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Condemned to repeat?

Ecological disaster bad enough to destroy people has happened before. The only difference was the limited technology of the times, and therefore the limited scope of the dying.

Sean Gallagher has a striking report, a series of pictures each worth thousands of words.

Parched hills of Yinpan. Soil erosion has uncovered a few skulls in the foreground.  Photo by Sean Gallagher.

That was then. Two thousand years ago, Yinpan in Central Asia was a major stop on the Silk Road. The water table changed. People couldn’t or didn’t adapt, until the water –and the people — disappeared over a thousand years ago. Soil erosion still uncovers traces of them, but the water never came back.

This is now.

Brownout sky from blowing dust, a sickly tree being shredded in the wind, and rock-strewn waterless ground.  Photo by Sean Gallagher.

A dust storm raised from the desertified former farm land in China. Life stops. If you have to go outside, you wear a dust mask and choke. The dust is fine as talc and gets everywhere. It’s in your toothbrush, your clothes, your dishes. It clogs your car, it ruins machinery, it gums up your mp3 player. It costs money. It shortens lifespans. The dust travels for hundreds of miles, blanketing Beijing during dry seasons, and sometimes even making murk in the skies of the Western U.S.

The earliest signature of anthropogenic global warming was polar and nighttime warming. We got that, but we’re not polar bears so it wasn’t important. One of the next symptoms is higher temperatures in the middle of large continents. That’s where most of the world’s grain grows. Places like Kansas won’t just be hot in the summer. They’ll be hot enough for old people and babies to die. Plants will wither in the heat no matter how much they’re watered. And it won’t take long before there’s nothing to water them with. If people can’t or won’t adapt, the water table will sink lower and lower. The surface will get drier and drier. There will be dust storms.

Then there’s the future. Photo #1 will describe the future as well as the past.

And you know what’s the worst of it? It doesn’t have to be that way. It Does Not Have To Be That Way. This isn’t the sun going nova on us and frying all life on earth no matter what we do. This isn’t beyond our control. Yet. All we’d have to do is little things, lots and lots of little things, all together, all the time. Nothing heroic, unfortunately. Just wimpy stuff like cooperation and keeping promises.

Sometimes, when the alternative is photo #1, people can do the most amazing things. Even work together.

Here’s just one example of a small unheroic thing that could be part of the solution. I saw this in the news recently.

yellow pontoon-looking thing with the wave power generation unit between the two floats
1) A new, small-scale way of making electricity from wave power. It’s more or less a buoy that bobs up and down, has some gizmos to harvest the energy of the bobbing, and some failsafes in case of storms. It’s easier to maintain and less sinkable than huge megawatt projects, and units can be chained together to yield more power.

2) When a weak electric current is applied to metal scaffolding in seawater, limestone precipitates out of the water onto the metal where it builds up for a while, until the encrustation is thick enough to insulate the current. But — there are two important buts — some limestone forms and the scaffold is colonized by corals if it’s an area where they can grow. It’s not clear yet whether the current helps the corals to grow, but since something to grow on is their limiting factor, some scaffolds mean more corals than no scaffolds. (More here and here.)

Why does that matter, aside from the fact that corals are gorgeous? They’re basically blocks of limestone with a film of life on the surface. And that matters because limestone is calcium carbonate. CaCO3. A molecule of carbon dioxide (CO2) goes into every molecule of calcium carbonate.

Imagine fleets of those pontoon wave power things, towing their webs of scaffolding. Besides generating some energy and helping corals to grow, carbon dioxide would be taken out of circulation, one tiny invisible bit at a time. Imagine millions of wave power pontoons, doing this. And when the weight of all those corals and barnacles and whatnot made the thing sink, we’d float out another one. And another one, and another one.

Same as with all the other things we have to do to reverse global warming, it would cost some money and we’d have to keep doing it, all together, all the time. That’s all.

Wanda Syke(ophant)s

Ben Shapiro writes at Big Hollywood:

Wanda Sykes, by contrast, is the most gutless and feckless performer ever to grace the White House Correspondents Dinner.


She recently proclaimed during the California Prop. 8 debate that “Everybody that knows me personally, they know I’m gay … Now, I gotta get in their face.  I’m proud to be a woman.  I’m proud to be a black woman, and I’m proud to be gay.”

Well, apparently she’s not so proud to be gay.  Because when given the opportunity to make jokes about the nation’s leading proponent of opposite-sex marriage, President Barack Obama, she said precisely nothing.  Instead, she chose to gently stroke his ego with jokes about his pecs, his dog, and his basketball skills.


Nobody has the obligation to “speak truth to power” when given the opportunity.  Sometimes it’s okay just to be funny.  But if one is given the opportunity to speak truth to power, sees him/herself as a champion of “speaking truth to power,” and instead chooses to spend the time excoriating the power’s opposition, that would be sycophantic stupidity of the worst kind.

You don’t speak truth to power by kissing its ass until your lips are chapped, meanwhile saving your worst attacks for people who aren’t even there.  This is how you do it:

Continue reading

Monday: Since last we met

IMG_0129The picture to the left is a glass sculpture in the entrance foyer of the Museum of Glass in Corning, NY.  I spent the past couple of days in a weekend rental in a nearby enclave so remote that there was no cell signal for any of our party’s various carriers.  No cell signal; no internet.  Well, at least I slept at night but I was somewhat cutoff from reality and need a bit of time to catch up. One thing I do know, after spending the weekend with a bunch of self-identified conservatives: they do not particularly like being in the out group.  They complain that “conservative” is suddenly a dirty word.  I replied that now they know how it felt to be called a liberal for the past 16 years, except that conservatives during the Bush era really screwed the pooch.  I wouldn’t expect that word to recover its cache in our lifetime.

They are still convinced that Obama is a socialist.  No matter how much I try to tell them he is really a very weak executive who is at best Republican Lite, they think he is the first cousin of Chairman Mao.  The news media has been very effective in that respect.  I don’t know how the Democrats are going to deal with this problem.  Clearly, they have their work cut out for them.  The reinstitution of the Fairness Doctrine is long overdue.

In the meantime, Planet Money has a fascinating battle of wills interview between Adam Davidson and Elizabeth Warren that is a must listen.  Some people simply do not get it.  Davidson is one of these people.  The country has changed, profoundly.  We are talking about wage deflation in the past couple of weeks, a sure sign of the recent calamity.  But Warren has been tracking the effect of wage stagnation on the American consumer for much longer.  American workers do not benefit from the fruits of their productivity.  What Americans need is a raise so they can afford to buy a house and send their kids to college.  But the way the Obama administration has “solved” the banking crisis will pretty much guarantee the opposite of a raise.  We are going to be burdened with an undercapitalized banking system, tight credit and higher taxes for decades to come.

Our “middleclassness” is going to be drained away by bankers and their shareholders who were saved from suffering the ill-effects of their own risky behavior.  And given the nature of the beast, we can expect them to continue to act out and gamble away our life savings until they are stopped. Under these circumstances, you have to wonder if Americans wouldn’t be better off with regular pensions and boring, reliable rates of return than high stakes unpredictability of the 401K.  Many of us don’t want to play anymore.  But how do we stop the world so we can get off?

PS:  Adam Davidson reminds me of a LOT of men who for some peculiar reason can not take a woman’s opinion seriously.  He claims that all of the other “serious” people he talked to have a differing opinion.  Personally, I don’t believe this.  Paul Krugman, Simon Johnson and James Kwak seem to be very much of the same mindset as Elizabeth Warren.  Perhaps her focus has been the American family and theirs’ more generally macroeconomic in nature but these four people are saying essentially the same thing.  But SHE is under attack.  Davidson comes off as a jerk.  Oddly enough, this is not difficult for men.  They seem to think that all they need to do is disagree strongly enough about something with a woman in public or while the tape is running and they can get their female adversary to back down.  I’m betting he would NEVER have gone after Krugman this way, calling his speciality a “pet issue” and telling him he couldn’t take him seriously.   I hope this is the last time I ever hear some journalist call a well respected Harvard law professor unserious because she happens to be ahead of the others in the field.  I’m glad that Warren stood her ground on this.

Elizabeth Warren is right.  She is tracking the reintroduction of a neofeudalism to the American experience.  The finance industry is driving this.  Fixing the banking system for the bankers is going to make things  worse for American families.  That’s not partisan.  That’s reality.  Sometimes the right position is the LEFT position.  Get your head out of your ass, Adam.

Your Breakfast Read, Served By The Confluence

Morning Read

  • THE defining issue of the Obama presidency
  • Brace yourself. The next couple of days, you will be hearing a lot about that horrible “Canadian Healthcare”, “long lines in Britain”, “Socialist Healthcare”, “France”, “Healthcare decisions made by bureaucrats in DC instead of your doctor”, and all the other dreck we have been hearing since 1993 from the people who say “we have the best healthcare in the world, so don’t tamper with it”.

    Health care cost cuts could kick-start reform

    When President Bill Clinton took on health care reform, industry leaders fought back, killing the White House proposal before it could gain any traction.
    Now those industry leaders are trying to help President Barack Obama find a solution to the problem of uninsured Americans, offering $2 trillion in spending reductions over 10 years.

    Obama to unveil groups’ pledge to cut health care costs

    Congress Plans Incentives for Healthy Habits

    His Shrillness, Paul Krugman likes what he’s been hearing so far
    Harry, Louise and Barack

    A portrait of Ted Kennedy, the man who has been fighting the healthcare battles for decades
    The man at the center

    The opponents are already showing up with the same arguments. Quelle surprise!
    Ex-Hospital CEO Battles Reform Effort

    The television ads that began airing last week feature horror stories from Canada and the United Kingdom: Patients who allegedly suffered long waits for surgeries, couldn’t get the drugs they needed, or had to come to the United States for treatment.

    More from the usual suspects
    Republicans and the ‘Public Option’ (WSJ op-ed page)

    A case in which compromise means government health care.

  • GOP Quo Vadis?
  • Cheney backs Limbaugh over Powell on GOP future

    Dick Cheney made clear Sunday he’d rather follow firebrand broadcaster Rush Limbaugh than former Joint Chiefs chairman Colin Powell into political battle over the future of the Republican Party.

    Republican women: A minority in a minority

    Women make up almost 51 percent of the U.S. population but less than 10 percent of the House and Senate GOP — a gender disconnect that could make the Republicans’ climb back to power even steeper than it would be otherwise.
    Republican women in the House say they feel the problem — literally — when their male colleagues nudge them to the front of GOP press conferences to break up the solid lines of middle-aged white men in neckties.

    At least the GOP apparatchiks finaaly came up with the cause celebre that will bring back the party from the wilderness
    Gingrich still doesn’t want Obama to speak at Notre Dame

  • The latest from the “swine” flu
  • US has more swine flu cases than any other country, WHO says

    A portrait of Margaret Chan, WHO Director General
    Managing a Flu Threat With Seasoned Urgency

    There have been few more dramatic moments at the World Health Organization than the late-night gathering on April 29 when Dr. Margaret Chan, its powerful director general, declared that the human race was in peril.

  • Af-Pak Headache
  • This one could be very ugly
    Concerns white phosphorus used in Afghan battle

    The American military denied using the incendiary in the battle in Farah province — which President Hamid Karzai has said killed 125 to 130 civilians — but left open the possibility that Taliban militants did. The U.S. says Taliban fighters have used white phosphorus, a spontaneously flammable material that leaves severe chemical burns on flesh, at least four times the last two years.

    Pakistan steps up Swat offensive

    Shaky Pakistan Is Seen as a Target of Plots by Al Qaeda

  • In the Middle East
  • King Abdullah of Jordan has some interesting thoughts
    Netanyahu meeting with Obama decides Mid-East’s future

    Barack Obama aims high on first visit to the Arab world

    Pope embarks on tricky Israel visit

    Economic downturn finally hits Iraq

    iPhones in Iraq – the US Army’s new weapon

  • Economic woes
  • The Shrill One is worried
    U.S. risks lost decade due to half-steps: Krugman

    The United States risks a Japan-style lost decade of growth if it does not take aggressive action to stimulate its economy and clean up its banking system, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman said on Monday.

    “We’re doing half-measures that help the economy limp along without fully recovering, and we’re having measures that help the banks survive without really thriving,” Krugman said.

    Rupert Murdoch wants more from those who are not subscribers
    Micro-payments considered for WSJ website

    News Corp is planning to introduce micro-payments for individual articles and premium subscriptions to the Wall Street Journal’s website this year, in a milestone in the news industry’s race to find better online business models.

  • Startrekmania
  • Box Office Weekend: Star Trek Conquers the Universe

  • Fergawdsake!
  • Toilet bowl snake bites man on penis