Saturday, April 14, 2007

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Step It Up

Demonstrations in Washington, New York and all over the country today organized by "Step It Up" focus on taking action to address the Climate Crisis. Some 1300 events in all 50 states, and maybe the best part is that it's all been organized by young people, recent college grads in Vermont. From the photos of their hq, it looks a lot like 60s antiwar organizing. This is their future, and they know it.

Meanwhile Cheryl Crow and Laurie David (producer of An Inconvenient Truth) began a national performance tour to the same end. Together these attempts signal the political shift to an action phase. Their call for an 80% reduction is in line with the best science.

Crow and David began in Texas, the CO2 capital of the country, where a major storm terrorized Dallas and nearby places, with tornadoes and winds high enough to overturn a tractor trailer. This same storm is moving into the deep South today and will become a major storm for New York and New Jersey coastal areas, and is already pouring rain and snow into the Ohio Valley.

We've already seen unusual quantities of lake effect snow in the midwest and mid-Atlantic, and parts of Colorado are knee deep in snow today. Though it may still seem paradoxical to some, these are all predictable effects of global heating, having to do with the temperature effects on bodies of war and their effects on precipitation and the weather in general.

I saw a short clip of Crow and David yesterday. They said more in 30 seconds than most experts manage in hours. Basically: the earth is heating, humans are causing it, we need to do something about it now.
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Thursday, April 12, 2007

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Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

He survived Pall Malls for 84 years, and it was a fall resulting in brain injury that led to his death. Kurt Vonnegut has been part of my life and close to my soul since the 1960s, when my fiction writing teacher who'd been his student at the Iowa Workshop got us reading his early novels, just a few months before the world discovered him big time with Slaughterhouse Five. Of contemporary writers, I felt closest in ways I can't explain to two: Vonnegut and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

His New York Times obit is here.

Vonnegut was one of the voices we clung to in those bitter years of the late 60s. His voice was so distinctive that it was something that writers attached to rhythmic mimickry had to get loose of. No sooner had you broken the habit of writing like J.D. Salinger, Hemingway and Joseph Heller, along came Vonnegut. So it goes.

He was a countercultural voice who came by it honestly; he earned it. His use of science fiction motifs was part of it, especially for me. In later years he took on the appearance as well as the mantle of our 20th/21st century Mark Twain.

I've known so many people who knew him, and I've seen him on various screens and of course read him, so I feel I did know him, in that peculiar way in which he didn't know me from Adam. I encountered him in person at least three times I can recall. He spoke in Pittsburgh, where the U.S. Army had once sent him to study engineering. His speeches, especially at colleges, are legendary--even the ones he didn't actually deliver. They were full of wit and practical wisdom, and lots of provocation of thought and feeling, worth any 20 political or academic talks.

Before that, he passed through my mind as I was walking in Boston one afternoon, idly thinking I might run into him. Late that night, while sitting in an unprestiguous, noisy, overlit restaurant with members of a rock band I was supposed to be writing about (the drummer lamenting the absense of the groupies he had been promised), I glanced across the room and saw Kurt Vonnegut looking at us, and not real kindly. Such a coincidence is common in Vonnegut's fictional universe, where there are "leaks" between worlds and time is permeable. It actually happened to me twice within a short time; the other time I was in O'Hare airport thinking about Paul Simon, and a minute later there he was. It was weird enough to be a little scary, and so it's never happened again.

The last time I remember was in Manhattan. It was on the street and I saw him walking towards me, wearing just a comfortable indoor sweater on a cold coat-and-scarf day. I recognized him and smiled; he looked at me the way I was often looked at in New York--that ' are you somebody I should know?' look--and when he'd concluded I wasn't, he looked away. But I have that picture of him, walking the midtown streets as if from one room of his house to another.

I was talking about a short story of his just the other day. Someone, I forget who, has recently written a satire in which the suggested solution to social security and medical care shortfalls because of aging baby boomers is to kill them--humanely, I assume. Apparently this idea is striking a chord, which doesn't surprise me. Vonnegut wrote about it in the 1950s, in a story called "Welcome to the Monkey House" (also the title of his first story collection.) Because of overpopulation, old people were encouraged to visit their government sponsored Ethical Suicide Parlors. It was a wicked idea, but what makes writers cherish Vonnegut is his imagination, his detail. These Parlors were housed next to Howard Johnsons, their purple roof next to the orange roof of HoJos. They all had Hostesses, stewardess-like young women who humor the old folks but efficiently hurry them along to take their injection and die peacefully in the Barcolounger. You absolutely know that when these places are established, this is what they will be like.

I've only quoted him here once, from a 2006 speech in which he said: “The only difference between Bush and Hitler is that Hitler was elected.” That's Vonnegut in a nutshell: vivid, combative, funny, outrageous, passionate, pushing at the edge but with wit and meaning.

Vonnegut often wrote about Kilgore Trout, his alter ego--a version of who he might well have been if it hadn't been for the sudden success of Slaughterhouse Five, a poor and obscure science fiction writer. In Vonnegut's last novel, Timequake, Kilgore Trout dies. He was 84.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

See It Now: Darfur

I wear my Save Darfur t-shirt enough to know from personal experience that few people know where it is and what's going on there. Now Google and the Holocaust Museum have stepped in to bring the evidence of the ongoing genocide in the Sudan to your computer, via Google Earth.

Using high resolution imagery, it's now possible to see some 1600 destroyed villages, more than 100,000 destroyed homes, schools and other buildings, in addition to seeing exactly where on the earth this is all taking place. Pop-ups provide facts and personal stories for even more understanding.

"When it comes to responding to genocide, the world's record is terrible. We hope this important initiative with Google will make it that much harder for the world to ignore those who need us the most," said Holocaust Museum director Sara Bloomfield in a statement.

You can find instructions on downloading Google Earth and finding the Darfur maps at the Holocaust Museum site here.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

"Night and Day" by Germaine Arnaktauyok
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The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

This Is Not the Room

of polished tables lit with medalled
torsos bent toward microphones
where ears lean hands scribble
"working the dark side"

--glazed eye meeting frozen eye--

--Adrienne Rich
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Climate Debate in the UK: It's a Little Different

UPDATE: a version of this has been "Rescued" at Daily Kos.

Like, the US, the UK has its more "liberal" party (Labour), which is currently in power, and its more conservative, the Tories. So their differences on the Climate Crisis would be similiar, with Labour backing carbon limts, and the Tories yelling that global heating is a hoax?

Not exactly. According to the Guardian:

The Tories are to challenge Labour on a key plank of their green policy by adopting a far more ambitious target for cutting harmful greenhouse gases.

Experts asked by David Cameron to look at climate change have concluded that they should set a target of reducing carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, a substantial advance on Labour's commitment to 60 per cent. Many scientists believe the 80 per cent figure must be achieved in developed countries if the average temperature around the world is to rise by no more than 2C over the next 40 years. Any rise greater than that represents what scientists believe to be the 'tipping point', when climate change would start to have a devastating impact, with floods, hurricanes and the loss of eco-systems.

If you've been accustomed to recent American politics, you might conclude this is a cynical attempt to show up the opposition, with no actual intention to pursue such a policy. Maybe. But it doesn't sound like it:

Nick Hurd, MP for Ruislip-Northwood and chairman of the group, said: 'We are under no illusions about the political challenge, not least in securing an international agreement on a global emissions framework. However, the politics must fit the science and not the other way round.' The group's recommendation was endorsed last night by several environmental groups, including WWF, Christian Aid and the Tearfund.

All the national politicians take the Stern Report seriously, which says that the UK needs to devote 1% of its budget to addressing the Climate Crisis now, or it will be paying far more in the future. Although the UK is not meeting its CO2 reduction goals yet, there is far more awareness generally there than in the US, and more debate on "how" rather than whether anything is necessary. The citizenry appears far more aware of the transformations that are coming, one way or another. If the US doesn't wake up soon, we are going to be--at the very least--the Ford to the world's Toyotas: because of a lack of foresight and will: obsolete and whining.