The world’s oceans are changing in rapidly unpredictable ways, from increased temperatures bleaching coral reefs to increased acidity killing off or damaging all manner of lesser aquatic species, disrupting food chains and leaving billions of fish impaired or dead. The impact for humans? Billions depend on these fish as food stocks, and depletion equals starvation.
Other impacts are felt closer to home. As oceans warm and their food stocks disappear, predators move in to new habitats in search of food. Take, for instance, the Great White Shark.
Great Whites love the cold, nutrient rich waters off the Golden Gate, but those waters are warming, sea life changing. Being predators they follow their prey, and for the past few weeks they have been roaming the Orange County coast around San Clemente. Which happens to be where lots of people like to surf.
Above, Dave Woodward casts a wary eye as a juvenile Great White circles his board, coming within just a few feet. Click the link to watch the YouTube video. Further up the coast, schools of Great Whites roamed the surf from Long Beach south, with Orange County Sheriff’s deputies warning surfers and paddle-boarders to get out of the water. Some dramatic footage here.
Of course, we have no idea what Trump intends to do to our place in the scheme of the Paris Climate Accords. He may not know, too. With positions charitably described as ‘schizophrenic,’ it may be better if he does nothing at all, but Great Whites swimming in herds off the southern California coast is NOT normal. Things are changing. Fast.
The 1840s through the 1870s was a period not unlike today, a time of unprecedented change. Europe, and to a degree, America, were well into their own process of transformation, from agrarian-based economies lorded over by the church and hereditary fiefdoms to industrial economies presided over by rudimentary trade unions and industrial oligarchs. This period was, arguably, defined by three cultural forces as personified by Karl Marx, Charles Darwin and Richard Wagner. The works of these three literally rocked the European worldview, and then America’s, shattering old perceptions about science and the arts. When the scientific mind joined with emergent forces of industrialization, war on industrial scales became the norm, and new forms of art evolved to help us understand these new proclivities. Think jazz in the 20s and The Beatles in the 60s, think Einstein and Hawking as cultural icons and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Today, we’re witnessing an equally explosive transition, from massive industrial operations fueled by cheap energy and expansive democratic institutions to deindustrialization coupled to crumbling norms of democratic conduct, yet from a historian’s perspective there’s not really all that much new going on. When one order begins to collapse they often devolve into hysterics and lash out at their opponents. Think Rome and the barbarians at the gate, or even the Christians within their ranks. Then look at the image below, by Jehan-Georges Vibert, while you ponder the rest of this week’s gnews.
First up for your consideration, this bit from the ‘artists’ at The Onion: “WASHINGTON—With yesterday’s dismissal of former FBI director James Comey serving as yet another burden on the historic document, the staff at the National Archives reported Wednesday that the U.S. Constitution had rapidly aged another 100 years from the stress of repeated crises. “All the strain it’s endured has really taken an awful toll on its appearance,” said archivist David Ferriero of the wrinkled, threadbare piece of legislation, adding that the accumulated tension from numerous attempts to undermine its status as the nation’s supreme law had caused the parchment to go completely white. “You can really see how all of these affronts to its essential role in our democracy have started to wear on it—you’d never believe a charter this broken down was only written in the late 18th century. I mean, no 226-year-old statement of legal principles should look like it’s almost 350.” Ferriero went on to say that, given all the Constitution had suffered through, he wouldn’t be surprised if it passed away well before its time.”
Which brings me to another piece by Vibert, called simply Newspapers. Again, a not so subtle irony here, the painting from 1862, when Paris was falling into the clutches of socialism for the first time, on the eve of the first so-called Paris Commune. The superior cardinal, sitting, is laughing at something in LeFigaro, the 19th-century Parisian equivalent of the NYTimes, and he’s laughing hysterically. His prelate, the standing figure, has just read something and is mightily offended. Note the clenched fist and the rumpled paper, not to mention his ohh-so-cheerful expression on his face.
It’s not so hard to see the forces at work in the 1860s are not so very different from those faced in Washington today. There are fascinating lessons to be found in political art, only today that is expressed, more often than not, in cartoons.
Obviously not the same degree of artistic talent involved, but intent is the same. Call into question the prevailing political winds, make people think about the status quo. Make fun of things…
All of which came into sharp relief when I read an article on moral grandstanding this week (and received a timely reminder about Vibert’s work). The article claims that political grandstanding, or standing on a soapbox and trying to persuade people to adopt your point of view, is a morally questionable endeavor – as it prevents one from considering other points of view. Okay, interesting premise. Well, you might read this one if only because it makes you think about what’s going on in the White House these days, not to mention one more salient feature: does this Sunday in the Sun series constitute moral grandstanding? Is this blog post immoral, amoral, or even a morally justified endeavor? Shouldn’t we all just shut up, sit back and watch?
An awful lot in the news about immigration these days, primarily as it relates to Islamist terrorism, but then again we still have almost nonstop nonsense coming out of the White House about building a 30 billion dollar wall to seal off our southern border. I wonder, have they heard of Hadrian’s Wall, and just how successful that exercise in futility was? Yet consider this: Mexico is now the second bloodiest conflict zone in the world, surpassing Iraq and Afghanistan, and beaten out in body count only by the civil war in Syria. If you live anywhere along the Texas – California border with that very nearly failed state of affairs, that’s some serious food for thought. What’s driving that conflict? Well, drug cartels, right? What do drug cartels thrive on? Selling drugs, to Americans. And it ain’t just pot, either. Meth and heroin are among the items imported and distributed by these cartels now. Can you seal that trade off with a wall? Tunnels are so easily built when you have unlimited slave labor at your disposal; drones can fly product over any wall of any height. Oh, here’s some more food for thought. Northern California, up around Humboldt County, has some of the most fertile ground around – for growing pot. Guess who’s buying up land there at a record pace? If you guessed America’s big tobacco cartels you’d be right, but already farm laborers are busily growing and harvesting weed in National Forests throughout the region. Who marshals this labor? Transports it and feeds it? The cartels. I wrote a bit last year about a relative of mine, a lawyer and retired judge in LA. In his private practice he took on a divorce case, representing a woman, an anglo-woman from SoCal. Turns out she was married to a cartel boss, and to warn off other lawyers from taking on such cases they abducted him, then drove him out into the desert – and blew his head off with a shotgun, leaving him for the buzzards but with his cell phone on – so his body could be found. Now, how do you fight that? That’s war – against the judiciary. Against the very people who have to fight these people in court. You don’t fight wars by building walls. You retreat behind walls. If these drug cartels represent a clear and present danger to our country, and they do, building a wall is a waste of time and resources unless retreat is the only option. Helping the Mexican government fend off these forces, aggressively, seems a more beneficial long-term strategy, to both countries. Legalizing pot may seem counter-intuitive, but removing that part of their market might weaken the cartels. Or they may concentrate on deadlier product and cause even more damage. We won’t know til we try something new, yet we have to because the status quo ain’t working. A wall just seems like an empty, futile gesture, and a waste of a lot of money.
Assuming you saw the Alien prequel Prometheus you know that David, the android, is kind of a bad actor (metaphorically speaking, that is), yet he represents an ongoing warning, of sorts, from film makers and science fiction writers. Starting with Robby the Robot (Forbidden Planet, 1956) and then HAL, in 2001: A Space Odyssey, film makers have taken a dim view of robots. Well, their time has come: life imitates art. One key scene in Prometheus has ‘Elizabeth Shaw’ – on finding she’s been impregnated with a xenomorph – an endoparasitoid extraterrestrial – turning to an autonomous medical-surgical capsule to have a surgical abortion. Well, I give you Da Vinci X, one of the first effective surgical robots to go mainstream. Described as a surgical assistant, it’s quite a capable machine – so how far along this road are we? There’ve been robotic work stations tested where all you do is sit down in a privacy booth and start describing symptoms, then answering questions to refine a diagnosis – all by a non-human device – and the accuracy is better that human diagnosticians would care to admit. So, what happens if you tie that technology to a mini-lab, built right into the works. Slip your arm in a cuff, the thing takes your blood pressure and, if warranted, draws blood and processes it right there. Maybe it spits out a diagnosis and the relevant prescriptions next? Or sends you down the hall to Da Vinci XXII, who then tells you how to undress and get on the table. Then it gases you and operates. Maybe nurses come and take you to a room to recover, or maybe more robots do?
What drives this thinking? Bottom line profits? Fear of malpractice litigation? Cost of malpractice insurance and litigation? The rising cost of medical training? All of the above? What happens when Da Vinci’s price gets down to, say, a hundred grand? Less than two years of medical school, in other words.
And word comes out this week that the world’s first autonomous container ship is under construction?
Where does this end?
Near universal penury or guaranteed universal incomes. The world we glimpsed in the film Elysium, in other words. The one percent living on a space station, the rest of us living on a barely habitable earth down below.
Two themes so far in this week’s posting. Mexican cartels as metaphor and robotics as the next stage in an endless transition. Or: two things behind a lot of the anxiety embraced by Trump and his supporters? Is such fear misplaced, unjustified? Unmoored from reality? Well, if not, if such fear is indeed warranted, why aren’t Democrats taking these issues head-on? Why do gay rights seem so much more vital to Democratic elites? Why do Democratic elites ignore the progressive wing of their own party when it’s the most vital, the most energized segment of their base? What’s going on here?
Food for thought. For now.
You’ve heard of Luddites, of course. Those supposedly fearful of technology? Well, time for a little reconsideration. I highly recommend this article, by the by. Interesting insights into our world…take, for instance:
“Things did not end well for the Luddites. The group of weavers and textile artisans in early 1800s were crushed by the British government after resisting the destruction of their livelihoods by industrialization. History, in one of its callous twists, recast their story from a workers’ revolt for fair treatment to a short-sighted war against technology and progress.
“The truth is that the Luddites were the skilled, middle-class workers of their time. After centuries on more-or-less good terms with merchants who sold their goods, their lives were upended by machines replacing them with low-skilled, low-wage laborers in dismal factories. To ease the transition, the Luddites sought to negotiate conditions similar to those underlying capitalist democracies today: taxes to fund workers’ pensions, a minimum wage, and adherence to minimum labor standards.”
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss? Is that an emerging theme today, too? Well, good, so, let’s head off on a new tangent, see just how confused we can get (because, hey, that seems to be the point, right?).
Does it seem to you that too many physicians in the US get into medicine for the money? Does that explain why medicine seems such an ego-driven, corporate enterprise here? Two Mercedes in every physician’s garage? Well, that might explain the push to develop machines like Da Vinci X. The machine’s makers will profit, one assumes, exorbitantly, once these machines go mainstream, but here’s an essay which, I think, defines precisely the root of the matter. An excerpt:
“The financial insecurity experienced by many Americans certainly figures into any root-cause analysis for why President Trump was elected. But for most Americans, the “biggest tax cut ever” will do little to reduce that insecurity. Driving down health care costs — and making them more predictable — is far more important.
“Rising health insurance premiums have eaten into take-home pay. What money does come home increasingly goes back out as health care deductibles, copayments and coinsurance. People cannot plan for when these expenditures will occur, nor for how big they will be. And as medical care expands to involve more people, more people experience these unpredictable expenditures — creating more financial stress. Medical care is a common cause of personal bankruptcy.”
So, let’s turn to Trump and Comey. Or Trump and RussiaGate, which, when you get down to facts, is one and the same thing.
First new trend? It appears, not surprisingly, that Republicans are going to put Party before country. Mitch McConnell is busily ignoring the whole Comey thing, and so is Paul Ryan. It appears one reason for Comey’s dismissal was a request for more funding to conduct either the FBIs (or the Senate’s) investigation (because, let’s face it, the House’s investigation is now so tainted by irregularities no one thinks the results will be credible). The White House denies this presumption; yet the AD of the FBI confirms it. Now a Republican fund-raising firm in Annapolis in getting the subpoena treatment…so a partisan Republican fundraising apparatus is linked to Russia? What kept Nixon honest was separation of powers, our system of so-called checks and balances that was designed to keep autocrats from seizing power. Thing is, our Founders didn’t think one party would become so dishonorably corrupt that they would negate our system of checks and balances. And now, by packing the courts (illegally? Scalia, Gorsuch, anyone?) with ideologues, not jurists, the Republicans are just sealing the deal. So, yes, 2016 is looking more and more like the year America died.
Hysterical? Unfounded? Time will tell, but the signs are not looking good.
Think the whole notion of Trump and Russia is unfounded? Well, the day after Comey’s dismissal the Oval Office is full of Russians, and (God help us all) Henry Kissinger, and not one American reporter or photographer is allowed in the room? But Russian reporters and photographers are? Three words come to mind: WTF. A Russian photographer, at that? Was he a spy? Planting listening devices, or worse? There are people in the intel business who saw this as the worst offense ever perpetrated by a sitting president. And Putin was playing ice hockey, ignoring the whole thing. The photographer thinks we’re making to much of it, by the way.
So, let’s assume Trump is in it with the Russians up to his eyeballs. They’ve lent him billions, and now they want some interest on their principal. And the Republican Party, desperate to hang on to power, will sweep the whole thing under the rug. What’s that mean going forward? Who’ll be calling the shots? Really? Makes the last few months, you know, with all that saber rattling towards Moscow, feel a little like a diversion, doesn’t it? Comey starts to close in and bang, he’s gone? Really? Hey Mitch? How much is Putin paying you? Paul? Got a nice dividend check in the mail this week, did you? When corruption takes root, these are the kinds of questions that quickly become the accepted norm, until dissent is crushed, anyway.
Or dissent overpowers corruption.
But what happens when people stand by and meekly watch? Well, what happened this week might prove instructive: You know, in good ole West Virginia?
“Police said a journalist was arrested after yelling questions at US health and human services secretary Tom Price during his visit to West Virginia…
“The exchange came as Price and senior white House aide Kellyanne Conway visited the state capitol in Charleston on Tuesday to learn about efforts to fight opioid addiction in a state that has the nation’s highest overdose death rate…
“Heyman, who works for Public News Service, said he was arrested after asking repeatedly whether domestic violence would be considered a preexisting condition under the proposed healthcare overhaul…
“The ACLU chapter said in a statement that Heyman’s arrest “is a blatant attempt to chill an independent, free press. The charges against him are outrageous, and they must be dropped immediately.”
“The statement added the ACLU “stands ready to fight any attempt by the government to infringe upon our First Amendment rights. What President Trump’s administration is forgetting, and what the Capitol Police forgot today, is that the government works for us. Today was a dark day for democracy. But the rule of law will prevail. The First Amendment will prevail.”
I guess the question becomes: will the First Amendment prevail? With all three branches of government set to crush it?
Now, here’s a test. If you are a Republican reading this, what would you think if all these actions were being taken by a Clinton administration?
Yup. Thought so.
And while Democrats do indeed appear outraged, they’re doing very little. In fact, they’re mostly quiet, when they’re not singing ‘Nah nah nah nah, hey hey, goodbye.’ I think Democrats are fast becoming the Whigs of our era, hidebound dinosaurs, clueless about the changing world around them – and what it means for their brand of identity politics. I happen to think we need an informed – and potent – opposition at times like this, not a bunch of squishy, two-timing cheats in it for the money.
Or hey, I could be a stupid, grandstanding imbecile.
This has been, to put it mildly, an overwhelming news week. There is so much going on it at times feels like information overload. Health care, taxes, budgets, Comey, RussiaGate, North Korea, Xi and China, Prince Vlad the Impaler and Russia…and those are just the most potent items. Russian Sukhoi-27s buzzing US ships in the Black Sea, Tu-95s cruising off the Alaskan coastline. The list is endless, yet consider this, concerning Steven Hawking’s hypothesis that we need to find a new home in the next 1,000 years.
“Now Hawking, the renowned theoretical physicist turned apocalypse warning system, is back with a revised deadline. In “Expedition New Earth” — a documentary that debuts this summer as part of the BBC’s “Tomorrow’s World” science season — Hawking claims that Mother Earth would greatly appreciate it if we could gather our belongings and get out — not in 1,000 years, but in the next century or so.
“You heard the man — a single human lifetime. Is this nerd serious?
“Professor Stephen Hawking thinks the human species will have to populate a new planet within 100 years if it is to survive,” the BBC said with a notable absence of punctuation marks in a statement posted online. “With climate change, overdue asteroid strikes, epidemics and population growth, our own planet is increasingly precarious.”
Consider this as a little perspective, would you?
Yes, Donald Trump probably will usher in a new Dark Age, he will come to personify Hitler’s Triumph of the Will, and humanity will sink into an abyss of oligarchical madness. So what? In a hundred years it’s all over, so hop in your Chevy and head on over to Taco Bell, have a few burritos, mano. Come home, make a few more babies and sit back, watch whatever game happens to be on and just ignore the whole thing while you drink another Budweiser.
Right? Right? That’ll work, won’t it?
Well, that seems to be the underlying narrative of such nonsense. Like, uh, let’s see…we need to perfect toroidal-zero-point faster than light travel – like next week – at the latest. Then we need to develop nano-tube space elevators to get huge quantities of STUFF (i.e., mass) into low earth orbit so we can somehow construct massive colony ships (uh, name one Covenant, will you? Or the SS Ridley Scout…) – so we can scout out a few dozen candidate worlds. Or maybe some beneficent aliens will place a worm-hole out by Saturn so we can hop over to a nearby galaxy and find an unlimited supply of Burger Kings just waiting for us to drive up. Or maybe we can find two planets. You know, one for conservatives and another for liberal progressives? Because obviously we aren’t capable of reconciling viewpoints different from our own, right?
And we want to export this mad crap out of our solar system?
It’s far more likely beneficent aliens came to earth in the 50s and read the handwriting on the wall – saw what we were all about – and took off with their tails between their legs…and they haven’t looked back once.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch…
I think everyone knows, by now, how I feel about Fox Gnews: The Official Propaganda Organ of the Far-Right Wing of the Republican Party? Which makes today’s headline on Fox all the more interesting:
I mean, really. WTF!?
I feel like Alice. I just followed the rabbit down a big, fat hole – and landed mouth first in a vat of LSD. I mean…WTF!!!!????
Hell no, he doesn’t want to be President. He wants to be Putin’s Playmate of the Mouth. He wants to build condos and hotels all over Russia, and have an endless supply of Russian hookers to play piss games with. President? How utterly Plebeian!
And what is this crap about Comey and SECRET TAPES? Didn’t Trump ever watch All The President’s Men? I mean, really, this is just beyond surreal. DOESN’T HE KNOW THAT DEEP THROAT MEANS SOMETHING OTHER THAN ORAL SEX? Does he really think Comey is his Linda Lovelace?
So, just so we have this straight, we let a vocal minority in this country elect a pathological liar – highlighted with persistent undertones of narcissistic personality disorder – and who may very well be schizophrenic – and our whacko commander-in-chief is systematically turning the good ole US of A into a laughing stock as we speak (while getting ready to mate with Prince Vlad, no doubt) – and our good ole congress-critters can’t figure out we need to stop this goon before some Really Bad Shit happens?
Really? I mean, REALLY?
Well, slow down. Take a deep breath.
Remember. It’s all just smoke and mirrors. All designed to keep you from seeing the big picture.