Weekend Reads and Quick Hits, Mostly Bleak

Hey, remember on Wednesday, when we had sort-of good news about things? A post that wasn’t super bleak? Well, don’t get used to it, chumps.

Let’s hit some things, quickly! How about we start with…the death of the planet?

Planetary Forcast Is Hot and Dead


Image result for venus

Earth, 2075. (Note: POSSIBLE exaggeration)


At Inverse, which is really a wonderful site, Mary van Aue reports that we’ve had our 400th consecutive month of above-average temperatures. We’re also pretty much guaranteed to have a temperature change of at least 2 degrees, Celsius. This is: bad.

With these new records behind us, scientists are now forecasting that the “worst case scenario,” one in which the planet heats up more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures by the end of the century, is more likely.

That number isn’t arbitrary. Limiting global warming to just 1.5 Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures would limit the carnage that climate change has on the Earth’s biodiversity. A new study published in Science on Friday found that keeping global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius would preserve tens of thousands of land-based species of plants, vertebrates, and insects living on the planet.

For anyone who thinks “biodiversity” is just something liberals like, remember that we all eat plants and animals! And they eat other things, and get nutrients from other things, and keep other plants and animals alive, and often work in complex, symbiotic ways.  When species start dying, whole ecosystems can collapse. We live in a bunch of overlapping ecosystems. This is a catastrophe, and honestly, I don’t think we’re going to make it.

Congressman Has Odd Ideas About Rising Sea Levels

You probably saw this earlier, but Mo Brooks (R- Alabama, the least surprising parenthetical ever) made maybe the dumbest comments ever uttered in the House of Representatives, a place that employs Louis Gohmert. It was about climate change and the rising seas.

Now, the official GOP position is that global warming doesn’t exist, and that it is all a hoax made up for some reason, most likely to make scientists rich. This is enshrined in our nation’s highest office.

But on the other hand, there are things like “facts” that make it super hard to pretend this isn’t happening. One fact is that we just passed 410ppm of CO2. That’s not a record, probably, since there have been times when it was higher, like when the Deccan Flats or Siberian Traps were coming damn near to extinguishing life on the planet, but it is the highest we have in about 800,000 years. (I linked to Business Insider there because I don’t think they’re known for their raving liberalism.) This keeps going up, according to the dangerous radicals at NASA.

There’s also the fact of rising oceans which threatens a lot of the world’s population, and which is getting considerably worse. One of the reasons it is getting worse is because of all that CO2 floating around, and warming the oceans, which is melting Antartica from beneath, which we just discovered, and is genuinely terrifying.

So it is the job of Republicans to wave away these facts, and they showed their tactics in full at a hearing this week. As Science explains:

The purpose of the hearing was to focus on how technology could be deployed for climate change adaptation. But the hearing frequently turned to the basics of climate science. Many of the questions by Republicans and Democrats alike were directed to Philip Duffy, president of the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts and former senior adviser to the U.S. Global Change Research Program.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) said he was bothered that established climate science has not been questioned more by the committee, which has accused federal climate scientists of fraudulently manipulating climate data and subpoenaed their records.

“I’m a little bit disturbed by, No. 1, over and over again, I hear, ‘Don’t ever talk about whether mankind is the main cause of the temperature changing and the climate changing,'” he said. “That’s a little disturbing to hear constantly beaten into our heads in a Science Committee meeting, when basically we should all be open to different points of view.”

That’s the most common Republican tactic…allege that the scientists aren’t open to other points of view, that it is a conspiracy, and that they just want to get the truth. It’s a very hard-to-fight cynicism, because overwhelming consensus is whistled away as proof that everyone is in on it. It’s a real mob mentality! That this is being put forward by bought Russian stooge Rohrabacher is the real icing here.

But it is up to Mo Brooks to not just counter the idea of rising seas, but to find alternate ideas. These are…interesting.

Brooks then said that erosion plays a significant role in sea-level rise, which is not an idea embraced by mainstream climate researchers. He said the California coastline and the White Cliffs of Dover tumble into the sea every year, and that contributes to sea-level rise. He also said that silt washing into the ocean from the world’s major rivers, including the Mississippi, the Amazon and the Nile, is contributing to sea-level rise.

“Every time you have that soil or rock or whatever it is that is deposited into the seas, that forces the sea levels to rise, because now you have less space in those oceans, because the bottom is moving up,” Brooks said.

“What about the white cliffs of Dover, California, where time and time again you’re having the waves crash against the shorelines, and time and time again, you’re having the cliffs crash into the sea. All that displaces water, which forces it to rise, does it not?”

Duffy responded: “I’m pretty sure that on human time scales, those are minuscule effects.”

It’s really the “does it not”, that sells this, like Brooks just check and mated the eggy egghead liar. There’s no doubt that on a grand geologic timeframe the land all washes into the sea and the world is remade, but it doesn’t actually happen this quickly. Brooks could also possibly be surprised by the fact that, as the earth is currently constituted, there is more ocean than land.

At least this was a nice exchange.

Brooks added that Antarctic ice is growing. That was true a few years ago, and scientists say it does not disprove the theory of global warming because different factors affect the Arctic and Antarctic rates of melting.

“We have satellite records clearly documenting a shrinkage of the Antarctic ice sheet and an acceleration of that shrinkage,” Duffy said.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t know where you’re getting your information, but the data I have seen suggests — ” Brooks said.

Duffy answered: “The National Snow and Ice Data Center and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.”

Your Reminder That The President Doesn’t Know Anything: North Korea and Libya Edition


The US president issued the threat at the White House when he was asked about the recent suggestion by his national security adviser, John Bolton, that the “Libyan model” be a template for dealing with North Korea at a summit between Trump and Kim planned for 12 June in Singapore.

“The model, if you look at that model with Gaddafi, that was a total decimation. We went in there to beat him. Now that model would take place if we don’t make a deal, most likely. But if we make a deal, I think Kim Jong-un is going to be very, very happy,” Trump said, suggesting that the regime’s survival could be assured if Kim agreed to disarm.

“This with Kim Jong-un would be something where he would be there. He would be running his country. His country would be very rich,” the president said.

I mean…that’s not what the Libya model is. It’s when, after the invasion of Iraq, Gaddafi agreed to give up his nuclear power in exchange to be welcomed into the world community and keep getting rich. The problem is that after a while, the world helped him be overthrown and killed. So it is a weird precedent for Bolton to suggest, but I see the outline of coherence there.

But Trump doesn’t know that, or doesn’t care. He’s just making random threats, only remembering one thing, and using that as his “model”. If you wanted to argue that he was making a point, it is that he’s assuming Kim saw what happened to Gaddafi, so he knows the US could take him out, so he should make a deal. After all, Trump literally says that they’ll decimate the regime if a deal isn’t made, which now that I read it, should be the fucking headlines.

That’s terrifying and a horrible way to negotiate. I know he thinks it sounds tough. But combined with the “Libya model”, what reason is there for Kim to give up his weapons? The stability of the United States? The strength of our promises? It’s madness predicated by total ignorance and a half-cocked notion of how strongmen talk.

What 100 Miles In Means to Border Patrol



The borderlands of Indianapolis


A year and change ago, we talked about how an aggressive CBP, who, along with ICE, is the spear end of Trump’s white nationalism, were using the full extent of their powers to harass people “100 air miles from any border“.

It’s a weird notion for those of us who don’t really have to worry about Border Patrol. We don’t really understand the extent of their jurisdiction. But Tanvi Misra and the great people at CityLab showed exactly what this means, in a tremendous piece of research and data-reporting.

In the “border zone,” different legal standards apply. Agents can enter private property, set up highway checkpoints, have wide discretion to stop, question, and detain individuals they suspect to have committed immigration violations—and can even use race and ethnicity as factors to do so.

That’s striking because the border zone is home to 65.3 percent of the entire U.S. population, and around 75 percent of the U.S. Hispanic population, according to a CityLab analysis based on data from location intelligence company ESRI. This zone, which hugs the entire edge of the United States and runs 100 air miles inside, includes some of the densest cities—New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago. It also includes all of Michigan and Florida, and half of Ohio and Pennsylvania, according to a prior rough analysis by Will Lowe, a data scientist at MIT.

Read the whole piece to understand the democratic dystopia that has been gaining steam for decades, and has now been shot into hyperspeed.

Finally, A Nice Thing About Rivers


Bluff Springs Fen, October 31

Bluff Springs Fens, Oct 31st. By the artist. I mean, this is just lovely, right? 


The Center for Humans and Nature has a nice interview with an artist named Joel Shessley. (Disclosure: the company I work for has the Center as a client, though I wasn’t there when we did their website.) He is painting the Fox River, and his work will be presented at Aurora University in September. Anyway, he has some lovely thoughts about rivers, and I’ll leave you with them, contemplatively.

How has painting from different perspectives and during various seasons transformed the way you view life on the river and the life of the river itself?

Since I’m dealing with the watershed, and not just the river itself, I’ve become much more aware that the river cannot be separated from the land that feeds it. The river is what it is by virtue of all the named and unnamed tributaries, all the little rivulets and the larger streams that flow together to become the Fox River. Working across the Fox River Valley, I’ve begun to feel the pull of gravity down the gentle slopes. I’ve begun to sense how the river and the land interact. A topographic map would show you this, but patient observation on the ground and moving with the current in a canoe puts this information into your bones in a visceral way.

“Blue Apron” Food Stamps. Refugees. School Shootings. For the GOP, Meanness is The Goal

On Valentine’s Day, which will forever be known to the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland as the day their young lives became forever associated with trauma, Allison and I decided to watch something old, and romantic, so we could not talk about the daily horrors for a few hours. We had that luxury, of course.

We quickly picked Casablanca, which neither of us had seen for years.  What struck me watching it again, beside how great it still is, is that beside the main three (or four) characters, you are meant to deeply sympathize with the young couple trying to get out of the city.

Real people (2/3rds)

We’re primed to sympathize with them, to feel their plight, to feel the agony of their neverland time in Casablanca. This isn’t just because they are young and attractive, but because the opening narration perfectly lays out their situation.

With the coming of the Second World  War, many eyes in imprisoned Europe turned hopefully, or desperately,  toward the freedom of the Americas. Lisbon became the great embarkation point. But not everybody could get to Lisbon directly, and so, a tortuous, roundabout refugee trail sprang up. Paris to Marseilles, across the Mediterranean to Oran, then by train, or auto, or foot, across the rim of Africa to Casablanca in French Morocco.

Here, the fortunate ones, through money, or influence, or luck, might obtain exit visas and scurry to Lisbon, and from Lisbon to the New World. But the others wait in Casablanca — and  wait — and wait — and wait .

You can feel their desperate pain. These are people whose lives have been upturned by the horrors of war, by the mad headlong rush of violence into their lives. They are broken and shattered and scared and lost, half-dead, barely clinging onto hope. We feel for them, because they are human, and we can see ourselves in them.

We have the same situation in Syria, today. Millions of people have had their lives turned inside out, blown apart by a savagely cruel war. They spent their lives under the cadaverous pallor of the Asad regime, and when some rose up, peacefully, they were slaughtered. Over the next 7 years, their country has been turned into a charnel house, ripped apart by warring factions inside the country (especially the regime), transnational groups like ISIS, and international actors like Russia, Iran, the United States, Saudi Arabia, now Turkey, maybe Israel.

They fled across the self-same Mediterannean. They fled to Europe, many with eyes toward America. But we didn’t see them as people. We saw them as others, verminous danger, and closed our doors.

Not real people

That’s clear in the latest budget, and it is clear in, say, the dozens of refugee resettlement centers that are being closed under Trump and Paul Ryan.

But that’s the GOP. That’s who they are as a party, and it is clear in issue after issue: cruelty is the point, and empathy is a weakness. It is not a coincidence, nor a distortion, that their President is a man entirely incapable of empathy, and whose primary instinct (other than self-aggrandizement) is to be cruel to those he thinks are weaker than him.

It’s how he became President after all, and in every move he makes and every reaction he has, and in every piece of policy crafted in the head of Paul Ryan, making the lives of actual humans even worse is the primary goal. Punching down, and pulling the last shreds of a decent life from those who have so little.

Continue reading

A brief note on “politicizing tragedy”

A lesson we’re all going to learn again in the next few days is that a tragedy can’t be “politicized”, or at least that it is ok to do so, if the shooter involved is Muslim and says “ISIS” before killing people, even if he has nothing to do with actual terrorism, even if that is just the thin reed to which he clings in the tidal wave of his own hatred and madness.  Then it is ok to call out political opponents for being weak on terror, and not being manly enough. Then it is ok to score points. Not when a mentally unstable kid shoots up a schoolhouse, killing 20 kids, or a theater or a black church. Then we are politicizing tragedy.

It’s always correct to bring politics into tragedy. Politics, in a society like ours, is the result of our collective action and will. It’s the outcome of our ideas and beliefs. It is messy and angry and at times like these stained with bitter tears. But to not be political, to not try to find reason in the face of horror, is to give up, to abdicate our duties as citizens. There should be, and will be, fights about this. And that is good and healthy. We just need to make sure that we always have these fights, because that is the only way things will get changed. “Politicizing” the shooting at Emmanuel African helped bring down a flag of treason and slavery. It does make a difference.

As we said in regards to FlintBut any human-caused tragedy is inherently political, and response to it needs to be. Accusations of politicizing events are a dodge, an intellectual grift, designed to keep whatever policies caused the tragedy in place. It’s better to just say “it’s a terrible thing”, as if there was some kind of free-floating miasmatic tragedy fog that just happened to land on a place. 

As citizens of a democracy, it is our duty to create a political response to the actions of human, especially when those actions target a group vilified by so many. That’s not to take advantage of the dead, or turn them into unwitting martyrs. We don’t- I certainly don’t- speak in anyone’s name. We just need to be able to try to turn an unimaginable massacre into a better place, where it is harder and harder to kill so many people, to destroy so many lives, simply because you want to.


A Wild Howling Madness: It Does, and Doesn’t, Matter That Orlando Gunman Pledged to ISIS


Omar Mateen, the alleged Orlando shooter. Image from The Washington Post

At least 50 dead. At least 50 more wounded. As the staggering numbers gutpunched their way in this morning, and America woke to the reality that in a violent nation, we reached another grim milestone, people struggled not just with the enormity of pain and sorrow, but with what to call this. Was it a hate crime, targeted as it was at an LGBT club? Was it an act of terrorism, as we learned that the shooter had a Muslim-sounding name? Was it a mass shooting?

The last two seemed like they could be in opposition, while a hate crime can apply to both. The problem is that it is (most likely) all three. While this is (as of the writing) unconfirmed, it seems that Omar Mateen called 911 to pledge allegiance to ISIS shortly before the shooting started.

A few things about this make it less an act of international terrorism, and more the actions of a sick and depraved man influenced by many factors, including the religious nihilism of ISIS. But there doesn’t seem to be any training, and certainly not any real membership in ISIS. Not to be glib, but one doesn’t join ISIS by calling 911. They generally don’t relay the message. You have to actually join.

(Obviously, there is a real danger of people actually joining ISIS and receiving training, and possibly using it in the homeland. Foreign fighters are a key part if ISIS strategy. This isn’t that. It’s a different danger.)

This idea is furthered by Mateen’s father, who said that the crime was more motivated by a hatred of homosexuals.

“We were in Downtown Miami, Bayside, people were playing music. And he saw two men kissing each other in front of his wife and kid and he got very angry,” Mir Seddique, told NBC News on Sunday. “They were kissing each other and touching each other and he said, ‘Look at that. In front of my son they are doing that.’ And then we were in the men’s bathroom and men were kissing each other.”

Seddique added, “This had nothing to do with religion.”

But…of course, it does. ISIS is explicitly opposed to homosexuality, and punishes it by death, as does al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and even “friendly” regimes in many Islamic countries.  Christian ones, too, if you look at Uganda. And you barely have to twist the radio dial to hear religious-based (or at least justified) hatred of gays throughout the country. Liberal laws about transgender rights have sparked an upswing of hate speech about them as well, with Republican candidates tripping over each other to issues the loudest condemnation. A hatred of gays is both created by, and justified by, religion.

And that, to me, is why it does and it doesn’t matter that he “pledged” himself to ISIS. For years, terrorism experts and laypeople alike were wondering why there weren’t mere lone wolf attacks in the name of Qaeda or ISIS. Now, that door has fully opened, and the number of people carrying out mass shootings in the name of ISIS is going up. I think it will certainly increase. But let’s not say that this is a sign that ISIS is getting powerful, or more absurdly, that it means we are “losing” in struggle against radical fundamentalism. We may be, but these are not signs of it.

What they are signs of is that it is extremely easy to kill a lot of people in America. It happens all the time. There is a sickness and violence in our culture, a roiling anger at immigrants or gays or Muslims or Southerners or just fucking life in general, just the dispossession of a post-industrial and unequal society, where binds are breaking, and every day we hear the snapping tendons of what once held us together.

Some of these people will identify as Muslim, and decide to tell 911 or Twitter that they love ISIS before billowing out into a hurricane of murderous insanity. Some will tell a Mens’ Rights message board. Some won’t tell anyone but the diary they keep next to a dog-eared copy of misread Nietzsche.

Of course, this is what ISIS wants, by telling anyone that they are “part” of ISIS if they pledge allegiance in public. But that’s even more to the point: they are taking advantage of a sickness, of people who feel weak and helpless and want to be part of something bigger. It’s little different than Eric Harris or Adam Lanza or Jared Loughner or Dylan Roof.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter which imaginary idol is being propitiated by violence, whether that is white pride, Jesus, or Allah. The slaughtered are no more or less dead due to which angry god is invoked. The suffering of the families is no more or less real. We will argue, in the days and weeks, as to whether this is terrorism, or a hate crime. Liberals will hear smug lectures about how we should now see that terrorism is bad, as if we didn’t already know that. That he pledged to ISIS will be a data point in people’s absurd spreadsheets about winning or losing, and we won’t look at the main question, the one that is truly about ourselves, about the dark heart thumping madly in the center of this nation.

Shooting in Chicago: The Times reports on a violent city facing the brink of summer



Image from NYTimes

On Sunday, anyone who subscribes to the New York Times (or fine, reads it online, in which it is a huge multi-media piece) saw a huge, front-page special report on the violence in Chicago over Memorial Day weekend, in which more than 50 shootings left six people dead as the long and hot summer juddered into a violent beginning. This has already been an apocalyptic year in Chicago, for reasons we’ll explore as the summer moves on.

The story is a series of excellently-reported rapid-fire vignettes, weaving in and out of the shootings, which are of course concentrated almost entirely on the south and west sides (though three of the fatalities, oddly, are up north, one near O’Hare). This is where I admire the Times piece, as it only briefly mentions that most of Chicago is very peaceful, and many of us are not touched even obliquely by violence. It instead portrays the city as a nightmare of murder, of random gunfire, of targeted killings and counter-killings, as a place of escalating violence where nihilism runs the streets and decent citizens live in expectation of being next. It’s easy for those not affected by it to shrug it off, saying that there are two Chicagos. The Times piece forces us to confront as a problem for the city, not just a problem somewhere in the city. It removes all remove.

To me, one of the most striking parts is the reaction people have to being shot. “Babe, they shot me” or “I’ve been shot!” I know- what else are you going to say? But I imagine for many of us our reaction would be bewildered terror, an inability to comprehend what is going on. One minute we are watching TV in our homes or standing on the porch or driving down Lake Shore, and the next, gutshot and bleeding. I doubt I’d understand what happened when a stray bullet caught me. That everyone in the story is instantly aware is a sure signifier of the huge gulf in our lives, the shame of Chicago, and of a country that has bred this vicious nihilism.