It’s Getting Hot Out There   (2017Jan19)

Thursday, January 19, 2017                                              8:15 PM

Mid-January and the squirrels were chasing each other up down and around every tree, fence, and power line—as if Spring had come early. It’s hard to enjoy such unseasonably warm weather when it comes the day after the announcement that 2016 was the warmest year ever, which makes it the third year in a row of such record-setting global warming. Worse yet, the Climate-Ostriches are about to take power tomorrow—and they pretend global warming doesn’t exist—so that won’t help us reach any kind of quick conversion to alt-energy.

With four years to not only sit on their hands, climate-wise, but to dismantle whatever progress has already been made in making the USA a leader in global climate response—I’m very troubled. I wonder if Trump will reach 2020 only to find that Mar-El-Lago is submerged, along with half of Florida. We can only lose so much arctic ice before sea levels start to really change—and Florida is especially vulnerable. Not that the entire Caribbean isn’t at risk—but shorted-sighted people need reality to knock on their own front doors.

Here again we see the problem of having too many problems. This climate-change threat is existential, not just for our nation, but globally. Still, we have a hundred other diversions—many of them serious problems also. But the media is not in the business of prioritization. They want to dazzle their audience with variety—not table some dry discussion on which problems need triage before we consider less weighty issues. And the incoming administration—a creature of the media, itself—does not appear to be in the clarification and prioritization business, either.

So we, the citizens, end up watching what amounts to an informational kaleidoscope on our viewing devices, snowed into the inclination that it’s all just too much, rather than getting angry at the lack of leadership—or progress of any kind—from the government. The GOP can’t admit to climate-change because it would make Big Oil unhappy. The GOP can’t admit that Obamacare should be amended, not replaced, because it would make their base realize it was all politics to begin with—not to mention Big Pharma and the Insurance people seeing their profits curtailed. I can’t tell you why they won’t leave women’s health issues to women—that will forever be a not-very-mysterious mystery.

The whole migrant thing—and that ridiculous wall idea—is all pure xenophobia—playing on people’s fears, and their desire to blame the ‘other’ for their problems. Mexicans have been coming and going into America, ever since the places where they cross were still Mexico itself. And there is less traffic across the border now than ever before in modern history. The truth is that immigrants have been and continue to be a part of our economy and culture. The paranoia being pushed by the GOP is leftover panic from 9/11—a cowardly reaction that has already prompted us to two wars and a near-bankruptcy.

It’s about time we got over domestic terrorism. You’re far more likely to be murdered in one of the mass shootings that shame us, as a nation, on a constant basis. What is the point of our security people doing such a bang-up job of screening for terrorists—if the rest of us are still going to walk around looking over our shoulders, ready to panic at the first loud noise? When did we become so damn shy?

So, basically, we have the GOP—who have been sponsored by interests who prize the status quo—telling us we can’t trust the leaders that would work for real change. And now that the GOP’s in power, they’re just going to sit back and tell you that those problems don’t exist—or that privatizing everything will solve all our problems. ‘The money-grubbing is strong with this one’. I think you’d have to be very rich to try to pretend that Capitalism is self-regulating, self-correcting. The market may be self-correcting, in a narrow sense, but to say that Capitalism works better without rules is to confess that you have a scheme to rip people off.

If you were playing Monopoly with someone and they said the game would be better if we threw out a few rules, you’d know they were trying to cheat. Why is the same thing not equally obvious when these fat-cats whine about regulation? They quality-control their products—why should they be so inhumane as to suggest there shouldn’t be quality-control on their employees, their customers’ health, and the good of the community they operate in?

The naked greed and cold-blooded unconcern for collateral consequences was most blatantly displayed with the recent water crisis in Flint, Michigan—and those people still don’t have any clean running water. Anyone trying to deregulate or defund the EPA, or any other watchdog, in these dog-eat-dog times, is not your friend. Too bad our new prez is set to lead the charge to do just that.

Heart of Light   (2016Aug08)

Monday, August 08, 2016                                       3:03 PM


“’You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;

‘They called me the  hyacinth girl.’

-Yet when we came back, late, from the hyacinth garden,

Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not

Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither

Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,

Looking into the heart of light, the silence.

Oed’ und leer das Meer”

—  (from “The Waste Land” (1922) by T.S. Eliot)


I know that all you working stiffs hate the start of the work-week, but I’m enjoying the beautiful weather and my good mood. The sun is shining. I’m free as a bird—and I’m a grandpa now, too—it’s really too sweet. Claire is, I presume, enjoying her beautiful granddaughter Seneca and spending time with her Jessy, and Big Sen.

I don’t know for sure because, when you’ve been together for 37 years (36 of them married, end of this month), two weeks away from the sound of my voice is the best vacation Bear could possibly ask for. So I don’t call. I’ll see her in two weeks. Besides, there’s no news here to report anyhow—unless you count the fact that Spencer and I haven’t starved to death without someone to look after us.

I always start to really love the summer when it’s just about to end. It seems so cruel that all the beautiful plants and flowers and all the leaves on the trees will all fade and fall. Soon I’ll have to close the windows—sacrificing fresh breezes for warmth—I think that’s the part I hate the most. Sometimes, in winter, I open the bedroom windows for as long as I can stand it—just to get a little re-oxygenation.

But temperate climate is where it’s best—yes, you get winter, but it’s harder to live in temperate climes, so you don’t get the profusion of jungles, insects, and creepy-crawlies of various kinds that make the tropics so claustrophobic. Winter is like a broom that sweeps away the ephemera that can only live in the hot sunlight—herding the irresistible force of Life into a dignified annual cycle, rather than an eternal riot of birth and rot—what Joseph Conrad called the “Heart of Darkness”.

But we still get a taste of the easy life, every summer—just a tease, but enough to fuel our dreams through the long winters. I love having all the doors and windows open all day—especially on breezy days, when the whole house breathes with the weather. Those flowers which haven’t already done their business are at peak bloom, blousy and vulnerable to wind—the last fireworks of nature’s annual explosion—so beautiful, and so sad, for their grandeur means the end is near. As they should correctly say on Game of Thrones, ‘Autumn is coming’. Right? I mean, who has Winter without first a Fall, for crying out loud? Why don’t the Game of Thrones people ever say, “Fall is almost over.”? That’s show-biz, I guess.

I’m going outside—all this talking about the outdoors has made me restless. See ya.

Do Over

01  Russell's Last Visit (Sept. 2012)

01 Russell’s Last Visit (Sept. 2012)

During our Revolutionary War, we had the fire of change burning in our hearts—so much so that we defied a Monarchial world order. The Dutch had introduced the concept of self-government but both their geographical and cultural settings made it impossible for them to give birth to a truly separate national ideology. They were too old to start over from scratch—they and their neighboring nations had too much inertia in the direction of the status quo to allow a pivot into something truly original.

Our Civil War, again, was based on the ideal of continent-wide unity. Being the last civilized nation of that age to ban slavery was a great part of it, but its roots were in the maintenance of the United States of America as a Union of States. Europe was still too mired in its antique cross-nation wars and competitions to create a similar Union of European States (something it would take them two World Wars (and the near-destruction of all Western Europe) to find.

The end of the Civil War, and the dawning of the Industrial Age, led to America’s explosion of strength and wealth. But the nature of power and of riches is to exclude the weak and the poor. The greatest imbalance came during the Great Depression, which left most Americans wanting, and only a handful of rich and powerful ‘Robber Barons’ left holding the moneybags, and most of the political influence. The Second World War ended the joblessness problem, and increased America’s sense of unity—but both effects were superficial enough to allow the USA of the 20th Century to create permanent pockets of horrible poverty and deep bigotry, while it exploded in technology, communications, transportation, and of course, electronics.

Here in the 21st Century, we have long ago lost the frontiers—not just our own West, but all the Terra Incognita of the globe—both poles, the deep sea, and even the near-earth orbital zone of outer space. Industry has grown into a self-sustaining Rube Goldberg that both threatens and sustains us. Our laws, after two-and-a-half centuries, have become deeply layered, and too dense for new entrants to easily shoehorn themselves into the economy. Our population has zoomed to the point where we have given up our oldest and proudest tradition—‘give us your tired, your poor, your wretched refuse longing to be free’. Now we talk of electrified fences and infra-red-sensing border patrols. ‘Hard work and honest effort’ never were a sure path to success in business, even when such was our favorite delusion. But today’s Capitalism has literally outlawed those ideals, in favor of profits and shareholders’ wishes.

So, America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, is now an exclusive nation, an owned nation, and a nation dependent on its addiction to capitalism, credit, competition, and powerful political lobbies that veto the will of the people. Our laws have become as arcane and impenetrable as the most ancient legislations of the Old World. Our freedoms have been usurped by Industrial Privilege and Monopolized Media. Our hopes have gone beyond ‘college degrees for our children’ into a world where we hope that our college-graduated children can get a job at the neighborhood mall.

We were great at exploring, pioneering, developing, researching, learning, and teaching—but we have done all that and now we find that we have little talent for simply living. Our Yahoo sense of discovery and Yankee ingenuity are both played out. We are faced with a world where we are no longer as special as we were.

Don’t get me wrong—when we were special, we were very special—and now that we are less special, we are still head-and-shoulders above most of the world’s governments. But there are now places such as Great Britain, France, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Netherlands (and several more) where the quality of personal freedom is equal to or surpassing our own, where economic opportunities are greater, where immigration is less difficult, where industry and finance have far less say in the legislation and culture of these nations. They are, at the very least, our equals. We probably had a hand in helping them get there, but you can’t live on a reputation—WWII has been won and ended for some time now, and Europe has been free of threat of the Soviets for decades.

We Americans have to start seeing ourselves more like the Canadians see themselves—not as Cop, Judge, and Executioner for the World, but simply as a bastion of modern civilization. Our biggest problems are internal—for now, looking outward is little more than star-gazing and we have become a divided nation, a commercialized nation, and a source of half the world’s production of BS. We are not comfortable with self-reflection, self-awareness, self-searching, or self-discipline—rather ‘Eastern’ notions for citizens of the USA—but highly desirable for a post-modern nation.

Seeing ourselves the way others see us; Seeing things from the other’s point of view; accepting uncomfortable (or inconvenient) truths about ourselves, our culture, or our future—none of these things has value in a Capitalist culture. But in the real world, self-knowledge and the acknowledgment of hard truths are invaluable weapons against humanity’s biggest danger of our time—the rate of change.

The faster an environment changes, the more difficult it becomes to plan and prepare. The changes that come at us today are daily ones, sometimes hourly—humanity has historically enjoyed a far more glacial rate of change in both technology and culture. Communication lag-times could reach into years, or at least weeks—and that was just the rate at which the news of change was spread. The actual changes were measured in decades.

We oldsters still think that way. Hence the popularity of VH1’s “I love the 70s” (or “80s” or “90s”) series. Its charm (for me) is in that feeling I get when I look at Michael Jackson’s single sequined white glove—I feel ‘weren’t things so much simpler and innocent back then?’ To compact our present day lives into similar half-hour segments would require today’s shows to be called “I loved 2008” (or any other 21st Century year).

Please do not mistake me—seeming innocence, perceived by an individual like me (in my youth) doesn’t change the fact that no era of humanity has been ‘innocent’ in any but relative terms, or as a product of some white-washing campaign that had not yet faded and exposed the truth. Revisionist history, an up-and-comer of my schoolyard years, taught us to mistrust an individual interpretation of time’s great sweep—which led to the ‘death of history’.

This is where we are at present—the liberties taken by Hollywood in the telling of an historical period or event are less revolting, now that we judge history books to be of similar veracity—and conflicting accounts of past chroniclers are given equal voice—with the assumption that both may be untrue in some way. I sometimes suspect that the Powers That Be encourage this perspective as a way of moderating the clear examples of past power-abusers which we could otherwise learn from. However, in my more rational moods, I accept that people avoid learning from history without any help at all.

To sum up, America is no longer an energetic child with boundless opportunities—it isn’t even an uncomfortable adolescent, seeking itself and its values, with little concern for the future. No, today’s USA is a middle-aged cynic, disappointed of the promise of its youth, fearful of the loss of strength and ability it once had, and apprehensive of its future—which is turning out to be a lot less ‘special’ than we had always hoped it would be.

Our country has too much overhead and too little engagement with the challenges of the future—and a propensity to fantasize that we are what we once were—the new kid on the block. The Industrial Revolution long over, we tend to see the Electronics Revolution as its natural extension—another boom market for America, that others will be slow to adopt. But Electronics are more democratic than we are—and are easily adopted by any country, or indeed, individual with a desire to push the envelope. And our current economic and cultural inertia virtually guarantees that we, the USA, will be one of the laggards in that race—and in the development of off-world industry as well!

We assume that digital code and space exploration will remain our strong suits in spite of our neglect, and other countries’ growing interest. We have lost our yeast, so to speak, and from now on, America will have to grow and strengthen through immense effort, without a ‘tailwind’ of novelty and easy successes.

Our idea of ‘public education’ once gave us a huge lead over countries that minimized its importance—which was most of them, in the beginning. But it is now an old, accepted axiom of national strength. Our ratings, compared to other countries, show our present public education system to be either very near to last place or, in some subjects, dead last! Our proud heritage and our present neglect of education is a tsunami of obsolescence that will inundate our nation in just one or two more generations.

While Americans are ‘teaching the controversy’ to each other, the rest of the globe is hightailing it after the mysteries of physics and medicine. Even our universities and colleges, which somehow retain primacy in comparison with the rest of the world, will find no faculty prepared to teach in these institutions—except those foreign experts and researchers willing to teach in the ‘backwater’ country we are in danger of becoming.

And the world, itself, is older and more awkward—the population is at seven billion (way more than nature alone could support); the natural resources are becoming more and more difficult to find and exploit; the ocean, atmosphere, and ground we stand on is more polluted every day; and the biological diversity of our planet has been shaken, not stirred, with some out-of-niche intruders (lapses of world travelers’ efforts to keep things in their proper place) taking over entire bio-spheres with no defenses against the interloping specie. These ‘blurrings’ of ecological dividing-lines removes the geological separation that protected plants and animals from each other’s niches since Life began—not a good thing. And pollution, all by itself, can kill off species, even entire biomes.

They say that it’s harder to fix an automobile when it is driving down the highway—and that is a major problem for civilization, too. It never stops—in fact, it’s going too darn fast—and fixing our civilization’s problems pose the same difficulty—we can’t stop the world and fix its engine—we have to do it on the fly. Worse yet, we now have a time limit—if we don’t adjust ourselves before pollution reaches lethal levels, before the biosphere collapses, before climate change freezes the planet in an ice age, before overpopulation causes a total collapse of civilization, or before the next unlucky Tunguska-event from space—we won’t have the chance.

It’s funny how facts, like the above, can sound a lot like hyperbole. But we created a hyperbolic world—nuclear explosions, forest-clearing, carbon-burning, freak storms—you name it, we’ve been busy at it for over a century. Our margin of safety is no longer incalculable—we cannot  tell ourselves there will always be more trees, more fish, more land, more everything. It is now possible to calculate the very day (conditions being constant) that the last tree in the Amazon rain-forest is cut down, the exact day that over-used aquifers in our Southwestern states go dry—forever, the day that China’s largest cities are forced to evacuate because of toxic contamination of the local atmosphere.

It is the final nail in our coffin—our potential doomsdays are too fantastic to take seriously. Also, there have been many Chicken Littles throughout history, predicting humanity’s Doom—next year, next month, or tomorrow—and they are always wrong. So, of course, it would be foolish to take me seriously—I’m just another over-excitable nut-job. Yes, I may be crazy—but no crazier than the world we live in.

There is one sensible thing we can all do, difficult though it may be—we can start seeing the USA as a part of the global civilization, rather than its leader. Think about it—with the world in the fine mess it’s in, why would we even want to take credit for its leadership? Plus, one thing becomes more painfully obvious every day—the globe has no leadership. No one is refereeing, no one is taking responsibility, no one is facing the hard truths about the world. We stick by our competitive, animal roots and tell ourselves that the cream always rises, that civilization is self-adjusting—and so it was, before we gained the fantastic powers granted to 21st Century people. We are powerful enough to tip the world out of balance, but we still insist that the world will right itself. Only by replacing competition with cooperation can we survive our looming, self-imposed disasters.

02  Russell's Last Visit (Sept. 2012)

02 Russell’s Last Visit (Sept. 2012)