You Can’t Fool Mother Nature

When I entered this world, in the mid-1950’s, the earth held about 2.7 billion people. This is the wondrous time people are calling for the US to return to, since we were “great” then. As of today, we are nearing and may have gone over 8 billion people on this planet. Unfortunately, the rules that were possible with a population of 2.7 billion, become unmanageable when there are 8 billion people on the planet.

Just think of the issues we face now which were not problems in the mid-1950’s. We now face many existential crises, and even still face the one we thought we had put behind us, that of nuclear conflict. The seas are becoming deserts as huge trawlers scrape all living creatures into their maws. The lungs of the planet are now succumbing to clear-cutting and soybean cultivation in Brasil, led by a mad-man who refuses to acknowledge the limits of our planet. In the US, population pressures in distant lands have led to an unstoppable tide of those wishing to claim refugee status within our borders. And everywhere we suffer from the natural byproduct of civilization, that is carbon dioxide, along with a refusal by many to believe in the laws of thermodynamics. So be it. Those who claim college educations are worthless deserve to come up against the inexorable power of nature, and suffer the inevitable horrible consequences. All that is left is for those of us who are educated to say “I told you so”. A poor response to deal with the human carnage set to come when the effects of global warming become more pronounced.

In so many ways, we are dealing with national governments which refuse to take a holistic view of the world situation. So many folks still believe we live in a world with only 2.5 billion people, rather than the real world which holds 8 billion humans. Whether it is the retrograde Republicans in the US, or the near-sighted populists of Brasil, or the newly-minted electoral majority in Italy trying to channel Mussolini, political movements across the globe are imitating flightless birds sticking their heads in the sand. By refusing to admit the world has changed, they are subjecting their followers towards the inevitable crisis as they drive their car off of the mesa and do a swan dive towards the ground below. So where do we find those who are really trying to deal with the problems of the present which will make our future untenable?

First, we must begin to listen to those of us who are screaming about physical limits inherent on the earth. There are certainly folks who recognize limits to systems on the earth, though their voices seem swallowed up by those who preach the gospel of prosperity. Many people renounced the mantra of bigger is better, and have gone towards a more sustainable lifestyle. Back in the 1970’s, those folks were characterized as tree-huggers, since they advocated and lived a simplistic lifestyle off of the grid. Now it is possible to be off-the-grid, yet still be connected to the world through solar cells. Yet we still see those new subdivisions built in places never intended to house large numbers of humans, places where the first unpleasant reality is a lack of water. A small encouraging sign has appeared in states like Arizona and Nevada. There legislation was enacted which removes the abilities of Home Owner Associations to require grass lawns. Note there is nothing that requires a more sensible landscape for desert cities, just that people may not be compelled to use immense quantities of water to maintain grass. I am quite certain that those who opt out of a green lawn still may face peer pressure to keep up their conspicuous consumption of water, and their spigots turned on.

If we are having to fight for common sense through legislative actions even for a resource as limited and as visible as water, what hope do we have in convincing large segments of the population to repudiate ongoing use of fossil fuels? Well, we can try to educate. At least some people may be convincible, especially since the world is changing in more visible ways. People look at fossil fuels as being the only effective sources of energy for humanity. But those who claim that do not have a clue that any combustion process has a thermodynamic limitation of efficiency. No combustion process can have an efficiency much greater than 50% due to the laws of nature. Therefore, in all combustion processes, whether an internal combustion engine used for transportation, or a steam power plant, fully half or more of the energy of combustion gets transformed into waste heat. Maybe you can harness some of that waste heat for other human needs, but that costs additional money, and is seldom used on a year-round basis.

Renewable energy is decried for being unreliable and diffuse, and requiring energy storage devices in order to ensure energy availability when needed. Maybe so, but an electron generated from a solar cell does not have the same thermodynamic limitation as energy from fossil fuels. And when it is produced at the same location as it is consumed, transmission losses become minimal. Only the inverter loss (about 10-20%) represents energy lost from solar cells vs. 50% from combustion. So solar energy has a head start on other energy sources used in mass plants and then distributed.

Wind energy is truly variable, and at the scale it is built at, either large energy storage systems are required, or alternative sources of energy aimed at load leveling are required in order to take advantage of this energy source. Once more though, electrons produced through wind energy are fully available to the electrical grid after going through an inverter.

Yes, but fossil fuels are macho! That seems to be the argument underpinning many of those who champion continued and unlimited use of fossil fuels. I don’t know about you, but climbing up some of those 300’ towers to service a windmill seems macho enough to me. Fossil fuels are somehow viewed as our right to use, regardless of any ill effects. Well, it seems we now know it is not a good thing to rejigger our atmosphere and reintroduce all of the carbon sequestered over the millions of years in a blink of a geological eye. But to those who say, we were given dominion over this planet, I say, I agree. And it is about time we use what we have learned to prevent a giant bollocks while we still have time.

Money Makes the World Go Round

And now it is clear what the economy of the US depends upon – it is advertising. Ad revenues drives the internet, it has caused newspapers to be bereft of sustenance, and it will inexorably be withdrawn from television once streaming becomes an unstoppable force. Those who have the highest profit margins appear to advertise the most. Hence the proliferation of pharmaceutical ads intended to draw consumers to the latest pill or injection allowed by the Federal regulatory bodies. You also see advertising for automobiles blanketing the airwaves. That is due in part to the business model requiring local dealerships. The local dealerships keep trying to wrest market share from other dealers (and car brands). Of course, the ads for the car brands are meaningful reflections of the American public. Who doesn’t want to be highlighted as the most masculine consumer out there, and the high energy products of the Dodge division will be sure to rub off on you if only you buy our cars.

Now, we see the next phase of advertising. All of the sports betting sites are showing off how much fun you can have by throwing your money down a black hole by selecting their site as your bookie of choice. I feel sorry for the underworld. One by one their markets are being usurped by legal ways to lose your own money.

Another area of the economy where money appears to be sloshing around is in the world of Medicare supplemental insurance. How many older celebrities can be resurrected on ads convincing gullible seniors to turn all of their health care needs over to a local HMO, who will be sure to have your best interests at heart as they try to glom onto yet another sucker. This is one where both the advertising dollars are at work, and the phone banks work actively too. We are some of the rare individuals who will answer calls on our landline for unfamiliar numbers. Since my wife is just about to become Medicare-eligible, we are receiving a large number of calls offering to assist her in her choices. My experience has shown the more effort made to separate you from your money, the more money is available to be made. With the plethora of people actively involved in trying to steer your decision, it is obvious Medicare is a gold mine for many companies.

For decades, the American economy has been dependent upon consumer spending. It was things that drove the economy, things manufactured in this nation. Now? As much money is spent on transient things as is spent on real items. Look at cell phones. The service that is sold can afford to underwrite the hardware (actual cell phone), and you end up paying the service a multiple of the price of the physical hardware. Of course, you are also paying for the signal being available, so energy and materials are used to build and maintain transmission towers. This is the hidden portion that backs up the handy signal you depend upon.

Just this year, we’ve seen the first crumbling of the “everything is available whenever you want it economy”. We’ve all been exposed to the barren shelfs in supermarkets, where product is totally unavailable at any price. From cream cheese, to canned cat foods, to infant formula, and toilet paper, we’ve seen what can happen when demand exceeds the ability of companies to deliver product in an efficient manner. In our spoiled society, we grow petulant when we are told we can’t have something the instant we want it. We look for scapegoats, and often it is the politicians in power who are blamed for any and all failures in supply chains. It is surprising how much we are in favor of free-enterprise solutions up until the time of a failure. Then we expect the government to have been anticipating problems, and are ready to throw the rascals out of office if they failed in their response.

In the coming years, many more things will either be unavailable, or only available at a price well above what we remember. We will see more things manufactured in the US, but will find out the cost is greater due to the higher costs in this country. The short-term memory of the US consumer and voter will once more blame the government for the higher prices, blissfully ignoring their previous desire to locally source the manufacture. We will have many chances to learn patience, and learn to be grateful for what we do have. I’m afraid, though, that we are so spoiled we will strike out in anger if we are told something is not available, or is much more expensive. Look at our experience with gas prices. People were not willing to take responsibility for their decisions to buy ever-larger vehicles. No, it became a huge crisis when the price of gas deviated from what people viewed as their right – to keep consuming energy without dealing with the true costs. We in the US are particularly spoiled – we view the rest of the world as our pantry, and expect all others to bow down before us since we are so exceptional. Except we are no longer that exceptional nation sharing our cornucopia with the rest of the world. No, we view it as our due to be able to consume on demand with no limitations. It will be difficult to adjust to a world with limits, but that is where we are.

It Was A Perfect Raid

So, it is possible that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were correct back in 2016. Donald, for his infamous claim about being able to shoot someone on 5th Avenue and not lose any followers. And Hillary, for her astute observation about the nature of many Trump followers – that they were truly deplorable people. Of course, being as that statement came from the enemy, it was adopted as a badge of honor. I still remember middle-aged women wearing Adorable Deplorable t-shirts to announce their affiliation. In the end, it was a statement that undoubtedly contributed to her defeat. It doesn’t detract from the veracity of the observation.

If nothing else, the events of this past month show that Donald truly does not care about anything but himself. No one else would take the issues about secret files and weave them into a conspiracy blanket of victimhood for himself. As Maya Angelou said, when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. Donald Trump has shown himself to a national audience since the 1970’s. The prime example of someone who has failed upwards, he never has had to face consequences for his actions. His multitude of business failures occurred upon piles of borrowed money, so once the debt was restructured, Donald ended up in a nominally better position than when he started. That the epitome of his success is a private club in a soon-to-be submarine barrier island is fitting. He doesn’t even realize his peril in the future. Of course, for him the future is irrelevant.

What we see in his frenzied communications is a refusal to accept responsibility for any problem he faces. In fact, he seems bound and determined to deny he has transgressed at all. And his quislings are more than happy to provide ever more fantastic justifications for his actions. No, there is no problem with storing top secret information next to a country club ballroom. What could go wrong? And in legal filings, we see that we should consider the entire matter as nothing more serious as overdue library books. Gaah!

Of course, the world view of the cult leader and his followers is totally consistent. When you look back at the pitched battle to gain access to the Capitol Building on January 6 as normal political discourse, then seeing top secret information stored at a country club is nothing more than an overdue book. At least he is consistent, although many view him as a self-caricature He thinks he is an alpha male, and his strutting and preening emphasizes his manliness to his fallen admirers. They are the ones with the Rambo images, that head affixed to an assault-weapon wielding savior of the race.

All of these admirers are so far beyond the pale that they perceive any criticism as “divisive”. As if his words and actions brought people together. No, these people not only do not accept criticism, they have convinced themselves that criticism is blasphemy. How do you reason with people who share no elements of rationality with you? You can’t, that’s how. The only way this cult will go away is through repeated repudiation at the ballot box, though the stage has been set for the cult members to reject any such repudiation as just another stolen election.

Indictment is coming. Like it or not, the event that can draw his followers into forming an army of brown shirts with MAGA lettering is just ahead. We know what actions his deluded followers will take, they’ve announced their intentions on all media forums where they hold sway. Those in charge at a Federal or State level must hold firm to their convictions so that we can finally get a conviction for the egregious behavior we’ve seen over the past 7 years. His true followers? They are so far gone it may take a generation for the damage wrought by the orange one to disappear. After all, we have a world full of real problems to face as a nation.  We’ve lost far too much time worrying about the actions of the unhinged. It is time to move on.

Hummer Court Is In Session

Hummer is at lower right

 Zip! Zip! Zoom! The hummers swerve around us in their aerial battles for supremacy. Their distinctive wing sounds, coming from flapping literally hundreds of times per second, coupled with their chirping sounds, alert us to their presence. We put up two feeders, both on our front porch. Early on in the summer, a single male takes charge, but there’s not a huge rush on the feeders. Somewhere in July, though, competition sets in. A second male hummer dares to drink from the feeders. Well, the alpha male hummer cannot stand for that to happen. We begin to have hummer wars on our front porch, with two and sometimes even three hummers chasing each other. The original alpha male drives off the interlopers, and he goes to perch on a bare branch of an apple tree, or on the wires leading to the house. It is amazing to see the degree of competition we have for our sugar water. Best way to use ½ cup of sugar ever! Cheap entertainment. I must say I would not want to have a hummingbird attorney to ever argue a case of property rights, though. They are quite capable of putting on an effective defense among their peers.

We once put a feeder out in the back off of our deck, figuring a single hummer couldn’t observe both sides of the house at once, and thus we could support more hummers. What we hadn’t figured out was that raccoons could reach the backyard feeders, and we awoke to empty hummingbird feeders after a single night. We knew no birds could do that, and we did make an inference on the raccoon, but the image of a raccoon on a sugar high, bouncing off of the trees below was too good to forget.

Our summer outdoor living room is shared by many other life forms. This year we’ve had a bumper crop of skinks scurrying across our space. Not just the ones with neon blue tails, but another type with brown coloration. And we have had flickers at the hummingbird feeders, who are free from hummer raids. They seem to know it would not work to challenge such a large animal. They wish only to intimidate their own kind.

We even had another reptile pay us a visit this summer, and it provided quite a counterpoint to the frantic aerial pursuits of the hummers. A box turtle showed up, and we always are glad to see the slowest of animals still managing to survive in our urban environment. I say urban, because we do live on a city street, with a few thousand cars passing by daily. But when I look at the deer population, it becomes clear we only are the temporary residents, and the wildlife is the true inhabitants of our space. We do our best to welcome as much as we can, offering a multi-cultural lawn for any herbivores, and keeping our crab apple tree available for the squirrels.

I may have an argument or two with the squirrels, though. I have seen half-eaten tomatoes littering the back deck. I’ll be willing to fight for the tomatoes. Unfortunately, they won’t touch the excess of jalapenos growing in the same space. But watching the acrobats of the mammalian world stretching out on flimsy branches to grab a crab apple, scurry to a more secure perch, and just sit there gnawing at the bitter fruit. To them it must be a welcome change to their diet of nuts.

Soon enough the bounty of summer will be replaced with the need to stock up for winter. The chill of the fall evenings will cut through even the fur coats of all of the animals, and we’ll see the suicide squirrels who don’t make it successfully across the street. One day, our hummingbird feeders will be silent, as only the wasps still seek concentrated sugar. And wasps don’t make much noise. When we move the plants indoors, seeking to avoid the killing frosts, we will bid adieu to our outdoor living room. Until that time, though, we sit and watch the natural world intersect with us.

So Many People To Screw Over

I feel really, really sorry for Republicans these days. So many priorities, so much to do. Is it time to soak the poor by reducing tax rates for higher incomes and making the poor make up for the lost revenue by increasing consumption taxes? Or is it time to reverse social trends by enslaving women and forcing them to be considered only as vessels for the unborn? Or is it time to embrace all of the autocrats across the world, waiting with bated breath for their turn to implement such a structure in the American federal government?

I remember the origins of the first part of this turn towards Ayn Randian selfishness. Trickle-down economics were supposed to unleash huge benefits when they gained ascendancy in the Reagan administration. And boy, did they deliver. They delivered for the ruling class, enabling the concentration of wealth in the far right-hand segment of the income distribution bell curve. What is amazing is how ingrained this belief system is within our political classes. A gospel that must not be questioned.  So this mantra even shows up as one of President Trump’s singular legislative achievements – a massive reduction in corporate and partnership tax rates. Enacted with the assurance that such a gift to the capitalist class would supercharge the economy through new investments in capacity and raising wages. So much for predictions. Most of the benefits from the reduced tax rates showed up in dividend increases and stock buybacks, which is what a corporation does when its main interest is increasing its stock price. Indeed, the stock markets engaged in a frenzy of price appreciation after this legislation went into effect. Only in the recent past when inflation in consumer prices became evident, and fears were raised about slowing in consumer spending, did the markets take a pause. Personal note: due to saving my entire working life, and my fortune at working at a company where the vestiges of paternalism still existed, I have been enabled to benefit from the continuing asset price increases. So in essence I am arguing against my own interest.

Of course, when you cannot tout the economic benefits of your priorities, you must engage the suckers voters via another means. For Republicans this means revving up the culture war engine, and nowhere is that more evident than the events surrounding the reversal of Roe v. Wade. Finally, the Republicans were able to grab this shiny object, and deal with women as objects who are unfortunately necessary in creating the next generation. Now it is apparent the legislators do not care whether the products of pregnancy show signs of inbreeding (no exception for incest) or act as reminders of violent crimes (no exceptions for rape), or force children to bear children (no exception for minors). No, what is obvious is that only the power to implement a single religious viewpoint will suffice to sate the appetites of male legislators. After all, it was a mistake to give women the vote originally, right? This is another example of constitutional rights that were not evident in the original document at the founding of the nation.

Oh, you say the right for women to vote was included in an amendment to the Constitution? Well, have we an answer to that. Let’s call forth a brand new constitutional convention where we can clear up that little indiscretion, along with a lot of other things we don’t need. Social Security? That’s socialism by another name. Medicare and Medicaid? Socialized medicine at its worst. We ought to live back in the days when a day in the hospital cost only a few dollars. We were a better country then. And we don’t need government-sponsored death panels, insurance company death panels are much more compatible with the intent of the founders of this nation.

Don’t get me started on the deliberate misinterpretation of the 2nd Amendment. For a document whose intent was clear when this nation faced enemies who objected to the taking of their lands, we now have interpreted this amendment to mean an inalienable right for all residents of this nation to own and use whatever product of killing technology is available for sale. And woe to anyone who dares to put up any sort of barrier to this God-given right! Such imposition of barriers is the clearest evidence ever of government overreach.

Now we see the true objective come out in the Republican agenda. Install an autocratic regime modeled after any number of countries serving as examples for us to emulate. And of course, we must rail against anyone standing up against these autocratic regimes. Ukraine dares to fight against the mighty Russian forces. Therefore, Ukraine must be evil, and corrupt, and in the hands of the globalists. Russia? Pure as the driven snow in the Urals downwind of Chernobyl.  We see the hand of the autocrats with every bill in the state legislatures enabling said legislators to ignore election results and declare whomever they wish as winners. We see the hand of the autocrats in the announced plans to strip many thousands of federal employees of Civil Service protection, only to backfill the positions with Trump loyalists. Who needs a voter mandate when no one counts less than a voter.

No, I pity the poor Republicans. So many targets they have now, now that they’ve convinced enough people that they are the protectors of individual rights. If their victims supporters could only see their elected legislators laughing at them. Well, maybe it wouldn’t matter. Certainly the example of Donald Trump as President should have been eye-opening to the cult members. But that’s just it. We have a full-blown cult constituting the bulk of the Republican party. And it is doubtful the Democrats can mount an effective offense against the offensive policies the Republicans seem intent on foisting off on the rest of this country. Combine all of their wonderful traits together, and it seems the country is near the end of its experiment in self-governance. No, what we seem primed to accept is a dictatorship ready to tell us all of the things we can’t do anymore, since they have taken power.

The Webb of Life

Distant galaxy field. Photo by NASA

In this age of humanity seemingly coming apart at the seams, sometimes the accomplishments of humanity break through and brings us back to a state of wonder and amazement. The beginning of the parade of Webb telescope images is one of these accomplishments. I have been waiting for this telescope to go into operation for years, through all of the cost overruns and delays. I was worried that since this camera mainly “sees” in the infrared spectrum, the images it produces would not meet the expectations of the majority of those who look at the pictures. I am very pleased to say I was wrong.

Photo by NASA. Courtesy of CNN

Take these images. They represent the same object in space, as seen by a ground-based telescope, the Hubble telescope, and the Webb telescope. Note how each advance in technology is reflected in a clearer image. I can imagine this scope is going to be capable of detecting atmospheres of planets as they transit their star from our perspective. To me, that is an amazing feat. I can only hope the stories will soon be about atmospheres with water vapor, and the gas representing life – free oxygen. I for one would consider a positive detection of an atmosphere with oxygen as a positive proof of discovery of life elsewhere in the universe. Oxygen is so reactive that its presence in an atmosphere is a signal of life processes continually refreshing the content in the atmosphere. Once its presence is confirmed, then the only question will be how many of these types of planets across the universe exist.

The Webb telescope is an amazing accomplishment. I read that 344 separate steps had to be done perfectly in order for the telescope to meet its objectives and be capable of exploration in deep space. The odds of all of those 344 steps being done properly is infinitesimal – yet this did happen. When someone wants to tell you the Federal Government is incapable of doing anything right, point them to the success of the Webb telescope in order to plant a seed of doubt in their mind.

Dansing Galaxies. Photo by NASA and CNN

What will happen from this point forward? A lot of serious science, I am sure. Taking images from the early days of this universe surely will help inform us of our history. Nothing will convince the flat-earthers, or the religious fundamentalists who insist upon a young earth consistent with their literal interpretation of the Bible. But for those of us who have eyes, and a mind that is open, this telescope will provide incredible images. The stories that will be written based upon these observations will allow all of us to marvel at the variety of solar systems in the universe, and just might provide confirmation of the existence of life on other planets. As they say, that may be a game-changer.

Yosemite Sam? Meet Slimey!

I was slumped over sitting on one of the benches overlooking the Tidal Basin. Work recently had taken quite a toll on me, being as I had finally been forced into appearing in person in my office. For too much time during the pandemic, I silently was grateful for being able to sleep until just before my scheduled work hours, and commute into the spare bedroom where my desktop was stationed. Having to physically go down to an office in dress attire took far too much out of me, considering how reasonable that request really was.

Anyway, I was lost in thought as I sat on the bench, letting the occasional tourist pass by me as they surveyed the murk of the true Washington swamp. As I allowed myself to be distracted, I suddenly was aware of the approach of my old friend, Slimey. Now Slimey is one of the most unforgettable creatures you will ever see. Eight foot plus, a reptile with razor sharp claws but who managed to walk on his rear legs, he kind of grabbed your attention and never let it go. Since I was so familiar with him, my eyes were drawn towards his new belt, with dual AR-15’s stuck in his holsters. I can’t imagine who the leather worker was who created this for Slimey, nor could I imagine what the source of the leather was, knowing Slimey’s propensity for taking out anything within reach of his claws. But I had to know why he felt it necessary to open carry such weaponry.

“Slimey, it’s been too long since I’ve seen you,” I greeted him as he approached.

“My friend, it has been a long time. Good to see you.” Slimey sidled up alongside me, then suddenly turned and tilted one of his long guns, pointing it at seemingly no one. Fortunately, he didn’t fire, but his sudden move alarmed me.

I thought long about how to broach this subject, since I did not want to become the object he decided was a threat. “Slimey, why is it you find it necessary to carry such a wondrous arsenal?” I finally said. I figured a bit of flattery might disarm my friend, so to speak.

“My friend, you just cannot count on anyone in this town. So many people want to stab you in the back, I finally found it necessary to go armed.” Slimey reached down to caress his left rifle, while giving his right rifle an affirming pat. “Now I feel naked if I go out without my trusty friends.” And he swung around, scaring a tourist couple who were strolling along the basin. He withdrew his clawed hands, and the rifles swung back to their neutral position.

“You’ll have to excuse my friend” I said to the still shell-shocked couple. “He’s still getting used to open carry.” They turned around and walked rapidly away.

“Slimey, I would never have thought you would need to carry heat. You’ve always seemed like someone capable of defending yourself.” I was really wondering what caused my reptilian friend to change so suddenly.

He reverted to the low growl I had heard before. I engaged my own senses, knowing his lightning fast reflexes could overwhelm me before I even knew what hit me. And now he had two weapons to extend his reach! Things were definitely not looking good for me.

The moment seemed to pass for Slimey, and he actually lowered his girth onto the other end of the bench. I was glad for the sturdy construction, and I relaxed just a bit.

Slimey inclined his head towards me. “You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve already had to use these things.” Here he patted his side arms. “Of course, so far I haven’t had to hit anything, people tend to take off as soon as I fire off a clip.” He gave off a low rumble I recognized as his laughter. “I’ve even seen their rear ends turn brown as they try to get away.”

Only Slimey could laugh about human defecation. Probably since his kind did that always in the water, where it was not normally visible. But I let his joke pass.

Slimey still seemed agitated. I had to ask. “Has someone threatened you? Why did you suddenly decide you needed protection?”

Slimey stood up, and I understood our interaction was near its end. “It’s just everywhere in this town. It’s gotten so much worse since the last President left. I knew he had a soft spot in his heart for me. But now, I’m not so sure.”

I knew I was not going to get much more out of him. I’d had enough interactions with Slimey to know he was a reptile of few words. And armed as he was, I didn’t want to see any more of his actions. As he prepared to leave, I said, “Don’t be a stranger. You know where I live.” It was only after I said that, I realized it might not have been the wisest thing to say to an 8’ reptile armed with dual AR-15’s. But it was already too late, and Slimey was already striding down the path, heading towards the Memorial, ready to take on the next interloper on his path.

Instant Justice – Just Add Justices

Should we now admit defeat? The country has to be turned over to the troglodytes who wish to institute a theocracy? It certainly appears that way with the current composition of the Supreme Court. For as long as I can remember, conservatives have wailed about legislating from the bench, in courts as long ago as the Warren court. The Miranda decision was supposed to be just one of the rulings leading to the unraveling of our national fabric. And the decision to remove prayer from school was undoubtedly the worst thing since sliced bread ruined the nation’s palate. Never mind the original sin of the courts, which was to desegregate our nation’s schools. Who’d have thought the constitution meant what it said, in all instances.

Now we have a group on the court who appear to be willing to be led by a pair of unrepentant ideologues who insist if a phrase is not explicitly in the Constitution, it must be eliminated from the nation’s list of options. Privacy is an easy target. This was something known back in the colonial days, and since it was left off of the list of enumerated rights, our founders did not consider it important. Gone! And all of the other rights that follow from a right to privacy? Just waiting now for the right Texas court case to come around to take up those nasty topics of sodomy, birth control, and miscegenation.  I can’t wait to see Justice Thomas take up the case of an anti-miscegenation law an eager southern state attempts to implement as a way of overturning Loving v. Virginia. We’ll see if he really is a consistent conservative, or if he is an opportunistic hypocrite. Let me say he epitomizes the old saying of opening his mouth and confirming his stupidity. He was much better when he was the silent member of the Supreme Court. Of course, there were many of us who saw through him when his confirmation hearings showed his inability to function in a truly integrated workplace without revealing his overt misogyny. Would that we could have turned Thomas into another Bork. But no, and now thirty years after his promotion to the bench, he is spreading his poison to generations yet to be born.

We now are held hostage by a Supreme Court majority whose legitimacy is questionable. From Trump’s first appointment, who is only on the court due to a feckless Senate majority leader’s refusal to accept Obama’s nominee, to Cavanaugh, shown to be a shallow thinker who is also a liar, to Amy Cony Barrett whose nomination and confirmation were rushed through even before her predecessor was fully in her grave, these three now form the core of an unbeatable majority willing to follow whatever their predecessors on the court wish to attack. Just think, these three justices will likely be on the court long after my lifetime, and they will continue to spew their anti-democratic venom and call it judicial rectification for poor decisions of the past.

If we now must accept that even 50 years does not represent a long enough time for a decision to be fully integrated into our nation’s culture, what else can we look forward to? Certainly we’ve had segregated education for longer than we’ve had integrated education, so of course Brown must be reversed. And we must accept the principle of police infallibility (much like papal infallibility) so the last vestiges of Miranda must be erased. Of course, our founders could not consider modern communications, so we must obliterate our rights to use technology in our daily lives. That too must go! Only allowable modes of transportation were those which existed back in the late 1700’s. There’s probably some writer in the distant past who equated flying on broomsticks with true evil, so all forms of motorized transport going faster than a horse has to be made illegal. In fact, I can think of many of elements of our modern life which must be banished in favor of our constitution.

I have in the past advocated for a new national compact, which would be ratified through formation of a revised constitution. The need for such a compact, representing the social contract between individuals and the state, has never been clearer. Unfortunately, the deck is stacked against any type of modernity coming out from such an effort, due to the requirement of individual state ratification. As we now see, the number of states who wish to remain back in some ill-defined period of time when America was great, overwhelms the wishes of the majority of the population. Because of this, any product coming out from a constitutional convention will likely continue the backwards trend we’ve seen and experienced.  

There are those who are rejoicing at the decision of the court, and in their mind, a great evil is being expunged from this nation. As we have seen on the discussion on guns and school shootings, the solutions being suggested from the conservatives would lead to turning schools into armed camps, and convert teachers to becoming executioners. Similarly, the solutions regarding abortion will lead to converting medical providers to becoming the eyes and ears of the prosecutors, so we can live under the fear that a simple miscarriage can be converted into a miscarriage of justice. Any solution that calls for spending real money to deal with the problems will be shelved as either being unrealistic, or viewed as an expansion of government which all can see is unjustified.

Let me speak to the unrepentant Republicans now. This nation, and indeed, the world, will not return to the quaint image of the evangelical Christians, where women and minorities knew their place, and where the sins of adultery were enabled for those in charge of their flocks. We now live in a world knitted together through commerce and through culture. Instead of retreating into the past, it is our moral duty to shape the future so it becomes more just, and true American values can be held up as examples of good for the world to emulate. As it stands right now, the rest of the world is not laughing with us. It is laughing at us.

Are You Really Pro-Life? Take This Quiz

I am turning over this blog to my wife Carrie. This column appeared in the Charleston Gazette-Mail Editorial page on June 25. I’d add a link but everything is behind a firewall.

So, you say you’re pro-life. You already had the bubbly of your choice chilling before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on Friday.  Not so fast! Take the Pro-Life Quiz to see if you really are.

  1. Do you support pregnant women receiving high-quality pre-natal care regardless of the woman’s ethnicity, location, or income level, even if it costs you in the form of higher taxes?
  2. Do you support high-quality post-childbirth care for mothers and babies in the form of lactation consultants, visiting nurses, etc., regardless of the mother and child’s ethnicity, location, or income level, even if it costs you in the form of higher taxes?
  3. Do you support adequate paid family leave for all families with newborns regardless of the family’s ethnicity, location, or income level, even if it costs you in the form of higher taxes?
  4. Do you support high-quality childcare and preschool for all working parents regardless of the family’s ethnicity, location, or income level, even if it costs you in the form of higher taxes?
  5. Do you support a high-quality public education system in which all teachers are paid adequately for the valuable work they do, regardless of the school community’s ethnicity, location, or income level, even if it costs you in the form of higher taxes?
  6. Do you support the provision of high-quality healthcare for all families, regardless of the family’s ethnicity, location, or income level, even if it costs you in the form of higher taxes?
  7. Do you support debt-free post-high-school training for all young people who wish to continue their education, whether that be in a community college, vocational or trade school, or a four-year public college or university, even if it costs you in the form of higher taxes?
  8. Do you support reasonable gun safety legislation, enacted in an effort to help every baby born, regardless of the child’s ethnicity, location, or income level, stay alive long enough to complete school, even if that means you can’t have every gun you want?

If you answered “yes” to all the questions above, congratulations!  You are truly pro-life.  If you answered “no” to any question, then you are not pro-life.  You are a hypocrite, and you do not deserve the bubbly in your fridge.

Silent Spring at 60

Chemical structure of DDT

So I am only about 60 years late. I finally read Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson, and since I worked for decades in the agricultural chemicals industry, I have some thoughts about this book and all that it has inspired. What I find amazing about Carson’s work is how applicable it is to the world of today.

Rachel Carson wrote about the effects of the first generation of organic herbicides and pesticides. Those molecules were brute-force bludgeons against insects and weeds, with little discrimination against target species and collateral damage. Her description of the effects of indiscriminate spraying, coupled with the effects of resistance building in the insect populations, is just as valid today as it was when the book was written. And the praise she had for integrated pest management was also well ahead of its time (or maybe we are just now realizing how right it was).

I chose to get involved in the agricultural chemicals arena. I accepted a transfer within my company, and one of the reasons was that the new generation of herbicides was manufactured at my new plant in West Virginia. It took a few years, but I was finally employed by the ag side of the plant. At that time our main herbicide was a truly specific offering, one that dealt with weeds but did not spread beyond where it was applied. It was something that fulfilled Rachel Carson’s dream, a chemical solution which did not cause collateral damage. Unfortunately, this was the time when Monsanto began to offer their solution of RoundUp Ready® products. These products offered the farmer a one-stop service, where they could spray a field with herbicide, knowing it would not bother the seedlings planted there which had been genetically modified for herbicide resistance.

We very quickly lost market share, and our good offering which I was proud of supporting, soon became yesterday’s news. We ended up licensing the technology for this genetically modified solution ourselves, and this allowed us to recapture a bit of market share though reducing our profits due to the licensing costs. But guess what? Farmers were supposed to vary their herbicides every couple of years to help prevent weeds from gaining resistance to the herbicide. The problem was that Monsanto offered such an easy solution for the farmers, what with its opportunity for no-till agriculture, very few farmers rotated herbicides. They tended to use the same one year after year.

Guess what happened? Weeds began to gain resistance. So now you had fields with certain intransigent weeds peeking up through the intended crops, and the agricultural chemical companies sought a solution. Even though we still offered our environmentally friendly herbicides, the lure of no-till agriculture was now thoroughly embedded in the minds of farmers. So the answer developed was to add resistance to a second chemical in the seeds of crops. Monsanto / Bayer came up with an offering where their plants were resistant to RoundUp® and Dicamba, and their chemical offering was a blend of those two chemicals. Unfortunately, Dicamba would evaporate, especially in the warmth of the southern US, and its effects were felt far from the application site, causing uncontrolled damage.  And, again, if farmers use this product exclusively, weeds will once again grow resistant to both chemicals. This will probably result in yet another chemical being added to the mix to aid the farmers in their attempt to eliminate tilling while still resulting in high crop yields.

I would have hoped that my company would have been more responsible, and come up with a solution requiring little additional chemical application. But no, my company’s preferred solution was to genetically modify the seed to become resistant to RoundUp® and one of the first generation of chlorinated hydrocarbons, 2,4 – D (2,4 – Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid). So the chemical arms race continued to run amuck, with the original goal of reduced chemical application long forgotten. I retired before this new product could be marketed, but I definitely did not like the direction we were heading towards.

The chemical race continues on insecticides as well. The first generation of broad-spectrum, chlorinated hydrocarbons, or the organophosphorus insecticides, were replaced by biodegradable compounds aimed at disrupting the life cycles of the insect targets. But even in the newer age of chemical warfare against insects, unintended consequences keep on popping up. The class of insecticides known as neonicotinoids has achieved broad use. Unfortunately, the effects on pollinators, both domestic honeybees, and wild bees, was much greater than expected. In addition, insects in general have been reduced, with unknown impact still to come from those portions of the ecosystem which depend upon insects for their food. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring may yet come about again, due to birds starving and being unable to raise new generations of young.

The dream of integrated pest management Rachel Carson espoused has yet to come to pass. Speaking as one who was greatly invested in the business, as long as there is profit to be had from chemical application, companies will prefer to go after that profit instead of solving the real problems facing society. We still have a long way to go before we come up with ways to co-exist with the natural world instead of trying to compete and conquer those species we consider as our enemies.

A personal note here – Rachel Carson received her undergraduate degrees at the Pennsylvania College for Women. This institution changed its name over the years to Chatham College. It is there where my wife received her bachelor’s degree with a double-major in music and English. She is proud of her college’s famous graduate. What’s more, it is apparent that the city of Pittsburgh, home to this educational institution, is also proud since one of the bridges in downtown across the Alleghany River is named the Rachel Carson Bridge. In Pittsburgh there are three bridges connecting the North Side to downtown. Those bridges are the Rachel Carson Bridge, the Andy Warhol Bridge, and the Roberto Clemente Bridge. Truly an iconic mix of honorees reflecting on the eclectic mix of people associated with the city of Pittsburgh.