Monthly Archives: February 2015

Denial Is Not Just A River in Africa

It’s February, and the weather in Southern California, where I live, is delightful. Temperatures in the 70s, light breezes, and little to no rain so far in what should be our wettest month. It’s a terrible state of affairs.

All reputable scientists agree that we are living in a world with rapidly changing climate, and that a major, if not the major contributor to the change is the burning of fossil fuels, with release of massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Other contributors, such as the loss of forests due to logging and other development, and the effect of paved cities with heat retaining structures, also play a role, albeit a lesser one. Of course, it also must be acknowledged that climate change can and does occur as a natural event but, all evidence indicates, it’s not the major factor in what we are currently witnessing.

It is unfortunate that the term “global warming” has often been used as a synonym for climate change. Even though it is demonstrably true that the planetary warming is occurring, it does not mean that every place on Earth is warming at the same rate, or that extremes of temperature, both hot and cold, are not part of the process. That is why the term “climate change” is more accurate. 2014 was the hottest year on record for the world as a whole, but not, for example in the Midwestern U.S., which suffered a monstrously cold winter.

Unfortunately, we in the U.S. live in a country plagued by large scale public ignorance about science, and an unwillingness to see the handwriting on the wall. Somehow, ignoramuses like Senator James Inhof (R., Oklahoma), still insist that climate change is a “hoax”. Even otherwise intelligent people (some of whom I know and with whom I’ve argued the issue) refuse to accept the science. And then, there are those who either think their God will take care of the matter or that the Rapture is coming anyway, so there’s no need to do anything about the fact that things are going to get much worse unless we start addressing the problem now.

How much worse? Consider what’s in store for us, our children, and our grandchildren:

  • Increasingly violent storm activity: This is already evident both in this country and around the world.
  • Continued melting of polar ice resulting in rising sea levels: This will cause not only the disappearance of certain islands and inundation of coastal areas, but will force massive migration to escape flooding. This will cause increased national and international tensions. Violence is likely.
  • Major threats to U.S. national security: A recent article in Rolling Stone magazine by Jeff Goodell describes the current high level of concern by U.S. military officials over the failure to address climate change. Loss of coastal bases (e.g., the Norfolk navy yard) will cost the U.S billions as it tries to build new bases. Loss of our major base on Diego Garcia, an island in the southern Indian Ocean, will markedly reduce our southern Asian presence and influence.
  • Threat to U.S. economic interests: With Arctic ice melting rapidly, a “Northwest Passage” above Canada is rapidly becoming a reality. Failure to develop ships with reinforced hulls (including dedicated icebreakers) is already compromising our ability to be a presence in the area, one rich in natural resources and where Russia and China will certainly increase their presence in years to come.
  • Loss of water: Increasing drought resulting from climate change will decrease potable water supplies. This will be exacerbated by pollution secondary to overpopulation and poverty-related poor sanitation, and by unrestrained corporate pollution. The end result will be a massive shortage of both water, itself, and potable water specifically. This will result in an increase in the prevalence of both infectious diseases and cancer, not to mention violence in “water wars”.

Congress, under the influence of ignorant, self-interested leaders abetted by the short term influx of corporate money, is not even beginning to face up to the coming realities. The Republican Party seems to have become a de facto subsidiary of Koch Industries, and Democrats aren’t taking responsibility either. This is all depressing and inducive of a sense of foreboding. I’d like to be optimistic, to think that Congress will come to its senses and enact measures to reduce the impact of a process already begun but still able to be moderated. Unfortunately, I see no signs of it happening right now.

About all we can do is continue to try and get the word out, to support and elect only those people to Congress who “get it”. But it remains that until – unless – the public demands action, it simply isn’t going to happen, and woe to our descendants, who will live in a world beyond rescue.

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Adieu, Jon

Earlier this week, Jon Stewart announced that he will be leaving The Daily Show later this year. For my wife and me, it’s going to be like losing a treasured family member, albeit one we’ve never personally met.

Stewart’s ability to speak truth to power, to take issue with guests espousing points of views with which he disagrees, to express outrage when warranted, and to be wildly funny as he skewers political and social absurdity, well, all of these things have endeared him to my household, and we will miss him sorely when he no longer visits us four nights a week.

Perhaps Stewart’s greatest strength is his ability to attack on a factual basis rather than the opinion foundation upon which idiots like the Fox News staff operates. True, he does do a wicked imitation of Mitch McConnell as a turtle but, well, McConnell does look like a turtle, and when Stewart goes into turtle mode, it’s to assail the senator’s positions even while imitating his image. I’m not in favor of ad hominem attacks, but Stewart somehow manages to hold people like McConnell up to ridicule less because of what they look like than for what they seem to stand for. And sometimes he does it by mimicking them in much the way that a political cartoonist might with pen and ink.

It’s of course been well noted that Stewart’s positions veer left, and that at least 70% of his viewing audience is liberal. But many conservatives watch him, as well, and it is hard to know how they can continue to support morons like Ted Cruz and Louie Gohmert after Stewart repeatedly points out that, just as the fabled emperor, these guys and others, perhaps slightly less stupid but no less deserving of exposure, have no clothes.

It may be true that no one is irreplaceable, but at least we’ll have John Oliver on HBO, a worthy candidate for the title of court jester, although he could stand to learn the key lesson that judicious use of profanity is far more effective than the wholesale spewing of it. Regardless, we’re glad he’s there. And will anyone actually be chosen to succeed Stewart on Comedy Central? We hope so, but his act is going to be more than hard to follow.

Jonny, we hardly knew ye.

Book Review: The Circle, by Dave Eggers

How much do you value your privacy? Not just in public. I mean your private privacy: what you do in your own home, your medical records, your phone conversations. How much of yourself do you share on social networks? Would you be willing to see everything you write in Facebook on billboard next to the San Diego Freeway? Do you care about any of this? Regardless of the degree of your concern, you should probably read The Circle by Dave Eggers. It’s 1984 projected into the cyber-corporate age, and it’s terrifying.

Mae Holland is an attractive young woman, bright but with low self-esteem who, dying on the vine in a going-nowhere job, accepts the help of her best friend, Annie, and is hired to work for a rapidly developing internet services company called “The Circle”. Almost immediately upon her arrival, she proves herself extraordinarily adept and susceptible to the company philosophy and, as we quickly learn, the ultimate goals of The Circle. These goals extend far beyond being a mere internet products and services provider, the company seeking to insinuate itself into just about every aspect of people’s lives.

As Mae drinks glass after glass of the company Kool-Aid, she assumes a greater and greater role in supporting the company mission and even in setting priorities and goals. All of this leads to greater and greater progress toward a terrifying, many tentacled expansion of the company’s reach.

In the past, I’ve read only very few books that sucked me in so completely that I couldn’t stop reading. Uncharacteristically for me, then, toward the end of The Circle I found myself unable to tear away from the description of rapid acceleration toward an ultimately defining crisis. As the book sped toward its climax, I found my heart pounding over the shocking expression of what can happen when all personal boundaries fall, and when there is no escape.

If you are someone who posts personal information on social media, who needs to feel connected all the time, then The Circle should be required reading for you. If, as I am, you’re concerned over increasing invasions of our privacy, then you will find that The Circle only reaffirms your worries over where we’re headed.

If Edward Snowden pried open a door, The Circle blows through it full bore. It may be fiction, but it’s absolutely frightening.