Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Way and the Life

The oceans are dying.  They've absorbed most of the carbon they can probably take and are acidifying to the point where they won't support anything with a skeleton.  Wide swathes are covered in toxic plastic and underneath the rapidly decaying petroleum byproducts float gigantic schools of jellyfish sweeping the ocean of protein.  The days when we as a species could feed ourselves from the ocean are gone.  An ocean devoid of life will absorb even less carbon, warm even faster, and release the frozen methane its held safely for who knows how long. 

The forest are dying, as well.  Hopes that increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide caused by our addiction to burning carbon for fuel would prove a boon to plant growth are turning sour.  It turns out the trees can't handle the heat and the dryness; they close up their breathing vessels to keep from overheating and starve to death.  Once the trees die, the largest terrestrial carbon sink available to the planet will disappear.  The dead wood will catch fire and add more carbon to the atmosphere, melting the permafrost that's so far kept its immense quantities of carbon safely locked a mere ten inches below the surface.  The lungs of the planet are the vast taiga of the northern hemisphere, currently managed by rapacious governments in Canada and Russia eager to turn everything into short-term political and economic advantage, and the Amazon basin, quickly being denuded of vegetation to support an equally myopic perspective.  Soon enough there will be no more wood to harvest.

And in the most powerful nation on the planet, the most successful empire ever, positive change is held hostage by people who think a return to a 14-year-old regulatory regime is tantamount to national socialism.  The agenda is defined by people who believe government-run health care is a crime because the private health care companies tell them its so; who believe global warming is a fraud perpetrated by self-interested scientists because the oil companies tell them it must be so; who believe living in a society where everyone can shoot anyone at any moment will keep kids safe, because the gun companies tell them it will be so.  The might of the mightiest society ever is thwarted by people who are motivated primarily not by self-interest or the common good, but on whether people like me get pissed off. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Status Quo Antebellum

In the last year I've tried unsuccessfully to read two long, landmark books on Reconstruction, A Nation Under Our Feet and Race and Reunion, prompted by a short, almost young-adult level novel called Where The Southern Cross The Dog and some thoughtful blogging by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Monday, May 07, 2012

I'm going to set it straight, this Watergate

Everyone else has their "the first time I heard them" story, occasioned by the sad death by cancer of Adam Yauch, so I'll tell mine.

I was in grade 8, an alienated geeky kid who liked the anger in "Fight For Your Right To Party" and understood it to be more political and punk than self-indulgent.  Rap and hip-hop didn't exist in my little part of Alberta, not until Run-DMC hooked up with Aerosmith - in fact I think there might have been one black family in my entire little city of 60,000.  I think I was discussing the lyrics with my best friend, similarly alienated and geeky, when one of the cool kids who also considered himself smart enough to guard taste sneered out something about juvenile and spoiled brats.  (The same guy thought Bob and Doug Mackenzie were juvenile and spoiled brats, and hey, those guys never went anywhere.)  So I pretty much didn't listen to them again until grad school.  There just wasn't anyone around who might also listen to them, and besides grunge was finally melting through the firewall created by Eagles cover bands and their cancon equivalents. 

Monday, April 30, 2012


I'm reading Chris Hedges' book Death of the Liberal Class - note there's no "The", as there might be if the death occurred once and was not ongoing.  There's a lot to think about, and Hedges is sloppy and spitting mad which makes for good polemic but ensures he'll be ignored by the Very Serious People, who wouldn't read anything so gauche anyway.  He also takes a very European approach, which is to discuss individuals like Ralph Nader and Daniel Berrigan and Noam Chomsky and how they get or got locked out of the discourse; that works in a culture where there's a sense of history and, well, culture, but in the North America that exists and that he describes good luck getting anyone to care that Ralph Nader got ditched during the Reagan administration by a documented collusion between regulators and the regulated.  (Reagan?  He was in Star Wars, right?  He played Obi-Wan Kenobi before he became President.)  Now I know who Ralph Nader is, but that's partly because of frequent references to him in Mad magazine and partly because my dad had the book that made him famous, a book that's still a classic in modern muckraking.  But if anyone even remembers the role he played in the 2000 election, where Al Gore pretty much threw it and then everyone blamed Nader for not making it easy for Gore, then they almost certainly have no idea he got the seatbelt into the automobile, and thereby allowed a million people to complain on Facebook that they grew up in a time when they weren't all coddled and drank water out of the hose and didn't have seatbelts and blah blah blah.  As opposed to being thrown onto the freeway through the windshield after being rear-ended by a texting half-drunk teenager in a gigantic SUV.  Thanks Ralph! 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

RICO suave

I've long thought there's cells within the GOP that should trigger a RICO investigation.  Republicans in general are no more corrupt than anyone else, though we're probably not far from a book by David Brooks explaining how conservatives are actually less corrupt by nature than ... others on the political spectrum, much along the lines of today's column in the NYT by Nick Kristoff in which the self-professed liberal explains how liberals are actually less sensitive to the world than conservatives.  Yes, truly: conservatives are easily threatened and sensitive to smells, and that makes them more aware of their surroundings and thus... well, not better able to judge reality, because no one would claim that about these studies, would they?  Except that Kristoff does his best to imply that, so guess what, he does make that claim: that being easily threatened and sensitive to smells - effectively the behavior of tweens - means you have a better grasp of right and wrong.  Hookay then.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Munich Forever

Wondering why David Brooks wonders why the world is the way it is can be a fool's game, and its best left to those with stronger stomachs and intellects than mine.  (See the blogroll, stage left.)  But something in his column today struck me as unintentionally astute:
The big difference is that the protesters don’t believe in governance. They have zero tolerance for the compromises needed to get legislation passed. They don’t believe in trimming and coalition building. For them, politics is more about earning respect and making a statement than it is about enacting legislation. It’s grievance politics, identity politics.
And why would these Protesters, these Tea Party Republicans, have zero tolerance for compromise and assume negotiation is capitulation and weakness, and if you just stood strong right would win out and the other side would collapse?  Because its been an article of faith in middle-to-right-of-center foreign policy around the world since the Glorious Reagan Revolution that every compromise with a foreign entity is a Chamberlain-in-Munich moment, that everyone who disagrees with you is a bully who thinks you're weak and only wants what they want because they're cynically convinced they can steal a march on you.  And if it works on foreign entities, in the Middle East or Europe or Africa, where dictators only respond to naked displays of will and aggression, well: California sometimes feels like a foreign country, and the Pelosi/Boxer/Feinsten tribunal can't wait to get us into Munich, and willingness to negotiate is a sign of weakness because everything is held on principle.

Brooks and his ilk have encouraged this perspective.  Its hardly operational, though, when you're trying to split the check after dinner.  One gets the sense the Tea Party people are those math-challenged guys who refuse to back down on what they think is fair, because if they backed down on the percentage they've miscalculated, you'd shortly invade their homes and return them to serfdom.  Brooks, then, is the guy encouraging the intransigence, if only to make a point about thrift. 

The rest of us have to cough up the difference so we don't stiff the server.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Second Peloppenesian War

To get its latest "bailout" the Greek government has to agree to give up their country.  When I say "country" here, I mean: their sovereignty on taxation, probably ownership of their more interesting assets (the tourism concessions and attractions and anything else that might generate income), whatever social justice and welfare mechanisms they've implemented, and much of what passes for a social contract.

There are a number of thick ceilings in Greek society.  There are, according to reports, a bunch of cartels in a number of industries that make it nearly impossible to start new businesses.  The tax avoidance is enormous and basically predicated, in the middle and working classes, on the need to save.  The baby boomers have occupied all the stable civil service, middle-management and professional jobs and won't let go.  And its hard to blame them: if you had a great job with a great pension in a country rapidly going south, would you retire for the greater good of the country?  So you've got a mass of educated kids who've grown up in the conservative economic positivism of modern Europe who can't get jobs because their elders have every rational incentive to protect their own assets, and in the meantime, the only thing the elites really want to do in Greece is keep the money pipeline flowing into their own accounts and encourage tourists to visit the Aegean vistas.  In this the Greeks are not dissimilar to any other OECD country, like Canada, only they've got a much better climate.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Explosives expert, at 16!

Ezra Levant, who's claim to fame so far is the phrase "ethical oil" and regularly writing newspaper columns in which he accuses Barack Obama of being a Manchurian candidate (while remaining coy about just which Manchuria he might be a candidate for), has decided that Omar Khadr is an evil genius.  Apparently he was, at 16, both a translator for Al Qaeda and an explosives expert.  At 16!  An expert in explosives!

I had been under the misapprehension that Khadr had been thrown into suicidal battle by a father who may be in the all-time running, behind Cronos but somewhere ahead of, oh, say Ezra Levant, as the worst father ever.  For consider: he sends his teenage son from suburban Ontario to Afghanistan to die for the faith.  He's not just a religious fanatic, but he wants to kill his kid to prove how much of a fanatic he really is.  You just don't find guys like that much, although usually when you do they've been obssessively reading the same nasty books

But no, it turns out that Khadr is some kind of evil genius: an explosives expert and translator, both at 16!  Guantanamo is too good for him.  He needs to go to the prisons where we put Megamind and Dr. Evil, before he has the opportunity to point a laser at the Earth.

Thank goodness for Ezra Levant, who, while he may be an unscrupulous fame-whore desperate to get his name in the paper by saying outrageous, stupid and generally substanceless things, while shilling for wingnut welfare mills on both sides of the border, at least has our best interests in mind.

Imagine: an explosives expert at 16!  And we were thinking of letting this guy walk around Peterborough unmolested.


One of Rick Santorum's billionaire supporters told Andrea Mitchell that all this kerfuffle about birth control could be solved if we all just did what women did in the good old days and put an aspirin between their knees.  This capped a week where the modern GOP shocked the establishment by demonstrating what they really think.

Initially I thought he meant an actual aspirin could be used as a birth control technique, because I'd heard the same thing when I was a kid.  And so all the old questions recurred: Is it the acetylsalycilic acid that does the trick?  Was willow bark an ancient precursor to this kind of - admittedly hit and miss - modern DIY birth control?  I imagined women in nomadic bands of hunter-gatherers carrying around strips of willow bark on the off chance they decided on a quickie with the cute guy in the tent three trees over. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Bitchy queens

About two weeks ago Elizabeth Saxe-Coburg marked her 60th year in office.  Editorial pages across the land celebrated the milestone and waxed eloquent about her office's role in making the people of the nation essentially Canadian, and how our very celebration of her office distinguishes us - nay, elevates us - from those vulgar Americans across the 49th, and who decided long ago they'd have no truck with Monarchy.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Updates II

The states have settled their various mortgage malfeasance issues with the banks, or purport to.

Let's put this into perspective.  These banks are collectively worth trillions, much of it extracted in various ways through the mechanisms they're not admitting to wrongdoing for but have decided its cheaper to pay hush money on.  The $29 billion they propose to pay back in the settlement amounts to maybe 1% of their value.  This amounts to a parking ticket for someone in the middle class.

Parking tickets are nuisance.  They don't change behavior unless you get lots and lots of them.  Getting one parking ticket after years and years of using no-parking spots is hardly likely to scare you much.

I belabor the analogy but, really, if you measure intent by action, there is no action here, and so likely no intent.  The elites don't want to solve this problem. 


A few things to get off my chest, which have been sitting there since early December, when my costly unfettered freedom ended.

Facebook Privacy Concerns Deepen:

There are three kinds of concerns here:

1.  Your mom might see a post where you complain about Christmas dinner and assume its about her.  (Alternatively, your significant other may wonder why your "new friend" was kissing you in that picture taken at the ski lodge last weekend.)
2.  Someone might break into your account, figure out your credit card number, and steal your identity. 
3.  Someone might aggregate all the data entered through an application like Facebook or LinkedIn and figure out where individuals live or what they like to do, for nefarious purposes.