October 30, 2011

Memories

The older you get, the more terrain your memory has to wander over, around, and through. For a three-year old, a year is one-third of their life. For me, a year is ... well, considerably less as a percentage. The same is true for decades. The 90s were yesterday; the 70s not all that long ago. For most people reading this, the 70s are already a distant memory of childhood.

And the 60s? Well, hardly a year went by that wasn't filled with history. The first three years were all about the Kennedy's. The middle years belonged to Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. Then it was all Richard Nixon and Vietnam all the time. Things really didn't slow down until the mid-70s, when Gerald Ford brought a return to some sense of normalcy. I know what you're thinking. We had a president named Gerald?

The most memorable moment of history I witnessed was Jackie Kennedy standing on the steps of the Capitol, John-John and Caroline clutching her hands as they stood beside her, two tiny figures dressed in their Sunday best, waiting for their father's coffin to arrive. Then came the muffled drum beats of the procession, the horse-drawn caisson bearing the coffin, lead in to the Capitol by the horse without a rider, the reversed boots in the stirrup.

I don't recall seeing little John-John give his salute, but I do know that someone standing near me had a little transistor radio and there was an excited announcer reporting that Lee Harvey Oswald had been shot in a Dallas jail. A surreal moment on a surreal day during a surreal decade.

Vietnam still lay ahead, but for me--and I suspect for a lot of others in my generation--the dream was over when Kennedy was killed. The life in the New Frontier that I thought I might have no longer seemed possible. We thought we would inherit Camelot. Instead, we got Vietnam and Watergate.

This is not meant as a lament or a complaint. We got to witness the most tumultuous decade in modern American history. We were, as the saying goes, condemned to live in interesting times. Priceless.

October 25, 2011

East Meets West

We talk all the time about the carrying capacity of Earth for disasters, both man-made and otherwise. The giant tsunami that devastated the coast of Japan took away with it a massive pile of flotsam and jetsam that is now floating eastwards towards the United States. This Texas-sized debris-field of household and industrial waste, much of it highly toxic, is unprecedented in the scope of the problems it raises. How will it be cleaned up? Can it be cleaned up? Where would you put all that debris? Who will pay? If you wanted a perfect metaphor for the perfect storm of environmental, economic and political problems facing us, look no further.


Bob Dylan Revisited

The poet's eyes see farther than most. Two excerpts from Bob Dylan songs written in the 60s. The first is from "Ballad of a Thin Man"; the second from "A Hard Rain's A-Coming."
You walk into the room with your pencil in your hand
You see somebody naked and you say 'Who is that man?'
You try so hard but you don't understand
just what you will say when you get home
because something is happening here but you don't know what it is
do you, Mr. Jones?
You raise up your head and you ask 'Is this where it is?'
and somebody points to you and says 'It's his'
and you say 'what's mine?' and somebody else says 'well what is?'
and you say 'Oh my god am I here all alone?'
but something is happening and you don't know what it is
do you, Mr. Jones?
--------------------------------------------------
And what'll you do now, my blue-eyed son ?
And what'll you do now my darling young one ?
I'm a-goin' back out 'fore the rain starts a-fallin'
I'll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are a many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
Where the executioner's face is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I'll tell and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it
Then I'll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin'
But I'll know my songs well before I start singin'
And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, and it's a hard
It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

October 20, 2011

The 99 Percent Solution

The Occupy Wall Street  movement is all the media rage right now. As is to be expected in this age of blogs, several devoted to the topic have sprung up lately. One of the better known ones is called, simply enough, We Are the 99 Percent. The format consists of a picture of someone holding up a hand-written screed explaining how they came to be a member of the 99 percent. There are a handful from the 1 percent, who seem equally perturbed at the way things are, just for different reasons.

My reaction after reading a few pages of the site was not what I expected. Instead of nodding my head sympathetically at the plight of the downtrodden, I found myself agreeing with some of the critics who complain that many of the OWS'ers come across as over-educated, under-employed whiners complaining about the consequences of decisions they made.

Okay, so maybe I was a bit harsh. Some of the tales are genuinely heart-wrenching. We all know about the health care mess. Some people are so poor that their medical costs are covered. Others make enough money to afford (or barely afford) health care, however inadequate or expensive it might be. In between are those who make too much money to be eligible for Medicaid but the health plan is either too expensive to afford or not offered at all. If you are in that group and are afflicted with a chronic condition, you are pretty much on your own.

What really struck me was the number of people complaining about student loans. The old American dream of "get all the education you can get" has morphed into a nightmare of long-term, unforgivable debt that is barely doable in a thriving economy but the complete undoing of many people in an economy without work. According to USA Today, Americans now owe more in student loans than for credit card debt. Each is approaching the $1 trillion level. Not surprisingly, the default rate is climbing right along with loan levels.

Just as the social contract that used to exist between management and labor has gone South, the idea that if you get a better education you will get a better job is being pushed to the brink of extinction by the bleak economy. The survivors are gathering together in places like Zucotti Park to find a way to sue for breach of contract of the American Dream.

But the American Dream has never come with a money-back guarantee. There are precious few safety nets. Guess wrong and you could be in for a long fall.

October 13, 2011

Mad As Hell!

The folks occupying Wall Street are tapping into the widespread feeling among the American people that we have been screwed over and screwed with once or twice or thrice too often.  Our homes are as worthless as our pensions. If we aren't out of work, then we are scared shitless that we will be. The solutions only seem to make the problems worse. Frustration boils over, and with frustration comes anger. No one put it better than Howard Beale, in the 1976 movie Network. 1976! Damn near forty freaking years ago. Makes you realize that we have been in this movie for a long time.

October 7, 2011

Understanding Global Warming

Here is a simple thought exercise to help you understand why—when it comes to global warming and forced climate change—what you see is not what you will get.

Imagine a pot you have just filled with cold water. Place that pot over a heat source and watch. For a long time ... nothing happens, hence the old saying about a watched-pot that never boils. Eventually, small bubbles will form on the bottom of the pot. Those bubbles will rise to the top and gently shake the surface of the water in a simmer. Then a tipping point is reached. Bubble production is constant and rapid, and you suddenly having a rolling boil. Now turn your heat source off, and then wait until you think it is cool enough to stick your finger into the water.

What have we learned? First, water can heat for a long time without anything visible happening. But once the process of boiling begins, the progression is ever more rapid from nothing to simmer to a rolling boil. Second, once water reaches a boil, it takes a long time for it to cool down to where you would feel safe sticking your finger back into it. Even longer to return to its original temperature.

This is why climate scientists are so worried. An enormous amount of heat has been building up in the oceans and atmosphere. Like our hypothetical pot of water, there weren't a lot of visible effects for a long time. But now things are beginning to simmer. And given that we have done little to turn down the heat, the progression to boiling is inevitable and increasingly rapid.

Bottom  Line: We are past the point of preventing climate change forced by global warming. All we can do is sit back and watch the pot boil. Here's the kicker. Even if we did somehow magically turn off the heat right now—which you and I both know ain't going to happen any time soon—it would take a very long time for the atmosphere to cool back down.

Don't believe me? Check it out for yourself. You owe it to yourself and your kids and their kids.

October 5, 2011

The End Is Near!

Take a good look at the guy carrying the sign warning the end is near ... yes, that would be me. Believe it or not, I'm pretty much a glass-half-full kind of guy. So, how did I get to be that person?

When I started looking into the subject of climate change, I was thinking if ... if it is true. Then I progressed from if to when ... when it begins in a few decades. At last, I reached the now ... we are knee-deep in Big Muddy right now, and the water is rising (literally and figuratively) faster than we can walk, run, or swim to the other side.

The economic and ecological perfect storm that has been gathering in intensity for the last couple of decades has finally broken. We are reeling from the aftershocks of a global economy in meltdown and a climate pendulum that is swinging faster and wider with each passing season.

The two feed on each other: the quest for endless economic growth to sustain our ever growing population—the seven billionth person will be born sometime in the coming weeks—means massive amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are pumped into the sky. This has permanent and long-term impacts on the climate and the environment, which in turn limits our capacity to grow.

The short period of time I have been engaged in the issue of climate change has been characterized by denial and delay. And now it is my firm belief that we have denied and delayed our way to a point of no return. The problems associated with global warming and the resultant climate change it forces can no longer be prevented. That ship has sailed. And the global economy is melting down right along with a warming climate.

So now the only alternative we are left with is to batten down the hatches and ride out this perfect storm of a forced ecological and economic realignment to a new equilibrium. Here is my question to you: If this analysis is accurate, then what exactly is your government doing about it? Come to think about it, what are you doing about it?