Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Today in Apocalypse Links

New Scientist Special Report: 7 Reasons Climate Change Is ‘Even Worse Than We Thought’.  From Think Progress's post summarizing the seven reasons:
  1. The thick sea ice in the Arctic Ocean was not expected to melt until the end of the century. If current trends continue, summer ice could be gone in a decade or two. Read more (or see “Death Spiral Watch: Experts Warn ‘Near Ice-Free Arctic In Summer’ In A Decade If Volume Trends Continue“).
  2. We knew global warming was going to make the weather more extreme. But it’s becoming even more extreme than anyone predicted. Read more (or see “NOAA Bombshell: Warming-Driven Arctic Ice Loss Is Boosting Chance of Extreme U.S. Weather“).
  3. Global warming was expected to boost food production. Instead, food prices are soaring as the effects of extreme weather kick in. Read more (or see “Oxfam Warns Climate Change And Extreme Weather Will Cause Food Prices To Soar” and links therein).
  4. Greenland’s rapid loss of ice mean we’re in for a rise of at least 1 metre by 2100, and possibly much more. Read more (or see “Greenland Ice Sheet Melt Nearing Critical ‘Tipping Point’” and links therein).
  5. The planet currently absorbs half our CO2emissions. All the signs are it won’t for much longer. Read more (or see “Carbon Feedback From Thawing Permafrost Will Likely Add 0.4°F – 1.5°F To Total Global Warming By 2100” and “Drying Peatlands and Intensifying Wildfires Boost Carbon Release Ninefold“).
  6. If we stopped emitting CO2 tomorrow, we might be able to avoid climate disaster. In fact we are still increasing emissions. Read more (or see “The IEA And Others Warn Of Some 11°F Warming by 2100 on current emissions path”)
  7. If the worst climate predictions are realised, vast swathes of the globe could become too hot for humans to survive. Read more (or see “An Illustrated Guide to the Science of Global Warming Impacts“)

5 Charts About Climate Change That Should Have You Very, Very Worried:
Two major organizations released climate change reports this month warning of doom and gloom if we stick to our current course and fail to take more aggressive measures. A World Bank report [pdf link] imagines a world 4 degrees warmer, the temperature predicted by century's end barring changes, and says it aims to shock people into action by sharing devastating scenarios of flood, famine, drought and cyclones. Meanwhile, a report from the US National Research Council, commissioned by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other intelligence agencies, says the consequences of climate change--rising sea levels, severe flooding, droughts, fires, and insect infestations--pose threats greater than those from terrorism ranging from massive food shortages to a rise in armed conflicts.
Click through for five charts taken from the reports.

Climate Change Largely Irreversible for 1000 Years

The shells of ocean animals are already dissolving in acidic sea

Climate Change Threatens to Create a Second Dust Bowl

Canadian conservatives are embracing denialism because they're just interested in the money gained from burning the world.

Obama is on the wrong side on this one.  Not "not doing enough": he's working on the side of those who are destroying the world.

As I've said before: however worried you are, you're not worried enough.

(Most links via Dave Roberts's twitter feed.)

Update: New day, new apocalyptic link:

•  Global Sea Level Rising 60 Percent Faster Than Predicted

Update 2: Pandora's box contains hope.  Now we just need to replicate that woman's experience millions of times over.  And maybe we can start to reverse the course we're on.  (The movie web site is here.)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Quotes, With Occasional Commentary

Recent readings from around the web.  Starting with Andrew Sullivan on Israel:
I'm slowly reaching the conclusion that we cannot stop them [Israel] from committing suicide, if that's what they want. They're a sovereign state. And I can't keep hoping for a two-state solution when it is in fact a shiny object meant to distract from Israel's determination to occupy one-state on the original Ben-Zion Netanyahu lines. My only caveat (and even that is quixotic) is: not on our dime. And the premise of any re-engagement with a two-state solution should be immediate dismantling of every single settlement outside of the 1967 lines, including East Jerusalem. The Israelis can maintain military control of the West Bank for legitimate security purposes, without continuing the ethnic social engineering being imposed by the settlements.

-- Andrew Sullivan, "Why Does Greater Israel Block Gaza's Exports?"
I must say that "a shiny object meant to distract from Israel's determination to occupy one-state on the original Ben-Zion Netanyahu lines" is a bitter but sadly plausible description of the current state of the two-state solution.

~ ~ ~

Ta-Nehisi Coates continues his extraordinary, Joe DiMaggio-level hiting streak of blogging brilliance with a post on male desire and misogyny and humiliation and it's brilliant, go read it.  But stick around for Coates's added brilliance in the comments, for instance:
At the end of the day we are, as we always are, discussing power. The presence of power, and its absence, shapes belief and modes of thinking. We generally are very comfortable discussing what the absence of power does to people. I have long maintained that it is just important to discuss what the presence of power does as well.

This isn't new. I've spent as much time on this blog discussing the psychology of slave-holders as I have discussing the psychology of slaves. I think you have to do that. We are not the products of the same ends of the system. We are equal. We are not the same.
And also:
[Earlier commentator:]So does any person actually HAVE power here, I guess is what I'm asking.

Yeah they do. But power isn't omnipotence. And it isn't boundless. I don't believe that being oppressed means an absence of power. And the presence of power deriving from class, does not mean that every individual has the same access to the same amount of power.

Peter Still was a slave in Alabama. He worked hard and was thought to be highly moral. He was so trusted that his master gave him the right to "hire out" his own labor, and negotiate contracts away from the farm. Still's master was (like most slave-owners) an avowed white supremacist convinced that blacks--and thus Peter--were happy in slavery. Peter manipulated this belief and actively plotted to gain his freedom. He used his master's trust to hire himself out to someone who believed he deserved to be free. After two years of laboring, Peter escaped.

His escape was aided by the belief that Peter was happy. This belief was not a side-effect of slavery, but a necessary precondition. It was part of what it meant to be a member of the master class. But it was also the source of weakness for Peter Still's master, and great power for Peter, himself. Peter so manipulated his master that he not only escaped, but subsequently returned--right under his master's eye--to visit his family by using his master's presumptions against him.

Telling this story, and highlighting Still's "power" does not mean he and his master were equal. It does not then follow that his enslaver had no power. But my sense is that the dynamic between oppressors and oppressed is rarely absolutist.

I would find it hard to accept that women never have any power in this dynamic, nor ever use such power. And I don't think admitting as much compromises a critique. On the contrary I think rendering women as "powerless" is dehumanizing.
And yet again:
It's something I've noticed in my studies of race and slavery. The smalles point can't be conceded. Power wants more power, and wherever it finds itself lacking it sees the seeds of its doom. In slavery literature you see people who seem to have absolute power over their slaves, convinced that potential doom is right around the corner. In art you see dudes who undoubtedly wield the power of gender attempting to proscribe the right to say "No."
So not only should you read the whole thing, but read beyond it, too.

~ ~ ~

Aaron Brady (a.k.a. Zunguzungu) has seen Lincoln and has some things to say about it:
Slaves were not and could not be “given” their freedom because they had always had it: it had required a great deal of violent force and political work to keep them enslaved, and when that force was removed—as the South collapsed politically and militarily—they began to act like the human beings they always already were, organizing, moving, and seizing their destinies in their own hands. At this point, the game was up; just as the institution of slavery had always depended on substantial governmental enforcement and support, it would have taken a substantial amount of violent force to re-impose it, a concerted project to re-establish slavery that no one in the north had any particular stomach for. At the end of the Civil War, to put it simply, the North had a simple choice: re-imposing slavery by force or accept the new reality. They chose the latter....

Spielberg and Kushner are interested in a kind of scrupulous (almost farcical) accuracy about things that do not matter, while working very hard to place everything else that was going on in the period—and everything else Lincoln was responding to—off camera....

And to put it quite bluntly, I think the filmmakers made this choice because they wanted to make a polemical point about moderation over radicalism, and I think they picked the story they wanted to tell because it seems to support that position. And yet the historical story they tell only supports that claim if you very selectively frame out most of the context around it, and so they do. And passing a single bill in Congress only comes to seem to represent the broader field of social change and progress—“things” getting “done”— if we ignore the big picture.
I always get a lot out of these big movies, not from seeing them, but from reading the commentary that comes out about them.  You can read the rest of Brady's piece here.  Oh, incidentally. Brady's read Tarzan, too.

~ ~ ~

And Bruce Bartlett seems to have a strange idea of what "proved correct" means (via):
I know that it’s unattractive and bad form to say “I told you so” when one’s advice was ignored yet ultimately proved correct.... I think I’m at ground zero in the saga of Republicans closing their eyes to any facts or evidence that conflict with their dogma. Rather than listen to me, they threw me under a bus. To this day, I don’t think they understand that my motives were to help them avoid the permanent decline that now seems inevitable....

I thought I had a nice thesis to put forward. All successful schools of economic thought follow a progression of being outsiders and revolutionaries, achieving success when economic circumstances cannot be explained by orthodox theory, acceptance for the dissidents, followed by inevitable failure when new circumstances arise that don’t fit the model, leading to the rise of a fresh school of thought. It was basically a Thomas Kuhnian view of economic theory.

I thought I had two perfect examples that fit my model of the rise and fall of economic ideas: Keynesian economics and supply-side economics. I thought at first I knew enough about the former to say what I wanted to say, but eventually I found the research I had previously done to be wanting. It was based too much on what academics thought and not enough on how Keynesian ideas penetrated the policymaking community....

After careful research along these lines, I came to the annoying conclusion that Keynes had been 100 percent right in the 1930s. Previously, I had thought the opposite. But facts were facts and there was no denying my conclusion. It didn’t affect the argument in my book, which was only about the rise and fall of ideas. The fact that Keynesian ideas were correct as well as popular simply made my thesis stronger....

Annoyingly, however, I found myself joined at the hip to Paul Krugman, whose analysis was identical to my own. I had previously viewed Krugman as an intellectual enemy and attacked him rather colorfully in an old column that he still remembers.

For the record, no one has been more correct in his analysis and prescriptions for the economy’s problems than Paul Krugman. The blind hatred for him on the right simply pushed me further away from my old allies and comrades....

The final line for me to cross in complete alienation from the right was my recognition that Obama is not a leftist. In fact, he’s barely a liberal—and only because the political spectrum has moved so far to the right that moderate Republicans from the past are now considered hardcore leftists by right-wing standards today. Viewed in historical context, I see Obama as actually being on the center-right....

I’ve paid a heavy price, both personal and financial, for my evolution from comfortably within the Republican Party and conservative movement to a less than comfortable position somewhere on the center-left. Honest to God, I am not a liberal or a Democrat. But these days, they are the only people who will listen to me. When Republicans and conservatives once again start asking my opinion, I will know they are on the road to recovery.
So Bartlett thinks that he was right about what conservatives needed to do because he's embraced contemporary liberalism, and he thinks they should to?  And this proves his conservatism was correct?  Or something?  I'm confused.

And I didn't even quote the part where he was going to break the shocking news that nobody knows that, prior to 1964, when Southern whites were mostly Democrats, the Democrats had a lot of racists in the party and did racist things to cater to them -- and that, now that all of those people (first specifically, and then as a larger demographic block) have become Republicans thanks in large part to the Democrats (belated) embrace of equality, African Americans (who somehow don't know all this shocking history) ought to vote for the party to which the racists fled rather than the one whose embrace of Civil Rights drove them out.  And they have to make that argument since, after all, the intense fear and hatred of illegals (read: Hispanics) is so strong that they can't possibly modulate by embracing amnesty or other sensible immigration policies.  --  Yeah, that's the answer to the Republicans' troubles getting minority voters.  I can't believe the Republicans didn't listen to this guy!

Of course, Barlett is now right -- Obama is a center-rightist, and any ideas that are to the right of that are simply so absurd as to be not worth considering.  But why Barlett thinks this is a vindication of his version of a conservatism, rather than simply a confession that he was on the wrong side, is deeply puzzling.

Update: The blog Whiskey Fire puts it succinctly: "'Finally, after much inner struggle, I realized that the Rush Limbaugh view of the world has its flaws' is not, in the final analysis, a very impressive intellectual manifesto."

~ ~ ~

A long interesting article on the current state of the drug war, with particular emphasis on recent developments (via):
The long boom in American demand for cocaine, the economic fact that shaped the modern traffic, is declining, rapidly, by many measures. According to the federal government’s preferred measure, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the number of people abusing cocaine has halved since 2006. No other illegal drug has replaced cocaine: Heroin, far less prevalent, has held steady, and methamphetamine use seems to have peaked nearly a decade ago. “This decline,” says Peter Reuter, professor of public affairs at the University of Maryland and a leading thinker on drug policy, “is very much real.”

Cocaine addicts are aging, and they aren’t being replaced. In the early nineties, the average age of an addict, Reuter says, was about 27. Now it is about 40. Plenty of people are still trying the drug—the rates of first-time use haven’t dropped—but for reasons that haven’t fully been discerned, “they aren’t becoming addicts,” Reuter says. The epidemic has now been waning for fifteen years, long enough to think the trends will last and that the florid paranoia, broken families, and death of the crack-cocaine epidemic will not be a permanent feature of American life but a cultural artifact of the ugliness of the eighties.
(That quote is from page four.)

~ ~ ~

The first sentence:
A few months ago, physicist Harold White stunned the aeronautics world when he announced that he and his team at NASA had begun work on the development of a faster-than-light warp drive.
'nuff said.  (Needless to say, this applies.)

~ ~ ~

And lastly, a video (via): dumb ways to die -- in song!.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Standing Athwart the End of History, Yelling Stop

Admiring one's own writing is one of the least attractive of human activities, a sort of onanistic autovoyeurism.  But on the other hand, I've long felt that I should take all the admirers I can get: beggars can't be choosers and all that.  And in this case, there is the additional fact that it's needed since there is something I want to explain.

In an earlier post, I closed with a phrase that I rather liked: "Someone needs to stand athwart the end of history, yelling Stop."  Enough that I have -- temporarily -- added it to my masthead as a motto.*

The joke of the phrase requires that you know that William F. Buckley, in many ways the founder of contemporary American conservatism (and by any measure one of the crucial founders of it), in the inaugural editorial of his magazine The National Review, defined its mission thus: "It stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it."  The key phrase in that sentence -- "stand[ing] athwart history, yelling Stop" -- has come to be one of the central self-definitions of the conservative movement.**

So when I was talking about civil disobedience with regards to global warming, it occurred to me that what we desperately need now are people to stand athwart the end of history, yelling Stop.  I am far from alone in doing so -- and far, far from the loudest of voices doing so.  I can only dream of having a fraction of the impact in trying to stop the end of history that Buckley had in trying to stop history itself.  But since the phrase is there, I thought I'd make it my own.

(It also has another angle I like: it can be read also as a cri de coeur on the end of the humanities (history specifically, but the humanities generally) at our universities, and their decline in the culture.  In that sense, too, I'd like to stand athwart the end of history, yelling Stop.)

* And consequently removed the motto I previously had, "vilely determined to cheat the people of their rightful viscose", the explanation of which can be found in this post here.  I was sad to loose it, but decided I liked the new one sufficiently to replace it.  For now.

** It would probably be unkind to point out that stopping history in 1955 meant stopping the Civil Rights Movement, second wave feminism and the Gay Rights Movement, to say nothing of the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war.  On the other hand, it's true, given what Buckley wrote and when he wrote it.   (And even if he didn't mean it about the Soviet Union & the cold war, he unquestionably meant it about the other three liberation movements.)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

My Increasingly-Self Conscious Annual Thanksgiving Wish

Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing.... Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

-- Psalm 100:2, 4

ANYA: I love a ritual sacrifice.
BUFFY: It's not really a one of those.
ANYA: To commemorate a past event, you kill and eat an animal. It's a ritual sacrifice. With pie.

-- Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Pangs" by Jane Espenson
Thanksgiving is a holiday, and holidays are rituals. And one of my holiday rituals is to give thanks to you, Noble Reader, for reading. Not all sentences said ritualistically are heartfelt -- it goes with the territory -- but this one always is.* I am thankful that you have dropped by; I hope you will come back again. That I am copying and pasting this paragraph from last year's post -- save for this self-referential sentence -- does not in any way alter or diminish this fact (he said speech act-ily.)

And please note that, with the exception of this paragraph, this entire post was cut & paste from last year's, which means that all the sentences talking about how I just cut & paste everything save that sentence were themselves cut & paste, and the other sentences were copied from copies.  If I wasn't always so busy right before Thanksgiving, perhaps I might some day write something new.  In the meantime, I will point out that, once again, this post is no less heartfelt for my heart having felt it last year at the same season.

I wish everyone a joyful Thanksgiving, however (and whether) you celebrate it, and to whomever (and however) you give thanks.

* Yes, that sentence noting that the ritualistic sentence is said not just ritualistically but sincerely is now, itself, a part of my Thanksgiving ritual. I will note that it, too, is said sincerely and not just realistically, and shudder at the inevitable extrapolation of this trend. (As, for instance, the slightly odd shudder I get at copying & pasting the previous sentence from last year's post...)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Quote Unquote

Here are some interesting things I've read recently.  If you like the quoted bits, click through, because you'll probably like the rest too.  Most of these links via twitter, which I am still enslaved to by the power of the Dark Lord using, even post-election.  (Update: several quotes added.)

On race in George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones series:
...the troubling thing about the Dothraki isn’t how different they are from the Westerosi.  It’s how similar they all are to each other.... In Martin’s “non-Anglo” cultures, and in Orientalist literature more generally, the layers are collapsed.  The individuals don’t move within their society, rather, they are fully-formed instances of their society....

This is where Martin’s depiction of cultural “otherness” becomes fascinating to me, because I think it actually tells us something profound about our own internal models of cultural difference.  We don’t think of our own culture as the be-all and end-all of our abilities and opinions. We see ourselves as free agents operating within a culture, and because we accord ourselves that freedom we tend to accord it to other people in our culture as well.  But when it comes to other cultures, we have much more of a tendency to see people simply as tokens or instances of the broader cultural category they come from, which means that their “is known” and “I know” are collapsed. Most of us try to guard against this kind of thinking, as it’s pretty much textbook racial stereotyping. But it’s not hard to slip, and I think this is illustrated by how easy it is not to be bothered by Martin’s world. Lots of people roll their eyes at this aspect of the books, but it all pretty much works as storytelling.

-- Stokes, It is known — Game of Thrones, the Orient, and Conventional Wisdom
On giving away ebooks with the dead-trees version (via; see also)
What indie rock bands have figured out is that the purchase of music does not have to be an either/or proposition. They don’t make their customers choose between analog or digital. Whenever you buy a record from just about any indie band, it comes with either a CD or with a card that contains a URL and a download code so you can get a digital copy at no additional cost.... And guess what? This strategy works: vinyl is in resurgence....

Hardcovers books have similar characteristics to vinyl records. They can be bought in independent book stores that often have knowledgeable staff. The physical artifact is a pleasure to hold and to read. It has a fidelity that is not yet matched via the digital medium. There is a ritual to taking a book off the shelf, settling into a favorite chair, and losing oneself in the text. And like the vinyl record before it, the hardcover book is losing ground to digital formats. According the Association of American Publishers, as reported in GalleyCat, 2012 is the first year that revenues from e-book sales will eclipse that of hardcovers. E-books are gaining traction in the market for the same reasons that digital music has become the dominant format: convenience. It is more convenient to simply press a “Download to Kindle” button than to trudge out to the bookstore (as pleasant as it might be once you are there) or even to order a physical book online. It is also far more convenient to pack a single Kindle with multiple books on it as opposed to packing numerous physical books when traveling...

There are likely many people like myself who prefer a solid hardcover. I like the feel of it, am more comfortable reading on paper as opposed to a screen, and I sleep better knowing that it will probably not mysteriously vanish from my bookshelf if the computer system at the bookstore I purchased it from doesn’t like my travel patterns. However, given that I do travel a lot, carrying a heavy hardcover (or three) around is just not practical. Just as with music, I like the analog edition and am willing to pay more for it, but I am not going to choose it over the vastly more convenient digital edition – and I am most certainly not going to buy both. So why are publishers making their best customers choose and watching idly as they do in fact choose, in increasing numbers, a format that is not as lucrative for publishers and that is rapidly leading to an over-reliance on a small number of distributors?

-- Michael Clarke, "What Can Publishers Learn from Indie Rock?"
On the supposed "New Republicans":
There has been a lot of talk since the election about the possible emergence of a new faction within the Republican party, or at least among the conservative intelligentsia. These new Republicans, we’re told, are willing to be more open-minded on cultural issues, more understanding of immigrants, and more skeptical that trickle-down economics is enough; they’ll favor direct measures to help working families.

So what should we call these new Republicans? I have a suggestion: why not call them “Democrats”?

...On economic issues the modern Democratic party is what we would once have considered “centrist”, or even center-right. Obama’s Heritage-Foundation-inspired health care plan is to the right of Richard Nixon’s. Nobody with political influence is suggesting a return to pre-Reagan tax rates on the wealthy. Fantasies about Obama as a socialist, redistributionist hater of capitalism bear no more resemblance to reality than fantasies about his birthplace or religion.

-- Paul Krugman, "The New Republicans"
On the conservatives are against big government myth:
The conservative movement is not about small government, it is about privatized government. From Bush and Ryan's attempts to privatize Social Security, to turning Medicare into a Groupon, to bringing private industry into the military, every step involves introducing market agents into government processes and pushing market risk to individuals. This continued under Mitt Romney's big policy ideas. He had an idea for taking our system of unemployment insurance and turning it into a system of private unemployment savings accounts. He wanted to fix higher education costs by expanding the for-profit industry, which would "hold down the cost of education," even though they are far more expensive than their non-profit equivalents.

-- Mike Konczal, "What Are Conservatives Getting Wrong About the Economy? (Douthat Reply Edition)"
On the next step after the current assault in Gaza:
Since the bombing began, both sides have asked how this ends. If the answer is something other than with a repetition in a few more years—a perpetual state of war—Israelis must wrestle with the question of their own identity. No, that question is not the clichéd one: Does Israel have a right to exist? Rather, the more imperative question is: Is the way in which Israel exists—as an occupier, a colonizer, and ultimately, as an apartheid state—right? Is there another solution, involving a single, democratic state?

...Moving forward, what is needed is a fundamental change in the way Israelis view their relations with Palestinian Arabs. Yes, Palestinians have a role and will continue to fight for their rights in hopes of achieving a just and peaceful outcome. But at this stage it is Israel—and only Israel—that controls the ever changing realities on the ground. It would be easy for Israeli leaders to postpone facing this reality, but it would also be cowardly. The onus is on them.
-- Yousef Munayyer, "When the Smoke Clears in Gaza"
On superheroes, the status quo, and imagining change:
Graeber points out that the superheroes are always seeking to maintain the status quo, even though the status quo is not by any means fair or just in its own right. It’s as if they don’t have the imagination to think of how things could be changed for the better.

Reading this, I realized that this is a fundamental pattern: It’s easier to say what you don’t want than what you want. It’s easier to point out the problems with other people’s solutions than it is to suggest your own. It’s easier to rally to fight something you disagree with that it is to organize around a shared vision of what could be. In short: Fighting is easy. Creating is hard.

Imagination is a very sensitive thing. If you think too much about how things could be different, you tend to get bummed out about how impossible it seems to change them. And if you tell people around you how you’d like things to be different, they might call you a dreamer or a communist or a utopianist. And they’ll probably laugh at you.

In a way, we’re all just super-villains with low self-esteem. We’re so unused to imagining how the world could be any different that it takes a lot of courage even to try. And even more so when we decide to act upon our ideas to affect the change we want to see in the world.

-- Andreas Lloyd, "Fighting is Easy. Creating is Hard."
(That essay will justifiably annoy superhero fans who will note that this has, in fact, been one of the major themes of many of the best superhero stories over the past quarter century, and that it's written without any evident knowledge of that fact.  Still worth reading, though.  Also note that the David Graeber piece that Lloyd jumps off of is this one, which I previously linked here along with other similarly themed pieces.)

And, from the New Yorker, Le Blog de Jean Paul Sartre:
I was awakened this morning by the sound of an insistent knocking at my door. It was a man in a brown suit. He seemed to be in a hurry, as if Death itself were pursuing him.

“One always dies too soon—or too late,” I told him. “And yet one’s whole life is complete at that moment, with a line drawn neatly under it, ready for the summing up. You are—your life, and nothing else.”

“Okay,” he said. “But I’m just the UPS guy.”

“Oh,” I said. “I— Oh.”

“Sign here,” he said.

“I thought you were a harbinger of Death,” I told him.

“I get that a lot,” he said...

-- Bill Barol, "Le Blog de Jean Paul Sartre"
On writing and literature:
Writerly vanity is like a vicious dog chained up outside the house. You try to starve and neglect the dog into silence, but sometimes he becomes so clamorous that he must be fed if you’re going to be able to ignore him again.

-- Adam Kirsch, "Rocket and Lightship"
-- I hesitate to endorse this piece, as it is (in my view) deeply uneven, containing some wonderful parts but also some sheer rubbish, and a fair amount of grandiose preening.  I'm not even sure if the good outweighs the bad.  But the good has its own merits that are not tarnished by the bad, in recognition of which I thought I'd link.

On the lie that we need to cut social security, medicare and medicaid:
...in the future, we will be able to afford all the health care we consume today, plus all the other stuff we consume today, and then some. That means that, for example, seniors can enjoy the same level of health benefits that they enjoy today, and the rest of us can still be better off than we are now. And it isn't even close. Forty years from now we will be, on average, twice as well-off as we are today....

So the real point isn't that we can't afford Social Security and Medicare. It's that some people don't want to pay the higher taxes necessary to maintain Social Security and Medicare. This is a question of distribution, pure and simple.

...When people say that we can't afford our entitlement programs, they're really saying that rich people won't pay the taxes necessary to sustain our entitlement programs.

-- James Kwak, "The U.S. Does Not Have a Spending Problem, We Have a Distribution Problem"
On the claim that Hamas targets civilians while Israel does not:
And as one of those civilians who used to be targeted on the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, I have no problem saying that intentionally targeting civilians is wrong—is, in fact, a war crime.... But I weary of the desperate clinging to the word “unintentional” on my side of this decades-long war....

Whether these corpses can be considered collateral damage, accidents, the unintended outcome of well-targeted efforts—simply no longer matters to me. When your state has piled up more than 3000 dead bodies, more than 1,300 of them the bodies of children, it simply no longer matters.

If we accept at face value the idea that Israel takes every possible precaution to preclude civilian deaths (a notion I cannot help but question when I read reports like this, and this, and this), then we are left with only one possible explanation: Rank, criminal incompetence.
If we reject the idea of incompetence (though I have yet to meet a human being incapable of serious error), then we are left with only one other possible explanation: Rank, criminal indifference.
I can already hear the protests that Hamas and other militants hide among civilians, that they are really to blame for these deaths, that it’s not Israel’s fault—and I do not deny that Palestinian extremists share the blame.
But is it really “hiding among civilians” to go to your own house? Is it really “hiding among civilians” to drive down a residential street?

And what if the shoe were on the other foot? Are we willing to say that Israeli soldiers are “hiding among civilians” when they ride city buses, or that Israel’s Defense Ministry is “hiding among civilians” because it’s located in the very heart of Tel Aviv? Yes, Hamas are terrorists and the IDF is a state’s army—but are military targets in civilian locales legitimate, or not?

-- Emily L. Hauser, "Incompetence or Indifference?"

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Impending Apocalypse Low Priority Compared to Future Budget Deficits

This is the way the world ends...

Shorter Barack Obama: Climate change is real, and serious, but it's a tough challenge, so fuck it, let's fiddle while the world burns.

Here's something that Obama could do unilaterally if he wished.  And it sounds like this idea is one Obama could do unilaterally too.  So Congress me no Congress: he could help, if he cared.  He just doesn't care enough.

Geoengineering: it's in your future!

• From Nature:
I have yet to meet a climate scientist who does not believe that global warming is a worse problem than they thought a few years ago. The seriousness of this change is not appreciated by politicians and the public. The scientific world carefully measures the speed with which we approach the cliff and will, no doubt, carefully measure our rate of fall. But it is not doing enough to stop it...

Recognition of the facts is delayed by the frankly brilliant propaganda and obfuscation delivered by energy interests that virtually own the US Congress....

Scientists are understandably protective of the dignity of science and are horrified by publicity and overstatement. These fears, unfortunately, are not shared by their opponents, which makes for a rather painful one-sided battle. Overstatement may generally be dangerous in science (it certainly is for careers) but for climate change, uniquely, understatement is even riskier and therefore, arguably, unethical.

It is crucial that scientists take more career risks and sound a more realistic, more desperate, note on the global-warming problem. Younger scientists are obsessed by thoughts of tenure, so it is probably up to older, senior and retired scientists to do the heavy lifting. Be arrested if necessary. This is not only the crisis of your lives — it is also the crisis of our species’ existence. I implore you to be brave.

-- Jeremy Grantham, Be Persuasive. Be Brave. Be Arrested (If Necessary).
From the Harvard Business Review:
...the math is not pretty, but it is what it is.... Let's not let politics or fear of the size of the task ahead get in the way of today's climate math... Climate math is simply a constraint on the imaginary formula that is business as usual. But constraints drive innovation. We in the business community respect numbers and the best companies love challenges. Let's prove it.
"But what can I do?"

I think the moment for mass civil disobedience is upon us.  Someone needs to stand athwart the end of history, yelling Stop.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Tidbits, Short Takes and Links

• Overall, the Obama win feels less like a glorious victory & more like a near-miss car collision that you're thankful to have walked away from unscathed.

• So if Romney *had* shown his tax returns, would he have won? Or would he have lost even bigger? We'd have to see them to know...

• LBJ famously said, after signing the 1964 Civil Rights Act, that it would cost the Democratic party the South for a generation.  Perhaps he should have added, after signing the 1965 immigration reform bill, "...and this is how we'll get it back."

• Dear students: folding over one corner does not keep two pieces of paper together. Use a stapler. Love, a grumpy teacher.

• So I understand that we're now all supposed to be interested in former CIA director Petraeus's sex life, and his mistress's enemies lover, and so forth.  My inner paranoid thinks the media's obsessing over Petraeus to distract us from the robbery of the public under cover of deficit hype.

• If you remove Jindal's "we must not be the party that" qualifiers from in front of them, then these seem like pretty accurate descriptions of the Republican party today:
  • "the party of big business, big banks, big Wall Street bailouts, big corporate loopholes"
  • "the party that simply protects the rich so they get to keep their toys"
  • "dumbed-down conservatism... being simplistic... [and] insulting the intelligence of the voters"
Sounds about right.  In fairness, the first definitely applies to the Democrats too, albeit less so.

NPR reporter misreads present-day novel as future apocalypse due to denial about climate change.

Call it peace or call it treason, call it love or call it reason, but I ain't marchin' any more.

Yglesias on the larger-picture problem with GOP poll denialism:
Common sense just turns out to be a poor guide to a lot of complicated social phenomena.... sociologically speaking, being on the same side as expert opinion is a high-status concept inside liberal and Democratic Party circles. This sociological embrace of expertise acts to temper the psychological mechanism of confirmation bias. On the right, the idea of academic expertise is held in low esteem. Conservatives accurately perceive that academia is hostile to nationalism and religious traditionalism and thus become much more prone to become out of touch with academic knowledge or to reject valid academic insights even on other topics. The same mechanism that can make you clueless about the meaning of "independent" self-identification can also lead to dangerously misleading public policy conclusions. Common sense and going with your gut are a poor way to understand the world.
Wow. Or should I say 惊人.

Buffy episodes summarized in limericks.  They're up to mid-season-three so far...

• I think the Walmart strikes are the most hopeful story in the news right now.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Quote of the Day: Krugman on Conservatives on Socialism

One thing that caught my eye, in particular, has been the wailing that Americans have turned socialist. (Conservatives haven’t failed America — America has failed conservatives!) Thus John Hinderaker of Bush is a genius fame declares,
To me, the most telling incident of the campaign season was a poll that found that among young Americans, socialism enjoys a higher favorability rating than free enterprise. How can this possibly be, given the catastrophic failure of socialism, and the corresponding success of free enterprise, throughout history? The answer is that conservatives have entirely lost control over the culture.
Oddly, he doesn’t even seem to consider the more obvious possibility: after decades in which right-wingers have attacked long-established institutions — Social Security, progressive taxation, unemployment insurance — as “socialism”, a lot of young people now believe them, and think that this “socialism” thing really isn’t so bad. A case in point: Sheldon Adelson’s Israeli newspaper just ran the headline “America chooses socialism”, referring to the reelection of a president who enacted a health care reform originally proposed by the Heritage Foundation.

-- Paul Krugman
Sort of parallel to what right-wing zionists have been doing to the term "antisemitism", come to think of it.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

A Quote for Senator-Elect Tammy Baldwin

...and for the newly recognized couples in Maine, Maryland and Washington:
Somewheres in Des Moines or San Antonio there is a young gay person, who all the sudden realizes that she or he is gay; knows that if the parents find out, they will be tossed out of the house, the classmates will torture the child, and the Anita Bryants and John Briggs are doing their bit on TV. And that child has several options: staying in the closet; suicide... And then one day that child might open up the paper and it says “Homosexual elected in San Francisco” and there are two new options: [an] option is to go to California; or to stay in San Antonio and fight. Two days after I was elected I got a phone call -- and the voice was quite young: it was from Altoona, Pennsylvania. And the person said “Thanks”. And you’ve got to elect gay people, so that that young child, and the thousands upon thousands like that child, know that there's hope for a better world, there's hope for a better tomorrow. Without hope, not only gays, but those blacks, the Asians, disabled, seniors -- the 'us'es, the 'us'es: without hope the 'us'es give up. I know that you can’t live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you, and you, and you, and you've got to give them hope.

-- Harvey Milk, 1978
And in video:

A great night for equality and dignity and happiness.

The Morning After

...although I am bummed about Nate Shinagawa.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Resistance was Futile: I Have Been Assimilated

I was following the whole !@#$% election on Twitter and got tired of having ten windows open, so I signed up:
I may not keep it up, but for now, I have some reactions over there.

Just call me Locutus.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Depressing Pre-Election Thought of the Day

Maybe Republican pundits are predicting Romney's victory, despite polls which suggest Obama is narrowly but distinctly favored, because they're confident that their voter suppression will work and hand the crucial states to Romney despite the will of the voters.

After all, it worked in 2000...