Saturday, July 18, 2009

It's Captain Future Day!

Well, sort of. It's actually Edmond Hamilton Day in Kinsman, Ohio. Hamilton was the author of the original Captain Future stories in sci-fi pulp magazines, and as part of the celebration, The Collected Captain Future Vol. 1 is being officially published today.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Way It Was

Cable news is eulogizing Walter Cronkite, who died today at the age of 92. Cable news is seldom anything Cronkite would have recognized as news, and in hearing Dan Rather and others talk about him as "an honest broker of information," a surrogate for the public who felt his responsibility was to educate the audience, I realize how many of my ideas about journalism came as much from Cronkite (and Huntley-Brinkley) as any newspaper or certainly any class in school. Show biz was always the temptation of TV, and even in his early heyday, while Cronkite was doing hard news series like See It Now, he was also hosting the supremely silly You Are There, where he pretended to interview historical figures like Joan of Arc on her way to the stake. (Although, to be truthful, I was thrilled by those shows as a child. With this strange medium of television, it seemed possible he was actually there.) But Cronkite resisted the incursion of tabloid journalism and infotainment that dominates television now. He set a standard of fact and knowledge. His background in print reporting was typical for his era, and sadly missing now.
For my generation, he was a little late in concluding the Vietnam War was a waste, or in exposing Watergate, but as an establishment figure, he shook the establishment when he did so. He did steer small town, working class, Middle America and his own generation through the tumultuous 60s and 70s, as well as providing some parental or grandparental solidity to my generation.
I didn't see the celebrated moment when he announced that President Kennedy was dead--I was in school at the time--but I do remember that his presence and those of other trusted news figures were essential in getting through that weekend, when the news seemed literally unbelievable, and news that we did not want to accept.
Cronkite was himself one year older than JFK. He didn't quite live to see the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing, with which he remained identified as the most enthusiastic and apparently knowledgeable reporter covering it. I remember when he was more or less forced out of his anchor chair at CBS, which marked for me as the end of legitimate television news. Not that it was always truthful, but it was always serious, and it always paid attention to important matters in detail. I suppose some of my sadness at his passing, which I would not have expected, is that with his death, that era and that kind of news is definitely and definitively over.
Johnny Lujack, star quarterback for Notre Dame in the 1940s and the Chicago Bears, is the analogue on my father's side of the family to Gino Severini on my mother's: a famous if now obscure relative (this photo was on the cover of LIFE magazine), whose relationship is vague and anecdotal. My father said Lujack was a second cousin, although we never met him (at age 81, he's living in Iowa.) Anyway, he's being honored in western PA, prompting a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article that says more than I knew about him--quite a guy, and an amazing athlete in the Jim Thorpe/Jack Armstrong/George Blanda mold. I do recall checking NFL records sometime in the 70s, and he still held a few. Now he's being recognized in his hometown. Congrats, cuz.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


President Obama throws out the first pitch at the Major League All-Star Game in St. Louis, after pitching the need for healthcare and clean energy legislation in Michigan. For more on this fateful summer, see post below.

A Fateful Summer

This could well be the most important summer of the 21st century so far. It could begin to equip this country and the world to save the future, or it could set us back even farther. President Obama is out there pitching, telling audiences in Michigan on Tuesday that his initiatives to fix health care and address the Climate Crisis through a cap-and-trade program are both essential to economic recovery and future prosperity.

The opposition feeds the media with irrelevancies and lies, and the conflict-addicted media eats it up. But beneath the smoke, and beyond the obvious and very well-funded ploys of delay and obfuscation, there are the facts of these matters.

On healthcare, opponents had to deal with the embarrassing revelations by a former insurance company executive that lefty far out radical filmmaker Michael Moore was essentially correct in his film "Sicko" about how broken and unjust the healthcare so-called system actually is. Those fulminating against gobment bureaucracy taking over healthcare had to once again ignore a scholarly study--this one in the journal Health Affairs--that "compared to people with private insurance, Medicare enrollees have greater access to care, fewer problems with medical bills, and greater satisfaction with their health plans and the quality of care they receive."

The latest attack on cap and trade came this morning from none other than Sarah Palin in the Washington Post, quickly dismantled for both what it said and what it didn't say. But there are also misgivings on the left and by environmentalists, which were addressed by Robert Stavins, director of the Harvard Environmental Economics program in a Salon interview.

For critics that consider cap-and-trade a corporate giveaway, Stavins analysis shows that approximately 20 percent of the allowance value is given to private entities that have to comply, and 80 percent of that value of the allowances accrues to consumers, to small businesses and then for various public purposes.

For those who see the bill as too limited and compromised, Stavins maintains that the bill's method, created partly to get the support necessary to pass it, "does not degrade its environmental performance, or drive up its cost. Otherwise I wouldn't support it. I'm an environmental economist. I care about environmental performance, and I care about the cost of achieving it. That's the remarkable property of a cap-and-trade system."

He defends the relatively low goals for the near term as necessary to make as smooth a transition as possible to an energy system that is mostly clean. That means what is most important is the 2050 target of 80 percent below 2005 levels. That's the key one. For 2050, this legislation is very aggressive."

There are still twists and turns both bills will take in the next several weeks. But instituting a health care system that covers 97% or more of Americans, with a public plan to choose from, would be a monumental achievement. It wouldn't by itself solve all healthcare problems, but it is necessary to the other solutions.

The same applies to cap-and-trade. It won't stop the Climate Crisis, but it can begin to address the problems that are on track to wreck the future to an extent that most people so far can't imagine. It won't magically install a clean energy economy overnight, but it will start us in the right direction, for present renewal and public health, and for the future where our children, grandchildren and their descendants will live.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"'You are on your tariqat,' Dhy el-Nun said to Nirgal. This was one's spiritual path, he explained, one's road to reality. Nirgal nodded, struck by the aptness of the description--it was just how his life had always felt to him. 'You must feel lucky,' Dhu said. 'You must pay attention.'"

Kim Stanley Robinson
Green Mars