Friday, December 19, 2014

Lots and Lots of Short Stories

Well, I finished the Tor eBook of 150 short stories which I talked about starting here. I used this as filler when I was babysitting Uncle Bruce - still going on after 9 months. It's getting really old. Hopefully turning my mind down to a 3YO level a couple of days a week for this long won't have a lasting effect. Meanwhile, he's really blossomed in that time: mall walking up to 3 miles, trolling for hugs and kisses the whole time; and spending the night with us in Lexington 6 times so far, including trips to Patchen Pub for the blues jam.

For the money (free), this was a very nice collection of stories. Ha ha, that's a cheap shot, it was a nice collection regardless of the price. I should have blogged the most noteworthy stories as I went, but, we'll just have to go from memory. Stories of note:

  • "A Clean Sweep With All The Trimmings" by James Alan Gardner, written in the style of Damon Runyon, was nicely odd and a lot of fun.
  • The Steven Gould story set in the "Jumper" universe, "Shade" was very enjoyable. I have his latest novel in this universe "Exo" in my iPad, but there's 20 other books to read there as well, so I'm not sure when I'll get to it.
  • I'm going to pan the stories by Peter Orullian. I just read the 1st one, "Sacrifice of the First Sheason", and the writing was so stilted that I did not read the other two of his stories that followed. That was the only time I did this.
  • The 2 stories by Jay Lake (now deceased) are very good.
  • I always like Robert Reed's short stories, and his 3 in this book do not disappoint. All of them kind of make you think.
  • I always think I should like Rudy Rucker's stuff, I'm afraid I just don't think he's a very good writer. All 3 of his stories in this volume are kind of stupid.
  • The John Scalzi story set in the "Old Man's War" universe is pretty good. I think it is one of the ones that wound up in "The Human Division". The other 2 are kind of dumb - I think Scalzi has trouble at times keeping his snark under control.
  • The 3 Charles Stross stories I had already read. I don't think Charlie could write a bad story if he tried.
  • The 6 Michael Swanwick stories are all good.
  • I particularly enjoyed all 4 stories by Rachel Swirsky. All very well written, all with real emotional content, all on very different themes in very different settings. I think I'll go right now and see what else she's written. Ok, I'm back. Too bad, no novels yet. One collection of short stories and poetry from 2010, "Through the Drowsy Dark". Kobo didn't have it so I had to just purchase the Kindle version.
  • The 7 Harry Turtledove stories are all enjoyable.
I also read another collection, "Hieroglph", subtitled "Stories and Visions for a Better Future". This collection appeared to be largely the brainchild of Neal Stephenson. The idea was, let's get away from cranking out Yet Another Dystopian Future, and instead write stories about bright, shiny new futures.

The stories are all pretty good, and it was indeed nice to get some positive views. I remain an optimist about our future, although it is hard sometimes. I'll comment on a few of the stories - SPOILER ALERT for the Karl Schroeder story.

  • "Atmosphaera Incognita", by Neal Stephenson, gets the stories off to a strong start. It's about building a 20km tall tower.
  • "Girl in Wave : Wave in Girl", by Kathleen Ann Goonan is particularly inspiring. It's about using brain nanos, developed to help autistics, to improve everyone's intelligence. That is a thought I've had many times: that if we're going to make it, we're going to have to get smarter. I see our smartphones as a step in the right direction. And I've said many times that, as soon as I can get my smartphone as a chip in my head, I'm going for it.
  • "The Man Who Sold the Moon", by Cory Doctorow I found very touching, particularly in describing a death. He pulls in a lot of his Burning Man experience - I doubt I'll ever make it.
  • "Degrees of Freedom", by Karl Schroeder I really liked. Millennials use big data and social media to basically replace the government. I've really been wondering if this is how that generation would go, given that they don't seem to vote. I really hopes that works out. I don't know if it does - the old lizards still own all the raw materials. But maybe Blockadia lets them sidestep that.
  • "The Man Who Sold the Stars", by Gregory Benford, seemed like I had read it before. Some of that good old school libertarian-fu, but still enjoyable.
  • "Entanglement", by Vandana Singh, is a very hopeful story, with technology connecting and strengthening people all over the world who are fighting the good fight.
  • "Covenant", by Elizabeth Bear, has a repaired serial killer as it's protagonist. Hard to have a story about a serial killer without it being at least a little creepy, and this story is that.
  • "The Day It All Ended", by Charlie Jane Anders. I think I've liked other of her stuff. This story is kind of a heartbreaker tho. You wish it were true, but you know, it's probably not.
One thing that is a little scary in this collection is that a number of the stories assume that we have had to try geoengineering to fight global warming. But, still, very hopeful, very enjoyable, I recommend it highly.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

One Nation

A few months ago I started following and being followed by a guy named Marshall (@ernie_bbuilderx) on Twitter. He's a conservative. He builds boats, and I mentioned to him how my great-uncle (paternal grandmother's brother) Everett Arthur built wooden sailboats by hand in Gulfport, MS, 50-60 years ago. We had a few tweet discussions that stayed civil. A couple of times when I trolled some of his retweets, other conservatives were not so civil. The conversations degenerated into name-calling (on their part) - so now I am officially a hypocrite and, proudly, a libtard.

I still follow Marshall, in the hope of drilling a tiny hole between the conservative Fox News echo chamber and the liberal MSNBC echo chamber. I read this book at his behest; he agreed to read my review, which follows. Note, I have never read a book like this before, i.e., a book written by someone wanting to run for president.


"One Nation" is the title of the 7th and latest book by Ben Carson, M.D., published in May, 2014. It is subtitled "What We Can All Do to Save America's Future". Dr. Carson is a retired black neurosurgeon who was raised by a single mother in inner city Detroit and Boston. Per Wikipedia, "He is credited with being the first surgeon to successfully separate conjoined twins joined at the head." Hah, he is 3 months younger than I am - 1951 birthdays rule!

He came into the political spotlight when he delivered the keynote address at the National Prayer Breakfast (for the second time, the only person besides Billy Graham to do so) in 2013. The address, which is reprinted in the book's preface, came under fire - by Fox News pundits?!?!? - for being overly politicized and critical of President Obama, who was seated 10 feet away. But this made him a darling to conservatives.

His next big burst of publicity came from comments he made about gay marriage. From Wikipedia:

Marriage is between a man and a woman. No group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality, it doesn’t matter what they are. They don't get to change the definition.

The gays didn't particularly appreciate being lumped in with pedophiles and practitioners of bestiality.

Dr. Carson in his wife founded the Carson Scholars Fund in 1994, which gives scholarships and trophies for academic achievement in grades 4-11, attempting to give academic achievement the same type of recognition that is given to athletic achievement. The fund has given out 5700 awards - a very laudable enterprise, IMO.

He had not been a member of any political party, but then, again per Wikipedia, "on the day of the 2014 midterms he joined the Republican Party as "truly a pragmatic move" because of the possibility of a presidential run in 2016."

The book is a quick and easy read - it is 256 pages in hardback, I read it in around 4 hours. It has a preface, 17 chapters in 3 parts of 6, 6, and 4 short chapters (chapter 1 comes before part 1), and an epilogue. The 3 parts are "Causes of Disunity and Decline", "Solutions", and "Who We Are".

Each chapter begins with a biblical quote from Proverbs - he reads from Proverbs every day, and the authorship of Proverbs is attributed to the biblical figure Solomon, which is his middle name. Chapters 2-16 each end with 4 "Action Steps" - exercises for the reader. (I didn't do the exercises, altho some of them were things I had already done.)

The book is peppered with anecdotes from his years of medical practice and growing up in the inner city.


So, where did I agree with Dr. Carson? I am 100% on board with his emphasis on education and reading. His mother made him and his brother turn off the TV and read. When our kids were growing up we had a hard-and-fast rule: "No TV after supper on a school night". And I tell all new parents, read with your kids, get them to love reading, and they will excel in their school work.

Reviewing the book to write this, Dr. Carson really doesn't have much of a plan to improve education, other than saying that the current state of our citizens' education is not good and emphasizing that it is mostly up to the individual, guided by their parents, to educate themself. Odd. He also did not comment on how in recent years our children have become a $M cost center for testing companies.

Chapter 2 of the book is titled "Political Correctness", which Dr. Carson attacks. I have a tag in this blog "politically incorrect", so I would have to confess that on occasion I am guilty of straying outside politically correct boundaries. But I think you should not allow a dislike for the, what, restrictiveness and maybe hypocrisy, of political correctness to make you think you have a license to be insensitive, particularly to groups who have been oppressed, maligned or otherwise downtrodden for centuries or millennia. Here's Dr. Carson:

They forbid the use of the word slavery by conservatives, the mention of Nazism by conservatives, or the mention of homosexuality in anything other than a positive context, to name a few of their rules.

...

I had my own run-in with the PCP when I said that I thought Obamacare was the worst thing in our country since slavery.

Conservatives compare many things to slavery, and I have never heard one of them that is actually even vaguely comparable, to any somewhat rational person, to the horror that was and is slavery - a horror whose legacy we are still living with in this country. And using "Nazism" - it is a truism on the Internet that once you start comparing things or people to Hitler or Nazis, whatever argument you were in is over. You've lost the argument, you're just trying to inflame your opponent. So, if we are trying to hold rational discourse, why do you want to stick your finger in the other person's eye?

I think Dr. Carson still stings a little bit from the flack he got over his gay remarks quoted above and this slavery comparison.

Note, I just used the word "sensitivity". Dr. Carson calls out "hypersensitivy" as stifling dialogue - but who draws the line between the two? Dr. Carson I think agrees with this well-known liberal, atheist homosexual:

I personally believe the more polite thing to do is to err on the side of not hurting someone else's feelings - particularly someone who comes from a group that has suffered oppression - unless they are being unreasonable and indeed "hypersensitive", in which case, you're probably better off keeping your mouth shut.

In this chapter Dr. Carson also introduces us to Saul Alinsky, whose book Rules for Radicals he says is the bible of the "political correctness police". I had never heard of either, I guess I will have to check them out.

I agree with Dr. Carson on most of Chapter 11, "Becoming Informed". This is a good reminder:

As a neuroscientist I can tell you unequivocally that it is impossible to overload the human brain with information.
In chapter 12, "Wisdom and Knowledge", we get into Dr. Carson's "Vision for a Wiser Health Care System".
I believe everyone should have a health savings account (HSA) and an electronic medical record (EMR) at the time of birth
The EMR is a great idea. Europe has had these for years. Everytime I get my annual physical, I have to fill out the same medical history form - what bad tech, in this day and age! Where is my smartcard with a chip to keep my whole medical history? In the US, tho, this kind of thing tends to be opposed by fundamentalist christians who equate such systems with "the mark of the beast" from the book of Apocalypse. Sigh :-(

The rest of Dr. Carson's system involves getting rid of health insurance companies, and instead having consumers interact directly with health care providers. I like getting rid of health insurance companies, the rest not so much, as we'll discuss below. But, there is next to no chance of his plan moving forward. Obamacare was originally a conservative program, which forestalled a single-payer system by keeping the insurance companies in place. The health insurance industry is one of the most powerful lobbies in DC. Everyone knew that a single payer system would have no chance of being passed, and could create too much chaos taking all the currently insured off their current plans. So Obamacare, designed by conservatives, was the compromise. So, again, the chances are really slim for Dr. Carson's system, even if it were desirable.

He also would like tort reform, which is a reasonable idea, within limits. But, the lawyers are as powerful a lobby in DC as the doctors and insurance companies are - not to mention that a large majority of legislators are lawyers. Ah, doctors vs lawyers, what's not to like?


I disagree with Dr. Carson far more than I agree, so I'm afraid this next section will be a good bit longer than the previous one. I will try to hold down the snark here, but, I've been a smart-ass my whole life, and I am indeed an old dog.

Overall, as a non-believer, I take issue with using religion as a basis for public policy making. For example, on taxation:

And when I pick up my Bible, you know what I see? I see the fairest individual in the Universe: God. And He’s given us a system. It’s called tithe.
But worse than this overall approach is the standard right-wing, conservative view of the US as being in decline. For example, as soon as he was told about the prayer breakfast address
I ... immediately begin praying for the necessary wisdom and words to gently address the spiritual, financial, and moral decline of America
Or from Chapter 1:
The secular progressive movement completely denies any moral backsliding and feels that we have made substantial progress as a nation with respect to great moral issues like abortion, gay marriage, and helping the poor, but in reality we are losing our moral compass and are caught up in elitism and bigotry.
So I guess he has not read Stephen Pinker's book "The Better Angels of Our Nature", which contains numerous statistics showing that all forms of crime have greatly decreased in recent decades.

And he hasn't heard of the Flynn Effect, which notes that IQ scores have been going up for as long as they have been measured. [snark] Or, he has heard of it but chooses to use that favorite conservative practice of ignoring any science that doesn't agree with their ideology.

And he probably doesn't think that plummeting teenage pregnancy and abortion rates, particularly in states like Colorado with free contraception, are a good thing, since maybe some of these young women are having (gasp) recreational sex.[/snark]

Whenever conservatives say "moral decline", it's usually about sex. The out-of-control individual and corporate greed that has become business-as-usual since Reaganomics and the 80s is OK tho. It's not at all a sign of "moral decline" - it's just the healthy free market at work! Dr. Carson has no comment on this.

"Spiritual decline" usually means that conservatives don't like young people rejecting their mega-churches with their "gospel of prosperity" and their patriarchal christianity. Many of the young people I know are very spiritual, but it is more about connecting with and saving our planet, rather than waiting for the rapture or pie-in-the-sky dished out in the afterlife by the big sky father.

"Financial decline" I totally have to take issue with. The US controls 40% of the wealth and income in the world, and that has not been declining. Our middle class has been hurt badly, with union membership down by a factor of almost 3 as manufacturing jobs have been shipped to China by our patriotic corporations, but overall, we are still by far the wealthiest nation in the history of the world. Note, shipping those jobs to China did help raise 10s of millions of Chinese out of poverty.

The US dollar is also the world's de facto currency, and challenges to that status have fizzled in recent years, particularly with the difficulties in the Eurozone keeping the future of the Euro uncertain.


Chapter 3, "Elitism", I found somewhat hard to understand. Elites are trying to oppress the rest of us?

In order for elitism to flourish, there has to be another class of people who are willing to acknowledge the superiority of the chosen ones. Elites cultivate this obeisance by providing goodies to the less fortunate ones. In our society today, those goodies consist of multiple kinds of entitlement programs. As the dependency on these programs grows, the position of the elite class is solidified because they will always be seen as the providers who need to be protected from any threats of power redistribution.

...

the liberal policies of the elite class have done little to improve the lot of those who depend so much on them.

??? So are you only "elite" if you are in favor of "liberal policies" ???

I also wonder that Dr. Carson does not consider physicians in the highest-paying specialities to be an elite. The average neurosurgeon in the US makes $346,791/year, with the top neurosurgeons making over $700,000/year.


Chapter 4 is titled "Ignorance and Forgetfulness". It really has a lot not to like.

Dr. Carson starts by engaging in one of the conservative practices that I find most annoying: channelling the founding fathers.

Our founders were deathly afraid that our government would do the same thing that virtually all other governments had done previously: expand continually, developing a voracious appetite for the resources of the people.
I have never heard a quote from one of the founding fathers in this vein, and Dr. Carson does not supply one. I did find this quote tho:

Ha ha, I'll leave this one here, as a lesson in, "don't trust the Internet", but our crackerjack fact-checkers here at "Portrait of the Dumbass" have determined that it is likely that Madison never said this.). It's OK, TJ makes the point quite well enough.

I see a big, democratic, federal government as the only thing that can save us from the corporations and banks and their owners, the oligarchs. Dr. Carson has nothing to say about this clear and present danger which the founding fathers were indeed concerned about - except to disrespect the Occupy Wall Street movement, which was largely responsibly for pushing this critical issue into the public dialogue:
the Occupy Wall Street movement, which was replicated in many parts of the country, shows how easily physically destructive actions that compromise the rights and property of others can be incited in those who have been educated this way and also have an entitlement mentality.
Dr. Carson points out that "The Constitution ... arranged for the federal government to remain small, allowing state governments to be responsible for most of the legislation." Those days are over. The states don't have a chance - most of them are smaller than the biggest corporations, and even the richest individuals. Look at how the Koch Brothers pretty much bought the Wisconsin state government. Now their organizations are even moving down to the local level of city councils and school boards.

Dr. Carson very much beats the jingoist USA drum. I'm guessing he hasn't read Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States"

By emphasizing these things and other wrongdoings, revisionists attempt to paint the United States as an opportunistic, uncaring, and savage nation in dire need of change.
Since the release of the CIA torture report, with Republicans flocking to Darth Cheney's "torture is OK" banner, it's looking more and more like allowing torture is going go be a plank in the next Republican platform. I wonder how Dr. Carson, who took the Hippocratic Oath, is going to feel about that?

He also mentions several times how important it is that the USA remain the world's "pinnacle power".

Furthermore, it is important that we maintain our pinnacle status, because if we lose it, we will be replaced by another world power that is unlikely to be nearly as benign.
I personally think we will all be much better off when every nation in the world is a "pinnacle power". Then maybe we can end the current war-without-end-for-profit. Plus cut our military spending, which almost equals that of the rest of the world put together. We have 11 aircraft carriers, Italy has 2, and no other country has more than 1. I know, I'm a dreamer.

In the section "Forgetting Out Christian Heritage", Dr. Carson gets even more scarily religious:

They can justify anything based on their ideology because in their opinion, there is no higher authority other than themselves to overrule them. They have a visceral reaction to the mention of God’s word, because it tears at the fabric of their justification system.
Ugh, rule by holy book. Yeah, that's really going to work out well. Look how well it's working for Islamic countries with Sharia Law.


Chapter 5 is titled "Bigotry". It has long sections about racism, religious bigotry (the longest section, which of course includes reference to the "War on Christmas"), sexism, ageism - and then 2 short paragraphs on homophobia. The 2nd of these paragraphs has a nice "right wing dog whistle" in it:

the mantle of hatred has been taken up by the other side, which feels that hateful speech and actions toward anyone who doesn’t embrace the gay agenda is justified.
So, what is "the gay agenda"? I'm guessing if I watched Fox News I would know, but, I really don't have a clue. I'm going to guess that "the gay agenda" is that they want the same rights as everyone else. So how is that "the gay agenda"? Isn't that "the human agenda"?


Chapter 6 is titled "No Winners In Political Fighting". Why is congress so dysfunctional?

polarizing influences — such as unions that want what they want, gay rights groups, isolationists, and others who cannot or will not consider the opinions of others — have become stronger in recent years, robbing from the pool of moderate legislators and increasing the numbers of extreme legislators.
Seriously? Seriously? Unions have become stronger in recent years? Following Reagan's opening salvo on August 5, 1981, when he fired 11,000 striking air traffic controllers, and aided by "right-to-work" laws in, of course, southern states, union membership has plummeted from 32% of the workforce in 1950 to under 12% now. And as the unions have declined, so has the middle class.

And of course he does not mention the fact that the Tea Party is by far the leading source of "extreme legislators" that I can remember in my lifetime.

Next we get some swipes at the Affordable Care Act - ACA or Obamacare.

A program that was supposed to reduce costs and allow people to keep their insurance if they wanted to, is raising costs and making it impractical for people to keep their previous insurance. It is also rapidly expanding the number of part-time workers in our country because the law does not require employers to provide health care insurance for part-time workers.
Quoting Hudson from "Aliens", "Maybe you haven't been keeping up on current events", but the ACA seems to be doing very well: lowering costs, increasing the number insured, adding more insurers offering more plans in the 2nd year, and freeing many workers who were "insurance slaves" to their employers to start their own companies.

Another Fox News "scandal of the day":

the IRS targeted Tea Party organizations for intense scrutiny and unfair treatment.
Investigations found out that liberal groups and Occupy Wall Street were targeted as well, but, of course, you'll never hear that on Fox News.

I am going to put forward my theory of the cause of current congressional gridlock: that the libertarian Koch Brothers and other groups who want a federal government "small enough to drown in a bathtub", in a brilliant and utterly cynical move, created the Tea Party, fueled by the shock felt by (perhaps subconsciously, to give them the benefit of a doubt) racist whites, particularly in the south, at the election of our first black president.

And the Republican leadership, even as Obama was being sworn in, met and vowed to do all they could to make him a failure, welfare of the country be damned. This congress, led by the Tea Party, sees getting nothing done as a feature, not a bug.


Chapter 7 it titled "Enslaving Out Children - Don't Sell The Future". It's about the deficit. We get the standard "China will pull the rug from under us" thinking:

If the rest of the world, and especially China, loses confidence in America’s ability to handle its fiscal responsibilities and calls for repayment of the money we owe them, an unimaginable economic crisis would likely ensue.
Currently 34% of our debt is held by foreign countries, with China holding the largest piece at 7%. I don't think they have grounds to foreclose on us. If the Wall Street banks are "too big to fail", the US government is 10x so. More on economics later.


We're now into Part 2, "Solutions". Chapter 8 is titled "Pushing Back". It starts with Dr. Carson recounting a story of standing up to a bully as a kid. There are a couple of other stories on this same theme in the book. I personally have a "standing up to a bully" story from my childhood. I wonder how many (non-bully) males do?

So who are the modern bullies in our society? Per Dr. Carson they are:

  • the PC police, elites, historical revisionists, bigots, dividers, and spenders mentioned in the previous sections;
  • the media;
  • politicians;
  • academia;
  • businesses who ban their employees from saying "Merry Christmas".
This is not the list I would have made up. I would list as bullies:
  • the financial industry, which is constantly trying to find ways to separate us from our money, and which currently is leading both the Republicans and the Democrats around by their noses;
  • the military-industrial complex, say, for example, Lockheed Martin, which was rewarded for its $7M in lobbying with an additional $240M for 2 of its F-35 fighters, which ‘can’t turn, can’t climb, can’t run’ and which the Pentagon didn't want, in the recent CROmnibus budget;
  • the fossil fuel industry, which continues to receive $B in subsidies to produce products which are destroying the planet;
  • the NRA and its masters, the firearms companies, who have produced a public health menace, unknown in every other advanced country, with their opposition to even the most reasonable restrictions on firearms;
  • fundamentalist christians and their allies, who insist on trying to cram their outmoded, patriarchal beliefs down the throats of the rest of us, particularly women.
I think the bullies in my list are far more powerful, better funded, and more in control of things than the bullies in Dr. Carson's list. But, government, Nazi Germany, Hitler, argle blargle ... and hold on to your guns!
Throughout history many societies have failed to push back and have allowed an overly aggressive government to expand and dominate their lives. Nazi Germany is a perfect example of such a society. One can only wonder what would’ve happened if people had not tolerated the foolishness of Adolf Hitler’s appeal to the baser instincts of greed and envy and his institution of an official weapons confiscation program.
A section titled "Know Your Enemy" starts with this:
A final word on bullies: It is very important to know who your “enemies” are. They are not your average fellow Americans.
Man, does this not remind you of McCarthy? Or of every [inflammatory text]fascist of the last century?[/inflammatory text] "You're not a real American!!!". There's another one like this later.


Chapter 9 is titled "Respectful Disagreement". He lists several of the issues that divide us today. The first is Pro-Life vs Pro-Choice. He doesn't say which he is, but he does make these statements, and I don't think it is too much of a stretch to see these as the basis for a ban on abortions after 10 weeks:

Recent scientific observations have led observers to conclude that a fetus can experience pain as early as ten weeks of gestation. This means that most abortion procedures produce extreme discomfort for the fetus before it dies

...

I suspect that over the course of time, the age line for abortions will continue to shift depending on political winds and further scientific information regarding fetal existence.

A quick discussion with The Google does not immediately turn up any support for the "10 week fetal pain" theory, but I did not look hard.

Other issues in the chapter are welfare; doctors versus patients; the rich versus the poor. On this last topic, Dr. Carson seems to think that a poll tax is a reasonable thing:

serious problems arise when a person who pays nothing has the right to vote and determine what other people are paying.
And he is not the most compassionate of 1%ers:
Not only is this kind of taxation both divisive and unsustainable, it is especially offensive to individuals like me who have worked extremely hard throughout life to achieve success and who give away enormous amounts of money to benefit others.


Chapter 10 is titled "The Art of Compromise". Ha ha, I think Dr. Carson needs to work on his compromise skills some.

I firmly believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. However, I see no reason why any two consenting adults, regardless of their sexual orientation, cannot be joined together in a legally binding civil relationship that provides hospital visitation rights, property rights, and so on without tampering with the definition of marriage. This would give the gay population what they want, while leaving the traditional definition of marriage intact. This is what compromise is about.
Actually, I'm guessing that what the gay population wants is to be married, like other (heterosexual) couples, so those damn playground bullies can't taunt their kids with "your moms aren't married". Here's my compromise: we define marriage as "a legally binding relationship between two (or more if you're a polygamous mormon) consenting human adults (oops, there went the Utah polygamists)". That makes the gay population happy; it excludes NAMBLA and the animal lovers and, for now, the Japanese guy who married his video game girlfriend.

Meanwhile, we'll let Dr. Carson call what he and his wife have "a traditional marriage". Now that's compromise!

Dr. Carson frames his discussion of the national debt in "we're good, you're bad" terms:

The Democrats, led by the president, appear to be relatively unconcerned about the debt and are happy to continue spending, borrowing, and expanding entitlements. The Republicans, on the other hand,

...

One side is concerned about preserving entitlements and the other is concerned about preserving our nation’s future.

It's so interesting to me that Republicans weren't worried about the national debt at all when, for the first time in our nation's history, we started not 1 but 2 wars without raising taxes to pay for them. Instead, we got the exact opposite with the Bush tax cuts! But once the black guy got saddled with that debt, it's a crisis. The national debt is indeed a problem, but I think it is easily solvable if everyone starts paying their fair share - more later.

Dr. Carson makes reference to the informal conspiracy in which Republican business organizations engaged in their desperation to do whatever it took to discredit our 1st black president, the country be damned:

Big businesses have trillions of dollars sitting on the sidelines waiting for a friendlier business environment before investing.
But businesses got tired of that strategy and most have started investing again - wanting to discredit Obama is all well and good, but we're talking profits here. Plus, Obama has not been at all anti-business.

Ha ha, Dr. Carson makes the standard conservative argument that demonstrates abysmal ignorance of economics:

As far as the growing debt is concerned, it should be treated the same way that personal debt is treated by thinking and pragmatic families.
No, no, no! Countries with their own currencies can print money, which families cannot do. And sometimes it the right thing to do. When the Fed tripled the money supply in 2008, conservatives howled about hyperinflation. When the Fed started quantitative easing later in 2008, 12 conservative economists signed a letter predicting runaway inflation. The inflation never occurred, but the conservative economists refuse to admit they were wrong. "We said there might be inflation." [snark]Man, wouldn't it be nice for a conservative just once to admit they were wrong? About anything?[/snark]

With Japan in deflation for 20 years, Europe heading towards deflation (Sweden is there), and interest rates at the zero lower bound, what we need is government stimulus programs, particularly to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. Note that, annoyingly, in the graph below the bottom of the Y-axis is not 0, it is 225.

The government can right now borrow money at close to 0% interest, and the fiscal multiplier effect lets that money circulate through the economy multiple times.

We then get back to taxes, which should, of course, be based on the model of tithes from the bible.

As soon as you depart from a proportional taxation system, you introduce ideological bias, making arguments endless.

...

Even with the loopholes, the top 10 percent of the populace in terms of income pay 70 percent of the income taxes while earning 46 percent of the taxable income, which means they are indeed paying more than their fair share.

I'm not sure where where he got those last figures. Nothing in the book references any hard data. But, I think I can get behind his idea that everyone should pay the same tax rate. According to Piketty (my review/summary here), the bottom 50% by income pay about 50% of their income in taxes - not just federal and state income taxes, but also sales, excise, property and other taxes. This is a good target tax rate. It is about what it takes the European countries to maintain a birth-to-grave social net with universal health care and free college for all who are qualified. The next 40% pay 40-45% of their income in taxes. The top 10% pay 30-35% of their income in taxes. And the very top, the 1% and even more so the top 0.01%, pay 10-15% - think Mitt Romney. So, let's tax carried interest, capital gains, and dividends at a rate above wages instead of well below, and then use the progressive income tax rate to make up any difference left and get everyone's total rate up to 50%. I think that will work wonders for the deficit!

Note, I've been studying economics (slowly) for a couple of years now. And a lot of it, particularly when you are in a liquidity trap as we have been since 2008, is very counterintuitive. So beware of "common-sense" economics.


Chapter 11, "Becoming Informed", I said I mostly agreed with up above. But then you get this:

By not focusing on the “fast and furious” scandal, the Benghazi debacle, the IRS scandal, the government surveillance revelations, and so on, the hope is that the public will simply forget about these horrendous shortcomings and move on.
Ah, so many nice Fox News "scandals of the week".
  • "Fast and furious" was stupid but has been dealt with - and it doesn't begin to compare to something like the Iran-Contra scandal under Reagan.
  • We just had, what, the 8th congressional investigation of Benghazi, led by Republicans, find no wrong doing. [snark] But, they've got ANOTHER ONE going now, I'm sure it will get to the truth! [/snark] I wonder if that would be the case if congress investigated the 13 attacks and 60 deaths that occurred under George W. Bush.
  • The IRS scandal we've already noted did not solely target conservatives.
  • I don't think anybody is going to let the government surveillance issue go away anytime soon.
  • "and so on" I'm guessing includes other Fox "scandals" like securing the release of Bowe Bergdahl, capturing the guy behind the Benghazi attack, the president wearing a tan suit, "and so on", ad nauseam.


Chapter 12 is titled "Wisdom and Knowledge". We talked a little bit about Dr. Carson's "Vision for a Wiser Health Care System" above. Now for the bad news on his system.

If I was told of this system without knowing who designed it and was asked, "Who designed this system?", I would answer, "A doctor". The insurance companies go away, and we are left with a free market.

most people would become interested in saving by shopping for the most cost-effective high-quality health care plans available.

...

most of the relationships would be doctor-patient relationships, the doctors certainly would not order things without regard to price, and patients would not permit excessive depletion of their HSA’s by careless expenditure. With everybody becoming cost conscious, price transparency would be of paramount importance and fair competition would cause prices to be consistent and reasonable.

I personally have no interest in "shopping for the most cost-effective high-quality health care". I want to go the primary care provider of my choice. For acute care, I want to go to the closest doc-in-a-box. In an emergency, I want to go to the closest emergency room. For a serious operation, I want to shop around and pick the doctor with the best record of results.

The insurance companies do currently serve one useful purpose: they bargain with providers, using the clout of the numbers they represent, to get lower prices. A free market might do that better - and Adam Smith would surely approve - if it weren't for the American Medical Association (AMA).

For decades, the AMA has held the number of new medical schools opening to a trickle, to maintain the artificially high salaries of physicians in the US. On average, US physicians make around twice what physicians make in the rest of the developed world. So there is not a free market. There is a market in which the supply of services is tightly constrained to keep prices high.

Here in KY, 10 years ago there was a shortage of pharmacists. Hospitals and retailers had to compete for the scarce pharmacists with increased salaries and benefits, including repayment of student loans. Then, in 2008, a 2nd pharmacy school opened. With the shortage curtailed, pharmacist salaries have stabilized greatly.

So I find Dr. Carson's system to be self-serving. He is retired, but I think that the desire to hold on to their supply-side stranglehold is engrained in lots of US physicians, particularly those in the highest paying specialities like neurosurgery.

Another really bad side effect of the AMA's monopoly is that they let pseudo-medicine like chiropractic, homeopathy, etc. go unchallenged so that they can say "look, we're not a monopoly".

The other part of his plan is the lifetime health spending account (HSA) that every citizen gets at birth.

The HSA could be populated with funds supplied by an employer, the owner, relatives, friends, and governmental sources

...

It is natural to ask what happens if a man needs an operation and does not have enough money in his HSA to cover the cost? The system would be designed in such a way that allows members of his immediate family to shift money from their HSA accounts to his without any penalties. In essence, this would make each family unit its own private health insurance company with no unnecessary middleman increasing costs. I would also make it possible for people to pass the money in their HSAs to family members at the time of their death.

...

A portion of the money in the account could be used to purchase bridge or catastrophic insurance,

...

It could also be made possible for any adult to donate up to a certain predetermined amount of money from their account to any other person’s account for charitable reasons. This becomes an easy way for churches and other organizations to provide charity care at their discretion. It also would encourage those people with massive amounts of money in their accounts to think charitably toward others.

So, families can share, and you can do kickstarter for an operation. Rich people can help out if they like. But I don't see how this keeps medical bills from bankrupting a family - there doesn't seem to be any of the risk pool that you have with insurance. But he does mention purchasing "catastrophic insurance" - so are there still health insurance companies, or not? Or does the (evil) federal government become the insurer of last resort?

I would personally prefer a single payer system, with health care professionals compensated in a range that depends on their results, as hospitals are now under Obamacare. Medicare runs 2% overhead, as opposed to 20% for private health insurance companies - and they used to routinely exceed this before Obamacare capped their overhead at 20%. Vermont is supposed to be trying a Medicare-for-all plan soon. So we'll probably get a chance to see how that works before we get to see if Dr. Carson's plan would be at all workable.

More wisdom from Dr. Carson: rein in that pesky EPA! And this guy is a physician?!?!? When does a physician put "energy independence" above the health risk that pollution produces? Very disappointing.

The Environmental Protection Agency feels it has a duty to protect every aspect of the environment under all circumstances, and that priority has been placed above energy independence.

...

I thoroughly believe that we have a duty to protect our environment not only for ourselves but for the next generations. However, we also have a duty to develop our economic potential and free ourselves of unnecessary stress and dependency on volatile foreign sources of energy.


Chapter 13, "My Brother's Keeper", is the last chapter of this part. Basically he says, people need to do more to care for the handicapped and elderly in their homes, rather than in government subsidized institutions. And, if we have to sacrifice to do it, so be it.

During the time in America when these kinds of questions were not asked, people didn’t necessarily have to have multiple vehicles, flat screen televisions, multiple cell phones, iPads, and a host of other “necessities.” This begs the question: Is it more important to take care of your extended family or have the creature comforts pop culture demands?
Not entirely invalid. But, I'll follow Dr. Carson's example and share some personal experience. For the last 9 months I have been involved a few days a week in caring for a 56YO relative with Downs Syndrome - mental age 3YO - in his home. And it is the wrong way to do this. He is very social and needs much more community than we can provide at home. And as he ages, he will need more and more professional help, particularly as Downs Syndrome carries with it an increased probability of early onset Altzheimer's. Finally, informal caregiving takes a toll on the health of the informal caregiver. I seem to remember from a seminar I went to that full-time informal caregivers lose 1 month of life expectancy for every year spent in caregiving. You'd think a physician would know that.

Similarly, we need to care for the poor and needy without the big bad government. There are sections titled "The Problem of Government Dependency" and "Rolling Back Welfare". In the section titled "Compassion for the Poor" he says

Compassion, however, should mean providing a mechanism to escape poverty rather than simply maintaining people in an impoverished state by supplying handouts.
But he offers no real plans to implement this, other than through "churches and other charitable organizations" - because government assistance programs "create dependency and robs people of their God-given dignity". I really think that this is the last of poor and hungry peoples' worries.

I found this next quote offensive. I have never dealt with any government employee at any level who was not professional and courteous. I guess this is just more of the conservative canon.

Other types of organizations, especially government agencies, are frequently staffed by people who only see it as a job, know they have job security, and therefore treat people without respect or compassion.
I'll end the discussion of this chapter by noting the title of another of its sections: Socialism: A Deterrent to Charity. I would like live in a society where no one had to depend on charity to live. I know christians work at shelters, feed the homeless, etc, and that these activities help them feel better about themselves and their Escalades. But the bottom line is, if this system worked, we would not have 1/3 of our children in the US living in poverty. And I don't think Dr. Carson's exhortations to people to "just do more to help" are going to be very effective.


Part 3 of the book, "Who We Are", does not contain much new content. Chapter 14, "Without a Vision", has another bullying anecdote, and some more constitution worship (there is actually a section titled "Revering the Constitution"). He also exhorts Republicans to "stand on principle" and not "cave in to pressure at the last minute." So much for that "compromise" thing. These do indeed appear to be important principles to Republican voters.

And we also get another nice exhortation to be on the alert for thoughtcrime:
We need people who ... are willing to point out who among their compatriots are deviating from the Constitution and why.


Chapter 15 is titled "Role Models". Talking about growing up in the inner city, Dr. Carson says that the main role models of economic success were drug dealers and factory foremen, but also, "one could occasionally see a well-dressed and polished physician driving off in a beautiful car." Not what most physicians I know normally give as their inspiration for becoming doctors.

He proposes as role models parents, teachers, and inventors - but, absolutely NOT Miley Cyrus. He had earlier given some props to Margaret Thatcher, I got a chuckle out of this one:

This is why people like Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, and John F. Kennedy are widely admired.
How did Ronald Reagan, and for that matter JFK, wind up in that group?


Chapter 16 is titled "The Origin of Morality". Ugh. Let's include his setup of the discussion of morality in its entirety:

Who Says?

What is right? What is wrong? And who gets to determine the answers to these questions? For a nation to be truly united, most of its citizens must agree on the answers to these questions—or at least agree that there are answers to be found. For years, most Americans have turned to a belief in God and the Bible for answers. From the Creation story to the Ten Commandments to the Gospels to the Epistles, the Bible provided an explanation for the meaning of life and instructed us in moral principles. We held to a Judeo-Christian standard while respecting the beliefs of those who didn’t share them, and that standard saved us from confusion. Today, fewer people believe in the Bible, or even in absolute truth, and our rejection of an objective moral standard has thrown our society into disarray. If in fact we do really believe in God and His word, many of the moral “gray” issues of today become black and white.

So, yeah, let's order us some bible-based moral absolutism! Woo-hoo! [snark]Wow, I'm really curious, what does the bible say about abortion (inquiring minds want to know)?[/snark]
According to God’s word, life begins at conception rather than at the time of delivery or at some arbitrary point during gestation.

...

In the Book of Exodus, chapter 21, verses 22–24, it is made quite clear that God considers the life of the unborn to be just as valuable as the life of an adult. When you couple this belief with the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13), it is clear that abortion is rarely a moral option.

But he still hedges his bets and doesn't come right out and say he's for banning abortion. [snark]There's some moral integrity for you.[/snark]

Next we get, of course, Leviticus on homosexuality. Ha ha, I liked this one. Leviticus also forbids tatoos! (And eating pork. And eating shellfish. And cutting your forelocks. And ...)

Sodom and Gomorrah. Evolution. Dogs and cats sleeping together. Immorality is around us everywhere!!!

Finally, he discusses "under God" in the pledge of allegiance. At least he mentions that these words "were subquently added" - but he doesn't mention that they were added in 1954. Huh, the pledge was written in 1896 and only adopted officially in 1942. Who knew? Somebody must have been doing some serious channeling of the founding fathers, who were very sorry that they did not think of the pledge Back In The Day.


Chapter 17 is "Take Courage". Mostly rah rah stuff, but Dr. Carson wants to make sure he can hold on to his "beautiful car":

Why did all of these people toil so relentlessly for an idea? It is because they had a dream of ... a nation where people could choose how to disperse their own wealth after contributing a small, but reasonable amount of their resources to conduct the affairs of government.
"Small but reasonable"? I guess he's onboard with my 50% overall tax rate, yay! Piketty guesses you might have to go to a top tax rate of 80% to make things work. At least that's not as bad as that commie Eisenhower in the '50s, when the top tax rate was 94%.


That's concludes my review of what Dr. Carson talked about. What didn't he talk about? I've already mentioned his silence on the ongoing transformation of our democracy into a plutocracy / oligarchy / corporatocracy.

No mention of increasing the minimum wage, which was supposed to be a livable wage, other than to mention that he worked a number of low-paying jobs as he was growing up "all of which provided some knowledge and skill sets that were useful, no matter how low-skilled and low-paid they were". I agree with him on that. I worked doing yard work, bagging and cleaning produce at Kroger, as a welder and a shipfitter at JeffBoat, and delivering airline tickets in Boston before I got a high-paying job. I enjoyed and learned from all those jobs. But so what? This doesn't help the people, and there are an increasing number of them since the unions have been gutted, who will never get a decent paying job.

But more notably, I searched the ebook for "climate change" or "global warming". Zero hits, no mention whatsoever of the climate crisis, the greatest challenge to human civilization in its entire history, a challenge which we are grievously failing to address adequately. [snark]I guess "saving America's future" doesn't include keeping our costal cities from being underwater.[/snark]


So, what did I learn from this book? There was no hard data and no verifiable references, so not much in the way of facts. Instead there are Fox News talking points and "scandals of the day", right wing dog whistles, real-life anecdotes, references to scripture, and unsupported opinions presented as fact. But again, as I said above, this is the 1st book of this type I have read, so maybe they are all written that way.

The main thing I learned is that the right wing echo chamber is as reality-challenged in print as it is in electronic media. "Reality has a well-known liberal bias".

My wife recently read Elizabeth Warren's book, and she liked it a lot. I may try that in a month or so and see if it as devoid of data and facts that can be verified by the references (not) provided as this book is. But, I definitely need a breather. I'll read some good escapist science fiction or fantasy, some factual science books, and some more economics text books. Maybe after that I'll try another book by a politician.

Is Dr. Carson presidential material? He kind of reminds me of our own Random Paul: rote parroting of Fox News talking points, but with their own weird stuff thrown in. For Random Paul (also a physician), his odd stuff comes from the Libertarian principles he learned at his pappy's knee. For Dr. Carson, his odd stuff seems to come from his background as a physician, and his religious belief. [joke]Quite frankly (pun), if either of them were to get elected president, I will probably move to France. (And good riddance to me, I know!)[/joke] Of the two, Dr. Carson is a little scarier to me I think. In addition to his theocratic leanings, his McCarthy-like and thoughtcrime statements reminded me of the government in "V for Vendetta" or "1984".

Well, Ernie, I read the book, and I did try to find things to agree with - and I did find a few. But overall, I'm sorry this book did not affect me as you had maybe hoped. If I read the Elizabeth Warren book and like it, maybe I'll recommend it to you, and you can go off on it. ;->

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Music Out => Music In <=

Well, my band fell through - mercifully I think. I would have liked to have seen how exhausted I would have been playing 4 sets of music. But, I've done 3 sets, it wasn't that bad. I will leave the band-forming to those younger and more serious about music. Hopefully I'll continue to get a few paying gigs a year to maintain my semi-pro status. I've had 5 this year, woo-hoo!

The Old Farts' Blues Jam is now Monday, 7-11, at Patchen Pub. Despite Monday being a not good night and the hum of that room, the jam does seem to be steadily gaining momentum - more musicians, and some listeners as well.

After Jack Bruce's death last month, I was doing a 3 song tribute at the jam: "Rollin' and Tumblin'", "Outside Woman Blues", and "Sunshine of Your Love". Vocals on "Sunshine" were way rough, probably would have gotten better with time.

On to music in:

  • Eric Clapton & Friends, "The Breeze (An Appreciation of JJ Cale)". Released after JJ Cale's death last year, this song has Eric Clapton joined by the likes of Derek Trucks, Don White, Tom Petty, Willie Nelson, and John Mayer doing mostly lesser-known (to me anyway) JJ Cale songs. I liked "Magnolia" and "Songbird" and particularly "Starbound". I was doing "After Midnight" (slow like JJ does it), "Crazy Momma" (his only radio hit with him as the performer), and "Cocaine" as a JJ Cale tribute at the jams, with the comment that Eric Clapton made a lot of money off of these songs. 3 stars.
  • Imogen Heap, "Sparks". The Deluxe Version of this is quite a value. It has 14 tracks with vocals, which I classified as "chick pop", and then the same 14 tracks as instrumentals, which I classified as "electronica/dance". Ms. Heap is so talented. Very easy to listen to, but no standout tracks. 3 stars.
  • The New Pornographers, "Brill Bruisers". I really like this Canadian-pop group. So many different sounds, particularly when the Destroyer guy (Daniel Bejar) sings his songs. Nice catchy tunes. 4 stars.
  • Eye To Eye, eponymous, 1982. I ripped this from vinyl. Produced by Gary Katz, who produced most of the later Steely Dan stuff. An American female singer with a British keyboardist who occasionly, thanks to the producer, sound like Steely Dan in an alternate universe where Donald Fagen was a woman. Almost all these songs have a really nice verse, chorus, or bridge, but maybe only the song "Nice Girls", which charted in the US, has all 3. I burned Ben Lacy a copy, he liked it. 4 stars, partly for sentimental reasons.
  • Counting Crows, "Somewhere Under Wonderland". Good tunes, a couple that would chart, but I think I may be over these guys. They also included demo versions of the two potential singles, I don't get why they bother with that. 3 stars, 2 stars for the demos.
  • Interpol, "El Pintor". I think these guys were originally recommended to me by my nephew, the most excellent drummer Max Heinz. Their quality has been consistent over the last decade or so, but a little punkish for me at this point. 3 stars.
  • Sylvan Esso, eponymous. Not sure where I got these guys. A female singer and a producer. Nice alternative stuff. 3 stars, 4 stars for "Coffee".
  • Prince, "ART OFFICIAL AGE". Hadn't bought any Prince in years. The Musical Genius Of The 80s still knows how to open a can o' funk. No real standout songs. 3 stars. My favorite Prince song is "Condition of the Heart", off of "Around The World In A Day".
  • The Flaming Lips, "With A Little Help From My Fwends". I always say, you have to respect artists in any media who realize, there are no rules, they can do whatever they want. Radiohead comes to mind as a band that shows just how well this can turn out. The Flaming Lips, not so much - their weirdness vector is way large. This effort is not bad. It's kind of fun to listen to - I like Miley Cyrus's narcoleptic vocals on the songs she's on. Still I really don't get what the point of this album was. 3 stars.
And, that EMPTIES the new music queue. Only 1 new album in October and none in November. I guess per the system I should be doing some ripping of vinyl. OK, RSN.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

This Changes Everything

"This Changes Everything", subtitled "Capitalism vs. The Climate", is the most recent book by Naomi Klein, Wikipedia article here. Ms. Klein is a Canadian author and social activist. Amazon says the book is 577 pages. I found it to be a fairly quick read. It has an Introduction, 3 Parts of 5, 3 and 5 chapters, and a Conclusion.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is a real eye-opener, particularly into the mindset of the conservatives and the 1%. It is a clarion call to action.

But be prepared: the first 2 Parts are very informative but also pretty depressing. Finally in Part 3, we do get some good news - but mixed with more bad news!

Early on, I thought that Ms. Klein was using inflammatory terms that would immediately incense the other side. But, as you read the book, you realize, the other side know exactly what they are doing, much more so than those wanting to protect the planet. If they won't listen to 97% of climate scientists, they are never going to read this book. So, getting the rest of us fired up is exactly the right thing to do.


The Introduction is titled "One Way or Another, Everything Changes". It opens with this quote:

Most projections of climate change presume that future changes — greenhouse gas emissions, temperature increases and effects such as sea level rise — will happen incrementally. A given amount of emission will lead to a given amount of temperature increase that will lead to a given amount of smooth incremental sea level rise. However, the geological record for the climate reflects instances where a relatively small change in one element of climate led to abrupt changes in the system as a whole. In other words, pushing global temperatures past certain thresholds could trigger abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes that have massively disruptive and large-scale impacts. At that point, even if we do not add any additional CO2 to the atmosphere, potentially unstoppable processes are set in motion. We can think of this as sudden climate brake and steering failure where the problem and its consequences are no longer something we can control.

—Report by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general scientific society, 2014
So climate change is likely not to happen gradually. Rather, we are likely to pass tipping points after which large changes may occur very rapidly.

[An example of this may be the findings this past May that major glaciers that are part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet appear to have become irrevocably destabilized.]

The Introduction reviews many instances of global warming, and traces the author's decision to move this problem to the top of her stack. She rightfully declares that we are in a crisis situation. But will it be handled like the financial crisis of 2008, with $B in bailout money? Not likely. Not unless we make the government treat it as a crisis.

Instead, we are getting business as usual, in the form of disaster capitalism - one of several terms new to me that we should all become familiar with.

As I discussed in my last book, The Shock Doctrine, over the past four decades corporate interests have systematically exploited these various forms of crisis to ram through policies that enrich a small elite — by lifting regulations, cutting social spending, and forcing large-scale privatizations of the public sphere. They have also been the excuse for extreme crackdowns on civil liberties and chilling human rights violations.

And there are plenty of signs that climate change will be no exception — that, rather than sparking solutions that have a real chance of preventing catastrophic warming and protecting us from inevitable disasters, the crisis will once again be seized upon to hand over yet more resources to the 1 percent.

...

Finding new ways to privatize the commons and profit from disaster is what our current system is built to do; left to its own devices, it is capable of nothing else.

She talks about the common sacrifices and changes that people made during WW2. Who knew victory gardens produced 42% of produce in 1943? Why aren't we doing these types of things to fight the climate crisis? Her answer:
we have not done the things that are necessary to lower emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism, the reigning ideology for the entire period we have been struggling to find a way out of this crisis. We are stuck because the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe — and would benefit the vast majority — are extremely threatening to an elite minority that has a stranglehold over our economy, our political process, and most of our major media outlets.
I had been beating myself up asking, how can climate change denialists keep denying so much data and scientific consensus? Here is the answer. They deny because they don't care if it is true or not - they care only about retaining their power. They figure that they have the game rigged just as they like it now (except for maybe some more tax cuts to justify more austerity), and, even if the East Coast is underwater, they'll still be doing just fine.

She draws an interesting contrast between 2 processes that occurred simultaneously starting in the 80s.

the climate process: struggling, sputtering, failing utterly to achieve its goals. And there will be the corporate globalization process, zooming from victory to victory: from that first free trade deal to the creation of the World Trade Organization to the mass privatization of the former Soviet economies to the transformation of large parts of Asia into sprawling free-trade zones
And the "free trade" deals are not really about free trade:
It was always about using these sweeping deals, as well as a range of other tools, to lock in a global policy framework that provided maximum freedom to multinational corporations to produce their goods as cheaply as possible and sell them with as few regulations as possible — while paying as little in taxes as possible.
When so many manufacturing jobs moved to China, the corporations didn't just get cheap labor without those pesky unions working for worker rights. They also got rid of that pesky EPA, leading the the currently unbreathable air in much of China. From the 90s to the 00s, global emissions growth increased from 1% to 3.4% per year.

So it's capitalism vs the planet, with so far capitalism "winning hands down". And how long do we have to turn this around?

As Fatih Birol, the IEA’s chief economist, bluntly put it: “The door to reach two degrees is about to close. In 2017 it will be closed forever.”
The introduction closes with Ms. Klein returning to personal anecdotes, in this case about the animals - moose, bats, starfish - that her young son may never get to see. Some people may find these personal stories off-putting, I liked them OK. Finally, we get the trumpet call, in pretty much its entirety, and the title of the book:
But what should we do with this fear that comes from living on a planet that is dying, made less alive every day? First, accept that it won’t go away. That it is a fully rational response to the unbearable reality that we are living in a dying world, a world that a great many of us are helping to kill, by doing things like making tea and driving to the grocery store and yes, okay, having kids.

Next, use it. Fear is a survival response. Fear makes us run, it makes us leap, it can make us act superhuman. But we need somewhere to run to. Without that, the fear is only paralyzing. So the real trick, the only hope, really, is to allow the terror of an unlivable future to be balanced and soothed by the prospect of building something much better than many of us have previously dared hope.

Yes, there will be things we will lose, luxuries some of us will have to give up, whole industries that will disappear. And it’s too late to stop climate change from coming; it is already here, and increasingly brutal disasters are headed our way no matter what we do. But it’s not too late to avert the worst, and there is still time to change ourselves so that we are far less brutal to one another when those disasters strike. And that, it seems to me, is worth a great deal.

Because the thing about a crisis this big, this all-encompassing, is that it changes everything. It changes what we can do, what we can hope for, what we can demand from ourselves and our leaders. It means there is a whole lot of stuff that we have been told is inevitable that simply cannot stand. And it means that a whole lot of stuff we have been told is impossible has to start happening right away.


Part One is titled "Bad Timing" - the bad timing is that just when we need strong planning and government, we have instead out-of-control free market capitalism and government close to being "small enough to drown in a bathtub".

Chapter 1 is titled "The Right Is Right", subtitled "The Revolutionary Power of Climate Change". The chapter starts out with highlights from the Heartland Institute's 6th International Conference on Climate Change, June 2011. This is worse and more depressing than you would expect, the denialism wacky, zany, and over-the-top. But it all gets propagated via talk-show appearances, tweets, and online comments. And it has had its effect: from 2007 to 2011 Americans went from 71% to 44% believing in climate change. [Note also, that font of denialism and misinformation, Fox News (Faux "News"), went live in 2006.]

Right-wing think tanks have been around for 40 years, originally founded when "U.S. business elites feared that public opinion was turning dangerously against capitalism and toward, if not socialism, then an aggressive Keynesianism". And their goals, which can lumped together as "deregulated capitalism", have been largely met. "It had all been going so well." But addressing the climate crisis changes all that.

And that is what is behind the abrupt rise in climate change denial among hardcore conservatives: they have come to understand that as soon as they admit that climate change is real, they will lose the central ideological battle of our time — whether we need to plan and manage our societies to reflect our goals and values, or whether that task can be left to the magic of the market.

...

And for many conservatives, particularly religious ones, the challenge goes deeper still, threatening not just faith in markets but core cultural narratives about what humans are doing here on earth. Are we masters, here to subdue and dominate, or are we one species among many, at the mercy of powers more complex and unpredictable than even our most powerful computers can model?

The chapter continues with example after example, quote after quote, of conservatives explaining why climate change must be denied at all costs. This insight alone is worth the price of the book. "They deny reality, in other words, because the implications of that reality are, quite simply, unthinkable."

I had guestimated that the fossil fuel industry and conservative think tanks were spending around $500M/year on denialism. I was low.

the denial-espousing think tanks and other advocacy groups making up what sociologist Robert Brulle calls the “climate change counter-movement” are collectively pulling in more than $900 million per year for their work on a variety of right-wing causes, most of it in the form of “dark money” — funds from conservative foundations that cannot be fully traced.
Even worse, Plan B for the denialists, should they indeed be wrong, is to make money off the crisis, secure in the fact that their wealth will protect them from harm. And it gets even more mean-spirited than that. Conservative blogger Jim Geraghty for example:
“Rather than our doom, climate change could be the centerpiece of ensuring a second consecutive American Century.”
The last section of this chapter is "The Battle of Worldviews". She admits (proudly) that she was drawn to the climate crisis "partly because I realized it could be a catalyst for forms of social and economic justice in which I already believed." I think she is right. Business as usual will give us the dystopic future of "The Hunger Games" or "Elysium". So no coddling the conservatives.

But where are those opposing the extractivist mindset?

Why isn’t climate change at the center of the progressive agenda, the burning basis for demanding a robust and reinvented commons, rather than an often forgotten footnote?

...

The short answer is that the deniers won, at least the first round. Not the battle over climate science — their influence in that arena is already waning. But the deniers, and the ideological movement from which they sprang, won the battle over which values would govern our societies.


Chapter 2 is titled "Hot Money", subtitled "How Free Market Fundamentalism Helped Overheat the Planet". This chapter talks about how free trade agreements are used to oppose green energy programs - usually because the green programs have provisions to favor local industry, which is a no-no - it is protectionism, forbidden by the free trade agreements.

To allow arcane trade law, which has been negotiated with scant public scrutiny, to have this kind of power over an issue so critical to humanity’s future is a special kind of madness. As Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph Stiglitz puts it, “Should you let a group of foolish lawyers, who put together something before they understood these issues, interfere with saving the planet?”
The chapter reviews how the move to globalized free trade and industrialized agriculture have worsened the climate crisis. Here's an interesting tidbit:
emissions from the transportation of goods across borders — all those container ships, whose traffic has increased by nearly 400 percent over the last twenty years — are not formally attributed to any nation-state and therefore no one country is responsible for reducing their polluting impact.
Nice, container ships pollute for free! And we get back to the results of corporations moving their manufacturing to China, sans EPA:
the rise in emissions from goods produced in developing countries but consumed in industrialized ones was six times greater than the emissions savings of industrialized countries.

...

exploited workers and an exploited planet are, it turns out, a package deal. A destabilized climate is the cost of deregulated, global capitalism, its unintended, yet unavoidable consequence.

Interesting, NAFTA (1992) was originally opposed by labor and environmental groups because "they knew it would drive down labor and environmental standards". But, the environmental groups folded. Which is bad enough, but, to keep those donations up, it keeps quiet about its global trade bed-partner.
Given this history, it should hardly come as a surprise that the mainstream environmental movement has been in no rush to draw attention to the disastrous climate impacts of the free trade era.
Our growth-oriented economy is and will remain a problem in trying to rein in emissions. How about maybe we work less?
If countries aimed for somewhere around three to four days a week, introduced gradually over a period of decades, he argues, it could offset much of the emissions growth projected through 2030 while improving quality of life.

Many degrowth and economic justice thinkers also call for the introduction of a basic annual income, a wage given to every person, regardless of income, as a recognition that the system cannot provide jobs for everyone and that it is counterproductive to force people to work in jobs that simply fuel consumption. As Alyssa Battistoni, an editor at the journal Jacobin, writes, “While making people work shitty jobs to ‘earn’ a living has always been spiteful, it’s now starting to seem suicidal.”


Chapter 3 is titled "Public And Paid For", subtitled "Overcoming the Ideological Blocks to the Next Economy". The chapter starts with the story of Hamburg, Germany voting to de-privatize their electric, gas, and heading grids.

“For people it’s self-evident that goods on which everybody is dependent should belong to the public,”

...

“Energy supply and environmental issues should not be left in the hands of private for-profit interests.”

This de-privatization of utilities by "hundreds of citys and towns" is part of what has enabled Germany's amazing drive towards renewable energy sources "(the country is aiming for 55–60 percent renewables by 2035)".

Meanwhile, here at home, we are told about Boulder CO making moves to take over its utility, and about other cities moving to renewable, but most utilities are still private companies doing business-as-usual.

the attitude of most private players has been, “we’re going to take the money that we make from selling fossil fuels, and use it to lobby as hard as we can against any change to the way that we do business.”
A little good news! Studies at Stanford, UC Davis, U of Melbourne, the NOAA, and the DOE find that we could be getting most or all of our energy from renewable sources by 2030 (or 2050). But the good news is of course tempered by bad news.
It’s absolutely not true that we need natural gas, coal or oil—we think it’s a myth,”

...

“The biggest obstacles are social and political—what you need is the will to do it.”

The efforts of the Occupy Sandy movement are discussed and lauded. (My daughter Erica took part :-) Are we learning anything from these increasing disasters?
During good times, it’s easy to deride “big government” and talk about the inevitability of cutbacks. But during disasters, most everyone loses their free market religion and wants to know that their government has their backs.

...

Over the course of the 1970s, there were 660 reported disasters around the world, including droughts, floods, extreme temperature events, wildfires, and storms. In the 2000s, there were 3,322 — a fivefold boost.

...

Yet these are the same three decades in which almost every government in the world has been steadily chipping away at the health and resilience of the public sphere.

We clearly need to reverse this trend, and shore up our crumbling infrastructure of all types. But where does the money come from? Another important concept: The Polluter Pays. In particular, the proposal is that big oil pays. There is precedent for this, with tobacco companies and oil spills.
These companies are rich, quite simply, because they have dumped the cost of cleaning up their mess onto regular people around the world.
Supporting the idea that big oil needs to pay is the fact that despite early forays into renewable energies, big oil has pretty much given up on renewables and is concentrating on what it knows best - oil and gas - even if they are getting to be harder and harder to extract.

Next target: as US DOE is largest consumer of oil in the world, "arms companies should pay their share."

You knew it would come to this:

Moreover, there is a simple, direct correlation between wealth and emissions — more money generally means more flying, driving, boating, and powering of multiple homes.

...

the roughly 500 million richest of us on the planet are responsible for about half of all global emissions.

She describes 6 different taxation schemes, including the Wall Street transaction tax and billionaire's tax, which together could raise $2T per year. Will people get behind such changes and sacrifices to save the planet? They will if they don't think they are having to do it all themselves, while the rich and the corporations receive "get-out-of-jail-free" cards.


Chapter 4 is titled (provocatively) "Planning And Banning", subtitled "Slapping the Invisible Hand, Building a Movement". Obama's handling of the 2009 crisis was a huge missed opportunity to build a coalition to create some real systemic change; instead we got bailouts of the existing system. [It is increasingly clear to me, particularly with Holder's refusal to bring criminal charges against any individuals involved in the financial crisis, that the Democratic Party has become a creature of Wall Street.]

There's a lot of discussion of the power of the current system and the oil companies, and how difficult it is to oppose them. She seems frustrated by Obams's not just coming out and stopping the Keystone-XL pipeline. I think that with the rope-a-dope Obama's been doing he has been effectively stopping it for 3 years. With our new Republican Senate having approved it, we'll see if Obama will finally have to veto the project.

Ha ha, good joke:

hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking) combined with horizontal drilling, the technology that has finally allowed the fossil fuel industry to screw us sideways.
But a serious piece of research shows that fracking does more than exhaust and pollute groundwater supplies:
in April 2011, a new study by leading scientists at Cornell University ... found that methane emissions linked to fracked natural gas are at least 30 percent higher than the emissions linked to conventional gas.
And methane is 34x as bad a greenhouse gas as CO2, making fracked gas almost as dirty as coal. And for the 1st 10-15 years, it's 86x as bad as CO2! Yikes! [I'd like to see numbers and graphs on atmospheric methane concentration.]

The point with fracking for natural gas is that, as the more readily available forms of fossil fuels become exhausted, the industry must use more destructive forms of extraction, and often to obtain dirtier forms of the product. Examples include lignite coal in Germany, Czech Republic and Poland; tar sands like those in Alberta; and offshore oil drilling in ever deeper and icier waters.

We are blasting the bedrock of our continents, pumping our water with toxins, lopping off mountaintops, scraping off boreal forests, endangering the deep ocean, and scrambling to exploit the melting Arctic — all to get at the last drops and the final rocks. Yes, some very advanced technology is making this possible, but it’s not innovation, it’s madness.
Big oil is making huge investments in these more expensive extraction methods. Apparently an oil company that does not have a reserve-replacement ratio of at least 100% is in trouble. It's stock will take a beating - and, as most executives have stock options as a large component of their compensation package, they will do pretty much whatever it takes to claim new reserves. No matter how risky or dirty the reserve is, it is a matter of a fossil fuel company's survival to keep finding more.

How much more is there? $27T worth - which, unfortunately, is estimated to be ~5x what the earth can possibly bear.

Those numbers also tell us that the very thing we must do to avert catastrophe — stop digging — is the very thing these companies cannot contemplate without initiating their own demise. They tell us that getting serious about climate change, which means cutting our emissions radically, is simply not compatible with the continued existence of one of the most profitable industries in the world.
Can it be fixed? What about all the other issues facing the world?
Climate change pits what the planet needs to maintain stability against what our economic model needs to sustain itself. But since that economic model is failing the vast majority of the people on the planet on multiple fronts that might not be such a bad thing. Put another way, if there has ever been a moment to advance a plan to heal the planet that also heals our broken economies and our shattered communities, this is it.


Chapter 5 is titled "Beyond Extractivism", subtitled "Confronting the Climate Denier Within". The island of Naura, northeast of Australian is a textbook cautionary tale of the results of extractivism. The entire interior of the phosphate-rich island has been mined for fertilizer and will no longer support the population, who were supposed to move to Australia in exchange for trashing their island. The island became a money laundering haven, and now the rising ocean adds to the ecological disaster. It's latest attempt to recover has been a refugee center for Australia.

Every place where extractive industries ply their trade has a sacrifice zone. We know these here in KY as the streams filled by the rubble created by mountain top removal coal mining, and the mountains of coal ash created from burning the coal (which occasionally find their way into our waterways), along with other forms.

Extractivism is traced back to someone who I had thought of favorably as one of the fathers of modern science: Francis Bacon.

“For you have but to follow and as it were hound nature in her wanderings,” Bacon wrote in De Augmentis Scientiarum in 1623, “and you will be able, when you like, to lead and drive her afterwards to the same place again. . . . Neither ought a man to make scruple of entering and penetrating into these holes and corners, when the inquisition of truth is his sole object.”
The run-up to the Industrial Revolution strengthens this attitude:
clergyman and philosopher William Derham in his 1713 book Physico-Theology: “We can, if need be, ransack the whole globe, penetrate into the bowels of the earth, descend to the bottom of the deep, travel to the farthest regions of this world, to acquire wealth.”
The early days of the Industrial Revolution were marked by water power being replaced by the steam engine - you could place a steam engine anywhere as opposed to only on a river. Industries could move to the cities, with a more plentiful supply of workers. Man seemed to have become independent of nature.
Coal and oil, precisely because they were fossilized, seemed entirely possessable forms of energy. They did not behave independently — not like wind, or water, or, for that matter, workers.

...
But, ... the give-and-take, call-and-response that is the essence of all relationships in nature was not eliminated with fossil fuels, it was merely delayed, all the while gaining force and velocity. Now the cumulative effect of those centuries of burned carbon is in the process of unleashing the most ferocious natural tempers of all.


Part Two is titled "Magical Thinking" - anti-patterns that are not going to help us address the climate crisis.

Chapter 6 is titled "Fruits, Not Roots", subtitled "The Disastrous Merger of Big Business and Big Green". This chapter is really depressing as it details the corruption of many of the best known conservation and environmental NGOs.

In 1995, the Nature Conservancy had 2,303 acres on Galveston Bay in SE Texas donated to it by Mobil to save the Attwater's prairie chicken. What did they do? They drilled a gas well right in the middle of the bird's breeding grounds!!! And despite a lot of negative press in 2002 and 2003, they are still operating the well!!! And, the birds, they are a moot point now - the last of them disappeared in November 2012.

under the stewardship of what The New Yorker describes as “the biggest environmental nongovernmental organization in the world” — boasting over one million members and assets of roughly $6 billion and operating in thirty-five countries — an endangered species has been completely wiped out from one of its last remaining breeding grounds, on which the organization earned millions drilling for and pumping oil and gas.
The intertwining of some large green groups with big oil and industry begins with donations, but also has the green groups investing parts of their endowments with these companies, forming "strategic partnerships" - which I would guess are mostly PR opportunities for the companies - and placing corporate execs on their boards and panels.

The groups with dirty hands: The Nature Conservancy, Conservational International, the Conservation Fund, WWF, the World Resources Institute, the Environmental Defense Fund.

The groups with clean(er) hands: Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, Food & Water Watch.

The Sierra Club apparently took $M from a natural gas company between 2007 and 2010, but has since cut ties to the fossil fuel sector.

These cozy relationships have led the green groups to be open to the less-offensive, wishy-washy approaches to the climate crisis - carbon exchanges, natural gas as a solution, and "market-based" solutions. And this has led to the appearance of action mollifying the public, rather than the type of strong action that is needed being pushed.

Historically, the environmental movement flourished in the 60s and 70s, with dozens of federal environmental acts being passed. Then came 1980 and Reagan and it all started going south.

The greens could have joined coalitions of unions, civil rights groups, and pensioners who were also facing attacks on hard-won gains, forming a united front against the public sector cutbacks and deregulation that was hurting them all. And they could have kept aggressively using the courts to sue the bastards.
And while some green groups did this, the majority, and particularly the bigger ones, instead decided to keep their Washington insider status and work with industry. Their message became as diluted and lost as you would expect.
But between the Heartlanders who recognize that climate change is a profound threat to our economic and social systems and therefore deny its scientific reality, and those who claim climate change requires only minor tweaks to business-as-usual and therefore allow themselves to believe in its reality, it’s not clear who is more deluded.
2006 was the year Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" was released. But it did not start any mass movements to really address the issue. Was the big green groups' sellout complicit in this?
Indeed a growing number of communications specialists now argue that because the “solutions” to climate change proposed by many green groups in this period were so borderline frivolous, many people concluded that the groups must have been exaggerating the scale of the problem. After all, if climate change really was as dire as Al Gore argued it was in An Inconvenient Truth, wouldn’t the environmental movement be asking the public to do more than switch brands of cleaning liquid, occasionally walk to work, and send money? Wouldn’t they be trying to shut down the fossil fuel companies?
The sell-out green groups, after pushing (non-fracked) natural gas in the late 00s, are now trying to help establish that fracked natural gas is a safe and clean fuel. Watch the movie "Gasland" and see how you feel about that.

Another market-based scheme that is working not-at-all is the carbon credit exchange that the US insisted be a part of the 1997 Kyoto Protocols.

The prospect of getting paid real money based on projections of how much of an invisible substance is kept out of the air tends to be something of a scam magnet. And the carbon market has attracted a truly impressive array of grifters and hustlers ...
Gawd, indegenous peoples get thrown out of their own forests so that the forests can be clamed as carbon-offsets. What crap, but, hey, it's market-based! Ah, here's the chapter's title:
When the Big Green groups refer to offsets as the “low-hanging fruit” of climate action, they are in fact making a crude cost-benefit analysis that concludes that it’s easier to cordon off a forest inhabited by politically weak people in a poor country than to stop politically powerful corporate emitters in rich countries — that it’s easier to pick the fruit, in other words, than dig up the roots.
Here's a telling indictment of these sell-out Big Green groups:
“I hate the idea of the environmental movement fighting among itself instead of fighting the oil companies,” he said. “It’s just that these groups don’t seem to have any desire to take on the oil companies, and with some of them, I’m not sure they really are environmentalists at all.”


Chapter 7 is titled "No Messiahs", subtitled "The Green Billionaires Won't Save Us". This can be summed up pretty well by looking at Richard Branson, founder and CEO of Virgin Group: after a personal presentation by Al Gore, Branson was going to devote Virgin to Gaia Capitalism. In 2009 he launched the Carbon War Room. He is one of the founders of The B Team, which is supposed to be looking for alternatives to capitalism. He tells a good story. In 2006 he promised to invest $3B over the next decade to develop biofuel alternatives to oil and gas. A year later, he set up a $25M prize for anyone who could figure out how to remove 1B tons of carbon/year from the atmosphere.

7 years into the 10 year pledge, Virgin has contributed under $300M of the $3B promised. And no awards on the biofuel front as well. In fact, in November 2011, 11 "promising entries" were showcased - in Calgary, home city for the Alberta tar sands! And it gets worse - the challenge is now to turn CO2 into commercially viable products. And the killer app appears to be, injecting the CO2 into oil wells to produce more oil! Arrggghhhh!

Meanwhile, Virgin has added 160 planes to its fleet and had its greenhouse gas emissions increase by 40%. Despite being founded in 2007, Virgin America's planes come in 9th place in fuel efficiency of carriers in the US. Worst case:

Indeed it can be argued — and some do — that Branson’s planet-savior persona is an elaborate attempt to avoid the kind of tough regulatory action that was on the horizon in the U.K. and Europe precisely when he had his high-profile green conversion.

...

this pattern ... convinced Mike Childs of Friends of the Earth U.K. that Branson’s reinvention as a guilt-ridden planet wrecker volunteering to use his carbon profits to solve the climate crisis was little more than a cynical ploy.

Other billionaires expressing concern about global warming include Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Michael Bloomberg. But all of them are still invested in fossil fuel companies [as is pretty much anyone with a 401-K]. Gates in particular seems to be counting on some future miracle tech to bale us out - while the clock ticks down to 0.
There will, no doubt, be more billionaire saviors who make splashy entrances, with more schemes to rebrand capitalism. The trouble is, we simply don’t have another decade to lose pinning our hopes on these sideshows.


Chapter 8 is titled "Dimming The Sun", subtitled "The Solution to Pollution Is ... Pollution?". This chapter discusses geoengineering. When people talk to me about "the climate controversy", I mention that while there is no controversy about climate change, that it is settled science, there is indeed one controversial topic in the field. That topic is geoengineering: developing global-scale technologies to combat global warming while letting greenhouse gasses continue to build. Hmmm, per Wikipedia, the correct term is actually "climate engineering". I was somewhat surprised at the in-depth coverage Ms. Klein gives the topic.

She attended the 1st conference to discuss the governance of geoengineering research in March 2011. Geoengineering schemes include:

  • dumping iron in the oceans to promote algae growth to absorb CO2.
  • covering deserts with white sheets to reflect sunlight back into space.
  • CO2 sequestering machines, like Branson was sponsoring.
  • injecting particles into the upper atmosphere to reflect sunlight; Solar Radiation Management (SRM), the favorite.
  • space mirrors to deflect sunlight.
  • "cloud brigntening" - creating clouds by spraying seawater into the sky.
The controversy about geoengineering is basically, should we even vaguely consider such techniques, or is it insane to do so? Ms. Klein pretty strongly favors the latter argument. But support for geoengineering - as a last resort of course - seems to be growing - "Geoengineeering: The Horrifying Idea Whose Time Has Come?" was the title of a 2010 forum. She quotes our own Wendell Berry:
The ancients called this hubris; the great American philosopher, farmer and poet Wendell Berry calls it “arrogant ignorance,” adding, “We identify arrogant ignorance by its willingness to work on too big a scale, and thus to put too much at risk.”
Probably the most damning argument is similar to the one against the Star Wars missile defense system: how do you test it? You can run simulations, but you'll never really know if it works without complete deployment - "enlisting billions of people as guinea pigs - for years." And of course fossil fuel companies and their investors have been pushing geoengineering for the last 2 decades, so that can continue with their business-as-usual of creating pollution sources.

This chapter introduces agro-ecological methods as another carbon sequestration technique.

I was somewhat surprised when Ms. Klein ixnays the "Earth from space" image that has been popular, particularly among environmentalists, since Apollo astronauts first took the picture.

When we marvel at that blue marble in all its delicacy and frailty, and resolve to save the planet, we cast ourselves in a very specific role. That role is of a parent, the parent of the earth. But the opposite is the case. It is we humans who are fragile and vulnerable and the earth that is hearty and powerful, and holds us in its hands.
Ha, ha, she notes that many of the billionaires (Gates, Branson) looking for tech fixes such as geoengineering also "share a strong interest in a planetary exodus" - to Mars, say.
For it is surely a lot easier to accept the prospect of a recklessly high-risk Plan B when you have, in your other back pocket, a Plan C.


Part Three is titled "Starting Anyway" - finally, some good news, grassroots movements springing up everywhere trying to save their little piece of the planet!

Chapter 9 is titled "Blockadia", subtitled "The New Climate Warriors".

Blockadia is not a specific location on a map but rather a roving transnational conflict zone that is cropping up with increasing frequency and intensity wherever extractive projects are attempting to dig and drill, whether for open-pit mines, or gas fracking, or tar sands oil pipelines.

What unites these increasingly interconnected pockets of resistance is the sheer ambition of the mining and fossil fuel companies: the fact that in their quest for high-priced commodities and higher-risk “unconventional” fuels, they are pushing relentlessly into countless new territories, regardless of the impact on the local ecology (in particular, local water systems), as well as the fact that many of the industrial activities in question have neither been adequately tested nor regulated, yet have already shown themselves to be extraordinarily accident-prone.

Everyday people are seeing that Big Green and governments are failing them, so they are organizing spontaneously and locally. In Greece to stop a new open-pit gold and copper mine. In Romania to stop a shale gas exploration well. In New Brunswick to stop seismic testing preceding fracking. In England to stop fracking. In Inner Mongolia to stop coal mining. In Australia to stop coal mining. And, of course, in the US to stop the Keystone XL pipeline, and in British Columbia to similarly block the Northern Gateway pipeline.

Here's a pic of an old Romanian woman that went viral.

Greenpeace seems to be the main organized group taking part in Blockadia, with their well-publicized run-in with Russian oil exploration vessels in the Arctic.

Examined in more detail are the Ogoni Nigerians, who forced Shell out of their territory, which had been exploited by Shell for decades.

This chapter returns to sacrifice zones.

the people reaping the bulk of the benefits of extractivism pretend not to see the costs of that comfort so long as the sacrifice zones are kept safely out of view.

But in less than a decade of the extreme energy frenzy and the commodity boom, the extractive industries have broken that unspoken bargain. In very short order, the sacrifice zones have gotten a great deal larger, swallowing ever more territory and putting many people who thought they were safe at risk.

In the US, the number of oil tank cars in service increased by 41x from 2008 to 2013. So everyone living near a railroad line is potentially in a sacrifice zone if these cars derail. [I have noted over the years that no place I have lived or visited in the midwest is out of hearing distance of a railroad.]

Meanwhile, fracked wells are springing up everywhere. Per the Wall Street Journal, “more than 15 million Americans live within a mile of a well that has been drilled and fracked since 2000.” We all got a laugh out of the Exxon CEO who joined a lawsuit opposing fracking near his home in Texas.

Ithaca, NY organized to ban fracking. A compressor station in Minisink, NY led to organizing opposing fracking in the entire state. And attempts to begin fracking in the South of France led to a 2011 nationwide ban on fracking.

In North America, the Pacific Northwest - British Columbia, Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Idaho - has been very actively opposing the extractive industries. The "Cowboys and Indians" are working together to oppose pipelines and giant haulers on the roads. With coal use plummeting domestically (from 50% to 37% of energy generated between 2008 and 2012), producers are looking to export more coal to Asia. The Pacific Northwest is also blocking the construction of new terminals to ship the coal.

Richmond, CA has also stood up to Chevron attempts to expand its oil refinery there. [And in the 2014 elections, a heavily funded Chevron slate of candidates for mayor and city council were defeated by local candidates.] Northwestern Native Americans have also been instrumental in the fight. Inspirational words:

What we now know is that Keystone was always about much more than a pipeline. It was a new fighting spirit, and one that is contagious. One battle doesn’t rob from another but rather causes battles to multiply, with each act of courage, and each victory, inspiring others to strengthen their resolve.
Also galvanizing opposition to extractivism is the growing realization that the risk factor of extraction is going up and up, and that extractive companies will underestimate that risk, fail to plan for it, and rely on others to clean up their mess.
That is the widespread conviction that today’s extractive activities are significantly higher risk than their predecessors: tar sands oil is unquestionably more disruptive and damaging to local ecosystems than conventional crude. Many believe it to be more dangerous to transport, and once spilled harder to clean up. A similar risk escalation is present in the shift to fracked oil and gas; in the shift from shallow to deepwater drilling (as the BP disaster showed); and most dramatically, in the move from warm water to Arctic drilling. Communities in the path of unconventional energy projects are convinced they are being asked to risk a hell of a lot, and much of the time they are being offered very little in return for their sacrifice, whether lasting jobs or significant royalties.

...

many Blockadia activists cite the 2010 BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico as either their political awakening, or the moment they realized they absolutely had to win their various battles against extreme energy. ... What made the strongest impression on the horrified public was not the tar-coated tourist beaches in Florida or the oil-soaked pelicans in Louisiana. It was the harrowing combination of the oil giant’s complete lack of preparedness for a blowout at those depths, as it scrambled for failed fix after failed fix, and the cluelessness of the government regulators and responders.

There have been enough leaks, explosions, and other disasters that everyone realizes that, with every new well, pipeline, or mine, it's not a question of "if", it's a question of "when" there will be an accident - for which the action plan will be a mixture of boilerplate, wishful thinking, and dissembling.
in Blockadia, risk assessment has been abandoned on the barricaded roadside, replaced by a resurgence of the precautionary principle—which holds that when human health and the environment are significantly at risk, perfect scientific certainty is not required before taking action.

...

Blockadia is turning the tables, insisting that it is up to industry to prove that its methods are safe — and in the era of extreme energy that is something that simply cannot be done.


Chapter 10 is titled "Love Will Save This Place", subtitled "Democracy, Divestment, and the Wins So Far". The love in the title is the love that people have for their native land, the place they grew up. And "No safety pledge will assuage; no bribe will be big enough" to induce people to allow risky new extraction projects. In contrast

the culture of fossil fuel extraction is — by both necessity and design — one of extreme rootlessness. The workforce of big rig drivers, pipefitters, miners, and engineers is, on the whole, highly mobile, moving from one worksite to the next and very often living in the now notorious “man camps” — self-enclosed army-base-style mobile communities that serve every need from gyms to movie theaters (often with an underground economy in prostitution).
Protecting one's water supply seems to be the spark that ignites opposition to extractive industries in many places. Fracking is a double-whammy to water supplies: it is a water intensive process, and it usually pollutes the local watershed. The images in "Gasland" of people igniting their tapwater - if that would not spur you to action, I don't know that would.

More good news, in the section titled "Early Wins":

Alongside France, countries with moratoria [on fracking] include Bulgaria, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, and South Africa (though South Africa has since lifted the ban). Moratoria or bans are also in place in the states and provinces of Vermont, Quebec, as well as Newfoundland and Labrador (as of early 2014, New York’s contentious moratorium still held but it looked shaky).

...

And then there is the wave of global victories against coal. ... The Sierra Club’s hugely successful “Beyond Coal” campaign has, along with dozens of local partner organizations, succeeded in retiring 170 coal plants in the United States and prevented over 180 proposed plants since 2002.

The campaign to block coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest has similarly moved from strength to strength.

And while not winning outright, the fight against allowing tar sands export has delayed the development of this dirty energy, weakening their investment potential and giving alternative energy sources time to mature and grow as alternatives. Goldman Sachs pulled out of an investment position in a proposed coal export terminal in late 2013, even before China's recent announcement that it would cap coal usage by 2020.

Another positive trend has been the divestment movement, with students placing pressure on universities to divest their investments in fossil fuel stocks. Cities and religious institutions are also divesting. And this isn't just about maybe lowering the stock price.

it might even create the space for a serious discussion about whether these profits are so illegitimate that they deserve to be appropriated and reinvested in solutions to the climate crisis. Divestment is just the first stage of this delegitimization process, but it is already well under way.
Opposing this progress is the fossil fuel industry using various fair trade laws to challenge attempts to stop them business-as-usual.
as of 2013, a full sixty out of 169 pending cases at the World Bank’s dispute settlement tribunal had to do with the oil and gas or mining sectors, compared to a mere seven extraction cases throughout the entire 1980s and 1990s.
And people fighting extractive companies find that often it is hard to tell the government regulators from the fossil fuel employees. There is a revolving door between industry and the government, just like in the financial industries. The people fighting extractive industries are finding out that maybe they're not living in democracies, but rather corporatocracies.
As Venezuelan political scientist Edgardo Lander aptly puts it, “The total failure of climate negotiation serves to highlight the extent to which we now live in a post-democratic society. The interests of financial capital and the oil industry are much more important than the democratic will of people around the world. In the global neoliberal society profit is more important than life.”
But people aren't giving up. Instead they are working at lower levels: at the city level and below.


Chapter 11 is titled "You And What Army?", subtitled "Indegenous Rights and the Power of Keeping Our Word". This chapter talks about the leadership role that the First Nations - Canadian Native Americans - have taking in fighting the extractive industries. The First Nations got much better deals in Canada than did the indigenes in the US. For much of Western Canada, the treaties read that they have the right to their traditional use of the land in perpetuity - they did not agree to cede the land, but to share it. Court cases have also found that they are owned $T for resources extracted from this land. But, how to get the Canadian government to fully honor these rights? Hence the "You And What Army" title.

Indigenous rights — if aggressively backed by court challenges, direct action, and mass movements demanding that they be respected — may now represent the most powerful barriers protecting all of us from a future of climate chaos
These rights were recognized in 1999, and, in New Brunswick, created tensions between First Nation and non-First Nation residents - First Nation fishermen could ignore fishing seasons. The government got involved, on the side of the non-First Nation residents.

But, come 2013, the First Nation residents led the fight against fracking. And suddenly, everybody was on the same side, and everyone realized that the First Nations treaty rights were a powerful weapon against the fracking industry. They also played a big part in the fights against a coal terminal in Washington State and oil drilling in the Arctic.

But, indigenous communities are some of the poorest in their countries. Extractive industries come in offering huge piles of money, and with the government and the police at their backs.

That is a huge burden to bear and that these communities are bearing it with shockingly little support from the rest of us is an unspeakable social injustice.

...

Members of these communities know that the drilling will only make it harder to engage in subsistence activities — there are real concerns about the effects of oil development on the migration of whales, walruses, and caribou — and that’s without the inevitable spills. But precisely because the ecology is already so disrupted by climate change, there often seems no other option.

So how do we create other options? We Honor The Treaties. We keep the promises and do all we can to bring all human rights, including health care and educations, to the indigenous people holding the line for the rest of us.


Chapter 12 is titled "Sharing The Sky", subtitled "The Atmospheric Commons and the Power of Paying Our Debts". Residents of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana have been fighting against coal mining for years. In recent years, in addition to fighting via lawsuits, they are fighting by implementing solar power solutions in their housing. It is noted how much the use of renewable energy sources requires you to work with nature, rather than just plopping down a steam engine anywhere and firing it up. But plans for more solar and wind farms instead of coal mines get bogged down - reservations don't have much capital to work from.

Part of the job of the climate movement, then, is to make the moral case that the communities who have suffered most from unjust resource relationships should be first to be supported in their efforts to build the next, life-based economy now.
But there is economic pressure on many of us: family farmers unable to compete with agribusiness; factory workers whose jobs have been shipped overseas. The $$$ of extractive industries, which are booming in the US now, are substantial.
today’s climate movement does not have the luxury of simply saying no without simultaneously fighting for a series of transformative yeses — the building blocks of our next economy that can provide good clean jobs, as well as a social safety net that cushions the hardships for those inevitably suffering losses.
One way to move in this direction is to go beyond divestment and to actively reinvest in renewable solutions. In a dark-cloud-with-a-silver-lining way, climate-related disasters like Superstorm Sandy may increasingly give us opportunities to rebuild in a more green manner.
unlike the disaster capitalists who use crises to end-run around democracy, a People’s Recovery (as many from the Occupy movement called for post-Sandy) would require new democratic processes, including neighborhood assemblies, to decide how hard-hit communities should be rebuilt. The overriding principle must be to address the twin crises of inequality and climate change at the same time.
This chapter discusses at greater length the concept of "climate debt":
Developed countries, which represent less than 20 percent of the world’s population, have emitted almost 70 percent of all the greenhouse gas pollution that is now destabilizing the climate.
The planet can only tolerate so much greenhouse gasses, and the currently rich, developed countries got that way by leading the way in emissions.
195 countries, including the United States, ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992, which enshrines the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities.” That basically means that everyone is responsible for being part of the climate solution but the countries that have emitted more over the past century should be the first to cut and should also help finance poorer countries to switch to clean development models.
This leads us into concepts like reparations. [I can see no way the developed countries can ever be pressured into agreeing to reparations. Where is the stick with which to beat them? So the developing countries may insist on their right to grow their economies to pollute just as we did and are doing.]


Chapter 13 is titled "The Right To Regenerate", subtitled "Moving from Extraction to Renewal". Ms. Klein returns to the personal, using the story of her own fertility problems to illustrate a very important point that I had never seen before: that while we may be shocked by pictures of birds, otters, and other sea life covered in oil from a spill, the real damage is done to the infant and larval forms of all the life that comes into contact with the spill. These infant and larval forms are completely wiped out.

That’s what happened to the herring after the Exxon Valdez disaster. For three years after the spill, herring stocks were robust. But in the fourth, populations suddenly plummeted by roughly three quarters. The next year, there were so few, and they were so sick, that the herring fishery in Prince William Sound was closed. The math made sense: the herring that were in their egg and larval stages at the peak of the disaster would have been reaching maturity right about then.
Preliminary data suggests that the same thing may be happening in the Gulf in the aftermath of the BP disaster.

She points out too that in so many regulations on substances the quantities allowed are based on full-grown males. Impacts on fetuses and children for these quantities are way out of proportion. And indeed, there are now studies linking birth defects, low birth weight, and low Apgar scores to proximity to fracking sites.

Similarly, the evil twin of global warming, ocean acidification, also affects infant and larval forms disproportionately.

Richard Feely, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, explains that before the die-offs began, “What we knew at the time was that many organisms as adults are sensitive to acidification. What we did not know is that the larval stages of those organisms are much more sensitive.”
Together, this leads to the situation where populations die out "bottom-up" - from the youngest to the oldest.
Once this pattern is recognized, it seems obvious: of course the very young are much more vulnerable than adults; of course even the most subtle environmental changes will hurt them more; and of course fertility is one of the first functions to erode when animals are under stress.
Man, I hate the term "overburden" - the extractive industries' word for the trees, topsoil, dirt, stone, and anything else that stands between them and the oil or coal they are after. Piles of discarded overburden are a standard feature of sacrifice zones.

It's kind of out of context, but she does reference a well-known comic by our own Joel Pett, so I'll include it here.

Following medical advice, Ms. Klein was working less to lower her stress levels. And after visiting the Land Institute in Kansas where they are developing perennial grain crops - whose long roots give them more access to water and thus require much less irrigation - Ms. Klein did become pregnant with her son, yay!

The chapter continues drawing parallels between human reproduction and reproduction in the rest of nature, based on many concepts taken from indigenous peoples.

What is emerging, in fact, is a new kind of reproductive rights movement, one fighting not only for the reproductive rights of women, but for the reproductive rights of the planet as a whole — for the decapitated mountains, the drowned valleys, the clear-cut forests, the fracked water tables, the strip-mined hillsides, the poisoned rivers, the “cancer villages.” All of life has the right to renew, regenerate, and heal itself.

...

many people are remembering their own cultures’ stewardship traditions, however deeply buried, and recognizing humanity’s role as one of life promotion.

So how do we move forward in a manner that promotes life on our planet, rather than threatening it?
As communities move from simply resisting extractivism to constructing the world that must rise in its rubble, protecting the fertility cycle is at the heart of the most rapidly multiplying models, from permaculture to living buildings to rainwater harvesting.

...

And contrary to capitalism’s drift toward monopoly and duopoly in virtually every arena, these systems mimic nature’s genius for built-in redundancy by amplifying diversity wherever possible, from more seed varieties to more sources of energy and water. The goal becomes not to build a few gigantic green solutions, but to infinitely multiply smaller ones, and to use policies — like Germany’s feed-in tariff for renewable energy, for instance — that encourage multiplication rather than consolidation. The beauty of these models is that when they fail, they fail on a small and manageable scale


Phew, we've made it to The Conclusion, titled "The Leap Years", subtitled "Just Enough Time for Impossible". It opens talking about a meeting in December 2012, when UCSD professor Brad Werner gave a session titled "Is Earth F**ked?". After a detailed presentation of complex models of "earth-human systems", he gave a journalist the simple answer to the query: "More or less". But what could save the earth?

mass uprisings of people — along the lines of the abolition movement and the civil rights movement — represent the likeliest source of “friction” to slow down an economic machine that is careening out of control.

...

Put another way, only mass social movements can save us now.

...

So if there is any hope of reversing these trends, glimpses won’t cut it; we will need the climate revolution playing on repeat, all day every day, everywhere.

So do we have a shot? The abolition movement of the 19th century is the only thing in previous human history that is comparable.
Chris Hayes, in an award-winning 2014 essay titled “The New Abolitionism,” pointed out “the climate justice movement is demanding that an existing set of political and economic interests be forced to say goodbye to trillions of dollars of wealth” and concluded that “it is impossible to point to any precedent other than abolition.”
As had already been discussed tho, it is pointed out that after the slaves were freed, the reparations that were made were largely "reversed" - slave owners were compensated for their losses and slaves were given nothing.
the fact that our most heroic social justice movements won on the legal front but suffered big losses on the economic front is precisely why our world is as fundamentally unequal and unfair as it remains.
So again, do we have a shot?
There is just enough time, and we are swamped with green tech and green plans. And yet ... we are afraid — with good reason — that our political class is wholly incapable of seizing those tools and implementing those plans, since doing so involves unlearning the core tenets of the stifling free-market ideology that governed every stage of their rise to power.
So it will come down to the people, who are doing great things - even now dozens are being arrested blockading Burnaby Mountain against the Kinder Morgan pipeline.
we will need to start believing, once again, that humanity is not hopelessly selfish and greedy — the image ceaselessly sold to us by everything from reality shows to neoclassical economics.

...

Because in the hot and stormy future we have already made inevitable through our past emissions, an unshakable belief in the equal rights of all people and a capacity for deep compassion will be the only things standing between civilization and barbarism.


I definitely had an emotional reaction to this book - and judging from posts online, lots of people did. It definitely makes you realize that the climate crisis has to be the #1 priority of all of us. But where is the coverage? I have tweeted all the MSNBC shows asking for every day 1 minute on "Today in the Climate Crisis" - no response, no viral retweets.

I have been getting quotes on solar for my house, mostly to get a data point on capabilities. After finishing this book, I was like "I'm going to do it right now!". But I've calmed down some and will probably wait until next year - plus I need to replace my 2005 Prius with 165,000 miles on it. Solar is a bad investment in Kentucky. Even factoring in increases in price from the incredibly cheap $0.08/kWh we pay now (thanks dirty coal), it still takes 14 years to pay for itself. Still, I'm going to do it. The Prius wasn't really a good investment, but, it let me be a "prophet of Prius" as my wife used to say. So maybe I'll do the same for the solar. Plus, I can generate more power than I can use, so I can use that to bait the utility company via our city council, to try to make them have to buy my (and others) excess.

So what else to do? I've never been arrested. Being retired in theory gives me plenty of spare time for activism (in practice I've been having to do a lot of caregiving since I retired). But I really feel like it is up to the Millennials. They outnumber us Boomers.

My wife is a Sierra Club member. We attended their Action Weekend meeting last winter. So maybe becoming more activist is something we do together.

These next few years really feel like a crux point to me. Will we have an egalitarian, socialist, anarchist utopia or an oligarchic, extractivist, patriarchal dystopia? We're so close to the former, what with most of us are walking around with supercomputers having access to all the knowledge of mankind in our pockets. But the old lizards are going to fight to keep everything they've got - because, that's what they do. We'll see, I guess. But again, let's see what the Millennials can do.