Archive for September, 2013

Saving The World, One Killing At A Time
September 20, 2013

Yesterday a nice couple visited to view the solar panels installed on the roof. They are in the process of negotiating with the leasing company to put almost two dozen panels on their home.

The woman was animated, with a dazzling smile, and a cheery attitude. The husband, not so much. A bit dour, seeming more grounded in pragmatics, but a nice gentleman.

He worried that sometime down the road their roof might need repair, despite it having just been installed a few years ago, and they would have to pay to remove the panels and reinstall them while the roof was fixed. I suggested that such a worry was fruitless, that we can’t even know what’s going to happen tomorrow never mind several years from now.

I didn’t go into the ‘world is ending’ line, though I did mention that one reason I installed solar was that other people seeing them might be encouraged to think about it for their homes.

Thinking about it this morning, I found another analogy. Our ongoing climate catastrophe could be analogized to the Chicago fire, in which Chicagoans are throwing fuel on the fire, just as we are throwing greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere today. And here I come along with my solar panels, which amount to an eyedropper of water to squirt on the fire. Yeah, Chicago is burning, right to the ground.

Another way to look at it considers the climate as a massive, planet-sized flywheel. We’ve kicked it into motion, we’re feeding energy into it, it’s going faster and faster, and its mass and momentum will keep it going for thousands of years. My solar panels are the equivalent of me pressing a finger against the flywheel to slow it down. Not going to happen, that wheel is just going to keep on rolling.

The scientists talk about a three foot sea level rise by 2100, and a global temperature rise of a couple of degrees by then. Frankly, I think they’re in for a rude surprise. A very rude surprise. If not them, then the rest of the world.  Scientists have to work out what’s happening as it happens, and they’re finding things are happening which they hadn’t taken into account. Feedback loops within feedback loops, if you will. It’s like that underground coal fire burning in Pennsylvania. It’s been going for years and can’t be extinguished. I doubt anyone thought it would burn for so long, and make the town uninhabitable. That’s where we’re headed with global warming. On a planetary scale.

And still, without hesitation, we continue to pour fuel on the fire. We stand in our home, the only home we have, and watch as it burns down around us, thinking magically that we won’t be burned or killed.

I’m not under any illusion that my solar panels make a difference, nor that the couple that came here yesterday will make any difference with their panels. I can at least feel that I did something, and perhaps encouraged others. But it doesn’t really amount to anything. Chicago fire. Eyedropper.

Perhaps if the United States stopped wasting money on useless wars and put the money to use developing solar and putting it on every house in the country, perhaps that might make a dent. But I think it’s obvious at this point that the U.S. is not going to do that, is not even going to try to deal with the problem of global warming. United States policy now officially determines to make the problem worse by encouraging the development of more fossil fuel resources. Drilling in the Arctic. Deeper undersea drilling in the Gulf and off the coasts. Fracking for gas, which packs the double whammy of increasing greenhouse gasses and wasting our diminishing supply of fresh water. Encouraging the development of tar sands, despite the abysmal safety record, the destruction of forest land, and the gas load on the atmosphere. So we needn’t be hoping for change, not from the government, which is corrupt and blind, willfully so on both counts.

Perhaps I should have said to the gentleman yesterday that he doesn’t have to worry about his roof because, in fact, the world is ending. Installing solar panels is just a way of giving the finger to the people enabling the death of the biosphere, and thus the death of human civilization, indeed, the death of the human species. We have more pity for the doomed polar bear than we do for the doom of humanity.

So yeah, I think that’s about right. My solar panels are my way of giving the finger to the politicians and the rich people and the corporations who are killing my world. Unfortunately I’m getting old and won’t be around to see the end of it all. But I would like to be there for a couple of reasons. Curiosity, for one. I want to see how it happens. But the other reason? I’d like to be there near the end so I could hunt down some of those people and throttle them with my bare hands for what they’ve done.

On the other hand, given their intransigence, greed, and stupidity, perhaps we might be justified in getting a head start on hunting them down and removing them from the equation. That sounds about right. Seems fair. And offers a better chance for saving the biosphere than my puny solar panels. I, for one, wouldn’t mourn the bastards.

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Abilene, My Abilene… But Nobody Wants To Go There.
September 15, 2013

When I went out on the back porch to look for Sammy this morning I looked up at the stars and saw a satellite passing, traveling northeast. Maybe it was the space station.

NASA confirmed in the last couple of days that Voyager I left the solar system last year, thirty-six years after it was launched.

The stars were bright and hard. I said to myself that I would give anything to be able to travel among them, to visit worlds in the deep reaches of space.

But we can’t even take care of the one world we can live on, much less reach others beyond our little solar system.

The Abilene Paradox at work. Everyone, except the nutcases, agrees that we have to do something about stopping global warming, and yet we do just the opposite. Generally speaking, nobody wants to exacerbate warming, but everybody finds reasons to exacerbate warming. Nobody wants to go to Abilene, but we go to Abilene because we think everybody else wants to go to Abilene.

I don’t know if I’ve got that quite right. Yesterday was the first time I’d heard of the paradox. It was part of the Coursera social psychology course. But as a group, humanity is doing the opposite of what it should be doing. Instead of cutting back on the use of fossil fuels, we dig for more and we use more. Instead of subsidizing renewable energies, like solar and wind and tide, we subsidize fossil fuels, the very things that are killing the planet. Instead of cutting the birth rate, we fantasize about ten billion people living on a world that cannot support the seven billion on it now.

But maybe it’s nothing as clever as the Abilene Paradox. Maybe humanity is simply a stupid species, driven by greed, lusting for ease, unwilling to do the hard things, to make the hard choices, to do what it needs to do to survive.

The stars aren’t out of reach because we haven’t found the physics that will get us there. They’re out of reach because we want air conditioning.

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Putin Says. Obama Says. Who Are These Guys?
September 12, 2013

Vladimir Putin, wannabe emperor of Russia, wrote the following in an op-ed in the New York Times today:

A strike [against Syria] would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.

Barack Obama, President of The Most Powerful Nation In The History Of The Multiverse, has said a number of things, but they can be summed up as follows:

Failure to strike [against Syria] would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.

Ummm…. Vlad? Barry? Whassamatta you?! Civilization cannot afford this crap.

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Domino Theory Redux, By Obama
September 11, 2013

And by the way, all that talk by Obama about if we don’t stop Assad from using chemical weapons, then other countries will use them and Iran will get a nuclear bomb and blow up Washington, yeah, that’s the same nonsense that the Johnson Administration used to lie the country into Vietnam.

It’s called the Domino Theory. It was false then and it’s false now.

In fact, the only domino game being played right now is the one the United States is playing as it knocks down countries around Iran. Iraq. Afghanistan. Syria. And if you add in the countries in Africa and South Asia and the Middle East where the United States is murdering people with drones and without legitimate reason, yeah, looks a lot like the United States is playing Death Dominoes with the lives of millions of people.

But of course the United States is the good guy, right, and it gets to set the rules, right? Right?

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Obama Pretends America Not A Murderous Hypocrite
September 11, 2013

Twelve years ago today, but it was a Tuesday then, some men flew a couple of airplanes into some buildings in New York City and Washington, D.C., and turned the world upside down. America reacted in its usual clumsy, stupid fashion. And here we are. Still.

Obama gave a speech about Syria last night but, getting old, I fell asleep at the beginning, before the beginning. Woke up a bit after it, when the pundits were punditing. Apparently Obama didn’t say anything new or different. But I did hear, on the news, his line that went something like ‘What kind of world will we live in if the United States of America sees a dictator brazenly violate international law with poison gas, and we choose to look the other way?’

Well, we’d be the kind of country that invaded a third-world country for no other reason than the egotistical desires and greed of a few powerful men in Washington. We’d still be the kind of country that uses white phosphorus weapons, as we did in Iraq. We’d still be the kind of country that uses depleted uranium weapons, as we did in Iraq, spreading the poison of radiation over the land and through the generations of survivors. We’d still be the kind of country that uses cluster bombs that kill children long after the bomb has been dropped. We’d still be the kind of country that refuses to agree to ban land mines. We’d still be the country that dresses up all pretty to cover up its ugliness, its disregard of its own people, its greed and stupidity and willingness to kill and maim and destroy to get what it wants. That’s the kind of country we are, one that engages in invasion, destruction, and slaughter of innocents because we can, international law be damned.

To bitch at Assad because he’s a vicious, murderous human being who uses deadly weapons on the people he rules is, for the United States, an exercise in vast hypocrisy, an exercise in profound deceit, an exercise revealing the United States as the dictator slaughtering lives and generations around the world.

What kind of world would we live in, asked the President of the United States. We already live in that world, Mr. Obama, and it is uglier and more brutal and more deadly than ever because of the government of the United States, because of the men who aspire to run that government, because of the men who do, now and in the past thirty years, run that government.

It’s ironic that the government of the United States wants to attack another third world country while at home it allows policies and acts that threaten to turn the United States into a third world country ruled by theocrats and plutocrats, an oligarchy of the worst that America has to offer.

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Syria Resolved! Thanks Russia!
September 10, 2013

On Syria, the Russians have a plan with which the Syrians seem to agree, at least last I heard. Syria will surrender all its chemical weapons to international control in specified areas in Syria where the weapons will be destroyed, thus averting an American missile attack, and thus allowing Assad to continue killing the citizens of Syria in mass numbers by using conventional instruments of mass slaughter.

Sure. Sounds equitable.

Are these people serious?

The problem isn’t the weaponry. The problem is the mind of Assad. That’s what needs killing, in both senses.

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Syria: To Bomb Or Not To Bomb? Doesn’t Really Matter, Does It?
September 9, 2013

As far as the stated reasons the U.S. gives for unleashing cruise missiles on Syria, that the U.S. must warn Assad that he must never use nerve gas again, I see that as a vast hypocrisy. Simple math: 100,000 dead by other means, and no outrage of the sort that would lead to military action; 1400 dead by gas and now they’re upset enough to want to fire some ordnance ‘in a limited way’ at some unspecified narrow range of military targets, accomplishing, in effect, nothing good and very likely vast amounts of bad.

No. I can’t support that. Originally I did support such an idea, but no more. It makes no sense. We sat on our hands for two years while this murderous civil war went on, and now over what amounts to a minor killing we want to risk all out war in the Middle East. And war with Russia and Iran, the latter perhaps being the goal of the whole exercise. The neo-cons, the hawks, the draft dodgers, would appear to still be pulling the strings, pulling Obama’s strings.

Perhaps that’s why he decided to turn to Congress for a vote. If he feels he’s being strung along, he might have decided to open up the bag of influence peddling for everyone to see by throwing the matter into the lap of Congress. But Congress, this Congress, is most likely to do whatever they think will hurt Obama the most rather than what is right for the country. To ask this Congress to demonstrate a high moral standard or a high intellectual standard is to simply make a bad joke.

Frankly I think Obama should simply shut up about Syria, withdraw his request to the Congress, and instruct the military to simply kill Assad and his cronies wherever and whenever they can effectively target them. Assad is the core of the problem. The result will be considerable long-term turmoil in Syria, but that’s going to happen now no matter what anyone does. If the Assad regime collapsed tonight, the infighting among the factions would begin before the news of the collapse got out. If the Assad family and cronies were killed tonight, the infighting would begin before his body even began to cool. But that’s the cost of the world’s inaction for two years. Had the West taken the side of the rebels six months into the conflict, armed, supplied, and trained them, Assad would have been gone within a year, most likely, and Syrians would have stepped into the vacuum. As the situation stands now, the battle against Assad is not being waged solely by Syrians, but by outsiders too, all wanting a piece of the post-Assad pie.

I suspect Israel might want Assad to stay in power because a Syria under his dictatorial control offers less of a threat to Israel than a Syria fractured and factionated into Islamic groups that fundamentally hate Israel and which would make no accommodation with Israel. But then the Israelis are just as bad, frankly, and could easily be seen as wanting to create a fractured Syria so that Israel could grab more land from Arabs.

In a word, the Middle East is fucked. We do not need to drag ourselves into that shitpot of the world. But the oil, the oil… Yeah, if we had put the money we wasted on war in that part of the world into renewable energy in our part of the world the stinking oil wouldn’t matter. But the United States has been, and is, a stupid country full of stupid people whose only redeeming quality is their shortsightedness. And that chicken is coming home to roost.

I think we’re going to have our own civil war in the not too distant future. There are too many guns in too many hands, there are too many people carrying too much anger, and there are too many people who know nothing of American history, of politics, of civility.

Then who will we bomb?

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Some Personal Notes On Writing, For My Eyes Only, Of Course
September 8, 2013

An old obviousness: If you want to succeed as a writer, you have to write.

Okay, fair enough.

But what about the underlying question? What about the part that says ‘Do you want to succeed as a writer?’

There’s the nub of it. And it has a couple of nubs itself. What does ‘succeed as a writer mean’? And what does ‘want to succeed’ mean?

My newspaper days fixed in my head that I’d be a writer, that I was a writer, that I’d write for a living. And then I left the newspaper world and never found my way into any other world. And never found my way in the writing world either.

I’ve never had an ambition that amounted to anything worth the name ‘ambition’. If you’re ambitious that means you stick your head up, and if you stick your head up you get whacked. That’s what the various worlds I lived in taught me about ambition.

Ambition isn’t just wanting to do something particular. It involves also doing the work that gets you to the culmination of the ambition. And as far as writing goes, I haven’t done that. Writing has been merely a sideline to the playground that is my mind. Not a barren playground, certainly: I’ve written two novels, one for practice, one for real; a number of stories; a bunch of humor; and tons of stuff just for me, like this bit, that sometimes make it into the world.

But here, let’s look at what it takes to write. In the first place you have to write. In the second place you have to write. In the third place you have to write. It’s write all the way down. Pencil to paper. Fingers to keys. Ass to chair. Doesn’t matter if you want to. You have to. The act is all, the act is everything.

I don’t do that. I write in fits and starts.

But now, how about looking at what it takes to ‘succeed’ in writing. How do we define success? How do I define success, more to the point.

The world defines writing success as publication and sales of substantial numbers of books or stories or articles. By publication the world means ‘publishing house’. McGraw-Hill. Random House. And the like. By sales, the world means a lot of sales, a lot of money, enough to merit a lot of recognition and a degree of fame. The world doesn’t mean just making a living writing. A mid-list author isn’t ‘successful’ under the world’s definition. Not a failure, but not successful. That path requires submitting your work to the opinion, and sometimes educated judgment, of a lot of publishing professionals, in competition with infinite tons and tons of writers. Perhaps there is something to be said for the process; perhaps back in the day when writers were fewer and publishing was a different game something could have been said for the process. Today, I think, not so much. 

But the world’s definition of success may have to change now that e-publishing is a reality. Although, perhaps not, as epublished authors don’t have the fame aspect of success no matter how much money they make. They don’t get into the newspapers, they don’t get interviewed by the bubbleheads anchoring news programs, they don’t get into the gossip columns. The best may get some moments of Internet fame, or possibly transit over to paper publishing. But e-publishing does change the game. Bad writer, good writer, it doesn’t matter – you can publish. The only sieve is the market. And thus publishing no longer marks minimal writing success. Sales are the mark now.

But I can’t say I’m happy with any of those definitions of success. I need to decide what success is, means, to me. How do I define success, and what do I have to do to consider myself successful as a writer?

Well, I have to write. So far I’m failing that qualification. By ‘write’ I mean not these notes or little blurbs at Facebook (been away a week today). At a minimum I mean blog posts, but not just any blog post. I mean something considered, something organized in language to make a point or create an effect. Broadly, by ‘write’ I mean attempting consciously to organize thoughts into words, sentences, and paragraphs that communicate specific thoughts, emotions, ideas, to a reader somewhere out there in the vast.

In practical terms, I mean sitting at a desk with a keyboard or a pad and pencil and putting words on paper with the aim of creating, at the finish, perhaps in the first draft, perhaps after several drafts, an organized set of words, sentences, and paragraphs that create an effect in a reader.

But there’s more to it. I encompass in the meaning of ‘write’ the act of writing regularly. Every day. As if at a job. Writing every day is how skyscrapers get built, how cities get built, how civilizations get built. It must be a habit, an organized habit.

In fact, I might go so far as to define success as a writer as simply doing that, as simply writing every day in an organized way, at such and such a time and at such and such a place, or at different times and different places as suits one’s personality, but in any event every day, seeking to create an organized piece of writing that creates an effect in a reader.

The real battle, the real conquest, the real success, is the battle against oneself, the conquest of oneself: win that war and you can consider yourself a success.

So where does that leave me?

I am left feeling unarmed and out of shape. And stuck with the question, ‘Why write?’

Indeed. Why?

That’s a personal question. It is always a personal question. Some claim they have to write, that it is an obsession, if you will. Some claim they write for money, period. Some claim to write to give the world their message. Some claim to write simply to entertain, their readers or themselves. Some claim to write to excise old wounds or exorcise old ghosts. Likely there exist nearly as many reasons to write as there are writers.

So, what’s mine?

I could run over the usual reasons people give. Some would more or less fit, maybe some times and not other times, and to other degrees of more or less.

But the root of it all, down deep in the dirt of my self, comes to this: I like to move people. I like to batter a reader’s emotions. If my reader is not emotionally involved in a range of feeling from intense concentration to prolonged, outright bawling or laughter, I’ve done something amiss. And I know exactly why I’m that kind of writer. And no, I won’t tell you. That’s my little secret, all the more so because the only ones who were there at the time are dead.

In the end writing is not complicated. Write, or write not. There is nothing in the middle. Aristotle, 1: Yoda, 0. Or vice-versa. But there’s nothing relative about it, no matter which universe you are. Write or write not. One means success, the other means not not success. I’m the only one who cares what I do, and I think that is the hardest part about writing.

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Alan Grayson, Calling Out The Hawks
September 8, 2013

Florida Representative Alan Grayson’s op-ed from the New York Times:

WASHINGTON – THE documentary record regarding an attack on Syria consists of just two papers: a four-page unclassified summary and a 12-page classified summary. The first enumerates only the evidence in favor of an attack. I’m not allowed to tell you what’s in the classified summary, but you can draw your own conclusion.
On Thursday I asked the House Intelligence Committee staff whether there was any other documentation available, classified or unclassified. Their answer was "no."

The Syria chemical weapons summaries are based on several hundred underlying elements of intelligence information. The unclassified summary cites intercepted telephone calls, "social media" postings and the like, but not one of these is actually quoted or attached – not even clips from YouTube. (As to whether the classified summary is the same, I couldn’t possibly comment, but again, draw your own conclusion.)

Over the last week the administration has run a full-court press on Capitol Hill, lobbying members from both parties in both houses to vote in support of its plan to attack Syria. And yet we members are supposed to accept, without question, that the proponents of a strike on Syria have accurately depicted the underlying evidence, even though the proponents refuse to show any of it to us or to the American public.
In fact, even gaining access to just the classified summary involves a series of unreasonably high hurdles.

We have to descend into the bowels of the Capitol Visitors Center, to a room four levels underground. Per the instructions of the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, note-taking is not allowed.

Once we leave, we are not permitted to discuss the classified summary with the public, the media, our constituents or even other members. Nor are we allowed to do anything to verify the validity of the information that has been provided.

And this is just the classified summary. It is my understanding that the House Intelligence Committee made a formal request for the underlying intelligence reports several days ago. I haven’t heard an answer yet. And frankly, I don’t expect one.

Compare this lack of transparency with the administration’s treatment of the Benghazi attack. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, to her credit, made every single relevant classified e-mail, cable and intelligence report available to every member of Congress. (I know this, because I read them all.) Secretary Clinton had nothing to hide.

Her successor, John Kerry, has said repeatedly that this administration isn’t trying to manipulate the intelligence reports the way that the Bush administration did to rationalize its invasion of Iraq.

But by refusing to disclose the underlying data even to members of Congress, the administration is making it impossible for anyone to judge, independently, whether that statement is correct. Perhaps the edict of an earlier administration applies: "Trust, but verify."

The danger of the administration’s approach was illustrated by a widely read report last week in The Daily Caller, which claimed that the Obama administration had selectively used intelligence to justify military strikes in Syria, with one report "doctored so that it leads a reader to just the opposite conclusion reached by the original report."

The allegedly doctored report attributes the attack to the Syrian general staff. But according to The Daily Caller, "it was clear that ‘the Syrian general staff were out of their minds with panic that an unauthorized strike had been launched by the 155th Brigade in express defiance of their instructions.’"

I don’t know who is right, the administration or The Daily Caller. But for me to make the correct decision on whether to allow an attack, I need to know. And so does the American public.

We have reached the point where the classified information system prevents even trusted members of Congress, who have security clearances, from learning essential facts, and then inhibits them from discussing and debating what they do know. And this extends to matters of war and peace, money and blood. The "security state" is drowning in its own phlegm.

My position is simple: if the administration wants me to vote for war, on this occasion or on any other, then I need to know all the facts. And I’m not the only one who feels that way.

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