Saturday, February 10, 2007

Lake effect snow--I remember it well. Increasingly rare,
but parts of the Northeast U.S. are in the throes. AP photo.
Posted by Picasa
Too Much, Too Fast

I'm increasingly uncomfortable with how fast and how early the 2008 presidential election contest is developing. Senator Barak Obama, who announced he was exploring the possibility of his candidacy several weeks ago, is going to officially announce he's running today.

Update: Obama's announcement is here, and the Post story here. A key paragraph of Obama's remarks:

What's stopped us from meeting these challenges is not the absence of sound policies and sensible plans. What's stopped us is the failure of leadership, the smallness of our politics -- the ease with which we're distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our preference for scoring cheap political points instead of rolling up our sleeves and building a working consensus to tackle big problems.

He has some very innovative ideas about how he'll run his campaign, but I can't help feeling that more than a year before the first primary is way too much time for the increasingly irresponsible and irrational media and political complex to destroy every viable candidate in existence. We're leaving this all up to the same people who dropped everything happening on the planet to saturate the airwaves with Anna Nicole, along with the ones who gleefully passed around ever more elaborate lies about Speaker Pelosi's method of travel.

And this whole money thing--the amounts being raised, the tactics some are allegedly using to raise it and deny it to others-- is disgusting. I hope that imitating the 2000 cash-hauling campaign of G.W. Bush is not the best Hillary Clinton can do.

All this early frenzy distorts the actual value of the primary campaigns, which is to spread and test good ideas. John Edwards has some, notably on health care and restoring the American middle class, Bill Richardson has sophisticated and strong statements on global policy, including the Climate Crisis, but they have to survive as candidates long enough to get into meaningful debates, and get some attention.

Of course the frenzy makes us all even more anxious about the election almost two years away. A year ago, John McCain was the frontrunner, but he isn't any longer, even among Republicans. Rudy Giuliani looks like the strongest GOP candidate, although commentator Lawrence O'Donnell predicts that McCain and other Republicans will attack him so hard in the primaries that he will be mincemeat, leading to a Democratic victory. (But then O'Donnell also predicted that after Joe Liebermann lost his primary, he would drop out of the race entirely months before the election.)

Then there's the news and rumors swirling around Al Gore, now up for a Nobel Prize as well as an Academy Award, and there's even some activity among those interested in drafting him. Well, there's only one person who could run I am convinced would be elected, and that's Gore. I'm for him, primarily because of the Climate Crisis, but also on the war and other issues, and there is such buyer's remorse for GWB that he would win in a landslide. But if you ask me it's way too early for him to get into this, although I understand the anxiety of those who are worried that Hillary is going to sew this up soon. It's this preposterous all or nothing jag we're on that is yet another extremism that just may do us in.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

cups in place #1. BK photo.
Posted by Picasa

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"Our society, which treats us so much as an audience to be entertained and as consumers to be led to market, often uses language as an anesthetic. If verbal blandishments can encourage us to sit back and relax, we can be taken care of in more ways that one. And unless we're trained to be alert to the use of language we're likely to end up duped. The simple fact is we cannot afford to be careless with our language, because if we are careless with our language then we are careless with our world and sooner or later we will be lost for words to describe what we have allowed to happen to it."

John Humphrys
Posted by Picasa

The Climate Crisis Future


Late last week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its much anticipated summary for policymakers of its fourth assessment report, the first since 2001. Its "headline" was simply that due to more and better data, the experience of the past several years, and refined climate models made better by using them to "predict" what's already happened (which shows that they're a pretty sound method to predict what hasn't yet happened), the consensus of almost all climate scientists is that major climate change is underway, with serious consequences over a very long time, and that it is largely being caused by machine emissions of greenhouse gases, principally CO2.

Not exactly a shock, but it's the finality of the scientific judgment that is important. As Patrick Kennedy at Blue Climate says: "The big science debate is over. It is time for policy makers to take actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

Well, yes and no. Certainly the debate on the reality of the Climate Crisis should be over, and as far as climate scientists are concerned, it is. But there's much to be discussed about what this report means for the world, what it forecasts for the future, and how climate scientists differ on aspects of this relatively conservative assessment. All that is still playing out, and will for some time. (There's a first, fairly detailed take on what the summary is all about-- but in plain language-- here at Real Climate.)

There is also a lot to say about what dealing with the Climate Crisis will require of us, not just in terms of legislation and political action, but in attitudes and skills. That's something this site will particularly be grappling with in the coming days and weeks. Discerning some outline of what the Climate Crisis future may look like is another longterm goal this site will likely return to, again and again.

But of course we need to be looking at specifics as well--technologies, policies, political and cultural and social efforts that can be applied even without a detailed knowledge of what the future might bring. Reducing emissions, adopting energy-saving measures, clean energy alternatives--these efforts are ongoing and need to be accelerated. But we need equally to come to some sort of strategic focus, and we would be wise to anticipate what we'll need to work on, in terms of attitudes and skills, as we go along.

One area that I've already identified as crucial is language: how we talk about this. I've written about the softness and vagueness of scientific abstractions and bureaucratic argot, the confusing jargon and mind-numbing detail (and even this so-called summary of the IPCC is full of all of that.) Monday's Daily Show showed some of the consequences--the meaning of the report is so vague or buried in detail that its main impact is bewilderment.

Take the often repeated conclusion that global warming is caused by "human activity." This is the earth-shattering conclusion of this report (and the pun is intended), but it sure doesn't sound very imposing. Human activity? Like what? Running about? Waving our hands? Playing tennis? Picking flowers? Dentistry? Dusting books? Sex? Just what human activity are we talking about? Humans have been active for many centuries--what's so important about it lately that it's causing the climate to change?

It's not human activity. It's industrial activity, the machines that give off enormous quantities of gases that collect in the thin layer of the earth's atmosphere and trap the heat so completely that the planet's climate is changing radically and extensively.

Why we're doing this is a major key to why we're having so much trouble facing up to the fact that we have to do these industrial activities differently, and consciously, for unfamiliar reasons: to prevent future catastrophe and a catastrophic future.

Those discussions will continue here. While this topic will be confronted directly it's also another reason to make the subject of language, of the use of words to communicate, a more prominent feature of this site, as expressed so well in today's quotation. And so shall it be.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Daily Babble

Super Bowl Wrapup

Congratulations to Coach Tony Dungy, the first African American head coach to win the Super Bowl. I'd about forgotten that as well as coaching for the Steelers, he also played for the Steelers in the 1970s and has a Super Bowl ring from one of the Steelers' victories (he was a safety and for awhile a backup quarterback; before the glory years, he made history by intercepting a pass and throwing an interception in the same game.) Apparently he still quotes Steelers Coach Chuck Noll, and aspects of his game are similiar. He prides himself on defense, and it was the Colts' defense, weak during the season, that controlled this game until Payme Manning's offense got untracked. Manning looked pissed off for most of the game, maybe unhappy at Dungy's conservative offense with the lead in the second half, another Noll trait (also shared with Steelers coach Bill Cowher, who Dungy also coached under with another club.)

Otherwise, the game was interesting mostly because of the rain, which made it look like a football game instead of a video game. Chicago kept it close in the first half--they had me rooting for them for awhile-- but they were thoroughly outplayed in the second half and the outcome was never really in doubt. I expect they'll have a new quarterback next year. Rex Grossman, who was apparently the first twelve year old to play in the Super Bowl, lived up to his reputation, which was very bad.

The much puffed commercials were terrible this year. There were two that acknowledged the black history that was being made in Black History Month, one by Coke and the other by Doritos. The business oriented spots--computer, investment, etc.--didn't notice, opting for assinine comedy, more along the lines of the beer ads, which continued their predictable theme of men being stupid and willing to do anything for a light beer. There was a public service ad that had children begging for "fat" and "sugar," and to "give me some Diabetes," "buy me obesity," which was pretty good, and surprising that it got on, with all the big bucks fast food ads.

And though I didn't see it during the Bowl, I have seen the anti-war ad, which starts with "on the one hand" the Iraq escalation is opposed by Congress, the American people, U.S. generals, the troops and many Iraqi war vets (sponsors of the ad), and then "on the other hand" there's Bush. But the guy saying that had no other hand. He was a vet who left it in Iraq. Sobering, wouldn't you say?