Thursday, March 15, 2012

Visions of the Future

Since 2006, the architecture magazine eVolo has empanelled an international jury to judge a prize for designs that express new ideas for skyscrapers--essentially, designs for the skyscrapers of the future.  Futuristic design has a long history, with possibly the most famous being the structures designed and even built for the 1939 New York Worlds Fair.  These were soaring, optimistic visions for an amazing future.

The designs selected as winners and runners-up in this 2012 competition are strikingly different.  This is the first prize winner, designed by three Chinese architects.  With spindly legs, resembling both the original H.G. Wells and especially the Steven Spielberg vision of War of the Worlds Martian machines, the structures are appropriately futuristic--but the purpose of these "Himalayan Water Towers" is to store water and regulate its dispersal, in response to the faster melting due to the Climate Crisis of the ice sheets that provide 40% of the world's fresh water.

The second place design, also from China, provides residences for mountainous areas scoured by industrialization and mineral extraction.  Third place went to a Taiwan design for a New York landfill tower, three times the height of the Empire State Building, which will process garbage and turn it into energy. 

Among the 22 honorable mentions:  a design from the Ukraine for Japan, of fortress skyscrapers protected against Climate Crisis and other disasters, and a "Migrant Skyscraper" design from Poland, which is a total living environment literally on giant wheels, so the population housed within can be quickly moved as disaster encroaches.

In fact, nearly every design is responding to the Climate Crisis or other ecological catastrophe (like the underwater structure to be sunk into the sea in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, to process the accumulating plastics.) One is actually called Noah's Ark.  This is the future these architects are designing for.

The countries represented in the honorable mentions are South Korea, Mexico, Switzerland, Romania, Spain, Serbia, France, the UK and Iran.  The U.S. is represented in four projects: two by architects with Chinese names, and two in partnership with China, Japan, Greece and the UK. 

3 Pointer

Talk about the luck of O'Bama.  And we don't even have to mention the luck of the draw in his GOPer opponents.

His task was to get a little best buddies thing going with the stiffly anonymous--and conservative--PM of the UK, David Cameron.  So: why not a little ride on the very impressive Air Force One, with lots of informal time to talk?  That worked--they talked the whole trip.  Check.

The destination was an NCAA tournament basketball game--Cameron had never seen b-ball, so it's a good story, too, and something for him to talk about at home.  There were several possible venues--why not the one in Ohio?  It might have crossed somebody's mind that Ohio is an important state in the 2012 election-- no GOPer has won the presidency without winning Ohio.  And so at halftime the President tells the local press,"Sometimes when we have foreign visitors, they're only visiting the coasts. They go to New York, they go to Washington, they go to Los Angeles, but the heartland is what it's all about."  So what's the headline in the Dayton newspaper?  The Heartland is What It's All About.  Check.

So far it's smart diplomacy and smart politics.  But here's where the luck comes in:  the game that President Obama and PM Cameron saw.  Western Kentucky, the decided underdog, was down by 16 points with five minutes to go.  They won the game by one point with a full court press and clutch shooting in "the most fantastic 5-minute finish in NCAA tournament history."  So it becomes a game that Cameron and Ohio--not to mention Western Kentucky--will have imprinted on their memories.  Check: three point play.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Of Health and Polls

GOPers think they have a winning issue in gubment control of healthcare, in Obamacare and even Medicare as expensive and intrusive.  That's somewhat why Romney makes them nervous--he has to grow a really long nose to distance himself from Romneycare.  But how winning are these issues?

The facts have never been in their side, and ironically a new study suggests that Medicare costs are coming down because healthcare costs are stabilizing and declining, and that may well be because of Obamacare, which is just effectively getting started.  And this study expects the trend to continue.

There's some questions anyway whether Obamacare is a minus for the reelection campaign, and might well be a plus (the Obama campaign thinks so, especially with particular groups, like women and Latinos.)  Ironically, getting it fully discussed in a presidential campaign might dispel some of the idiotic misconceptions about it, especially now that some provisions have taken effect and are working as intended.

Also this past week, there's been buzz about the sudden plunge in President Obama's favorability number in a couple of polls, notably the New York Times.  But since then another poll has emerged that show him gaining. Reuters: For the first time since early July, more Americans approve of the job President Barack Obama is doing than disapprove, according to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll that shows his approval rating now at 50 percent.

 But for those who need to jump to conclusions about the poll they've jumped to conclusions about, the rise in gasoline prices seemed the only possible culprit--a perception encouraged by GOPer mouths.  Only there is this poll that says it ain't true.  Two-thirds place the blame elsewhere, and more trust President Obama to deal with it than the GOPers.  The National Journal story headline is Poll Shows Public Supports Obama on Gas Prices.  

PM Update: Two new interesting polls.  The new Pew poll which also shows President Obama at 50% approval, and with a 12 point lead over Romney. 59% expect him to win reelection over Romney, 68% over Santorum.  And a U. of Maryland poll shows that 70% of Americans surveyed favor diplomacy to prevent Iran from going nuclear, with only 25% favoring Israeli air strikes.  Together with other surveys that show majorities in favor of withdrawing from Afghanistan, this is further evidence that America is now anti-war.

Later PM Update: The outlines of the Pew poll (Obama's higher favorability, beating Romney and Santorum)  are confirmed by another new poll by--get this--Fox News. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

After the Circus: Get Ready for the Hate

Despite Richie Richney outspending everybody (or more accurately, his SUPERPACS, which paid for over 90% of the on air ads) he could do no better than third in the Alabama and Mississippi primaries on Tuesday.  At late as this weekend, his campaign had convinced some of the punditocracy that he could win either or even both states.

Casino Newt Gingles was the evening's Biggest Loser--these were states he needed to win--but he lost both to Little Ricky Sanctimonious.  But has he been voted Off the Island?  Well, yes, but he refuses so far to go.  Great television, huh? 

Casino Newt, man of the people, needs his Casino Daddy to keep financing him or he'll have to walk to the next primary .  Even if he stays in, he may become increasing irrelevant to voters not in the deep South, but his few percentage points in Ohio and Michigan could have made Sanctimonious the winner of those states.  His rationale partly was to win a plurality in five states, so he would be guaranteed a speech at the GOPer convention, as well as other goodies.  He's won two states and there's nowhere else he's likely to win a third.  So he's lost even that. If his motivation is to hurt Richney, his best strategy is to drop out and support Little Ricky.  There is some peril in that--if it indeed becomes a two man race, then Ricky has no excuses if he loses to Richney in any primary. 

The Rabid Religious Right vote of these relatively few GOPers in these states was 75-80%.  By voting overwhelmingly for Ricky and Casino Newt (with Richney getting under 30%) they demonstrated their desire, in Jonathan Chait's words,"to nominate a genuine maniac as opposed to a fake one."
Polls in those states also determined that GOPers there overwhelmingly believe President Obama is not Christian either.  It's not clear they distinguish between "Muslim" and "Mormon" or even know (or care) there's a difference. Unless it's that Muslims are black.  You know, black Muslims. 

The nice pundits kept referring to these white evangelicals as expressing their "anger" at President Obama.  The correct word is not anger, it's hatred.  It's race hate, however bound up it is with other views and rationalizations.  And this portends a very very very ugly general election campaign ahead.

Ironically it could be even worse if Richney is the nominee, as still is more likely (though not as certain anymore.)  Because Richney will have little positive to say that the GOPer's essential Southern base want to hear.  So they will live on the negatives out of Richney's mouth--especially the dog whistle racism, how President Obama is not up to the job, etc.--but even more they will live on the ads and other campaign materials furnished and paid for by the millions and millions of SUPERPAC millions.  The TV/You Tube ads will be hateful enough, but the hate gets increasingly graphic and obvious farther down the chain: radio, robocalls, email, print. 

That race baiting was a forbidden tactic in 2008 should not lull anyone into the assumption that it means America became race neutral or enlightened--that may be truer of younger generations but it is still not true in general, and especially in the South.  Facing the fact every day that a black man is President of the United States has made hatred increasingly overt.  Hate groups are on the increase.  And the racism and hate that will infect this campaign has already begun.

It will be tricky to deploy--there is substantial danger of backlash, and of motivating Obama voters to rise in his defense--but this is a year in which GOPers seem unable to help themselves--they are consumed by fear and hate.  The abandon with which they go to extremes even against each other suggests that we will see more virulent hate than in any campaign for more than a century, and given the money to be spent, probably ever.  But it may also mean that in this way as in others, this election is fateful: either a Dark Ages victory or a last stand purging, an inoculation.

Not that there won't be costs to GOPers themselves, as in a silly circusy way there already has been.  Chait also points out how GOPers making a spectacularly stupid issue out of President Obama (like every President since and including Reagan) uses a teleprompter. "And speaking of a failure to communicate, the Republican war on teleprompters has poetically backfired. It began as a quasi-racist meme among the fever swamps of the right, a way for right-wingers to express their belief that Obama is a brainless talking doll. By catering to it, Republicans backed themselves into a position where they can’t use teleprompters at all. The result is a series of rambling election night speeches which manage to be at once frightening and dull. The speeches, like the race, just go on and on and on."

Monday, March 12, 2012

Emerson for the Day

"I love Nature partly because she is not man.  None of his institutions control or pervade her.  There a different kind of right prevails...He is constraint, she is freedom to me.  He makes me wish for another world.  She makes me content with this."



The necessary deeds of our times--the global recognition of the Climate Crisis, its urgency and the moral importance of addressing it, and then the urgently deployed efforts to slow down and stop what's causing it--have not been done. So far, as a society, and particularly as Americans, we have failed. 

We all share in this failure, that goes back more than 20 years.  The environmental community, with its inability to articulate, organize and act.  Political leaders who did not lead.  Citizens who indulged our fears and wallowed in denial. Communicators who for any number of reasons failed to effectively communicate the reality.  An economic structure that allows the greed of the few to trump the needs of the many, and of the future itself.  In this country, a reactionary political culture that discarded any more complex understanding in favor of shocking bigotry and sad fundamentalism, in a new Dark Ages of self-inflicted ignorance in the happy smog of smart phones.  Together we focus on the dazzle of the sometimes incrementally important events and issues that wind up distracting from the vitally important.

More broadly, it amounts to the failure of humanity to meet its greatest challenge.  Lots of generations through history have failed--let us count the wars, the piously murdered.  But just as our capabilities today are the largest, our failure is likely to be the most consequential.

One measure of our failure is our eagerness to blame everybody else.  But the evidence is there, despite the ebb and flow of polls on whether "global warming is real."  In particular, environmentalists who want to blame politicians etc. need to look in the mirror, because they too have blown it.  Their organizations remain fractured.  The leading online climate information and advocacy site is yet another exercise in egotism and Washington self-hypnosis.  The vocabulary deployed by environmentalists is pitifully inadequate, and their efforts to make a political difference may be valiant, but so far they are not up to the challenge.

For example, Bill McKibben, a hero in this fight along with a few others,  is struggling to retain some optimism.  He hailed the recent U.S. Senate vote to deny the Republican's cynical attempt to demand the Keystone Pipeline be built to carry tar sands oil down from Canada, over the President's objections.  He said it was a victory over the oil companies and the Senators they have in their pockets.

But this victory was not gained for the reasons that McKibben opposes the pipeline.  The environmental objections have to do with possible pollution and other such matters along the proposed pipeline route.  The climate crisis argument simply has not sunk in.  Even liberals now assume that once the pipeline is re-routed to respond to these other objections, it will be built.  That in itself is proof that the climate crisis argument hasn't even been heard.

And so the pipeline will be built, and the fracking will go on, victimizing those too poor to get themselves out of harm's way.  Just as the poor and the powerless pay the biggest price for the toxic effects of the piled up waste and pollution of our economy and society.  It is the second law of capitalism.  The first is that capitalism cannot exist without slavery, because it never has.  The second is that the costs of capitalism are paid in the health and lives of the 99% and the planet.  Capitalism alone cannot distinguish between use and exploitation, between creation and destruction.  The cynical rich are banking on their ability to weather the Climate Crisis, protected by their wealth, while the poor as usual bear the brunt--in this case, are snuffed out by the billions.  It ultimately is not a good gamble, at least not for their descendants.

Of course, the responsibility is not evenly distributed.  Fossil fuel billionaires and their witting and unwitting political, lobbying, PR, fundamentalist Christian zealot allies are first in line, by a long, long ways.  But though we do not share responsibility equally, we have all failed.  Of those who know and acknowledge the Climate Crisis reality, part of that failure is in misplaced blame.

President Obama has had to fight bitterly for even small incentives to encourage green energy, against oil-blooded GOPers.  But he has also approved more oil and natural gas production, which from an economic and energy point of view, is his governing responsibility.  He's not even getting much in the way of political credit for it so far.  Republicans claim he is stifling oil production when he is not.  So in a political sense, he may as well not encourage oil production.  But from a practical point of view, given the political context we all have created, he is engaged in the art of the possible.  As everyone else is.

But to save humanity from suffering and destructive change, and to save life on the planet from destructive change that will ultimately redound on us, we have failed.  It may be that the coming wave of the Climate Crisis has been in the cards since before more than a handful of scientists suspected the Climate Crisis future.  But what we've been doing in the past 20 years,and what we're doing now, is making the future worse, making the effects deeper and longer, and threatening civilization and life on the planet as we know it. 

As a global civilization, we may have 35 years to become carbon neutral, and thereafter carbon negative, in order to save the far future of humanity and life on the planet.  Or we may not. But it may be the difference perhaps between losing 2 or 3 billion people and losing all but some millions, or thousands.  It's the difference between losing virtually all the primates and many species of animals and plants, and losing almost all of the planet's life except a few small species. 

In the meantime, we have to also deal with the effects of what's inevitably coming much sooner, what's already begun.  To say we have failed so far is not to say we haven't tried.  Many of us have tried, so there's no sense getting defensive about it.  We just have to face the fact that so far, we have failed.  And we have to figure out how not to continue to fail.

We must not give up. We still must do our best, but we must also redefine what we do, if necessary.  And in general, it's necessary.  Because what we have been doing has not worked and is not working.  That's not even a reason to abandon everything we're doing--some efforts won't pay off for years, perhaps not in our lifetimes, we may never know how successful they've been.   But we have to reexamine. We have to reimagine. And stop blaming everybody but ourselves.

As I write this I realize that those who are most likely to read these words and take them to heart are the least responsible.  I am asking most of all that the people who are making this their business admit their failure and reexamine what they are doing, and not waste their time and ours by blaming others.  I am asking that those in position to influence public perception take this more seriously, and work harder to communicate this reality.

Our lives may be honorable.  We may have done great things--to me, raising and educating children is a great thing; creating something that has a future is a great thing.  But this is work for that future.  Admitting failure is not to admit hopelessness.  Hope is not a feeling.  Hope is an action.  Hope is (among other actions) a thought expressed, an expression communicated.  It is effort aimed at the human horizon, at the soul of the future.