Wednesday, November 9, 2016

An open letter to my friends in the aftermath of the 2016 election

My friends,

I have mostly refrained from posting political statements, as I have not wanted to contribute to the noise. But I'm no longer able to hold my tongue.

I am sick in my soul. I feel as if I've drunk a brimming beaker of hemlock. I am certain that what happened last night will prove a national tragedy. In a great seizure of national delusion, the American people chose to send Donald J. Trump to the highest office in land -- a man who freely advocates violence; who insults the disabled, ethnic minorities, and prisoners of war; who openly brags about sexually assaulting women; who has publicly called for the assassination of his opponents; who has lauded America's enemies and invited their attack. This is a man who has never served the public; who has never held any public office; who has likely defrauded thousands; who has never shown any interest whatsoever in helping anyone other than himself; who has spent his entire professional life attempting to seize wealth and garner attention for himself while screwing pretty much everybody else.

This may be the worst decision America has made in its 240-year history, certainly the worst since Andrew Jackson was elected in 1828. It's no joke. Such a thing demeans us all.

Let's be clear, the US president is not a king (at least not yet), and thankfully the Constitution has "checks and balances" in place to restrict the power of such a man as this. And yet, if there's one thing we learned during the dark years of 2000-2008, it's that the executive branch is capable of inflicting tremendous harm on the country and the world. To what extent this raging egomaniac will be allowed to impose his cracker/crackpot ideas on the rest of us remains to be seen.

To my international friends, I apologize. I am embarrassed by my country and ashamed of my fellow citizens. I can't believe enough of them were duped into electing this reckless conman to the presidency. Apparently PT Barnum was right, it would seem a sucker would have to born every minute to reach such a critical mass of suckers. Please understand that I do not support this man, I did not vote for him. Everything he is, says, and does, is absolutely contrary to what I believe in and what I hope I stand for.

To my US friends I have this to say: This is not a football game. It's not about whose team wins. The problems which confront us as a nation are complex and massive. The solutions will not be simple and myriad perspectives will be required. We can disagree on matters of public policy and still respect each other. But I'm afraid I must tell you that if you voted for this man, I can no longer be a friend to you. I will continue to hold you in my heart but as far as I can tell you have hitched your cart to the negative forces which are destroying this country and the world.

To those who have actively and earnestly attempted to prevent what happened last night, thank you. Justice will not be given to us, we must take it. And we will. God help us all.


Friday, June 17, 2016

Enough is Enough

Here is my letter to all candidates for public office and elected officials...

Dear [fill in candidate's name]:

It's time to stop pretending that nothing is wrong. We have a very serious problem in this country and that is the preponderance of military-grade weaponry among the private citizenry. It's absurd to pretend that such lethal weapons in the hands of civilians does not endanger the public. The facts are the facts.

There is absolutely no rational argument that can be made for allowing private citizens to possess military-grade weapons. But the weapons manufacturers and their lobbying group, the NRA, have somehow managed to convince much of the public that this is not the case. This is an unfortunate situation but it is not insurmountable.

Admittedly the Second Amendment to the US Constitution is problematic, as are the many state constitutions which impede the regulation of private weapons ownership. But let's be realistic: the Bill of Rights (including the Second Amendment) was adopted in 1791 – a time when people were still using flintlock muskets. There is no way the authors of the Constitution could possibly have foreseen the ready availability and tremendous lethality of weapons available today. The laws of today must reflect the reality of today.

No person in their right mind could honestly argue that the laws of this nation should guarantee private citizens the right to possess any weapon of their choosing, or that the producers and traders of military-grade weapons should be allowed to carry on their trade without restriction. I'm sorry, but it's the truth. Any attempt to make such an argument is either disingenuous or badly misinformed.

The time to act is now. Congress must stand up to the NRA. The nation's leaders must begin to speak the truth about the proliferation of these weapons – even though this is not what many people want to hear. Yes, some people will be upset. Yes, people are going to have to live with the fact that they will not have the right to possess any weapon they desire. Unfortunately they are going to have to accept this. There is no other way. Any other approach is simply too dangerous.

We have a choice. We can either change the gun laws in the United States or we can watch the country be destroyed by the unchecked proliferation of weapons. There is no third option. The recent tragedy in Orlando has created an opportunity to change this situation. Now it is time to act.

I hereby pledge that I will never again vote for any candidate who does not publicly support a complete and total assault weapons ban. I would like to know if you are publicly committed to this goal. If not, I will be unable to vote for you. I'm sorry but I have no other choice or recourse at this time.

I wish you strength and cunning in the effort to amend the nation's gun laws.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Calamity and Powerlessness

It's going to be another hot and extremely dry day in Santa Monica. The third in a row. I'm writing this post because I just don't know what else to do. It's hot, and I'm sorry to say the climate news is all bad and growing worse by the day.

Today there was this piece on Slate: Baked Alaska - If the Last Frontier is the canary in the climate coal mine, we’re in trouble. Earlier in the week, there was this: Arctic temps to rise, starting in 2020: new research - Temperatures expected to rise 2ÂșC over 40 years in "unprecedented" rate of change

It appears that as a global society, as a species, we're headed straight off of a cliff. And yet no one talks about it, nothing changes. When was the last time you heard anyone mention food security as it is related to climate change? Everyone tries to pretend it's business as usual even though, in our hearts, we all know what's happening. The rising tensions and pandemic of violence around the world are merely symptomatic of the larger issue: that the global ecosystem which has sustained us for all of human history is collapsing. My heart is heavy and I can hardly think of anything else. 

What can be done? Not a great deal, I fear. Some, such as John Nissen, are calling for massive geo-engineering, particularly over the poles. Hard to know if this would help, but there would likely be unforeseen side effects that could be very bad. I feel powerless and very anxious. Even if carbon emissions were completely halted today, we still would have another ~40 years of climate change due to the so-called "climate lag." 

It's time to begin talking about how we're going survive this.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Christmas Homily for My Friends

It's Christmas. A cool dry wind sweeps the Santa Monica streets, finding its way to sea. As would seem to always happen this time of year, my head and heart are filled with images of people and times past. But mostly I am filled with gratitude: for this extraordinary life that I've so inexplicably received; and for all the beautiful, fascinating people I've been privileged to know (i.e., you).

I begin to dream, to reflect, to revisit. I take stock of my life to this point, and the uncounted paths taken by those I cherish. I imagine what life might yet hold in store for us, and admit I haven't the least notion what that might be. What an extraordinary journey! Every moment brings with it unexpected revelations; every turn unveils abundant possibilities, spreading into countless unknown precincts, each begging exploration.

I wouldn't trade this life for any other.

2014 was, for me, a wondrous year. Catherine and I were married in August. In May our second glorious grandchild, Rose Catherine, was born. I've had the strength and means to continue to practice my art. My world has been filled with joy and wonder. What did I do to deserve these riches?

And yet when I look beyond the boundaries of my own small life, I see a world of sorrow, a world of suffering and grief: Ferguson, ISIS, Ebola, Boko Haram, Arctic warming, cyberwars, civil wars, Malaysia Air 217 and 370, Eric Garner, Hurricane Odile, income inequality, climate change, ad insanitium... just a few of the plenary misfortunes of the world. Even if I could, I need not recount them all for you as it is, no doubt, already a familiar litany.

These thoughts weigh heavily on me this holiday and the part of my heart given to sadness is full. Though many of these calamities seem impossibly distant, it is clear to me that we are all – on some fundamental level yet to be explained – inextricably connected to one another and to all life on this tiny blue planet.

I haven't the vaguest idea how to solve the problems of the world. I'm not sure anyone does. The longer I live, the less I surely know. (Could be senility.) But of this one thing I am certain: the simplest kindnesses, the smallest acts of gratitude and forgiveness, in these there is hope for the world.

And so my friends this Christmas I offer you this holiday wish: May the new year bring you everything you need, and something that you want. And may we all find the time and space to pray for peace, love our precious ones, and be kind to all the rest.

May you all be blessed by the deity of your choice. And know that I truly miss you and hope we will see one another before long.  

Friday, June 27, 2014

Observations, June 2014

Here in LA you'd never guess that the state of California is weathering the worst drought in its history. Lawns and gardens are green, flowers bloom, the infamous palms have yet to succumb to desiccation. But when I walk out in the hills I see a different landscape, parched beyond recognition -- beyond anything I've seen or could have imagined in years past.

I've spent a good part of the last year reading up on the latest climate change data, and I've learned that the outlook is very bad, far worse than most people know. Part of that story is the Western drought: unceasing, intensifying, bewildering. The fires will be very bad. If not this year, then soon. It cannot be any other way without rain.

In the US -- ostensibly still among the wealthiest nations on earth -- the income chasm between rich and poor has grown to be nearly unbreachable by any mortal soul. The disparity has grown stunning. The stinging contrast between the insatiable consumption of the wealthy and the utter dejection of most everybody else assaults my senses and vexes my sense of justice.

Elsewhere in the world there's a growing fire of a different kind as nation after nation is consumed by uncontrollable conflagrations of violence. These fires are burning now out of control and apparently spreading. Iraq, a country utterly destroyed by the US, not once but twice, now burns with ethnic and religious hatred, as do Syria, the Sudan, Egypt, Nigeria, and so on. A UN count announced yesterday tallies the number of refugees on earth to be  some 50 million, greater than at any time since the end of Second World War, if not in all of human history.

Yet around me I see only a great and willful denial of reality. People are desperate to believe everything is ok, but it's not and deep inside, below the scan of the conscious, we all know it. The culture of denial is now endemic. The Great Lie has taken on a life and logic of its own. People can barely pull their faces out of their smartphones long enough to note their immediate surroundings, much less take an interest in the great forces at work in the world. The Great Lie persists, even in the face of overwhelming negation.

All this leaves me exasperated and exhausted, grasping for a foothold on the featureless cliff face of reality.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Here On The Ground: Where is My Goddam Recovery?

From the AP last week comes this gem: US job market recovers losses yet appears weaker. According to the authors, "The U.S. economy has finally regained all the jobs lost during the 'Great Recession.'" Great news. Now for the bad news, "Three generally low-paying industries account for more than one-third of the job gains in the recovery: restaurants and bars; temporary staffing; and retail..." So to summarize: The "recession" is over, the jobs are back! Unfortunately, most of the new jobs are at Walmart. In the process of this so-called "recovery," US median income has dropped $3300 below what it was prior to the "recession"; which if one adjusts for (supposedly nonexistent) inflation, means Americans are earning quite a bit less than they were before. It seems the conversion of the US economy to an executive-and-slave model is now almost complete.

Notice that the word "recession" is set in quotes when used above. This is intentional. It is my firm contention that the so-called Great Recession is not a recession at all. The term "recession" implies a temporary slowdown in an economic system, and I would propose that what we're experiencing is not a temporary dip, but the start of an inexorable decline.

"The recovery is well under way." How many times have you heard that statement in the news recently? The Robber Barons and their all-too-willing mouthpieces love to regurgitate the Great Lie hoping we'll swallow their deceit whole hog. "Unemployment is down, the housing market is bouncing back." This is the story we're being told by the newsbots. I don't know about you, but that story does not quite comport with what I see around me. I see a whole lot of empty storefronts on the main drag. I see the supermarket cashiers looking far older than they used to. I see a large number of friends and acquaintances -- well-educated, middle-aged men and women with 20 years' or more experience -- unable to find jobs in their respective fields. They must think we're chumps.

We live in a time when the most dispensable workers -- the corporate raiders, the high-volume traders, the hedge fund managers -- are compensated in the billions of dollars while the truly indispensable workers -- farmers, road builders, people who actually produce the things we need -- can barely earn a subsistence wage. What kind of society is this? Clearly something is very, very wrong here. It's my contention that the decline is now well under way and well overdue. What is so startling though is how obvious the reasons for the decline are -- they're plainly hung out in the open, for all but the most deluded to see. Let me outline three of the primary reasons why I think the US economy is already half in the bag:

1. You can only export so many jobs to China before it affects the domestic economy. It's unreasonable and untenable to expect every person in the US to be an engineer, stockbroker, or biotechnologist. Large numbers of people are entirely unsuited to these vocations. And many of the otherwise suitable candidates are prevented from employment by the education-for-elite-only system that exists here. And so the Titans of Silicon Valley lobby the federal government to admit more foreign-born engineers, while at the same time the products those engineers design are being built back in their home countries.

2. Big banks and wealthy individuals can only horde so much wealth before it begins to affect the liquidity of everyone else. It's quite a simple principle: every economic system depends on money flowing through it. Everyone benefits when the bucks are flowing, Robber Barons and common folk alike. I don't know why economists continually attempt to obfuscate this simple fact, although I suspect it's related to their desire to keep their jobs. When the holders of the cash don't spend it -- such as by refusing to pay their workers a living wage, or by workers not buying things because they're fearful about the future -- the entire economy slows or fails.

3. The cost of energy, which is baked into everything, can only increase. The entire "modern" world you see around you is totally and utterly based on the availability of low-cost energy -- everything from the skyscrapers to the online booksellers. Unfortunately (in more ways than one), our energy is almost 100% sourced from fossil fuels: petroleum, coal, natural gas. These are all non-renewables, which is to say that the cost of producing them can only go in one direction (yes, up). Again I don't understand what the big mystery is about this. Excepting price fluctuations attributable to varying market conditions, the real cost of energy continues to increase. Although runaway energy price increases have thus far been averted due a combination of industry tricks and softened demand, the overall direction of change has, and can only be, upward. This ain't rocket science, people. The cost of commodities dependent on energy (i.e., everything) will continue to rise at the same time that fewer people can afford them. This further weakens an already seriously compromised economic system.

So if you have been wondering lately why this "recovery" you've been hearing so much noise about hasn't helped you make this month's rent, take heart, so has everybody else. The real question of course is not when (or if) will the economy will recover, but how should we respond to these great changes, which are happening now, all over the world? For now, I'm going to leave that question for a future musing.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Climate Change Facts - What We Know as of June 2014

"Over the years of research, we have consistently found that, on average, Americans view climate change as a threat distant in space and time – a risk that will affect far away places, other species, or future generations more than people here and now." - Climate Change in the American Mind: Americans’ Global Warming Beliefs and Attitudes in November 2013, George Mason University, Center for Climate Change Communication.

In my extensive readings about climate change over the last year or so, it has become abundantly clear that the reality of the situation is quite a bit different from what is usually presented in the media. Insofar as they are aware of climate change at all, most Americans believe anthropogenic climate change is a problem to be concerned about in the distant future, not now. They may believe that the concern is with some few degrees of global temperature rise over the course of a century of more, and therefore that we have plenty of time to figure out a solution. The latest science however tells quite a different story. Not only is global temperature not a good measure of the severity of the situation, but the problem may in fact be very urgent. The most recent data indicates a so-called abrupt climate event could well occur within our lifetimes, taking the majority of humanity to, and possibly over, the precipice. Let me lay out some of those facts for you and you can draw your own conclusions.

- Atmospheric CO2 concentrations passed 400ppm this year. (Source.)

- The last time CO2 concentrations were this high was at least 800,000 years ago, and some studies indicate it may have been as much as 15-25 million years ago. Obviously this is way before humans were around and the global environment was very different from what we know from the last 10,000 years (the approximate age of so-called "civilization"). (Source.)

- Half of the carbon emissions in human history were released within the last 30 years. (Source.)

- There is a time lag between when carbon is released into the atmosphere and when the atmosphere begins to show its effects (known as "climate lag" or "thermal inertia"). Studies indicate this time lag to be somewhere between 25 and 100 years. The most likely time frame is somewhere around 40 years, which would mean that the warming and atmospheric effects we are currently experiencing are likely less than half of what we can expect from carbon that has already been released. (Source.)

- The polar regions are warming much faster than the rest of the planet. (Source.) This is very worrisome for the three following reasons.

- The first is that loss of ice and snow cover reduces the reflectivity (known as "albedo") of the earth's surface, thereby accelerating warming. (Source.)

- The second is that there are vast amounts of methane (a very powerful greenhouse gas) in polar seas and permafrost that could be released by increased temperatures in the polar regions. (Source.)

- The third is that melting ice releases massive amounts of freshwater into the oceans, which can affect global ocean currents. (Source.)

- Though scientists know that methane emissions are increasing, they don't know the exact rate of increase or how it will affect the climate because it's only been studied for a few years. However there is considerable concern that arctic methane, if released into the atmosphere, would cause a so-called runaway climate change event. (Source.)

- Climate scientists know that there have been times in the history of the planet when the global climate underwent a drastic change in less than a decade (possibly as rapidly as a year or two). (Source.)

- Although the exact causes of abrupt climate change events are not agreed upon by scientists, there seems to be a consensus that a slowing of global ocean circulations is involved. If that is the case, we should be very concerned because polar warming has the potential to disrupt global ocean circulation and may already be doing so. (Source.)

So, now we know the facts, what are we supposed to do with this information? That's a reasonable question and I wish I had a simple answer for it. Honestly, I do not blame people for wanting to deny the reality of climate change -- it is terrifying and seemingly inexorable. So now what?

I do know that the first step has to be acknowledgment and understanding of the facts, on an emotional, as well as intellectual, level. In buddhist practice, the end of suffering begins with the acceptance that we are, in fact, suffering. Likewise, the first step in healing, or least surviving, such a global calamity is to look at the problem straight on and to acknowledge both its reality and magnitude. I'll revisit this topic again, but for now I'll just say that it's my firm belief that our list of actions for the immediate future should include preparing ourselves and our children psychologically for what most likely awaits us in the coming years.