race as well as economics.

But crime and support for the death penalty were so politically hyped that even though the President has nothing to do with capital punishment, it became the central issue leading to George Bush the First defeating Michael Dukakis in 1988. This despite the fact that the vast majority of voters were untouched by violent crime, except through their television sets. Having hyped the threat, politicians exploited natural fears by promising to get tough, and enacting three strikes laws and bringing back capital punishment. No more attention to the economic crises in the inner cities, or the collapse of manufacturing jobs, or the patterns of racial injustice. Meanwhile, demographers showed that the jump in urban crime was largely predictable by the jump in the proportion of young men, and would abate as the trend reversed. Which is what happened.

By 2004, capital punishment had become such a non-issue that when John Kerry said he was opposed to it, hardly anyone noticed. But the brutalization had done its work.

The demagogic appeals of the 1980s had expanded into a rhetoric of the right wing which is historically startling in its violent oversimplifications, outrageous untruths and brutal assumptions. But there were also countertrends contending for the national soul. It took the match of 9/11 to set this house aflame again.

the brutality of Guantanamo Posted by Picasa
Terrorized by the War on Terror

By choosing to regard terrorist attacks as acts of war rather than criminal acts, the Bushites not only gave terrorists the identity they craved—the identity as warriors that would inspire new recruits—but they both hyped the threat and used the resulting fever to justify extreme acts, including official patterns of brutality.

The terror of terrorism is in surprise, and the power of terrorism to inspire fear is directly related to its novelty as well as the violent imagery associated with it. It is certainly not proportional to the threat.

Ben Friedman in the San Francisco Chronicle Insight (February 19, 2006):

Conventional wisdom says that none of us is safe from terrorism. The truth is that almost all of us are.

Most homeland security experts say that Hurricane Katrina's flooding of New Orleans shows how vulnerable we are to terrorists. In fact, it shows that most Americans have better things to worry about. By any statistical measure, the terrorist threat to America has always been low. As political scientist John Mueller notes, in most years allergic reactions to peanuts, deer in the road and lightning have all killed about the same number of Americans as terrorism.
In 2001, their banner year, terrorists killed one twelfth as many Americans as the flu and one fifteenth the number killed by car accidents.

Even if attacks killing thousands were certain, the risk to each of us would remain close to zero, far smaller than many larger risks that do not alarm us, or provoke government warnings, like driving to work every day. And if something far worse than Sept. 11 does occur, the country will recover. Every year, tens of thousands Americans die on the roads. Disease preys on us. Life goes on for the rest. The economy keeps chugging. A disaster of biblical proportions visited New Orleans. The Republic has not crumbled. The terrorist risk to the United States is serious, but far from existential, as some would have it.

Posted by Picasa
Yet the Bushite mantra that 9/11 had changed everything was so ubiquitous and powerful that to deny it was next to impossible for years, until it had become a self-fulfilling prophecy. America did learn it was vulnerable to the kind of attack it had not suffered before, and should have quickly protected itself against this vulnerability. Some of this was done, but not all that was needed. The Bush government took another course when it invaded Iraq, and used the 9/11 attacks for political gain.

More than 3,000 people were killed by terrorist acts on 9/11/2001. This resulted in invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, where civil war killed more than 3,000 people in Iraq I just last month, and some 6,000 in the past two months. The number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq is likely to surpass 3,000 soon. This is often the logic of war—of any war, just or not. When a society must defend itself with whatever means are necessary to fend off destruction and hold back an invader, that logic is tragic but must be accepted. When a war is created for political and economic ends, and sold to a democracy with lies and manipulation, it is more than tragic.

The Bushite rhetoricians positioned this war without a nameable enemy as an archetypal fight to the death between good and evil. In such a battle, the good are always good, and can never do evil, just as the evil are always evil. Creating these archetypes is a normal function of war, which both sides do. It is also common to use racial and religious stereotypes, and to characterize the enemy as less than human, as beasts.

Such oversimplification and distortion not only leads to brutality, it is itself a form of brutalization. It is a brutal view of the world, and denies the humanity as well as the possibly legitimate grievances of the Other, the enemy. In denying that the Other is civilized, it justifies acting outside the norms of civilized society. It makes us uncivilized and brutal.

Through surrogates like Ann Coulter, their flunkies in the press, and in their own voices, neocons and Rabid Right Republicans are pumping up the rhetoric of violence. Brutalization also increases in times of violence, as is the case now in the Middle East. While half a million people are roaming Lebanon because their homes have been destroyed, a commentator on Fox brags of the US military capability to turn Syria “into a parking lot.” This is brutalization speaking loud and clear.

But brutalization is expressed not just in blood-thirsty rhetoric, but in indifference. Indifference to suffering, and to those causing suffering. The constant barrage of violent news is like getting hit on the head with a board. It desensitizes, which is an effect of brutalization.

Brutality is commonly an instrument of authoritarian rule, and brutal definitions lead to a logic of authoritarianism. They don’t call dictators “strong men” for nothing.

Brutalization is now so pervasive in this society that we barely recognize all its manifestations. When it becomes part of cultures—created for example by the Cheney rules—it becomes harder and harder to oppose it, and then even to recognize it. But it links the authoritarian White House to the torturers at Guantanamo and the rapists and murderers in Iraq. It is ever-present in the violent rhetoric of the right, that expands the definition of the Other, and brutalizes not only the Other in foreign lands, but in the political opposition at home. It leads to citizens of small towns harassing, vandalizing and threatening violence on the families of other small town citizens, over a zoning dispute, or a public official over a word in a speech, taken out of context or even misheard.

We need to identify brutalization: its manifestations and causes, and shine a light on it. We do not need to add to it with conscripting more cannon fodder for brutal dictators by any other name. We need to put political muscle and will behind accountability, and to promote a government and a society that values and uses and learns the skills of peace.

Check out The Skills of Peace article at the SF Chronicle, and these useful links.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Everybody's Quote of the Day

At T. Goddard's Political Wire, the Huffington Post, and probably a thousand other places---it comes from outspoken former NBA star Charles Barkley:

"I used to be a Republican before they lost their minds."

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Posted by Picasa

The Nature of Denial (The Denial of Nature)

Eight weeks after release, Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth was still #11 at the US box office, just a shade behind the opening week of Scanners at #10. Last week it was in 570 theatres, about a third of the screens of the #8 film. Of all the movies in the top 12 that had been out for more than a week, it had by far the lowest percentage audience drop-off. People are still discovering it. The book version remains at #2 on the New York Times Best Seller list.

As mentioned before, climate scientists have been unanimous in endorsing the facts Gore communicates in this film. His explanations and his arguments, while they could be expanded, could not be clearer. Presented in this way, there is no politics involved. You believe the science, or you don't. (And since the data is overwhelming, from so many sources going back many years, if you don't believe this science, you don't believe any science.) You believe dealing with the climate crisis is a moral imperative and a public responsibility, or you don't. (And if you don't, what do you believe is?)

As Gore says, the percentage of peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals that dispute the existence of the climate crisis and human responsibilty for it through the immense dispersal of greenhouse gases, is zero. But the percentage of articles in the popular press that question it is over 50%.

There are reasons why-- most of them having to do with wealthy companies that want to keep on accruing weath awhile longer, while incurring the least possible cost in investment. Gore's analogy of the tobacco industry deliberately misleading the public is the most apt.

But why do people accept these distortions? Why wallow in climate crisis denial?

It takes courage to change--your assumptions, and what you're doing. There's risk involved. If things are going pretty well at the moment, or even if you're afraid of making things worse for yourself, why take a chance?

The problem looks way too big. The changes look impossible. Cut fossil fuels? Gasoline? Oil? Coal? Who are you kidding? It's unimaginable. Even if it's true, you have to deny it. Everybody's jobs, everybody's lives depend on how things are now.

But it's also very personal. People love their cars and their power tools, and they are afraid someone is going to take them away, take away their only comforts, in a world that gradually or suddenly takes everything away. They probably only need to modify how they do things, and change some, without losing cars and power tools, but they aren't yet persuaded of that. Because the whole thing is too scary. So it's better to turn on the people you think are trying to take away what you love, take away how you want to live.

People are afraid of what they might have to give up. They find it hard to conceive of anything different from their work-to-spend life, that TV tells them is normal-- them and everyone they know. They can't get off that wheel. They don't want to lose the things in their present that give them pleasure, even give them meaning, especially in a gamble to prevent disaster in some future. A future they might not even see.

People also feel guilty, and they don't want to admit, even to themselves, that what they've been doing all their lives has been destroying their planet, and destroying the future of their own children and grandchildren. It's hard to admit that. To feel that. There are way too many things to feel bad about already.

This is all denial, and we're familar with it from psychology, which entered the culture in a big way with the recovery movement. People with a problem, an addiction, don't want to admit they have it, don't want to admit to themselves that what they're doing, what they like to do, is hurting other people, ruining their own health and their own life. That it is ruining the future of their children. They don't want to see the pattern. They don't want to believe the data.

No ordinary people chose to start a climate crisis. No ordinary people made the choice to trade the future of the planet for their cars and hot water, their homes and computers, their jobs and their joys. They weren't given that choice. But science has been telling us for almost a half century that we have a problem, and now that problem has gotten very, very big. The relevant industries should have stepped up to deal with this years ago, but they didn't. Government should have stepped up years ago to lead us out of this, but it didn't. Ordinary people have to force them into it.

More industries (especially in other countries), more state and local governments, more countries are starting to, if not step up, at least crawl up. The US and its major industries are the most responsible for the crisis and the worst at taking responsibility for it. The Gore movie shows how suicidal this is. The car manufacturers of virtually every other country in the world, including China, have far higher fuel standards than the big U.S. automakers. If U.S. car companies want to sell abroad, they can't. And their business is falling way behind, even within the US. Where's the sense in this?

The U.S. responsibility is to lead, and to lead by example. Because if China and India try to walk our current walk, the result will be apocalyptic.

It's time for some consciousness and courage. It's time for a lot of clear thinking, which is going to get harder as time goes on, as catastrophes shake us, emotions run high, and denial gets replaced by equally destructive and self-destructive impulses. Not to mention the impossibility of thinking straight when it's so damn hot.

Why is this a political party issue? Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians have all been using fossil fuels for the past century. Conservatives, moderates and liberals all share the same planet, and their children all need the future. It's basically a huge engineering problem. Nature is the ground of fact. It can't be denied without fatal consequences.

The first step in this recovery program is go see this movie. Are you afraid? Afraid you'll be convinced? Are you afraid of the truth?
The Heat Beat Goes On

It's not just the US in the fryer: Europe is in the midst of a record-breaking heatwave. The Netherlands, France, Italy, England (where the British Open golf tourney is beginning in triple digit temps.) Deaths have started to be recorded. A similar heatwave in 2003 claimed 20,000 dead. In terms of terrorism, that's between 6 and 7 9/11s.

In 2004, a UK climate research group warned that a further sign of the climate crisis would be these heatwaves becoming more frequent and more severe in England and Europe.

In the US, storms wrack the north while the heat continues in the south and west. Tropical storm Beryl is heading north, and could possibly strike anywhere from Long Island to New England on Friday. If it makes landfall in New England, it will be the first tropical storm ever to do so in any July on record. Warmer ocean water feeding storms worldwide is another widely predicted indicator of global heating.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

mandala-vortex Posted by Picasa
Imagine There's No Imagination

Philip Slater, a writer worth reading, observes:

Daniel Pink's recent book, A Whole New Mind points out that left-brain abilities, like physical ones, have been automated and outsourced, that IQ tests predict career success about as well as astrology, and that the important abilities in the future will be things like pattern recognition, empathy, and imagination. This is very unfortunate for us.

Worst of all, we seem to be losing our capacity for imagination.

Slater's evidence is anecdotal but chilling in a Jay Leno sort of way. For example, these examples of high school students struggling with an assignment to use simile and metaphor:

"Her eyes were like two brown circles with big black dots in the center."
"The red brick wall was the color of a brick-red Crayola crayon."
"John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met."

If imagination is endangered, so is the future. Pattern recognition is imagination applied to past, present or future, but all we have of the future is what we can imagine. Jung comes close to saying--and James Hillman says it outright--that the human imagination and the human soul are the same. From imagination come empathy, altruism and the cooperation that enables civilization and the continued life of the planet. Imagination is how we understand our feelings of kinship with each other and the world that sustains us.

Here's another writer definitely worth reading, Barry Lopez, from a terrific interview in The Sun Magazine:

How can I help? The one thing I know how to do, I think, is turn a pattern I see into language. I like to go a long ways away, try to recognize a human pattern there, and then put it in an accessible form for people at home, so they might recognize the outline of what’s been troubling them and figure out what to do about it.

That's the function of imagination that we use in very practical ways all the time.

It's hard however to look at the extreme rabid rightists and fault them for complete lack of imagination. Among their current fantasies is believing the moron in chief when he refers to a group of stem cells smaller than the period at the end of this sentence, which have no independent life and are destined for disposal, as "boys and girls."

That's his reason for exercising his first veto, to prevent stem cells from being used in research that is likely to mitigate suffering and save actual lives of real boys and girls. But then that's the chief use, or misuse, of the imagination on the Rabid Right: to lie, cynically and often, for the political advantage that keeps them in power and puts money in the hands of their pals and themselves. It doesn't take much imagination to see that.
Pith of the Moment

On the warfare in the Middle East, blogger Meteor Blades in the top rated diary at dkos:
I'm not saying we should erase history from memory altogether. What I'm saying, what I think I know, is that we can't throw up our hands, say "a pox on both your houses," and descend into apathy. Our only choice is looking futureward to what a peaceful, secure, prosperous Palestine and Israel would look like in 50 years, and doing what little part we can to make that happen. We can't say that's their problem, not ours.

How do I know this is the only choice? Because we already have clearly seen what 50 years of war looks like. And while I am no believer in biblical prophesy, I do believe in the possibility of Armageddon.

Amy Goodman in the Nation on the major media's coverage of the Iraq invasion and subsequent coverage of the Bushleague: If this were state media, how would it be any different?

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. in an interview:"our electoral system is broken in three large respects: The first is our campaign finance system, which is a system of legalized bribery, and which has allowed corporations and the very rich to control the results of our electoral process. Number two is the failure of the American press and that is also a function and result of corporate control, as I showed in my book. Number three is the election system itself, which is broken. We've privatized it and allowed four large corporations to count our votes on machines that don't work...

This is the most important issue in American Democracy and the press isn't covering it...
you have a Republican party that is trying to suppress votes and trying to defraud the public. And you have a Democratic party that is like the deer in headlights. And the Democrats are never going to win another election if they don't fix this issue because they are starting out every election with a 3 million vote deficit, and those are mainly the black voters in this country who no longer have their votes counted."

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

No, it's not Monday's map again. It's Tuesday's forecast highs. Posted by Picasa
Snow Or Never

Look at the world today. Is there anything more pitiful? What madness there is! What blindness! What unintelligent leadership! A scurrying mass of bewildered humanity crashing against each other, propelled by an orgy of greed and brutality. A time must come, my friend, when this orgy will spend itself. When brutality and the lust for power must perish by its own sword.

Words spoken by the fictious High Llama in Frank Capra's 1937 classic, Lost Horizon. Well, it obviously hasn't happened yet, but you can read about the restored DVD version of a film that was itself largely lost for 60 years, here at The Boomer Hall of Fame. And enjoy the snow.

And about the DVD of Wild Strawberries with a remarkable interview with Ingmar Bergman at age 80 here, also at Boomer. (He's 87 now, and made his most recent movie at 86.)

Monday, July 17, 2006

the red (hot) states Posted by Picasa
Record Temps Meet Record Stupidity

Another take on the weather-meets-media phenomenon I wrote about yesterday, from Toby Barlow:

I'm once again completely blown away by the inability of the major media to connect the dots in even the most simplistic way. This Associated Press article on the heat wave is full of all sorts of cutesy comments about the current record heat, "I could use a pool out here", "Oh, I love it balmy." etc, but there is not ONE mention of the fact that this current trend is - in fact - a clear sign of global warming.

Meanwhile, we have George Bush for two more years and a rate of incumbency in the House and Senate making it hard to believe that any change is going to happen. And no matter what happens here, the Chinese are still building coal plants at a nice clipped pace and every species that doesn't have the blessing of central air (armadillos, crayfish, etc.) just keep heading north, you know, up to where the polar bears are dying. And the life that can't move, like the coral reefs, are slowly being cooked to death in the ocean's warming waters.

Once the heat gets high enough, melting the permafrost and releasing the enormous quantities of methane trapped below, our "record temperatures" will leap even higher. Then it's going to be real "balmy." Oh, yeah.

But there's not a single prominent world leader doing anything about it. Nero only had one fiddle; we've got a whole damn orchestra.

But then that's what bothered me the most about hot weather: you just can't think straight.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Drought in Virginia Posted by Picasa
How Hot Is It?

Armageddon will start next week said the supermarket tabloid I passed at the checkout. Maybe I should have checked the date. What's going on in the Middle East looks like the start of it.

Meanwhile, most of the U.S. is gripped by the other apocalypse--just as this story asserted that this year so far has been the hottest in the U.S. ever, and it's not even August yet, most of the nation was broiling.

Our little coastal strip is foggy but cool, so I wasn't that aware of the high heat elsewhere today, until I posted the Climate Crisis "Fix It and Stop It" piece below on the usual community blogs, and got some comments at dkos about how insanely hot it was today in the high Rockies and upper Michigan. Southern California is choking, and vast forest fires continue.

So I looked at the Weather Channel tonight for the first time in awhile, and saw a weather map that was solid red--all 80s, 90s and over 100 degree F highs in the east, midwest, south, southwest, west, north, everywhere but a few coastal strips. And the forecast for the coming week is equally brutal. DC over 100, and Detroit mighty close. Boston and New York, Pittsburgh and Philly in the upper 90s.

There is now ongoing drought, the above cited article says, in 45% of the US. And though 2006 may turn out to be the hottest year on record, it would only be beating out 2005.

So how is the Weather Channel, and hence the nation, handling this? They are now outfront about linking global heating to longer, hotter and more frequent heat waves, with thousands of deaths because of them. But that report comes and goes. While we're looking at the very red map (meaning all heat, though it does give a certain meaning to that other red signification on US maps), the weather man is cheerily advising ways to "beat the heat," like playing with water balloons.

After the forecast (cheerful delivery to horrendous information), we return to the ongoing taped dramas of super storms, the Weather Channel's equivalent of horror movies, or maybe reality shows.

As bizarre as this schzoid imagery is, it looks familiar. Where have I seen this before? Then it hits me--this is America in the 50s and 60s, coping with nuclear weapons that could obliterate life as we know it in a second. But the government assured us there was nothing to worry about, nuclear weapons were our friend, and so we were officially cheerful about them, while we were told to duck and cover. In the meantime, the movie theatres and drive-ins were showing horror films about radiation monsters and invaders from space with invincible heat-rays.

This is how we behave in the face of official denial. Our government won't admit or face the problem and so obviously is not going to do anything about it, so our only defense is to not think about it. Or we'd go crazy. Although in trying to pretend we aren't thinkng about it, and we don't know the government is failing us, we are going crazy anyway.

How hot is it? Our leaders have thrown enough money down the sinkhole of Iraqnam to stop the Climate Crisis in its tracks, and go a long way towards fixing the problems it is causing. They have thrown enough destruction into Iraqnam to destabilize the Middle East, and they've crippled our ability to deal with other countries, including those fighting there, and including allies elsewhere, so the American people can only watch as the world tears itself apart.

Any sane government would have a cabinet level Climate Crisis team working on fixing it and stopping it. But then, no sane government would have lied and blundered its way into the Iraqmire. Both failings are crippling the future, and making a lot of people suffer in the present.

So before you duck and cover, don't forget your water balloon.