Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Climate Reality Project

Tonight in Mexico the Climate Reality Project begins its 24 hours of continuous presentations on the reality of the Climate Crisis--a new presentation in a different part of the world, as each time zone reaches 7 p.m.  It all ends with Al Gore's presentation in New York City at 7 p.m. tomorrow, September 15.  Here's the Grist explanation and tool for following it. 

I can't say I've been overly impressed so far by what's been produced as preview, but I'm not the audience for this, nor am I the demographic it seems primed to reach, with all its emphasis on Facebook, Twitter, etc.  But I'll be interested in what it comes up with.

As a preview of his own presentation, Al Gore talked to the Washington Post.  He ascribes the steps backward in acceptance of Climate Crisis reality to the very well funded disinformation campaign run by the folks who brought us smoking is good for you.  That's undoubtedly a big part of it, especially because it works with the desire in all of us not to want global heating and its inevitable effects to be true.  But the visceral violence of denial is becoming proportional to the visible signs of the Climate Crisis.  So another crisis is coming.

Gore confronts other questions in this interview, and states his reason for this project:  "But my message is about presenting the reality. I have faith in the United States and our ability to make good decisions based on the facts. And I believe Mother Nature is speaking very loudly and clearly. We’ve had ten disasters in the United States this year alone costing more than $1 billion and which were climate-related. It’s only a matter of time before reality sinks in, and we need both parties involved. And the only way to get the right answer is to understand the question."

The question about the information to be presented in these 24 hours is how to get beyond the same old same old, assuming that a whole lot of new people aren't more receptive to more of the same.  I think messages like this with something new in them would help (also from this interview):  The interviewer notes that scientists are much more willing to say there's a link between our many climate disasters and the causes of the Climate Crisis.  Gore agrees, saying:  "As scientists like James Hansen [of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies] and Kevin Trenberth [of the National Center for Atmospheric Research] point out, the changes brought about by man-made global-warming pollution have reached the stage that every event is now being affected by it in some way."

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Road to Hell

Political chatterers are talking about this piece by a former GOPer congressional staffer Mike Lofgren.  He takes aim at both parties but in particular the GOP, which he has quit because he doesn't want to be a member of a cult.  I'll have more to say about this article later.  But responding to the part of Lofgren's analysis that says that the GOP has been totally captured by a Rabid Religious Right faction, Andrew Sullivan wrote the following:

That too is my view: that the GOP, deep down, is behaving as a religious movement, not as a political party, and a radical religious movement at that. Lofgren sees the "Prosperity Gospel" as a divine blessing for personal enrichment and minimal taxation (yes, that kind of Gospel is compatible with Rand, just not compatible with the actual Gospels); for military power (with a major emphasis on the punitive, interventionist God of the Old Testament); and for radical change and contempt for existing institutions (as a product of End-Times thinking, intensified after 9/11).

His conclusion:

If you ask why I remain such a strong Obama supporter, it is because I see him as that rare individual able to withstand the zeal without becoming a zealot in response, and to overcome the recklessness of pure religious ideology with pragmatism, civility and reason. That's why they fear and loathe him. Not because his policies are not theirs'. But because his temperament is their nemesis. If he defeats them next year, they will break, because their beliefs are so brittle, but will then reform, along Huntsman-style lines. If they defeat him, I fear we will no longer be participating in a civil conversation, however fraught, but in a civil war."

This is not the only reason I remain a strong Obama supporter, but it is certainly an important one.  I think Sullivan is exactly right about Obama and about 2012.  The leading GOPer presidential candidate at the moment is Cowboy Rick Perry, the perfect combination of a corrupt big money pol and RRR zealot.  With any GOPer nominee, this looks like it's going to be a Goldwater kind of year for the GOP, on steroids.  If the election doesn't have the same resounding result as 1964, I believe Sullivan's fear is well founded.

 A set of politicians and lawmakers who deliberately set out to drive America to the bottom could not conceive of a better set of policies than are currently being advocated and engineered by the GOP.  The future is going to be tough no matter who is President.  But with Rick Perry or his RRR ilk, it's going to be hell.


President Obama's speech on Thursday continues to signal a political change.  TPM noted that the speech (which Howard Fineman called the finest of Obama's presidency) got "an astonishing" 31 million viewers.  That's a bigger audience than watched the opening NFL game between the Super Bowl champion Packers and the New Orleans Saints, a little later that evening.

E. J. Dionne noted that the stimulus to the economy of the Obama plan would be greater than the Recovery Act stimulus, because it is more concentrated--$450 billion in one year basically, versus $787 billion over several years.  He also approved of Obama's direct call for Congress to pass the bill--indicating urgency, and congressional responsibility for doing something positive for a change.

When the bill is introduced, perhaps today, observers may be surprised how ready for passage it is, and how fast its provisions--both tax cuts (including tax incentives) and spending--could perculate through the economy.  

As for GOPers continuing to resist needed spending, Senate minor leader McConnell of Kentucky got a little extra incentive over the weekend, when a major bridge linking Kentucky and Indiana was shut down for being unsafe.  

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 Now: You'd Do the Same For Me

I've mentioned this phrase here before.  But this is the essay that was its origin, which I wrote in 2001, responding to the events of September 11 and the immediate aftermath.

A few days after the World Trade Center towers came down, a fireman from Michigan or some other place distant from New York City was explaining to the TV reporter why he was starting a 24-hour shift digging through the rubble: because the firemen working there and buried there were his brothers. And because "they'd do the same for me."

That phrase once before had prompted a moment of illumination for me. I was living in Pittsburgh at the time, nursing a coffee one afternoon while reading and writing at a table in a restaurant in my neighborhood. I knocked a pen to the floor which was immediately picked up by a maintenance worker, a black man who I judged to be past 60 years old. As he handed it back to me I thanked him, and he said simply, "You'd do the same for me." He said it with a casual gravity, as though it was something he said regularly, but it also had the quality and weight of a personal mantra of some importance.

It wasn't the first time I'd heard it of course, but this time it hit me differently, mostly because of who said it to me and the sound of his voice. Gradually I realized what an important statement it is. It sums up entire philosophies and puts many book-length ethical treatises to shame. "You'd do the same for me" is nothing less than the basis of civil behavior, from courtesy to heroism.

By saying it to me, moreover, this man was stating both his own moral standard and his faith that others share it in the delicate informal system of day-to-day civilization. In the simplicity of this statement, in its simple assumptions, he was educating me and challenging me to rise to this standard. It is in some ways an ultimate equality, and a testament of faith in human possibility and the human heart.

I've thought about this for years. I wanted to write about it, about how I saw its truth in the ordinary behavior of so many ordinary people, there on the Murray Avenue and everywhere I traveled, and now where I live in Arcata. I confess I hesitated. I really don't need more rejection in my life, and this idea seemed so counter to the attitudes that news media, entertainment and books like to present as the prevailing one in society: Look out for number one, dog eat dog (and top dog fires disposable little dog); he who dies with the most toys wins.

And then after the shock of epic violence came the surprises of the response: not just the volunteers in the hell of lower Manhattan, but the people bringing food and flowers to them, or giving blood and contributing money when the economy is doubly uncertain, and being conspicuously kind to each other. Such behavior may be temporary, or our attention to it may be what's fleeting. And its opposite has also emerged in racist violence. But I am struck also by the biographies of the random victims in this deadly episode. So many of these people are remembered for their dedication to others, their efforts to benefit future generations as well as those around them in their lifetime.

And among them are heroes, quite probably including someone from our own community. Those who study altruism notice that people who go to extraordinary lengths to help others often don't think there's anything unusual about it. "They'd do the same for me" is the foundation of beliefs they can't otherwise explain.

That fireman's words—spoken diffidently, as if he didn't expect anyone to really understand—also illuminated a very different phrase that was stuck in my mind. I don't remember who said it but it struck me as true, though I couldn't say why: "the reason academic infighting is so vicious is that so little is at stake." In the light of those too-often repeated explosions, I realized this could be applied to any arena—business, family, politics, small towns. Compared to life and death and to our common interest in the basic behaviors of living together, the envy, betrayal, cynicism and denial that rule so often in so many arenas can't be accepted as the inevitable responses of human nature nor the unfortunate byproducts of a generally beneficial economic system. They are what some in past generations would call them: small and mean. Because most often so little is really at stake for the perpetrators, while the consequences are profound for others, and for the fabric of our common lives. In times of crisis our best instincts seem to tell us this.

All of this emboldens me to assert that "you'd do the same for me" is a mantra in the heart of millions. Perhaps they do not always hear it, or even literally believe it, but it is our common faith, the ideal we live by as citizens of human civilization. It gives new meaning to the concept of the brotherhood of man. Beyond gender, and beyond any other distinction, this is what brotherhood means.

It is not too early to say that not honoring and acting upon this impulse enough is one reason we're in this tragic mess. It isn't the only reason, I suspect, but it is one. That is not of course an excuse for violence.The dispossessed of the world have grievances against the powerful who have ignored and abused them. But our fates excuse none of us—powerful or abused—from decency in our dealings as individuals.

"You'd do the same for me" may not tell us much about those who name themselves our enemies, but it might tell us something about ourselves, and what we need to defend in our own lives together.