Archive for 2008 January

The Democratic Tide Keeps Coming In — Even in Florida

As DHinMN notes for KOS:

First, let’s begin with actual results.  With 95% of the vote reported,
the current tallies show a total of 1,655,220 Democratic votes and
1,872,684 Republican votes.  Every Republican fought as hard as he
could for the win in Florida.  The Democrats—since the DNC won’t seat
Florida’s delegates because they flouted the schedule—didn’t really
compete in the state, with only Hillary Clinton making any campaign
appearances, and none of our folks spending any significant money.  Yet
with this possibly the make-or-break contest for the Republicans and a
probably meaningless "contest" for the Democrats, 47% of the people who
cast ballots in Florida voted for a Democrat.  Hillary Clinton received
over a 100,000 more votes than John McCain, Barack Obama got almost as
many votes as Mitt Romney, and John Edwards wasn’t far behind Rudy
Giuliani and Mike Huckabee.

Full Story »

Will Climate Change Threaten the Redwoods?

No one knows. Some climate modeling suggests it might, especially if the California Current System is affected, which is certainly possible, and has been speculated about quite a lot. In the New York Times yesterday, Healy Hamilton of the California Academy of Sciences was quoted on the subject:

Dr. Hamilton said that on the Northern California coast, fog has an
influence on natural systems. But “none of our climate models can tell
us what is going to happen with fog,” she said. “So we are facing
profound uncertainties about how our coastal ecosystems are going to
look.”

Not mentioned in the article was the simple fact that many redwood trees are not in preserves, but in close proximity to various outposts of civilization, such as Mill Valley and Mendecino. The coastal redwoods depend on their ability to comb water out of fog in the summer, but if the fog was to dissipate, I would expect heroic efforts from Northern Californians to replace that water. Would it succeed? Not everywhere, but I guarantee the NorCal folks wouldn’t give up easily…though it would be difficult to duplicate the ecosystem that has grown up around this fallen tree, from Wadebriston‘s photostream.

Fallenredwood

Full Story »

Debt Pollution: A Metaphor Spreads

In the February Harper’s is an absolutely mesmerizing piece by a financial trader on the nature of bubbles. Because it’s mostly behind a paywall, there’s little pointing in linking here at this time, but I would like to copy and highlight one crucial passage, in which the author Eric Janszen talks about "debt pollution."

Another environmental metaphor has been extended into another realm of finance, following in the footsteps of "sustainability," which (as discussed a few months ago) has been devalued almost to the point of uselessness. But this one — "debt pollution," or "risk pollution" — still packs quite a punch. Here’s Janszen:

The U.S. mortgage crisis has been labeled a “subprime mortgage
crisis,” but subprime mortgages were only a sideshow that appeared
late, as the housing-bubble credit machine ran out of creditworthy
borrowers. The main event was the hyperinflation of home prices. Risks
are embedded in price and lurk as defaults. Even after the faith that
supported a bubble recedes, false beliefs continue to obscure cause and
effect as the crisis unfolds.                        
                                    
                                    

Consider
the chemical industry of forty years ago, back when such pollutants as
PCBs were dumped into the air and water with little or no regulation.
For years, the mantra of the industry was “the solution to pollution is
dilution.” Mixing toxins with vast quantities of air and water was
supposed to neutralize them. Many decades later, with our plagues of
hermaphrodite frogs, poisoned ground water, and mysterious cancers, the
mistake in that logic is plain. Modern bankers, however, have carried
this mistake into the world of finance. As more and more loans with a
high risk of default were made from the late 1990s to the summer of
2007, the shared level of credit risk increased throughout the global
financial system.                                    
                                    
                                    

Think
of that enormous risk as ecomonic poison. In theory, those risk
pollutants have been diluted in the oceanic vastness of the world’s
debt markets; thanks to the magic of securitization, they are made
nontoxic and so pose no systemic risk. In reality, credit pollutants
pose the same kind of threat to our economy as chemical toxins do to
our environment. Like their chemical counterparts, they tend to
concentrate in the weakest and most vulnerable parts of the financial
system, and that’s where the toxic effects show up first: the subprime
mortgage market collapse is essentially the Love Canal of our ongoing
risk-pollution disaster.

Janszen also offers a precise amount the real estate market will fall: 38%. Wow.

Realestateepsv6

Full Story » Comment (1)

Sisar Creek Roars Again

Love the sound of a rushing creek, the sight of cascading water. So clean, so fresh, so raw.  Thanks to photographer neighbor Scott Whitman for the pic.

Sisarcreekonetwentyseven

Full Story »

Would Reagan Have Invaded Iraq After 9/11?

Lou Cannon, who reported on Reagan throughout his career, and then wrote several books about him, says no in an op-ed published yesterday in the Washington Post.

In the wake of U.S. anger and activism after 9/11, Bush led the nation into a preventive war against Iraq.
Notwithstanding the complicity of a malleable Congress (including
virtually all the Democrats with presidential aspirations, save Sen. Barack Obama),
this was Bush’s war. We doubt it would have been Reagan’s. Despite the
widespread support for the 2003 invasion among Reaganites in Congress,
our research has convinced us that Reagan — prone to lower-key
measures such as arming the Nicaraguan contras, burned from sending the
Marines to Lebanon
in 1983 and generally inclined to see the United States as a shining
exemplar rather than a mailed conqueror — would not have undertaken
Bush’s nation-building war.

I’m not so sure. I remember Reagan’s governance well, and believe he would have gone to war in Central American if he hadn’t been so strongly opposed by a Democratic Congress (not to mention millions of Americans who remembered Vietnam all too well). But it’s impossible to say.

Maybe a bigger question would be: Would Reagan have monkeyed with the facts to make a case for war?

The irony is that if Bush had been honest with the American people, and Congress, and had not managed to strong-arm the nation into waging a war well-described by Ron Paul as "a very bad idea," ultimately his legacy and his party would have been far better shape. Playing fair, by the rules of democracy, has benefits. And although I am not a fan of Ronald Reagan, I remember vividly the embarrassment and even shame he displayed after Iran-Contra blew up. Of course his administration did it’s best to sweep the whole mess under the carpet, but I think nearly everyone but Ollie North and the far-right recognized the disaster for what it was. That tells me that Reagan might have wanted war, but wouldn’t have tried to dupe the American people into fighting it.

Cannon diplomatically assesses the Bush administration for about 800 words, and then lowers the boom — brutally.

Bush’s approval rating is now in Carter territory, less than 30 percent
of Americans hold a positive view of the Republican Party, and
Democratic presidential candidates have overtaken the Republicans in
campaign money, votes and crowds. The Republicans’ chances of taking
Congress back from the Democrats are slim. So we can indeed reach a
short-term political judgment of George W. Bush: He is a disaster — if
not the worst president of all time, then at least the worst since
Carter, Hoover or any other recent failure.

Which is Lou Cannon saying, in so many words, to George Bush, Hr., the would-be second coming of the Great Communicator: I knew Ronald Reagan, Ronald Reagan was a friend of mine, and you’re no Ronald Reagan.

Full Story »

John McCain: Patsy of the Democratic Left?

In a report for "The Campaign Spot" on the National Review yesterday, Jim Geraghty gently broke the bad news to conservatives that yes, global warming will be an issue in the 2008 campaign, and the Republican party will concede the time has now come to act to reduce the risks.

To make his case, first Geraghty gave the mike to a fire-breathing Giuliani supporter named Robert Tracinski, who declared for Real Clear Politics:

But the biggest problem for Republicans with McCain’s candidacy is his stance on global warming . McCain has been an active supporter of the global warming hysteria–for which he has been lauded by the radical environmentalists–and he is a co-sponsor of a leftist scheme for energy rationing. The McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act would impose an arbitrary cap on America’s main sources of energy
production, to be enforced by a huge network of federal taxes and
regulations.

The irony is that McCain won in South Carolina
among voters whose top concern is the economy. Don’t these voters
realize what a whole new regime of energy taxes and regulations would
do to the economy?

No matter what happens, there is likely to be a huge debate in the
coming years over global warming–whether it’s really happening,
whether it’s actually caused by human beings, and what to do about it.
But if the Republicans nominate McCain, that political debate will be
over, and Al Gore and the left will have won it–thanks to John McCain.

Geraghty let that stand, thinking he had given Tracinski enough rope.

He went on to try and reason with the NR crowd (for more, please see the rest of the post at Gristmill).

Full Story »

Sisar Creek — New All Over Again

And in a welcome miracle, Sisar Creek is running with real power again. We haven’t had the kind of downpours that can move boulders, but if we get another five or ten inches, that might be possible too. Nearly sixteen inches of rain so far this year (compared to just over one inch last year by this date).

You can almost hear the sighs of relief from the locals. Thank God.

Sisaronetwentyfive

Full Story »

“We Are Now On the Hairy Edge…”

For a modest man, Dr. James Hansen, the Cassandra of global warming, has become quiet fiery.

To wit (from his most recent letter to Angela Merkel, prime minister of Germany, on why she must not allow coal plant construction):

…we
must have a prompt moratorium on the construction of coal-fired power
plants that do not capture CO2, and we must phase-out existing coal-fired
power plants over the next two decades.  It is foolish to build new
plants with the knowledge that they will have to be bull-dozed in the
near future.

Given the fossil fuel facts summarized in the letter, the alternative to
elimination of CO2 emissions from coal use would be to place a
contraption on the back of each of our automobiles to capture the
CO2.  Remember that the mass of the CO2 is more than three times
larger than the mass of the fuel in the tank.  Can you imagine the
price of this contraption?  And where are you going to take and stow
the CO2 after you capture it?

One of my next posts will be a paper that I hope makes the story
clearer.  We are now on the hairy edge.  We are, in fact, going
somewhat beyond the safe level of atmospheric CO2, but there is enough
potential for storage of CO2 in soils and the biosphere that we can take
care of the excess via improved agricultural and forestry practices,
improvements that make sense for other reasons – provided that we phase
out coal use except where CO2 is captured and sequestered.

Old geezers living on high ground may not be concerned about ice sheet
stability and future sea level rise, or the out-of-control mess that we
threaten to leave for coming generations.  However, when one looks
at species loss and its relation to climate change, simple calculation
shows that each new coal-fired power plant will be a dagger in the heart
of at least several irreplaceable species, even though we cannot identify
specific species with a specific power plant.

Full Story »

Your Morning Haiku

Nearly everyone writes haiku these days, and that’s probably a good thing. In his last book, Bob Woodward extensively quoted an intelligence officer in Iraq, who wrote brilliant haiku about the events of the day, including the all-time jerk Donald Rumsfeld, who (to put it bluntly) covered himself in shit from day one.

However, it’s worth mentioning that traditional haiku had more going on than met the eye at a glance. The rigidity of the form had a purpose: seventeen syllables in a 5-7-5 form is a way to encourage recall; plus, great haiku not only caught a specific emotion, but linked that emotion to a specific place, and a specific time of year. Few even attempt such grandeur today, including yours truly, but every once in a while, I do try to write something I hope to remember…here’s one from early this morning in darkness…

woke up in the night

heard water, but couldn’t tell

the stream from the rain

Full Story » Comments (3)

The Earth and the World: Art According to Heidegger

One of the most interesting writers on poetry today surely is Adam Kirsch, who blends common sense with a deep thoughtfulness. Sometimes that can make critics mushy, but Kirsch is no  pushover. This month’s Poetry shows him thinking through the consequences of Heidegger, an influential critic ruined in our esteem by his attraction to Nazism.

Nonetheless, Kirsch points out, his theory of art — how it places "the earth" in the context of "the world" has powerful resonance with poets today, and perhaps for enviros as well. Kirsch writes:

To answer the abstract question "What is art?" Heidegger begins by
setting the reader before a particular artwork—a Van Gogh painting of a
pair of shoes. When you wear shoes, he points out, you seldom think
about them. Shoes, like all kinds of tools and equipment, are at their
best when they are most reliable, that is, when they perform their
function silently and unobtrusively. In fact, you only begin to pay
attention to your shoes when they stop working properly—when they pinch
your foot or when the sole comes off. And most of the objects that
surround us share this quality of being instruments, things that we use
and ignore.

Looking at Van Gogh’s painting of a pair of shoes, Heidegger
suggests, something different happens. For the first time, we become
aware of the two dimensions or axes in which a pair of shoes exists. On
the one hand, we are struck by their physical reality: their weight and
texture and color, all the qualities we tend to overlook when we wear
them. At the same time, the painting allows us to imagine the life in
which these shoes belong—the life of a peasant woman, Heidegger
imagines, with her "toilsome tread." Crucially, these two aspects of
the shoes—what they are and what they do—are inextricable in the
painting. "In the stiffly rugged heaviness of the shoes," Heidegger
writes, "there is the accumulated tenacity of her slow trudge through
the far-spreading and ever-uniform furrows of the field swept by a raw
wind. On the leather lie the dampness and richness of the soil. Under
the soles slides the loneliness of the field-path as evening falls."

In this way, he suggests, the Van Gogh painting demonstrates the
double purpose of art. Art confronts us with "the earth"—the sensuous
reality of the non-human, which we tend to forget or ignore when we are
engaged in practical tasks. At the same time, art sets the earth into
"the world"—the historical human context in which we work, suffer, and
hope. Artworks can perform this unique function because they themselves
have a double nature. They cannot exist without matter, and they always
have physical properties—music is formed sound, painting is formed
color. But they also do not exist simply in matter, the way utilitarian
objects do. Rather, they simultaneously transcend their material and
allow their material to be itself for the first time. When we look at a
Greek temple, Heidegger writes, we understand the weight and color of
marble, in a way that we can’t when we’re just looking a rock quarry.

Of course, it’s much easier to theorize than to paint (or act, or sing, or dance, or what have you). Nonetheless, with this approach Heidegger offers us a tool for understanding, and encourages us to look again at Van Gogh’s mastery. He painted many pairs of shoes, but they all have this ability to transcend their material and yet allow the material to be itself (to us humans) for the first time.

Once I tried to capture that by taking a picture of my old hiking books. Just didn’t work, I confess. Better leave it to Vincent:

Vangogh_shoes

Full Story » Comments (2)