In Dire Need of Creative Extremists

MLK Memorial on the national Mall
(h/t Mobilus In Mobili CC BY-SA 2.0)

While many would point to Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial  in August 1963 as his most powerful, the words from King that most move me come from a letter written four months earlier, as he sat in the Birmingham jail. It was a letter written to local pastors, who expressed support for his cause but concern for the manner in which he came to Birmingham to protest. When looking back at historical letters, there are some that are products of their time that illuminate the events of that day, but which need footnotes and commentary to explain to contemporary readers.

King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is *not* one of those letters. I wish it was, but it isn’t. It’s all too clear, and speaks all too clearly even now.

In that letter, King identified “the great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom” not as the hoodwearing Klanners or the politically powerful White Citizens Council folks, but the white moderate. These are folks who

  • are more devoted to order than justice
  • prefer a negative peace – the absence of tension – to a positive peace – the presence of justice
  • constantly say they agree with your goals but not your direct methods for achieving them
  • feel no problem in setting a timetable for someone else’s freedom
  • live by the myth of time, constantly urging patience until things are more convenient

Anyone who has watched the news at any time over the last three years knows that this great stumbling block to freedom and justice, the Moderate, is an all-too-familiar presence, appearing in various guises. For example . . .

  • police officers who, as one African-American after another is beaten, abused, and killed by one of their colleagues, silently watch the attack as it unfolds, who refuse to intervene, who write up reports to cover for this conduct, and who by their silence and their words defend and justify assault and murder done under the color of law;
  • staffers at ICE facilities who, as children are separated from their parents, as people are crammed into unlivable facilities, as basic necessities like toothbrushes and soap are withheld, clock in and clock out without saying a word;
  • personal assistants, co-workers, and superiors who watch as victim after victim were abused by powerful men like Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Jeffrey Epstein, and untold others, and who said nothing;
  • Susan Collins, hand-wringer extraordinaire, who expresses her deep concerns about this rightwing nominee or that destructive proposed policy, and nevertheless puts her concerns aside time and time and time again to confirm the nominee or enact the proposal into law;
  • media figures who practice “he said/she said journalism,” who twist themselves into pretzels in order to maintain their “access” to inside sources, and who refuse to call a lie a lie in the name of “balance”;
  • corporate bean counters, who place such things as quarterly profits and shareholder value ahead of worker safety and well-being, ahead of environmental concerns, or ahead of community partnership, saying “we can’t afford to . . .” when what they really mean is “we choose not to spend in order to . . .”;
  • lawyers who provide legal cover to those who abuse, torture, and terrorize, and the second group of lawyers who “let bygones be bygones” in order to not have to deal with the actions of the first group;
  • bishops and religious leaders who privately chastise abusive priests and pastors, but who fail to hold them publicly accountable and seek justice, out of a concern to not cause a scandal that would bring the religious organization into disrepute; and
  • leaders of sports programs who value winning so much that they are willing to look the other way when coaches, trainers, and doctors abuse athletes.

The tools of the Moderate are things like Non-Disclosure Agreements, loyalty to The Team, and the explicit and implicit power of the hierarchy. The Moderate may not be at the top of the pyramid, but as long as the Moderate can kiss up and kick down, they think they will be OK. They’ll keep their powder dry, waiting for a better time to act. But all too often, the Moderate refuses to use what they’ve been saving for that rainy day, even when they are in the middle of a Category 5 hurricane.

But there are signs of hope, and we’ve seen some of them as well over the last three years:

  • career government professionals – at the State Department like Marie Yovanovitch, at the Department of Defense like Captain Brett Crozier of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, at the Department of Health and Human Services like Dr. Richard Bright, at the Department of Justice like Brandon Van Graak, and others like them – who refused to worry about personal consequences to themselves and fudge the data, ignore the facts, shade the advice,  or stand silently by while others do so;
  • passers-by to acts of injustice, who not only document what is being done but who take action to hold perpetrators to account (NY dog walkers, represent!);
  • young voices like Greta Thunberg who refuse to go along to get along, who ask the tough questions of those in power, and who question the answers that mock the truth, and old voices like Elizabeth Warren who do the same; and
  • voices of political relative newcomers like Katie Porter, AOC, Stacy Abrams, who do not let their low spot on the political totem pole (or lack of a spot at all) keep them from speaking out for justice.

This past week, longtime AIDS activist Larry Kramer passed away. He founded the Gay Men’s Health Crisis to care for gays stricken with AIDS, while the government turned its eyes away from the problem. Later on, he founded ACT-UP, when he saw GMHC had become too domesticated and unwilling to rock the boat when the boat desperately needed rocking. He called out the gay community and he called out government officials, even those who were trying to help like Anthony Fauci, for not doing anywhere close to what was needed.

And in many respects, it worked. Maybe not as fast as it should have, or as well as Kramer would have liked, but it made a difference. From Kramer’s NY Times obituary:

The infectious-disease expert Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was one who got the message — after Mr. Kramer wrote an open letter published in The San Francisco Examiner in 1988 calling him a killer and “an incompetent idiot.”

“Once you got past the rhetoric,” Dr. Fauci said in an interview for this obituary, “you found that Larry Kramer made a lot of sense, and that he had a heart of gold.”

Mr. Kramer, he said, had helped him to see how the federal bureaucracy was indeed slowing the search for effective treatments. He credited Mr. Kramer with playing an “essential” role in the development of elaborate drug regimens that could prolong the lives of those infected with H.I.V., and in prompting the Food and Drug Administration to streamline its assessment and approval of certain new drugs.

In recent years Mr. Kramer developed a grudging friendship with Dr. Fauci, particularly after Mr. Kramer developed liver disease and underwent the transplant in 2001; Dr. Fauci helped get him into a lifesaving experimental drug trial afterward.

Their bond grew stronger this year, when Dr. Fauci became the public face of the White House task force on the coronavirus epidemic, opening him to criticism in some quarters.“We are friends again,” Mr. Kramer said in an email to the reporter John Leland of The New York Times for an article published at the end of March. “I’m feeling sorry for how he’s being treated. I emailed him this, but his one line answer was, ‘Hunker down.’”

Which brings me back to King’s letter and the title of this post:

. . . though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

We’ve got plenty of extremists like Stephen Miller and the cop who knelt on George Floyd’s neck until he died. We’re in dire need of more creative extremists.

Which leaves me with one question: how will you be a creative extremist today?

John Lewis Was Not Always Old

Ode to Ella Baker” by Lisa McLymont (Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

A few weeks ago, John Lewis put out a press release announcing to all that he is undergoing treatment for stage 4 pancreatic cancer. He later sent out a tweet, lifting up one of the best lines in that press statement:

I have been in some kind of fight – for freedom, equality, basic human rights – for nearly my entire life. I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now.

Lewis’ summary of his life is not hyperbole. He is the last living member of the Big Six, the speakers at the 1963 March on Washington for civil rights, and now is a senior member of Congress. But it’s important to remember that John Lewis was not always old. He was just 23 when he spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial as the president of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) – an organization he co-founded three years earlier at age 20 – and at 21 was one of the original Freedom Riders.

Let me repeat it again: John Lewis was not always old. He has always been a fighter for civil rights, but he has not always been old.

In 2005, historian David McCullough noted how we as a society perceive great leaders in a speech about the Founders:

We tend to see them—Adams, Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Rush, George Washington—as figures in a costume pageant; that is often the way they’re portrayed. And we tend to see them as much older than they were because we’re seeing them in the portraits by Gilbert Stuart and others when they were truly the Founding Fathers—when they were president or chief justice of the Supreme Court and their hair, if it hadn’t turned white, was powdered white. We see the awkward teeth. We see the elder statesmen.

At the time of the Revolution, they were all young. It was a young man’s–young woman’s cause. George Washington took command of the Continental Army in the summer of 1775 at the age of 43. He was the oldest of them. Adams was 40. Jefferson was all of 33 when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. Benjamin Rush—who was the leader of the antislavery movement at the time, who introduced the elective system into higher education in this country, who was the first to urge the humane treatment of patients in mental hospitals—was 30 years old when he signed the Declaration of Independence. Furthermore, none of them had any prior experience in revolutions; they weren’t experienced revolutionaries who’d come in to take part in this biggest of all events. They were winging it. They were improvising.

This is not unique to the American Founders. Historians of social change who pay attention to the leaders of these movements often see the same thing. For example . . .

  • When Martin Luther King, Jr. led the Montgomery Bus boycott in 1955, he was just shy of 25 years old. When he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, he was 35, and when was assassinated on the balcony of a Memphis hotel, he was only 39.
  • When Thurgood Marshall argued on behalf of racial justice in Shelley v. Kramer before SCOTUS in 1948 – six years before he did the same in Brown v. Board of Education – Marshall was 40 years old. He won both cases, the former striking down restricted housing covenants and the latter doing away with the pernicious “separate but equal” doctrine that was at the heart of Jim Crow.
  • When Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, and Nelson Mandela co-founded the ANC Youth League in 1944, they were 31, 26, and 25 years old respectively.
  • When Dr. Paul Volberding and nurse Cliff Morrison pushed against incredible medical and social prejudices to organize the nation’s first AIDS unit at San Francisco General Hospital in 1983 as the AIDS crisis continued to spiral out of control, they were 33 and 31 respectively.
  • When Gavin Newsom (then mayor of San Francisco) ordered the San Francisco clerk’s office to issue marriage licenses for couples regardless of the genders involved on February 14, 2004, he was 36.
  • When Upton Sinclair published The Jungle, exposing the ugly underside of the meatpacking industry and spurring social change with regard government oversight and regulation of food and drugs, he was 28.
  • When anti-lynching crusader and journalist Ida B. Wells published Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases in 1892, she was 30.
  • When Elizabeth Cady Stanton co-organized the Seneca Falls Conference on Women’s Rights in 1848, she was 32.

It’s not too much of a stretch to say that the leaders of social change movements are more likely to be young than to be old.

After Lewis made his announcement, Marcy tweeted out her reactions to the news, including this:

Say a prayer–or whatever you do instead–to give John Lewis strength for this fight. But also commit to raise up a young moral leader who has inspired you. We can’t rely on 80 and 90 year olds to lead us in the troubled days going forward.

I’ve been chewing on that tweet for the better part of a month.

What immediately went through my head upon reading that tweet was the name Ella Baker, one of the less well-known leaders in the civil rights movement. In a story for the Tavis Smiley Show on PRI about the founding of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), John Lewis tells of Ella’s powerful role:

Martin Luther King, Jr. was so impressed by the actions of the students [and their non-violent lunchcounter sit-ins], says Lewis, that he asked a young woman by the name of Ella Baker to organize a conference, inviting students from 58 colleges and universities.

“More than 300 people showed up at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, where SNCC was born,” said Lewis. “It was Easter weekend, 1960.”

Baker, considered by many as an unsung hero of the civil rights movement, was a “brilliant” radical who spurred on the creation of SNCC as an independent organization, says Lewis.

“She was a fiery speaker, and she would tell us to ‘organize, organize; agitate, agitate! Do what you think is right. Go for it!’ Dr. King wanted her to make SNCC the youth arm of his organization. But Ella Baker said we should be independent … and have our own organization.”

While the SNCC was deeply inspired by Dr. King and the SCLC, or the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the students in the organization didn’t always see eye-to-eye with SCLC leadership.

“We had a lot of young women, and SNCC didn’t like the idea of the male chauvinism that existed in the SCLC,” says Lewis. “The SCLC was dominated by primarily black Baptist Ministers. And these young women did all the work and they had been the head of their local organizations.”

I’m not sure where Smiley got the phrasing about Ella Baker being “a young woman” when this all happened, as she was 55 years old in 1960 and King was only 30. But Ella did exactly what Marcy was talking about in that tweet. When she saw an opening to act, she helped raise up hundreds of young moral leaders, and she helped them most by encouraging them to act out of their own gifts and strengths and not by tying themselves to the approaches of older leaders.

Which brings me to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. In the days following the massacre at MSD, the students there took matters into their own hands, rather than waiting for their elders to act. These are kids who grew up entirely in the post-Columbine High School shooting world, where active shooter drills were a regular part of school life. (I’m old: the only drills we had were “duck and cover” for a nuclear attack and “head for the hallway or basement” for tornadoes.) With each new shooting, they saw the same script written by the elders play out each time – thoughts and prayers for the victims, debate over gun laws, and nothing changes. They saw it happen around the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando a year and a half earlier. Talk, talk, talk and nothing changes.

This time, it wasn’t the elders running the show, however. It was Emma Gonzales, live on every cable network, who called BS on the NRA and the legislators who were intimidated by them. It was Cameron Kasky who gathered and organized his classmates to make this a movement. It was David Hogg and a dozen others, a hundred others, who did interviews, organized demonstrations, and the 1001 other things to give their work power. They reached out to other teens affected by gun violence, especially teens of color, to amplify the common message demanding change. They became a force to be reckoned with, not only in Tallahassee where they actually got gun laws changed, but in DC and around the country.

Behind these students, though, were their teachers. These are the folks who nourished the gifts of research and organization, of public speaking and political organizing in these young people. There were parents and other adults, who took their cues from the teens and did the things that you need someone over 21 to do, like sign rental bus agreements, for example. It is clear, though, that the moral leaders are the teens, with the elders in supporting roles.

Then there’s Greta Thunberg, relentlessly pushing the elders in seats of power to take action on the climate emergency gripping our planet.  Her messages are always a version of “This is not about me and my knowledge; it’s about the scientists and their knowledge – and they say we are going to burn the planet down if things don’t change fast.” She points to data, and forces her hearers to look at it. She may have gotten attention early on because of her youth (“O look at that cute little girl, doing cute little things and trying to get politicians to act”), but being a cute little girl doing cute little things doesn’t get you seat at the table at Davos. No, she got her seat at the tables of the powerful by being the young person who said over and over and over again that the emperors, the presidents, the corporate titans, and the powers of the planet aren’t wearing any clothes.

Just like young John Lewis.

The other part of Greta’s “It’s not about me” messaging is that she has sought out and nurtured other young people around the world, who have been organizing in their communities while she was at work in Sweden. She met Lakota activist Tokata Iron Eyes, who invited her to Standing Rock to see the work they are doing. Thunberg not only accepted, but eagerly lent her support to their work, not least of which came because of her larger media profile. When she spoke at Davos, it was as part of a panel of other young climate activists from Puerto Rico, southern Africa, and Canada.

Like the MSD students, Greta has passion for her activism, a data-driven focus that she hope can break through the cynicism and self-centeredness of world leaders, and a skill at building alliances with other like minded folks. And like the MSD students, people with power are listening — and are beginning to want to hear more. While Steve Mnuchen (following the lead of Donald Trump) mocked Thunberg for her youth, another world leader had a different reaction:

Angela Merkel, though, spoke warmly about the work of the new generation of climate activists.

“The impatience of our young people is something that we should tap,” the German chancellor said. In a special address to the WEF, Merkel called for more international cooperation to tackle climate change.

“I am totally convinced that the price of inaction will be far higher than the price of action,” she declared.

Over the last month, I’ve been looking at and interacting with the teenagers in my life a little bit differently, a little more intentionally, thanks in part to Marcy’s tweet. You see, one of those teens may just be another John Lewis, and I’d dearly love to be another Ella Baker.

Happy Thanksgiving: Delayed Cranes and Pigs Edition

As longtime readers know, I like to focus my Thanksgiving gratitude on the Michigan farmers who provide the remarkable diversity of crops Mr. EW and I eat year round. Aside from olive oil and spices, you can source almost your entire Thanksgiving dinner from local Michigan farmers and I try to be intentional about who provides this meal. Among the providers who helped bring us dinner tonight, we thank:

  • Green Wagon Farm: Year-round greens, rutabegas, other veggies
  • Visser Farm: Spuds and carrots grown down the street from where I lived for a year
  • Hilhof Dairy: Truly exceptional dairy products
  • MOO-ville Creamery: Lots and lots of butter
  • Loves Ice Cream: Because my brother, who’s an ice cream addict, has joined us this year
  • Founders Mosaic Promise: Because the Lions game is going to suck especially bad this year
  • 2 Lads Winery: Yes, the wine comes from MI too
  • Pioneer Sugar: Even the commodity crops come from MI
  • The backyard: The Jerusalem artichokes (used in the stuffing) and herbs come from my own garden

Mr. EW and I have a special relationship with our meat farmers, Crane Dance Farm, two women who raise cows, pigs, lamb, chickens, and turkeys using humane principles. We’ve been buying our meat from them for years and gotten to be friends over that time.

Along with our meat, I get a sense of how the changing climate affects those farming the land from Jill and Mary.

This year, the cranes after which Jill named the farm, for example, came late, 20 days after the day they have arrived for decades. During that period Jill raised the missing birds every Saturday with a worried voice. They finally returned to the farm.

Then in the fall, the pork stopped, the delayed result of a significant drop-off in births much earlier in the year. Jill and Mary finally fattened enough pigs to slaughter just weeks before Thanksgiving (thankfully, given that my family tradition is cooking out turkey topped with bacon).

It’s not certain either of these things are due to the changing weather, though that’s a likely explanation. Meanwhile, Philadelphia had to pull the balloons from the Mummers parade on account of the high wind that, just days ago, ravaged the disappearing beaches here in Michigan.

I’m grateful for Michigan’s bounty. Unless we start doing something about the climate emergency, it may not be there very long.

A World We Built to Burn

Smoke from the Camp Fire settles on San Francisco, 2018

It’s the windy end of a hot summer in California right now, and everything wants to burn. This year, like every year, fall winds jostle and tug a dry landscape of golden grasses and scrubland up against forests whose floors are piled with dry litterfall. Old powerlines hang from poles all over a landscape that has been changed by the human suppression of the fires that were always a part of the ecosystem.

More houses are closer to this tinderbox, as we’ve pushed the wildland-urban interface further into the interior of the southwestern states than it has ever been. The power lines are owned by a bankrupt utility, PG&E, and in a lot of places, they were turned off last week, to prevent the utility company from burning down more towns like Paradise, CA, which burned with a kind of biblical rage this time last year.

And then, on top of all this, there’s climate change, making the hot and dry and windy just a bit hotter and drier and windier.

The reasons PG&E cut off power to millions of people in California are myriad and complicated and go back the better part of a century.

This is a story of climate change, but it’s also a story of messed-up political priorities that date to when our great-grandparents were still getting used to the idea of electricity. It’s a story of disrespect and exploitation of the land, of failures in capitalism, regulation, and political will, of people who don’t want to live with the consequences of their decisions, and people who have to live with the consequences of other people’s decisions.

There isn’t a right answer here, there isn’t a single responsible party, and there’s not a clear, safe, and easy path forward. In the words of Paradise’s mayor, Jody Jones: “It’s really kind of a no-win situation.

Camp Fire, 2018, NASA

In California those who wanted to blame PG&E for the power shutdowns called this an infrastructure problem, and PG&E deflected by saying it was a climate change problem. But climate change, and more generally, the wider range of the planetary stress we’re living through now, is an infrastructure problem.

I’m not just talking about the 2 degrees centigrade we hear about all the time. Everything from fires to CO2 to biodiversity loss and plastic pollution have come from how we have managed our built environment and currently maintain our infrastructure, and our infrastructure touches every part of life and culture, from forests cleared to create agricultural land for beef and palm oil, to travel-related carbon emissions and heat waves, to the houses built in what was once the California wilds. The issue at the heart of all of these things is how we manage the planet, now that we know that’s what we’re doing.

None of our old infrastructure was built with planetary management in mind, and very little is even now. What we’re dealing with is hundreds of years of something that software world calls technical debt. Technical debt is the shortcuts and trade-offs engineers use to get something done either cheaper or in less time, which inevitably creates the need to fix systems later, often at great cost or difficulty.

Some technical debt is understood up front, some comes from builders being ignorant  of the system they are working in. Most of our planet’s infrastructure is mired in huge amounts of technical debt, most of which we didn’t know we were signing up for at the time, some of which we’re just incurring recklessly as we go along, unable to face the scale of the problem and pushing it off on the next generation.

California is a perfect microcosm of this. The infrastructure is failing, and political priorities are just elsewhere. In the case of energy policy, there’s a huge push to switch from fossil fuels to renewables, which is much more politically sexy than fixing transmission lines. With housing, it’s approving building deeper and deeper into wildlands, often while local policies, old laws, and zoning keep city and suburban density low and property prices unsustainably high.

So here we are: Keeping the lines on will probably kill people. Turning them off will probably kill people. Our political system is facing a real-life trolley problem created by our ever-expanding technical debt. It can’t have been easy for the people making the decisions.

I’ve known people who worked for PG&E in technical roles. I’ve known plenty of people who work on, and care about, infrastructure. They’re not bad people on the whole, and I’m sure part of the aggressive de-energizing came from a rank and file traumatized by last year’s fires and acutely terrified of having a hand in killing people. There’s almost never as many people cackling in dark rooms while chomping on expensive cigars as people think there are.

There just aren’t enough bad guys for all the problems we have right now, leaving us with the hard work fixing problems and not enough of the satisfaction of blaming people.

This past week those who lived in the blackout areas were told to prepare as best they could.

This enraged many, including California Governor Newsom, who is in charge of the government that would in theory be taking care of this kind of thing. The angry people, from Newsom down, felt somebody, somewhere, was supposed to be responsible for all of this, that there simply weren’t supposed to be problems like choosing between fires and blackouts.

But much of the next century is going to be problems like this, not just for California, but for the whole world, as we deal with several generation’s worth of technical debt around infrastructure and learning to really manage our planet. There’s a lot we can learn from the California case, both about how to fix it, and how to cope in the mean time, like: have a plan.

People often get very angry when they hear that they have to have a plan. During the European heatwave and evacuations ahead of storm surges on the East Coast over the summer, and then California’s fall fire-and-blackout season, those living in threatened areas were told to have a plan to take care of their people and themselves.

Sometimes they were told it was time to take care of themselves without much notice. The anger in the case of every disaster is palpable, even though these days the disasters come one after another. Sometimes it seems like we live on a planet slowly traversing the old metaphorical stages of grief — most caught somewhere between denial and anger, with a few out on the scientific frontier starting the process of bargaining.

One of our jobs in this century is to accept that we don’t live on the planet we thought we lived on, and our societies aren’t doing what we thought they were. Even if we were able to change our politics overnight, which is probably impossible without some planetary level disaster wake up call, it would still take many decades to dig ourselves out of out technical debt, and in the mean time, we have to stay alive and try to thrive.

Everyone who lives on this stressed-out planet have to have plans, at every level from transnational to individual. We have to build resiliency and  capacity to cope with unstable and difficult circumstances, potentially for years, as we learn to pay down the technical debt and build the infrastructure that can work with our planet. For Californians that means stores of water and non-perishable foods, spare medication, first aid, batteries, N95 masks, and an evacuation plan,  especially for those living in fire-prone areas.

In hurricane zones, it means a go-bag. It can mean a lot of things depending on where you are and what protecting your home and family means to you. Where I live now, it means iodine pills in the bathroom first aid kit, in case the old and poorly maintained nuclear power plant not from my home goes wrong.

There are questions of right and wrong and responsibility our societies need to address, but having a plan not a matter of fairness or right and wrong. Those will be litigated elsewhere or another time. When the fires have started, the lot have gone out, the waters are rising or the radiation is leaking, it’s a matter of knowing how to take care of you and yours and your community as best you can.

I can imagine you looking at the screen, saying “It shouldn’t be this way!” But it is this way. The world we thought we had, with a safe stable environment and not too many people, that is not the world we live in. That is, in short, not real. At the individual level as well as the policy level, we need to let go of that which is not real.

We are living with infrastructure that is not fit for the reality on our planet. The faster we accept that, the faster we can get to the real work of changing it, politically and socially. Personal resiliency and societal resiliency go hand-in-hand.

Without that, bad infrastructure creates vicious circles, both logistical and political.

Back in the here and now, a lot of activists have focused in California on private ownership and investor motivations as the problem, proposing taking utilities into public hands as the solution. I’m sympathetic, but suspect this doesn’t solve any problems on its own, because there’s no solution that doesn’t involve difficult tradeoffs, and governments aren’t particularly good at difficult tradeoffs.

PG&E or the state need to modernize energy transmission to reduce waste and stop burning down whole towns. We need to modernize existing infrastructure all over the world to cope with the effects of climate change. We also need to replace and build new infrastructure to mitigate climate change and decarbonization for the future. We need to protect biodiversity, and limit extraction. In California, as in the rest of the world, these goals are hard to get out of conflict. They draw on the same pool of money, the same political will, and even the same class of workers.

Both modernizing existing infrastructure and building new sustainable infrastructure at once is slow and viciously expensive. Doing one after another is slower, a little cheaper, and more dangerous. These are the trade-offs that will characterize life in the 21st century on our lovely little water planet.

Our incentives often undermine these goals at every level.

As a simple example, power cuts lead to people buying generators, which are worse for climate change than power generation. This is a pattern we see all over the developing world, like the otherwise modern lifestyle in Beirut, but now showing up in the developed world.

More complexly, the worthy long term goal of bringing power generation closer to where it is used, such as solar roof panels and municipal or micro generation technologies pose a undesirable threat to PG&E. Localized residential and business power generation is better, with lower emissions and less fire risk. But right now, shifting to local production takes funding away from PG&E, putting it into the position of fighting against a future everyone wants — including most of the people at PG&E. This is because the less money PG&E gets, the less it can do to make power distribution safe by burying or replacing power lines, or meeting the power needs of those who can’t generate for themselves, who are most likely to be the poorest customers.

California’s political priority of changing power sources to renewables has gone quite well, but has drawn attention and money away from rebuilding boring power lines hanging above unphotogenic scrubby foliage, like the kind that caught fire last year, incinerating Paradise.

Local micropower generation is certainly what we all want in the long term, but because of how we’ve structured the idea of utility service, it can only reduce funding for large scale projects as fewer and fewer people pay in. These priorities don’t have to be in conflict, but until we rethink how we’re coordinating our response to infrastructure needs and planetary management, they will be. That is also technical debt.

Part of the is the difficulty with managing planetary resources is telling people they can’t have it all. This is hard with all humans, but especially with Americans. The only thing we seem ok with making personal sacrifice for is war, which seems hardly coincident with calling every major policy “a war on” something or other for the past 60 years.

Let me go straight to one of the roughest things we face: not being able to live where we want.

Californians think its their pioneering right to build houses and whole towns deep into the wildlands, land evolved to burn in a place that has been catching fire on a geologic time scale. But Fire doesn’t care where we think we should build our wooded, outdoorsy, and cheap retirement homes.

Flooding in Jakarta, 2013. Seika via Flickr

What Californians, as well as many other Americans, and hundreds of millions of people around the world need to give up on is living where they think they ought to be able to live. Californians are busy building new neighborhoods into the rightful territory of giant fast moving infernos; post-Hurricane Texans think they have the right to build in low-elevation Houston, and poverty-stricken Bangladeshis and Indonesians think they should hold on to the shores they’ve always lived on.

Houston is technical debt. New Orleans is technical debt. Puerto Rico is plagued by intertwined monetary and technical debt. Jakarta is sinking, literally, into technical debt.

Paradise, CA was technical debt.

One of the first lessons of climate, and infrastructure, is that people have to live closer together and in easier places, or they will die. Nature doesn’t care who deserves what. Nature is not interested in how things are supposed to be. We are interested in being kinder than nature, we are interested in justice, and we are going to have to be responsible for bringing that kindness and justice to the people displaced by nature, and who are in need in need of the good things we can all have when we pay down that technical debt and build global infrastructure that works for everyone, including nature.

Ultimately, Californians and Texans and Bangladeshis and Indonesians are participating in the same project, along with the rest of us, to manage ourselves and our resources in ways that let us live comfortably and not quite so heavily upon the Earth.

We have to retreat from the shore, stay out of the wild places, and be careful with our water. We have to use less energy, less land, and take better care of each other at the global level. The faster we figure that out, the better our chances are. Most of the world is past denial now, and so is most of California. Skipping past anger and bargaining and even depression, all the way to acceptance of this new reality, and getting to work, is the best we can do.

California National Guard, Paradise, California 2018


My work for Emptywheel is supported by my wonderful patrons on Patreon. You can find out more, and support my work, at Patreon. All of my Emptywheel work is CC By, Noncommercial. 

(Thanks to Ryan Singel for invaluable help) 


 

A Growing Problem: Agriculture, Climate, and Trump

[NB: Check the byline, please, thanks! /~Rayne]

I’ve been thinking about the Green New Deal and how policy will meet the turf when it comes to agriculture.

Fortunately I have a farmer in the family I could ask about one issue in particular — that of tillage.

Average Americans munching away on their toasted bagel at breakfast, their grilled cheese sandwich at lunch, and their crispy nachos at dinner don’t think about the amount of soil preparation — tillage — which goes into the crops they consume over the course of three square meals. They not only don’t think about all the fuel and oil soil prep requires, they don’t think about the additional passes over a field for seeding, weed control, and harvest to follow, all of which require more fuel and oil, and chemicals derived from or with oil in the case of herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizer.

There’s been an increasing amount of interest in low-till and no-till farming as part of conservation farming because of the amount of oil required along with concerns that tilling may do more harm than not when turned-up top soil is washed or blown away.

An equally important benefit is carbon sequestration. In the simplest terms, plants are carbon capture mechanisms. They take in carbon dioxide (CO2), water (H2O), and nutrients to build tissues. The produce we harvest is carbohydrate — carbon, hydrogen, and water stitched together in a compound we consume. What’s left in the field after our harvest, all that plant waste matter, is mostly carbon compounds lying on the surface of the soil.

When left undisturbed, plant waste matter left to decay releases nutrients, provides mulch to reduce moisture evaporation, stabilizes top soil against erosion by wind and water, while acting as a carbon sink. The more carbon we can sequester in organic material, the less carbon there is in the air in the form of CO2. No-till farming allows the carbon sink to accumulate rather than disturbing it with cultivation which prevents its accumulation.

Not to mention the soil develops a more complex microbiome freeing additional nutrients from the earth and the compost mixture above, potentially increasing nutrient value in crops.

No-till sounds like the method we should already be using as widely as possible, yes? Sadly, we aren’t.

The rate of no-till’s adoption has been problematic. It’s used more frequently in the U.S. than in Europe, but studies in Europe have been used to shape the approach to no-till’s adoption.

One issue affecting farmers attitudes is weed control. They end up using more herbicides on no-till which may offset any environmental gains made by reducing oil consumption. It’s not clear from the studies I’ve read whether the problem is weeds reducing crop yields — in the case of wheat, no-till results in a 5% reduction and in corn, 7.6% reduction — or if it is in part a long-held bias against weeds and for action to eliminate them.

The bias has been documented in research and appears to be based in education. Farmers with a higher level of education are less reluctant to adopt no-till, but these same farmers may be more efficient and not experience the same level of output reductions as less educated farmers.

There remain concerns about crop yields which could be mitigated with use of methods like allelopathic cover crops — like planting rye to winter over before planting another crop over it in the spring. Rye inhibits the growth of broadleaf weeds. Unfortunately, rye also interferes with corn productivity depending on when the corn is planted. A season like 2019 makes it very difficult to manage when planting will happen due to the amount of moisture from snow melt and rain.

There aren’t many identified alternative allelopathic crops either, for use as cover or not. It’s an area ripe for research but we all know how the Trump administration is toward any science which may affect corporate donors like Big Ag and Big Pharma (the latter has strong overlap with the former).

All this brings me to that conversation I had with the farmer in the family.

They grow one fairly simple crop: hay. That’s it. That’s their specialty, that’s all they’ve done on their small farm for decades. The entire family pitches in some way and they earn enough to pay the property taxes on the small farm and the family home along with covering home heating, electricity, and maintenance. Not big money but subsistence level.

I asked about no-till and if they could use it on their farm. They explained the type of soil they had — gave me a name for it which I won’t share because it can too easily be used to identify a part of the country. This type of soil didn’t do well with no-till, they explained, while looking at me skeptically because I’m a suburbanite.

This set me off researching soil types. I didn’t know there were more than 20 in my own county and they were all different from the soil types in the subject farmer’s county

Look for a soil survey of your own home county; it’s highly educational and may even explain somethings you might never have noticed or attributed to something else. Like the layout of towns and cities and their relative organization compared to soil types; I had NO idea that the location of my town wasn’t dictated solely by a couple rivers’ paths but by the adjacent soil. Some areas that remain heavily wooded also happen to be near soil which is difficult to farm and/or in flood plains; other areas which have great soil remain wide open, undeveloped, and under cultivation. Still other areas which have crappy soil according to old maps were built up with businesses and residential developments.

But in the course of researching soil I learned something unfortunate: the farmer in my family was wrong about the type of soil on which they farm, or they were misled/misinformed about the type of soil on which they farmed, or they didn’t want to answer truthfully about the soil because I was some lefty suburbanite nosing around about no-till farming.

I don’t think I want to ask any more questions of them for fear of stirring up a rat’s nest in the family. But I do want to stir the pot a bit here, because this has proven to be a far more complex topic than the average American realizes yet depends on every day and agriculture policy will be critical to the Green New Deal.

Just looking into soil preparation to grow crops opened up a huge can of worms, touching on so many different issues.

Like culture — is some of the bias against no-till based in cultural identity which may prove resistant to change whether about farming techniques, agricultural policy, or the Green New Deal?

Like education — how will we ever develop more and better approaches to efficient, fossil fuel-free crop production without more and better education?

Like economics — can we provide enough incentives to pay farmers an offset for their reduced yields until they become practiced at no-till and other conservation farming techniques? Can we do it with carbon offsets?

Like politics — can we push back against Big Ag and Big Pharma so that farmers can migrate toward more aggressive conservation farming without corporate-captured policy working against them?

The worst part of this dive — which is by no means comprehensive and probably shot through with errors of my own understanding — is that the clock is ticking. We don’t have much time, like a handful of years. We don’t have enough research and we’re fighting the highly toxic combination of ignorance, bias, corporatism, and corruption to overcome this insufficiency.

The worst case could already be upon us if we look at the mid-section of this country. 51% percent of corn is late for planting, and with the rain expected from Texas through Iowa this week, the percentage may not shift much. This past week only saw 5% of the corn crop planted, while only 19% of the country’s soybeans have been sown.

Imagine a couple years of this, combined with the additional pressure Trump has placed on farmers by fomenting a trade war with China. What crops they’ve grown, especially soybeans, earmarked for export have gone unpurchased. In some cases they spoiled in this spring’s floods. Farmers who might have been on the bubble before and during the tariffs might not be able to swing the cost of late planting if it cuts into yields. How do farmers budget when the season is so out of whack that forecasting pricing let alone yields seems impossible?

Not to mention the cost of capital equipment like tractors. Farmers must already have slowed or halted their orders because tractor manufacturer John Deere is cutting production by 20%.

At what point do we begin to worry about global food shortages due to crop failures here in the U.S.? The U.S. is the largest producer of maize, which may take a particular beating this year due to the wet planting season.

What really gets my goat after reading about all the challenges farmers face trying to make a living using traditional or conservation farming techniques in the face of now-unavoidable climate emergency and unnecessary political hassles: that Donald Trump’s Bedminster golf course draws $80,000 in tax credits for farmers because his course keeps a handful of goats and a small hay patch within the course’s property. His “farm” may even receive more credits post-tariffs since it’s small scale and I’m not certain anyone is looking to see if Bedminster qualifies or not.

Enjoy those nachos while you can, folks.

This is an open thread. Bring all your non-Trump-Russia issues to this thread.

Back to School: Planning for Climate Change Activism Success

[NB: Check the byline. /~Rayne]

Remember this? It’s still a pretty snappy little tune which handily teaches the barest essentials of the legislative process. My kids watched frequently when they were in K-2 grades so they could understand discussions at home about bills and legislation.

Unfortunately, it’s not enough to know that an idea begins the legislative process and it ends (some of the time) as a law. The stuff that happens in between these points is more complex than depicted in this cute little animated film. But young kids can understand far more.

I hope that whomever is coaching kids to lobby members of Congress explains more than what’s in this School House Rock video; the children who met with Senator Feinstein didn’t appear prepared. As a parent I think those kids had been manipulated as weapons against an ally.

I don’t care what your position is on Feinstein’s reaction or the kids’ presentation. Both sides were set up for failure.

I care that the effort ended up dividing the party most likely to take action on the Green New Deal.

I care that the effort was wasted and should have been directed at the true bottlenecks to dealing with climate change and the environment.

The truth — which most of you know already if you’re a regular reader or politically awake — is that the GOP majority in the Senate is the obstruction.

The truth is that the GOP as a whole has an abominable track record on environmental protection, from green energy to toxic waste and now on climate change.

Republican president Richard Nixon may be responsible for the Environmental Protection Agency’s inception, but for the last couple decades the GOP abandoned any claim to conserving the environment, preferring instead to suck up to fossil fuel producers. They’ve actively undermined the EPA, going so far as to submit a bill to end it, albeit unsuccessfully (and for this act, Matt Gaetz FL-1 should already have been removed by voters – what the heck is wrong with you Floridians?).

Could Democratic Senators improve their efforts? Certainly; there are a few whose record is below 70% on the League of Conservation Voters’ scoreboard for all environmental legislation, like Joe Manchin (WV) at 45%. With her 90% overall score, Dianne Feinstein is not among them.

But the Republicans clearly have plenty of room for improvement; only one GOP senator scores above 21% on all environmental issues including climate change. The worst GOP senators are:

Strange, Luther (AL)
Perdue, David (GA)
Ernst, Joni (IA)
Kennedy, John (LA)
Sasse, Ben (NE)

All five of these senators had lifetime scores of a staggering 0% according to the League of Conservation Voters. Chances are slim they will change their voting habits much since they appear firmly against any and all pro-environment legislation.

However the following Class II GOP senators are vulnerable on the environment and climate change issues because they are up for re-election in 2020:

Senator

State

2017 Score

Lifetime Score

Ernst Joni

IA

0.00%

0.00%

Perdue David

GA

0.00%

0.00%

Sasse Ben

NE

0.00%

0.00%

Cotton Tom

AR

0.00%

2.00%

Daines Steve

MT

0.00%

2.00%

Rounds Mike

SD

0.00%

2.00%

Cornyn John

TX

0.00%

5.00%

Enzi Mike

WY

0.00%

5.00%

Inhofe James

OK

0.00%

5.00%

Cassidy Bill

LA

0.00%

7.00%

McConnell Mitch

KY

0.00%

7.00%

Risch Jim

ID

0.00%

7.00%

Sullivan Dan

AK

0.00%

7.00%

Tillis Thom

NC

0.00%

7.00%

Gardner Cory

CO

0.00%

10.00%

Graham Lindsey

SC

5.00%

12.00%

Capito Shelley Moore

WV

0.00%

17.00%

Collins Susan

ME

32.00%

63.00%

Hyde-Smith Cindy

MS

McSally Martha

AZ

Roberts Pat

KS

0.00%

9.00%

Alexander Lamar

TN

5.00%

21.00%

Note three of the absolute worst GOP senators on the environment and climate change are up for re-election. All of these Class II senators should be hammered for their performance to date, primary candidates who promise to vote with an eye to the environment should be encouraged to run against them, and their Democratic opponents aided (assuming they will promise to vote along party lines on the environment).

And yes, children should absolutely show up at their door steps and demand to know why these senators are selling out their futures, condemning children like them. Kids can easily understand that elected officials’ jobs are on the line in less than two years; they can tell these senators what they think of the job they’ve done so far and demand better.

The last four senators in the table above are special cases. Two are retiring, both Roberts (KS) and Alexander (TN); they have an opportunity to vote between now and the end of their term to favor the environment and to deter climate change. They should be pressed to do so. Their seats are open for the 2020 race and only candidates promising to vote for the environment should be supported.

McSally and Hyde-Smith don’t have scores at LCV yet. If they vote in line with their party, they need to go. Their Democratic opponents should be supported.

One last point: any entity filing paperwork to avoid paying taxes on revenues should be accountable to the public. That goes for environmental and climate change activism organizations filing as 501c3, 501c4, and PACs. They should have privacy policies and terms of service clearly posted on their websites if they are collecting email addresses and taking donations.

And if these activist groups are shepherding children anywhere, they had better have their organizational structure and team members listed on their site.

I certainly wouldn’t let any group I couldn’t identify fully use my children for their aims — especially if they aren’t doing a good job educating children on effective activism. I’d rather my family contacted its members of Congress directly and bypass any nonprofit organization which isn’t more transparent.

Congressional switchboard: (202) 224-3121

This is an open thread.

UPDATE — 12:15 P.M. ET —

Because apparently there are adults who need a goddamn picture to understand the problem:

The blue and pink parts of the Senate pie are willing to vote for climate change legislation. They have been friendly to the environment.

The red part of the Senate pie isn’t willing to vote for climate change, but it controls whether any legislation passes.

If you have a goddamn emergency needing legislation passed, there is NO WAY TO PASS IT unless you win over some of the red part of the Senate pie. By win over I mean persuade them now to vote on legislation, or vote them out and replace them with a climate-friendly candidate in 2020.

Further more, passing climate change legislation means not losing any of the blue or pink part of the pie.

A five-year old can understand this. So can a 16-year-old who will be 18 and eligible to vote in November 2020.

(Image source: Teen Vogue which is a damned fine media outlet.)

10 Years of emptywheel: Key Non-Surveillance Posts 2011-2012

Happy Birthday to me! To us! To the emptywheel community!

On December 3, 2007, emptywheel first posted as a distinct website. That makes us, me, we, ten today.

To celebrate, over the next few days, the emptywheel team will be sharing some of our favorite work from the last decade. I’ll be doing probably 3 posts featuring some of my most important or — in my opinion — resilient non-surveillance posts, plus a separate post bringing together some of my most important surveillance work. I think everyone else is teeing up their favorites, too.

Putting together these posts has been a remarkable experience to see where we’ve been and the breadth of what we’ve covered, on top of mainstays like surveillance. I’m really proud of the work I’ve done, and proud of the community we’ve maintained over the years.

For years, we’ve done this content ad free, relying on donations and me doing freelance work for others to fund the stuff you read here. I would make far more if I worked for some free-standing outlet, but I wouldn’t be able to do the weedy, iterative work that I do here, which would amount to not being able to do my best work.

If you’ve found this work valuable — if you’d like to ensure it remains available for the next ten years — please consider supporting the site.

 

2011

DOJ Points to David Passaro’s Trial as Proof We Investigate Torture, But It Actually Proves John Yoo Should Be Tried

I’v written a lot about the David Passaro case — the only one associated with the CIA (he was a contractor training Afghans) to be prosecuted for abuse. This post summarizes a lot of the problems with his case and its use to claim that the US ever held itself responsible for torture.

One Year After Collateral Murder Release, DOD’s Networks Are Still Glaring Security Problem

I’ve done a ton of posts on how the government complains about leaks even while it fails to close gaping security holes in its networks. This was one of the first. A day later I noted that DOD wasn’t aspiring to fix these problems until 2013; as it would turn out, Edward Snowden managed to download NSA’s crown jewels before they would fix them.

The Drone War on Westphalia

For Independence Day in 2011, I wrote a post arguing that the damage the use of drones will do to sovereignty will pose a real problem, particularly with regard to the consent of the governed. In a follow-up I argued against invoking “national security” to defend policies that weaken the nation.

Pakistani Bounty Claims: Adnan Farhan Abd Al Latif and TD-314/00684-02

In the first of a bunch of posts on Adnan Farhan abd al Latif, I showed that the intelligence report on which his detention relied — which Judge Henry Kennedy had originally deemed unreliable — probably was used to detain a bunch of people turned over with bounties.

49% of Michigan’s African Americans to Lose Their Right to Self-Governance

As the country started focusing on MI’s disastrous policy of  emergency managers, I was the first to note the moment when half of Michigan’s African Americans lost their right to local self-governance.

2012

Why Has the Government Story about Who Ordered the UndieBomber to Attack the US Changed?

As part of an effort to justify drone-killing Anwar al-Awlaki, the government publicly blamed him for all of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s attack on the US, blame which should have been shared with others in AQAP. This was the first post where I made that clear.

“The Gloves Come Off” Memorandum of Notification

I discovered that language the government was trying to keep classified in the ACLU torture FOIA was not (as ACLU mistakenly believed) a description about waterboarding, but instead an admission that torture was authorized by the September 17, 2001 Memorandum of Notification that authorized a bunch of other programs. This was a key post in a series of posts on the MON.

US Climate Inaction: Blame Dick Cheney

I believe the US invaded Iraq as part of a Cheney-backed decision to double down on our petroleum-based hegemonic position in the world, in the apparent belief that we can clean up the damage from climate change at some later time. Even our shift to fracking is more about power than the environment. Given how catastrophic the Iraq war was, and given everything that has occurred since — not least our singular abstention from the Paris Accord — I think it a particularly ironic choice.

Lanny Breuer Covers Up Material Support for Terrorism

I wrote a ton about Obama’s failure to prosecute the banks that blew up the world’s economy. One of the most important ones was the post where I laid out Lanny Breuer’s efforts to hide the fact that HSBC had materially supported al Qaeda. Of course, it got no more than a hand slap even as Pete Seda was in prison for closely related actions (Seda’s case ultimately blew up).

Other Key Post Threads

10 Years of emptywheel: Key Non-Surveillance Posts 2008-2010

Monday: American Mouth

In this roundup: Volkswagen vacillations, disappointments a la Colombia, UK, Hungary (and don’t forget Poland!), anthropocene extinction, and maybe a straggling bit at the end to get this Monday on the road. Read more

Thursday: Alien Occupation

Since I missed a Monday post with a movie clip I think I’ll whip out a golden oldie for today’s post.

This movie — especially this particular scene — still gets to me 37 years after it was first released. The ‘chestburster’ as scene is commonly known is the culmination of a body horror trope in Ridley Scott’s science fiction epic, Alien. The horror arises from knowing something happened to the spacecraft Nostromo’s executive officer Kane when a ‘facehugger’ leapt from a pod in an alien ship, eating through his space helmet, leaving him unresponsive as long as the facehugger remained attached to his face. There is a brief sense of relief once the facehugger detaches and Kane returns to consciousness and normal daily functions. But something isn’t right as the subtle extra scrutiny of the science officer Ash foreshadows at the beginning of this scene.

Director Ridley Scott employed a different variant of body horror in his second contribution to the Alien franchise, this time by way of a xenomorph implanted in her mimicking pregnancy in scientist Shaw. She is sterile, and she knows whatever this is growing inside her must be removed and destroyed or it will kill both her and the remaining crew. The clip shared here and others available in YouTube actually don’t convey the complete body horror — immediately before Shaw enters this AI-operated surgical pod she is thwarted by the pod’s programming for a default male patient. In spite of her mounting panic and growing pain she must flail at the program to enter alternative commands which will remove the thing growing inside her.

I suspect the clips available in YouTube were uploaded by men, or they would understand how integral to Shaw’s body horror is the inability to simply and quickly tell this surgical pod GET THIS FUCKING THING OUT OF ME RIGHT THE FUCK NOW.

I don’t know if any man (by which I mean cis-man) can really understand this horror. Oh sure, men can realistically find themselves host to things like tapeworms and ticks and other creatures which they can have removed. But the horror of frustration, being occupied by something that isn’t right, not normal, shouldn’t continue, putting its host at mortal risk — and not being able to simply demand it should be removed, or expect resources to avoid its implantation and occupation in one’s self? No. Cis-men do not know this terror.

Now imagine the dull background terror of young women in this country who must listen to white straight male legislators demand ridiculous and offensive hurdles before they will consider funding birth control to prevent sexual transmission of Zika, or fund abortions of Zika-infected fetuses which put their mothers at risk of maternal mortality while the fetuses may not be viable or result in deformed infants who’ll live short painful lives. Imagine the horror experienced by 84 pregnant women in Florida alone who’ve tested positive for Zika and are now being monitored, who don’t know the long-term outcomes for themselves or their infants should their fetuses be affected by the virus.

Body horror, daily, due to occupation not only by infectious agents alien to a woman’s body, but occupation by patriarchy.

I expect to get pooh-poohed by men in comments to which I preemptively say fuck off. I’ve had a conversation this week about Zika risks with my 20-something daughter; she turned down an invitation this past week to vacation with friends in Miami. It’s a realistic problem for her should she accidentally get pregnant before/during/immediately following her trip there.

We also talked about one of her college-age friend’s experiences with Guillain–Barré syndrome. It’s taken that young woman nearly three years to recover and resume normal function. She didn’t acquire the syndrome from Zika, but Guillain–Barré’s a risk with Zika infections. There’s too little research yet about the magnitude of the risk — this vacation is not worth the gamble.

But imagine those who live there and can’t take adequate precautions against exposure for economic reasons — imagine the low-level dread. Imagine, too, the employment decisions people are beginning to make should job offers pop up in areas with local Zika transmission.

What’s it going to take to get through to legislators — their own experience of body horror? Movies depicting body horror don’t seem to be enough.

Wheels
Put these two stories together — the next question is, “Who at VW ordered the emissions cheat device from Bosch before 2008?”

Pretty strong incentives for Volkswagen to destroy email evidence. I wonder what Bosch did with their emails?

Self-driving electric cars are incredibly close to full commercialization based on these two stories:

  • Michigan’s state senate bill seeks approval of driverless cars (ReadWrite) — Bill would change state’s code to permit “the motor vehicle to be operated without any control or monitoring by a human operator.” Hope a final version ensures human intervention as necessary by brakes and/or steering wheel. I wonder which manufacturer or association helped write this code revision?
  • California now committed to dramatic changes in greenhouse gas emissions (Los Angeles Times) — State had already been on target to achieve serious reductions in emissions by 2020; the new law enacts an even steeper reduction by 2030 in order to slow climate change effects and improve air quality.

I don’t know if I’m ready to see these on the road in Michigan. Hope the closed test track manufacturers are using here will offer realistic snow/sleet/ice experience; if self-driving cars can’t navigate that, I don’t want to be near them. And if Michigan legislators are ready to sign off on self-driving cars, I hope like hell the NHTSAA is way ahead of them — especially since emissions reductions laws like California’s are banking heavily on self-driving electric cars.

Google-y-do

  • Google’s parent Alphabet-ting on burritos from the sky (Bloomberg) — No. No. NO. Not chocolate, not doughnuts, not wine or beer, but Alphabet subsidiary Project Wing is testing drone delivery of Chipotle burritos to Virginia Tech students? Ugh. This has fail all over it. Watch out anyhow, pizza delivery persons, your jobs could be on the bubble if hot burritos by drone succeed.
  • API company Apigee to join Google’s fold (Fortune) — This is part of a big business model shift at Google. My guess is this acquisition was driven by antitrust suits, slowing Google account growth, and fallout from Oracle’s suit against Google over Java APIs. Application programming interfaces (APIs) are discrete programming subroutines which, in a manner of speaking, act like glue between different programs, allowing programmers to obtain resources from one system for use in a different function without requiring the programmer to have more than passing understanding of the resource. An API producer would allow Google’s other systems to access or be used by non-Google systems.
  • Google to facilitate storage of Drive content at cloud service Box (PC World) — Here’s where an API is necessary: a Google Drive user selects Box instead of Drive for storage, and the API routes the Drive documents to Box instead of Drive. Next: imagine other Google services, like YouTube-created/edited videos or Google Photo-edited images, allowing storage or use by other businesses outside of Google.

Longread: Digitalization and its panopticonic effect on society
Columbia’s Edward Mendelson, Lionel Trilling Professor in Humanities and a contributor at PC Magazine, takes a non-technical look at the effect our ever-on, ever-observing, ever-connected technology has on us.

Catch you later!

Thursday: Creep

Covers are often treated like poor relations in hand-me-downs. It’s not the performer’s own work, how can they possibly do the original justice?

Yeah…and then this. I think it’s an example of an exceptional cover. It’s one of my favorites. There are a number of other fine covers of this same piece — some are sweet, some have better production values, and some are very close to Radiohead’s original recording. But this one has something extra. Carrie Manolakos, a Broadway performer known for her role as Elphaba in Wicked, takes a breath at 2:19 and watch out. Her second album will release next month if you enjoy her work.

In Sickness and Health
Here, read these two stories and compare them:

Leaving you with the actual heds on these articles. How isn’t this simple extortion? You know, like, “Nice national health care system you’ve got there. It’d be a shame if anything happened to it.”

Cry me a river about corporate losses. Last I checked Aetna’s been paying out dividends regularly, which means they still have beaucoup cash.

If only we’d had a debate about offering single payer health care for everyone back in 2009 so we could say Fuck You to these vampiric corporate blackmailers.

Still in Shadow
A timeline of articles, analysis, commentary on the hacking of NSA malware staging servers by Shadow Brokers — no window dressing, just links:

15-AUG-2016 8:48 AM — https://twitter.com/mikko/status/765168232454037504 (Mikko Hypponen–Kaspersky tweeting discovery of Shadow Brokers’ auction of Equation Group code)

16-AUG-2016 7:22 AM — http://cybersecpolitics.blogspot.com/2016/08/why-eqgrp-leak-is-russia.html (Info sec expert Dave Aitel’s assessment on hackers responsible)

16-AUG-2016 7:40 AM — https://twitter.com/Snowden/status/765513662597623808 (Edward Snowden’s tweet thread [NB: don’t be an idiot and click on any other links in that thread])

16-AUG-2016 7:22 PM — https://securelist.com/blog/incidents/75812/the-equation-giveaway/ (time zone unclear)

16-AUG-2016 ?:?? — http://xorcat.net/2016/08/16/equationgroup-tool-leak-extrabacon-demo/

17-AUG-2016 8:05 AM EST — https://motherboard.vice.com/read/what-we-know-about-the-exploits-dumped-in-nsa-linked-shadow-brokers-hack

17-AUG-2016 ?:?? — https://www.cs.uic.edu/~s/musings/equation-group/ (University of Illinois’ Stephen Checkoway’s initial impressions)

17-AUG-2016 7:23 PM EST — https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/nsas-use-of-software-flaws-to-hack-foreign-targets-posed-risks-to-cybersecurity/2016/08/17/657d837a-6487-11e6-96c0-37533479f3f5_story.html

18-AUG-2016 6:59 AM EST — https://twitter.com/RidT/status/766228082160242688 (Thomas Rid suggests Shadow Brokers’ auction may be “retaliation” — note at this embedded tweet the use of “retaliation” and the embedded, highlighted image in which the words “Panama Papers” appear in red. Make of that what you will.[1])

18-AUG-2016 2:35 PM EST — https://motherboard.vice.com/read/the-shadow-brokers-nsa-leakers-linguistic-analysis (Two linguists suggest Shadow Brokers’ primary language is English distorted to mimic Russian ESL)

You know what this reminds me of? Sony Pictures’ email hacking. Back and forth with Russia-did-it-maybe-not-probably, not unlike the blame game pointing to North Korea in Sony’s case. And the linguistic analysis then suggesting something doesn’t quite fit.

[Today's front pages from USA Today, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, shared here under Fair Use.]

[Today’s front pages from USA Today, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, shared here under Fair Use.]

American Refugees
I read in one of my timelines today a complaint by a journalist about Louisiana flooding news coverage. Wish I’d captured the thread at the time; they were put out that the public was unhappy about the media’s reporting — or lack thereof. They noted all the links to articles, videos, photos being shared in social media, noting this content came from journalists.

Except there really is a problem. The embedded image here is the front page of each of the four largest newspapers in the U.S. based on circulation, total combined circulation roughly six million readers. NONE OF THEM have a story on the front page about the flooding in Louisiana, though three of them covered the California Blue Cut Fire. Naturally, one would expect the Los Angeles Times to cover a fire in their own backyard, and they do have a nice photo-dense piece online. But nothing on the front page about flooding.

The Livingston Parish, Louisiana sheriff noted more than 100,000 parish residents had lost everything in the flood. There are only 137,000 total residents in that parish.

Between the +80,000 Blue Cut Fire evacuees and more than 100,000 left temporarily homeless in Louisiana, the U.S. now has more than a couple hundred thousand climate change refugees for which we are utterly unprepared. The weather forecast this week is not good for the Gulf Coast as unusually warm Gulf water continues to pump moisture into the atmosphere. We are so not ready.

Longread: The last really big American flood
Seven Scribes’ Vann R. Newkirk II looks at the last time a long bout of flooding inundated low-lying areas in the south, setting in motion the Great Migration. This is the history lesson we’ve forgotten. We need to prepare for even worse because like the Blue Cut Fire in California and Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey and New York, disaster won’t be confined to a place too easily written off the front page.

One more day. Hope to make it through.
_________
[1] Edited for clarity. Kind of.

image_print