Saturday, June 04, 2011

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"Nature doesn't disdain what lives only for a day. It pours the whole of itself into each moment. We don't value the lily less for not being made of flint and built to last. Life's bounty is in its flow, later is too late. Where is the song when it's been sung? The dance when it's been danced? It's only we humans who want to own the future, too."
Tom Stoppard

Friday, June 03, 2011

Political Perplexion

Sarah Palin, Tim Polenta, Michelle Backmaniac and Chris "Chris" Christy, all GOPer presidential candidates or touted as same, have one thing in common revealed by polls this week: were they nominated to run in 2012, they would each and all likely lose their own home states.  Their home state GOPers don't even favor them as presidential candidates.

The former governor of Alaska would lose Alaska, the former governor (T.P.) and current congressperson (M.B.) from Minnesota would lose Minnesota, and the current governor of New Jersey would lose New Jersey.  They each and all have higher unfavorables than favorables in their states, by a lot. 

And yet...GOPers in Congress are holding the world economy hostage, and GOPer governors and legislators in many states are enacting the most radical laws ever passed since at least the Civil War and post-Reconstruction.  They are criminalizing abortion, a protected constitutional right; they are violating civil rights all over the place, creating blatantly discriminatory tests for the right to vote, cutting programs for the poor and sick--even taxing the poor--while enacting giveaways worth billions to the rich and favored corporations.  To the point of classic corruption.  All without attracting much notice in this supposedly information-rich society where nothing escapes unnoticed.  Unless it's not trivial, I guess.

Perplexing.  If you have any residual hope of this political world making any sense.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Emerson for the Day

"Between narrow walls we walk--insanity on one side, & fat dullness on the other."


A Failure of Imagination

I think I'm moving into one of my periodic jaded phases.  Jaded with the news, which isn't actually new, and  that doesn't seem to do much good even when you know it.

For instance, two pieces today that are cogent, timely and "important."  One is a not untypical column by Robert Reich that spells out exactly what's been happening in the U.S. economy for the past 50 years, and what has to happen to get it to work as well as it was working for a lot of people. Which by the way was hardly perfect.

The other is an even better column by the usually cogent E.J. Dionne, but this is exceptionally eloquent and timely.  It begins: "While the United States remains utterly frozen in a debate about budget deficits and all the things that government shouldn’t do, other countries are marrying public and private resources to make themselves stronger and more competitive."

He continues: While other countries have jumped ahead of us in green economics, we have backed away from any effort to put a price on carbon to battle climate change and promote new technologies. In the Republican Party, politicians have to apologize for even thinking about global warming.

And while other countries invest in their basic facilities, we are letting our broadband access, roads and bridges, and rail and water systems go to seed. We created the interstate highway system, and now we can’t maintain our sewers.

Oh, yes, and nearly 14 million of our fellow citizens are unemployed.

He notes the corporate leaders as well as not-for-profit organizations that know this in some detail.  He ends:

You might recall an observant politician who noted this year that “South Korean homes now have greater Internet access than we do. Countries in Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than we do. China is building faster trains and newer airports. Meanwhile, when our own engineers graded our nation’s infrastructure, they gave us a ‘D.’ ”

A few months later, the same politician said: “We don’t have to choose between a future of spiraling debt and one where we forfeit investment in our people and our country.”

That would be President Obama, and you wonder: Is there any chance that he can move our national conversation to the task of “winning the future”?

Good question.  And good analysis--"Our imagination deficit is the shortfall we should worry about. We seem incapable of doing what we did in the Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and, yes, Nixon years: imagining how practical public action could make our citizens’ lives better, our country stronger and our private economy more productive."

Yes, it is a failure of the imagination.  Not a failure to imagine--certain of us can imagine all kinds of things, like the Rapture, like things they hear that nobody actually said, etc.  But a failure to apply perhaps the most distinguishing feature of the human species and one of our greatest (and only) survival advantages: the ability to imagine and especially to imagine the future, in a way that synthesizes and analyzes present reality and past experience.

But these days the main audience for such analyses as Reich's and Dionne's seem likely to be those mythical astropologists from another star system, digging around in our ruins.

See what I mean?  Jaded.

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Devastating Truth

It's gone way beyond inconvenient.

Worst ever carbon emissions leave climate on the brink is the Guardian headline:

"Greenhouse gas emissions increased by a record amount last year, to the highest carbon output in history, putting hopes of holding global warming to safe levels all but out of reach, according to unpublished estimates from the International Energy Agency.

The shock rise means the goal of preventing a temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius – which scientists say is the threshold for potentially "dangerous climate change" – is likely to be just "a nice Utopia", according to Fatih Birol, chief economist of the IEA. It also shows the most serious global recession for 80 years has had only a minimal effect on emissions, contrary to some predictions."

If this story and these numbers are confirmed, it's more than the latest in a series of wake-up calls that didn't wake anybody up because nobody heard the alarm.  It's a kick in the head.

Another British newspaper--the Independent--quotes another study:  " An irreversible climate "tipping point" could occur within the next 20 years as a result of the release of huge quantities of organic carbon locked away as frozen plant matter in the vast permafrost region of the Arctic, scientists have found."

A study into the speed at which the permafrost is melting suggests that the tipping point will occur between 2020 and 2030 and will mark the point at which the Arctic turns from being a net "sink" for carbon dioxide into an overall source that will accelerate global warming, they said.

A Guardian editorial accompanying their story concluded: "The siren sounded by the IEA data is loud and clear. The world's economy is expanding again and belching out more carbon. The benign climate we have known since the dawn of civilisation looks about to blow. We are going to have to start re-engineering the global economy right now."

Let's not even think about how fear fed by fossil fuel interests has, at this precise moment, turned the U.S. Republican party into the irrational extremist opposition: Former New York Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, a 27-year veteran of Congress who was known as a staunch protector of the environment, said he has "never been so disappointed all my life in the pretenders to the throne from my party."

"Not one of them is being forthright in dealing with climate science," he said in an interview. "They are either trying to finesse it, or change previous positions to accommodate the far right. They are denying something that is as plain as the nose on your face."

Whatever the politics, the hope of "solving" the Climate Crisis is gone.  (It's a misuse of words to begin with: you "solve" problems; you meet or address a crisis.)  But the need to act now to save the far future is now transparently urgent.  Stopping the causes, working on prevention, is extremely urgent.

But so is the immediate task, the set of tasks and challenges that will dominate the world of today's children and generations after--perhaps even beginning with today's young adults.  It is the world of Joplin and Tuscaloosa, of the Texas fires and Mississippi floods, of increases in tropical disease infections and heat wave deaths in cities.  It is the world in which we deal with the effects of the Climate Crisis, and work on protection.

On Sunday, President Obama spoke at the Joplin, Missouri memorial service for tornado victims.  In many respects, this was a template for leadership in the Climate Crisis age:

  "In a world that can be cruel and selfish, it’s this knowledge -- the knowledge that we are inclined to love one another, that we’re inclined to do good, to be good -- that causes us to take heart. We see with fresh eyes what’s precious and so fragile and so important to us. We put aside our petty grievances and our minor disagreements. We see ourselves in the hopes and hardships of others. And in the stories of people like Dean and people like Christopher, we remember that each us contains reserves of resolve and compassion. There are heroes all around us, all the time."

Compassion, courage, self-sacrifice--these will be needed in many circumstances and communities, many more times in the near future.  But in another respect, the message will need to change.  The President began this way: "We can’t know when a terrible storm will strike, or where, or the severity of the devastation that it may cause. We can’t know why we’re tested with the loss of a loved one, or the loss of a home where we’ve lived a lifetime. These things are beyond our power to control."

All of that is true, but it is not the entire truth.  While we can't know why a specific storm has devastated a specific community, we do know why the future is likely to be stormy, and why this may be beginning now.  President Obama has so far done the politically astute thing of emphasizing clean energy for economic advantage, for jobs and for a generally better environment.  But today's news tells us that confronting the Climate Crisis more directly can't be avoided.

A Fitting Memorial

Paul Chappell in Iraq
In college, Paul Chappell learned that socialism was practical.  He read Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, and believed that the Iraq war violated international law and the Nuremberg Principles. He studied Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Paul Chappell's college was West Point, where Chomsky was asked to lecture on whether Iraq was a just war.  Chappell became an officer stationed in Iraq, installing a defensive system to counteract mortars and artillery.  Today he is the author of The End of War and an advocate for waging peace.  In an interview in the April issue of The Sun (part of which is online here):  "Yes, West Point teaches that war is so dangerous, it should be used only as a last resort. I learned that the United States needs to rely more on diplomacy; that politicians don’t understand war and are too quick to use it as a means of conflict resolution. West Point also teaches that if you want to understand war, you have to understand its limitations and unpredictability. World War i and World War ii both started out as limited conflicts and grew into global blood baths. War is like a natural disaster. You can’t control it."

People who must fight the wars know what letting loose the dogs of war means.  Many times over the years some soldiers who returned spoke and wrote eloquently about that reality.  Erich Maria Remarque's relentless evocations of the first World War in All Quiet on the Western Front and Spark of Life told of the realities of modern war from the soldiers point of view, long after governments on both sides had comforted their citizens with exhibits of spacious bunkers and luxurious trenches.  Not much has changed.

Chapell's lessons in socialism, by the way, were of West Point itself, and the U.S. Army: "If I said to most Americans that we should have a society that gives everyone three meals a day, shelter, healthcare, and a college education, and that it should be based on selflessness, sacrifice, and service rather than greed, they’d say, “That’s socialism.” But that’s the U.S. military. A lot of conservative Republicans who think socialism is the ultimate evil admire the military."

Paul Chappell today
 The military isn't a utopia, Chapell says, but the ethical basis of socialism and the ethics soldiers learn--to depend on each other--are the same: "When I try to persuade people that America should have universal healthcare, I say, “You know, in the military we have universal healthcare, and the military believes that you should never leave a fallen comrade behind. You take care of everyone.”

On the day to remember those who gave their lives in this country's name, it is appropriate to announce again the goal of ending such deaths, especially the needless.  Right now in particular this world has no more time,  no resources, and no more capable and idealistic young people to give to war.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

"A Community Treasure"

There's this lady in western Pennsylvania the newspaper says: "although she describes her life as extremely normal, many consider her a community treasure."

Hey, wait a second, that's my sister!  Fresh from conducting another successful retreat, Kathy Duffy is rolling out some new workshops and providing all the services of the Energy Connection Creative Healing Center.  She's got a lot of fans in western PA and now her work has been recognized in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. Congratulations!