Saturday, February 06, 2010

Silence in the Snowy Field

"His place, as he sat and as he thought, was not
In anything that he constructed, so frail,
So barely lit, so shadowed over and naught
As, for example, a world in which, like snow,
He became an inhabitant, obedient
To gallant notions on the part of cold."
--Wallace Stevens
Cheers to all our family and friends in the Middle Atlantic and East Coast states where the snow is falling. And piling up. And so on. While all we get here is rain and earthquakes. Seriously, appreciate it while you can, as our planet does.
The top photo is from the Twin Cities--somewhere near them in Minnesota I recall standing in a field reading Robert Bly out loud to a laughing dark-haired girl, a long time ago. The bottom photo is mine, also from long ago, of snow in the yard in western PA where I played as a boy.
...For the similarly deprived out here on the West Coast, a neat bunch of snowy scenes.
Update 2/6: Wooah! Snowmageddon! I didn't mean to be insensitive to problems created by monster snowstorms in the East. Maybe I posted in haste, before the fact. Still, I'll bet it's possible in some places at least to appreciate and maybe even enjoy a nice big snowfall ?

Friday, February 05, 2010

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"There is only one way to strive for decency, reason, responsibility, sincerity, civility and tolerance, and that is decently, reasonably, responsibly, sincerely, civilly, and tolerantly."
Vaclav Havel

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Obama, Optimism and Dreaming Up Daily

Close readers may wonder at my mood swings. One day I'm muttering darkly about impending doom, the next I'm quoting President Obama at length about his policies to make things better, and then quoting Howard Zinn on being hopeful. So what gives? What's the secret of my schizzy point(s) of view?

It's not really contradictory, but it may be complex. I admire President Obama for what he's accomplished and what he's trying to accomplish, and I approve of his message. He's a better President and U.S. leader than I thought we'd see again in my lifetime, and I have confidence in him (unfortunately, pretty much only him) to do what it is possible to do, given the current realities of politics and the rest of it.

The difference is this: President Obama professes to be optimistic about the American future. That is, he's optimistic that we can transition into a better future with relatively little pain or disruption. I am not. He's trying to do many things that need to be done, and he'll get done what it is possible to get done. But I don't believe that what really needs to get done to insure the future is realistically possible.

The toxic political culture is not going to permit the kind of change that's necessary. The Republican party is more extreme than ever, its membership is totally of the Rabid Right, for whom the Dark Ages of Ignorance constitutes the promised land. If you have any doubts about that, just glance at the results of the Research 2000 poll. This probably does mean that the Republican Party is shrinking in numbers, but it is still supported by powerful corporations pushing an anti-future agenda. Some of those corporations own information media. And since there are only five major media companies left, that power to control the conversation is considerable.

Meanwhile, electoral politics depends on the growing number of Independents. Independent is a fine sounding name, but it seems to me most Independents are basically politically unsophisticated, easily swayed and manipulated--especially by fear. They go for slogans and new faces. They're not the kind of voters you want to depend on.

We need to do some big things to save the future. But we can't even get a health care bill that has been compromised half to death, and against which there is not a single sound argument, and certainly not a humane one. Instead our political dialogue is frighteningly primitive.

The Obama administration can't even get the media, let alone the people, to acknowledge its considerable accomplishments--even in Congress, and especially in the federal government. But those accomplishments are mostly attempts to repair the damage of 8 disastrous Bush years. Just as Clinton had to struggle for 8 years to repair the damage wreaked by 12 years of right wing GOPer rule. At best, we're getting nowhere.

President Obama is nudging the country to accept the idea that clean energy is America's economic future, that this is America's chance to lead the world again. That's the broadest political argument that it is possible to make, absent the acceptance that clean energy is the only future for civilization. Yet he's getting plenty of resistance on this. Meanwhile, China is already cleaning our clock.

Not that it matters all that much. Because these beginning efforts, while essential, are not going to ease us into a better future.

It's the same with the efforts to halt Climate Crisis feeding pollution. It looks as if the U.S. is not going to adopt carbon cap and trade, nor a carbon tax, and so these efforts will be even weaker. President Obama will do what he can, but the fossil fuel industries still have their grip on the throat of the future. This is just the latest testament to their decades of obstruction and lies. Probably all you need to know is that the Saudi royal family is the second biggest investor in News Corps, the ultra-conservative media conglomerate and owner of Fox News. A foreign power with a vested interest in keeping the U.S. dependent on oil is bankrolling the loudest voices opposing any sensible response to the Climate Crisis, which would involve ending dependence on oil.

But even that may not matter in terms of the character of the future. Despite the noise over some insignificant errors, and the built-in uncertainty of details, the larger conclusions of the Climate Crisis are so solid the Pentagon is planning for them. The change I detect is the growing concern is that it's too late to stop the Climate Crisis from having significant consequences--so significant and for such a long time, that the second half of this century will look nothing like now, and that will just be the beginning.

I'm reading David Orr's new book, and it looks to be the beginning of a new consensus. The effects so far (mostly running way ahead of predictions) suggest that the effects of the greenhouse gas pollution of the past 70 years will be devastating. The subtitle of Orr's book is "Confronting Climate Collapse." The subtitle of Bill McKibben's forthcoming book this spring is "Making A Life on a Tough New Planet."

Scientists and others began talking about the potential for devastating global heating in the 60s. Arthur C. Clarke told Arthur Miller back then that it threatened the future. We've known enough about climate change to do something about it since the 70s, and scientists put together proposals for President Carter, but nothing was done. We could have acted then, or even in the 80s, and maybe avoided what's going to happen. Maybe even in the 90s, when Al Gore was vice president. Maybe even if the 2000 election hadn't been stolen. But it didn't happen, and now it's probably too late to prevent a civilization-straining change in the climate that will make the planet we know only a memory.

It's still important to cut back climate deforming pollution, to prevent even worse consequences further in the future. But it looks increasingly to me that the smartest people are looking beyond the present, to figure out how to deal with the very great changes coming in the future.

I expect my own attention to be moving in that direction as well. But that's a matter of emphasis, because that's always been a concern of this site--its premise in fact. It is about "dreaming up"--that is, "dreaming up" ideas, using the imagination--to counter the "downward bound" movement of events.

Part of that "dreaming up" is the activity of hope, an act first of all of the imagination, and Zinn's words are particularly appropriate. In a way, I'm going through the stages of mourning for our civilization, and I guess I've passed denial. So I am not optimistic. But I choose hope. I don't believe a future smoothly continuous with the present is going to happen. So the task now is to evaluate and create what will help the future the most, and work that hope now. It becomes the meaning of the present.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Emerson for the Day

"This ethical character so penetrates the bone and marrow of nature, as to seem the end for which it was made. Whatever private purpose is answered by any member or part, this is its public and universal function, and is never omitted."

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Happy Birth/Groundhog/Day

"I hear the ruin of all space, shattered glass and toppling masonry, and time one livid final flame. What's left us then?" So wrote James Joyce, who crawled out of the cafe, saw the shadow cast by his birthday candles, and crawled back in, predicting six more weeks of winter. At least.

Monday, February 01, 2010

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"Our future shouldn't be shaped by what's best for our politics; our politics should be shaped by what's best for our future."
President Barack Obama
January 29, 2010

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Obama Drama

And I thought politics was never going to be fun again.

It sure was on Friday, when President Barack Obama schooled the Republican congressional caucus for 90 minutes on live TV. "President Obama dove headfirst into the belly of the GOP beast Friday - and left the not-so-loyal opposition bleeding on a Baltimore ballroom floor," said the usually conservative New York Daily News. "He skewered Republicans for obstructionist tactics, dubious facts and a lack of civility in opposing his domestic agenda, especially health care reform."

Obama Eats Republicans Lunch," said the Guardian. "When the Republicans invited President Obama to address their congressional House delegation in Baltimore today, they had no idea how badly it would turn out for them. Presumably the Republicans thought they'd get a high-profile chance to grill the president on live television. But instead, Obama – following on from his state of the union address on Wednesday night – turned the tables by highlighting the Republicans who opposed his policies and refused to bend, yet were prepared to "turn up and cut ribbons" when their constituents reaped the rewards."

"For President Obama to be allowed 90 minutes of national television coverage speaking at the GOP retreat was historic. It was probably one of the dumbest ideas the Republican leadership has ever had," suggested an Aussie site.

(Video is here. A transcript is here.)

The Republicans really did ask for it. Maybe they got especially overconfident when President Obama was a little halting in his prepared opening remarks. So they "asked questions" by reciting their usual public lies. President Obama simply refuted them with the facts--and then explained why their lies were so harmful, for the country and even for them. He did so fluidly and effectively.

He didn't let them get away with condemning proposals that included some of their own ideas, or in characterizing those proposals as "Bolshevik plots." He deployed humor, admitted mistakes and faulted Democrats for also going to extremes simply for political advantage, leaving little room for the kind of compromises necessary to govern.

He also came as close to anger as we've seen him--close enough when his final questioner was speechifying that you know you wouldn't want him really mad at you. Above all, he was direct. "I've just got to take this last question as an example of how it's very hard to have the kind of bipartisan work that we're going to do, because the whole question was structured as a talking point for running a campaign." He corrected the GOPer distortion on the federal budget and said plainly, "that's factually just not true, and you know it's not true."

If it wasn't clear before, we have a President of clear intelligence and vision, and formidable political skills. Above all he demonstrated that when the test is fact, his policies have been appropriate attempts to deal with the facts, and usually successful attempts.

Democrats were ecstatic--even comparing Obama to the greatest of them all, President Bartlet. Some wondered where this guy has been. Well, maybe he should have engaged like this before. But people forget that the President cannot suspend the laws of time and space. He has the same number of hours in the day as everyone else, to pay attention to much more than anyone else.

But Democrats need to heed his message as well. Although the President must lead and fight this way for what needs to be done, his message was that no one party is going to tackle the toughest problems, because they are too politically dangerous. Governing is a give and take involving everyone. Especially long-term. The stakes are in that quote, from his opening statement: "Our future shouldn't be shaped by what's best for our politics; our politics should be shaped by what's best for our future."