Archive for 2007 September

Sunday on the Planet: The Twilight Wedge

Below is a phenomena I  have seen only in my so-called "Secret Camp," which I learned this week, can be attributed to the fact that only in this location am I likely to be looking many miles east during a sunset.

I thought that the sky was blue at the horizon, and pink above, because the scattering of the long rays of the setting sun simply didn’t reach the horizon. But no! A meterologist explains it this way:

Looking WEST you see the effects of scattering with blue skies above the reddening (pink) sunset sky near the horizon as only the longer wavelengths (red) reach our eyes through the denser air near the surface. Looking EAST, the sunlight is also scattered, changing from blue to the longer wavelength (reddish or pink). Then below that is the rising shadow of the earth against the sky called the twilight wedge, again bluish.

Got that? Let me put it this way: it’s easier to remember than to explain:


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Limbaugh Calls Climate Science “Phony”

Earlier this week, right-wing talk radio host Rush Limbaugh got in trouble for calling soldiers in Iraq opposed to the war "phony."

Yesterday he called the science of ozone depletion to be "phony" and the science of climate change to be "fraudulent." Limbaugh went on to accuse Dr. James Hansen, America’s top climatologist, of being "dishonest," compared him to a "CIA double agent," and said he should be "drummed out of NASA."

Does anyone take Limbaugh seriously anymore? Apparently, the answer is yes. For the open-minded interested in the facts, please see the rest of the post on Gristmill:

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A Short but Unfair Review of “The 11th Hour”

If there is one thing the imminent end of the world should not be, it’s boring.

I’m sorry, but as much as I admire producer Leonardo DiCaprio for his acting and his long-standing commitment to environmental causes, this is a godawful piece of film.

"The 11th Hour" knows a lot about science and the earth, but next to nothing about movies. Movies are about show, not tell. Even Al Gore, long considered a stiff on camera, understood this. Moving pictures, Leonardo, not talking heads. This sincerely dreadful piece of preaching is all talking heads, with a few brief clips of various catastrophes. As an unsurprising consequence, despite being well-promoted, the film has been a total disaster at the box office. 

I know, that was completely uncalled for. But it’s true, and somebody has to say it.

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Enviro Song of the Year: Steve Earle’s “Down Here Below”

Steve Earle, as I wrote elsewhere, is a unique talent and a unique individual. Though known today for his radical politics, his raspy voice, and his time in jail, we tend to take for granted Earle’s ability to play guitar. We shouldn’t. Earle backed Lucinda Williams on her greatest record, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, and he plays rhythm guitar the way some men swing a hammer — relentlessly.

But what Earle’s emphatic nature and his hell-raising past have obscured is a great love for the roots of folk music, specifically, for early Dylan, in his Greenwich Village days. A terrific piece in the New Yorker earlier this year brought out the depth of Earle’s commitment to the Village, which is where he meant to go when he left Texas as a teen, though it took a while for him to make it:

Earle turns out to be a historian of the early folk scene in the
Village. (He and his wife are planning to publish a walking tour.) He
has read everything written about the era, and can tell you the address
of Izzy Young’s Folklore Center on MacDougal (No. 110; it’s now a nail
salon) and the location of Gerdes Folk City (corner of West Fourth and
Mercer), where Dylan played his first big gig. “This is where they
invented what I do,” he said. “And it happened only because there were
these three groups—the folksingers, the musicologists, and the
writers—who happened to be living in this several-block radius. If that
scene doesn’t happen, then rock and roll never becomes literature. It
just stays pop.”

In "Tennessee Blues," the first song on his terrific new record, Washington Square Serenade, Earle puts all that in the past. "Sunset in my mirror," he sings, "Pedal on the floor/Bound for New York City/Won’t be back no more/no, won’t be back no more/goodby guitar town."

But it’s the second song that ought to appeal to enviros. Powered by a bodacious guitar lick, he evokes a hawk’s life, soaring high over Manhattan, pitiless and proud:

Pale male, he’s cool see,
because he knows his breakfast ain’t going nowhere
so he does a loop to loop for the tourists
and the six o’clock news,                                     
got himself a penthouse view from the tip-top of the food chain, boys,                             all up and down Fifth Avenue —
and he says "God, I love this town…"

Great song, folks, really and truly. Before this record, to tell the truth, I liked a couple of Earle songs ("Transcendental Blues") but mostly found him grating. This one has changed my mind. Check it out:

Download 02_down_here_below.mp3



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Vegetarian Nudity

I’m all for it. And meat-eating has a major–and negative–impact on the climate. And this is about as close as I’m ever likely to get to a naked Alicia Silverstone. So…

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Our Moral Footprint

Great headline in the New York Times atop an op-ed from Vaclav Havel on climate change. I think Havel is one of the great thinkers of our time, have read and reread the piece, and recommend it in full.

But here’s what stands out to this reporter. Havel sees climate change not as a technical challenge, but as a call to moral seriousness:

I’m skeptical that a problem as complex as climate change can be
solved by any single branch of science. Technological measures and
regulations are important, but equally important is support for
education, ecological training and ethics — a consciousness of the
commonality of all living beings and an emphasis on shared

Either we will achieve an awareness of our place
in the living and life-giving organism of our planet, or we will face
the threat that our evolutionary journey may be set back thousands or
even millions of years. That is why we must see this issue as a
challenge to behave responsibly and not as a harbinger of the end of
the world.

Forget about the apocalypse. Let’s think about each other.

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The Usefulness of Fear, according to Exxon…and IBM

Dave Chase, who once worked for Microsoft, aptly describes the method of Exxon and other global warming deniers as "FUD" — sowing Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt.

During the late 80’s and into 90’s, there was a major shift away
from so-called “host computing” (i.e., mainframes & minicomputers).
That shift nearly killed IBM and did kill a host of other 2nd tier
players. IBM did all it could to sow fear, uncertainty and doubt
with customers to get them to slow down their migration away from
mainframes. This period saw the rise of companies like Sun, Microsoft,
Intel, Oracle and others who took advantage of the shift though it
would have happened much quicker had IBM not been so effective with
FUD. I was at Microsoft at the time and we saw how IBM was very
effective at using FUD with market analysts through the commission of
studies and using their PR machine to highlight problems with the
mainframe alternatives as well as several other tactics…

And America’s leading climatologist (according to ABC News) suggests a counterstrategy. James Hansen writes in his latest email:

One now sees advertisements by EXXON/Mobil, and other giants, to the effect that they have become “green”. And personal statements of CEOs often acknowledge the reality of global warming and its potential importance. Nobody wants to be remembered as a dinosaur, as a crook who stole from future generations. But it turns out that the fraction of their huge resources devoted to becoming an energy company, as opposed to a fossil fuel company, is minuscule. This pretending to acknowledge global warming while continuing business-as-usual serves mainly to cover one’s backside. Such people may feel better, having eased their consciences.

So the task is back to you, young people. Let your parents and grandparents know that you understand posturing. Appealing on a personal level and expecting accoutability can still be effective. Don’t let them off the hook. “Hey, Grandfather, it’s my planet too!”

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The Massacre Begins

More news from Asia…as predicted, the Burmese authorities have opened fire on protesters, killing monks and even foreigners, and doing their best to cut the nation off from the outside world. So far, they have not succeeded. In fact, for breaking news on Burma, please see this amazing site, named after Burma’s great river, the Irrawaddy, with by far the best pictures from the street battles I’ve seen.

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World’s Largest Dam a “Potential Catastrophe,” China Admits

Three Gorges, the world’s largest dam, built over the last decade by China across the Yangtze River, is "a potential catastrophe," Chinese officials now admit.

According to [state news agency] Xinhua, the rising volume of water in the reservoir
behind the dam has eroded river banks along 91 stretches of the
Yangtze, triggering landslides. The sudden collapses of tranches of
soil into the water has created waves that have been up to 50 metres
(164ft) high, the agency said. "Regular geological disasters are a
severe threat to the lives of residents around the dam," Huang Xuebin,
an engineer, told a meeting of officials.

Waves a hundred and sixty feet high! Jeez. And that’s not to mention pollution and algae choking streams behind the dam, despite government expenditures of close to a billion dollars a year on clean-up efforts.

"We cannot lower our guard against
ecological and environmental problems caused by the Three Gorges
project," Wang Xiaofeng, director in charge of building the dam, was
quoted as saying. "We can not win by achieving economic prosperity at
the cost of the environment."

Um, right. Where have I heard that before? Oh well, whatever, nevermind…

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The “Other America”

A writer for The Guardian recounts a visit to Yosemite and the "other America" he found there. He concludes, somewhat defensively, that beauty can still be found in this "other America." Kind of sad when the only defense against our politics is our land, wouldn’t you say?

…what does this have to do with the other America? Well, atop Glacier
Point, we stumbled upon a wedding. A young couple, dressed to the
nines, were saying their wedding vows at cliff’s edge, the sky a
perfect blue, the majesty of Half Dome.

We went off on a short walk and came back 45 minutes later. The
couple had been positioned by their photographer on the edge of the
cliff. The man was in a white tuxedo, his bride in a luxurious gown,
the long white veil of which was pushed around behind her head, there
to flutter backward in the wind like a sail pulling her off toward the
great rocks in the background. They looked about as happy as any two
people should rightfully be.

There were tourists from all over the world up at Glacier Point. I
must have heard several dozen languages. Down below, in Yosemite
Valley, teenagers from the four corners of the globe were serving food
at the various cafes dotted around the center of the park, part of a
program designed to bring adventurous young people to summer jobs in
out of the way locales in America.

This is the America that will outlast Bush and the hubris of his
administration. It’s a place of fantasies and dreams – where people can
get married on the edge of paradise, and where visitors from a thousand
different places are welcomed and encouraged to stay.


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