The Silence of Sounds

neon

Hello darkness, my old friend

I’ve come to talk with you again

We’ve entered the darkness once again. The darkness of Mordor sprawls across the landscape, pouring out of its source in the now-fouled house of White.

Because a vision softly creeping

Left its seeds while I was sleeping

The vision that has crept across this nation over the last few years is the stale vision of white superiority, the failed belief that European civilization is superior to any other version found across the globe. The seeds have found fertile ground and have sprouted.

And the vision that was planted in my brain

Still remains

Within the sound of silence

The visions I have seen over the last few years can never be unseen. Children crying as they are separated from their family by a government that cared so little for them that they could not set up a system to eventually reunite parents with children. Humans crowded into chain-link cages. Lit tiki torches marching along Charlottesville streets, eliciting the famous “Good people on both sides” quote. And still the silence remains deafening from the Republican members of Congress.

In restless dreams I walked alone

Narrow streets of cobblestone

As in a trance, we march. No, not alone, but en masse, thousands and thousands in protest. The energy that we all had those first days. But as time passed, the momentum has slowed, while the acts of evil continue to spew from the powers wielded by this administration. It now seems that we do march alone, if at all, trying to stem the tide.

‘Neath the halo of a street lamp

I turned my collar to the cold and damp

When my eyes were stabbed by

The flash of a neon light

That split the night

And touched the sound of silence

Every so often, something so egregious manages to break through the din of the mundane atrocities littering the landscape. It might be a joint meeting with Putin attended only by the principles and an interpreter. It might be a fawning show of sycophancy in the cabinet meeting where all pledged eternal devotion to this dour denizen of denial. It might be a report of an attempt to extort the leader of a nation into doing opponent research for his next campaign. Things so brazen, so outrageous, that I cannot but believe that this surely will break through the stone wall isolating his supporters from his true nature. But each time, I turn away disappointed as his spin control succeeds in removing the outrage from the nation’s discourse.

And in the naked light I saw

Ten thousand people, maybe more

People talking without speaking

People hearing without listening

People writing songs that voices never share

And no one dared

Disturb the sound of silence

The cacophony emanates from the television shows. One side fawns, makes every excuse for the behavior, and claims the real villainy came from those who would deny his immense electoral victory. The other side squirms, is so eager to denounce the actions that they violate their journalistic ethics and report poorly sourced stories that are eagerly denounced by his supporters. Both sides talk over the other side, and no one is convinced or persuaded to change their opinion. Now the opposition is more interested in purity tests than it is in the nuts and bolts of selecting a candidate who can take down the tyranny spreading from its center.

“Fools”, said I, “You do not know

Silence like a cancer grows

Hear my words that I might teach you

Take my arms that I might reach you”

But my words, like silent raindrops, fell

And echoed in the wells of silence

I took up the mantle of a blog shortly after the election. I shared items of science, of daily life and the changing of the seasons, and politics. Lots and lots of politics. I enjoyed especially the pieces I put out that used satire to express a point. For a long time, I was part a forum where active discussion occurred on all types of posts. I enjoyed my “minor league forum” and was a respected poster and commenter. Then, the forum disintegrated, and I fell into a bit of a posting depression. It is difficult to continue to pour out your thoughts when you get little or no feedback. I have felt that my words were indeed, echoing in the well of silence.

And the people bowed and prayed

To the neon god they made

The neon god that took over the office of the President represented all of the glitter and gloss that a celebrity could muster. Yet when all is said and done, there is no more substance there than a bunch of gas excited by an electrical current.

And the sign flashed out its warning

In the words that it was forming

And the sign said

“The words of the prophets are

Written on the subway walls

And tenement halls

 

Maybe Banksy has it right. All art is temporary, and the ephemeral nature of a painting on the side of a building is as good and as valid as any old Dutch masterwork from the Renaissance. Yet in this day of the 4-hour news cycle, where a provocation can be answered with a response and then superseded by the next outrageous announcement or act, maybe there is a place for things that have a little more substance, and stability. Maybe things like the Constitution have a place as guidelines for our body politic to do its job and not just either fawn in supplication, or wail and bemoan in protest. Maybe, just maybe, we should place duty to the nation ahead of party and take real action.

 

And whispered in the sound of silence”

Instead of Simon and Garfunkle, let’s let William Shakespeare have the last word: It is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Words to the Sound of Silence copyrighted by Paul Simon.

 

The Making of Great America

uncle sam

Once upon a time, there was a great nation. This nation was great because it told itself it was great. It reckoned it had the divine right to push its boundaries from sea to shining sea, and if there happened to be a few inhabitants who already were living on the land, well, they just did not understand the divine right to be great, and they could be pushed aside. Cordoned off onto poor patches of land, stripped of their ancestral traditions of following the migratory herds, a defeated people found solace in the white man’s whiskey, and still they suffer generations later.

Of course, it was agricultural might that first defined greatness. And in one portion of the continent, that agricultural might was lashed into existence upon the backs of the workers, descendants of those who were kidnapped and stacked in ships like cordwood, hopefully to survive the trip across the Atlantic. The fortunes of Southern gentlemen and ladies depended upon the forced labor of the original black gold. When a civil war was fought, it was only with the greatest reluctance that an appeal to morality was made to place the North on the side of the liberation of the slaves. Of course, once the war was over and slavery was outlawed, the nation’s attention to the well-being of the former chattel was limited. Politics, you know. It was easier to withdraw from an occupation, and let the former slave states reenact their social order, only now under the charade of a free black population. Never mind that those free blacks were only free to rent a plot of land owned by the original aristocracy, and live in those hovels that were cobbled together. Some of these hovels I used to drive by as late as the 1970’s, still occupied by those tied to the land by economic links as sturdy as the chains worn a century before.

Yes, we were a great nation. So great that we went a gross of years from the founding of the nation, until half of the population was allowed to vote. Even today we see remains of the sentiments against women’s suffrage resurfacing. Online forums decry the liberalism represented by women’s votes, as if white males held the absolute key to logic and reason. The attitudes that poisoned the nation’s mind in the past still bubble in the nation’s consciousness, now seasoned by those who troll the internet.

Yet, as a statement echoed by Dr. Martin Luther King shows, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” For even with the sins of the past still in living memory, this nation did do great things. It built an infrastructure linking every corner of the nation. It developed technologies that gave humanity freedom to travel across the globe. It created technologies that revolutionized how humanity communicated, and controlled the natural world. And once it became apparent that the new technologies had poisoned the air and land and water, it set about to reverse the poisoning and clean the environment. Long-standing evil was dealt with by legislation, and by applying Federal forces to oppose the remains of racism across this country. You may not be able to change the hearts of humans, but you can put in place a legal structure that limits the damage that human cruelty can cause.

This nation did mobilize and oppose the fascism that engulfed multiple continents in armed conflict in the mid 20th century. We truly became united and with the assistance of those damned Russian commies, made Europe whole again and eliminated the scourge of nationalism and ethnic purity. We also were generous in supporting western Europe in its reconstruction, developing structures that even today help to keep conflict at bay. But we found we needed an enemy in order to keep our military industries vibrant and profitable. We found it in communism, a variant of socialism deemed to be an existential threat. It was necessary to build immense inventories of incendiary devices which could rain down death and destruction on a scale unprecedented in human history. We had to build them to counter the ones that they built. Humanity’s primal urge to provide security caused us to teeter upon the edge of extinction in order to satisfy all parties who worshipped at the trough of the war machine. Still, it was not enough. We had to engage our implacable adversaries in physical battles across the ocean, where the immediate stakes were unknown, but the mythology of the domino theory drove us to commit hundreds of thousands of soldiers to these front lines. And we found it useful (no, we said it was necessary) to support autocratic regimes in other sections of the world in order to prevent the spread of socialism.

We spread seeds across many different countries. The resulting crops have caused many of the problems we face today. From Iran, our support of the Shah grew a crop of religious fanatics who overthrew the existing order, and expressed their implacable enmity against us. Even today, forty years later, we cannot reconcile with the proud people of Iran due to the resentment we fomented by our support of a hated regime. In Central America, our support of those who opposed socialistic parties made it possible to counteract communism without spilling American blood. The crops that grew there though, have come to fruition in the weak regimes of the existing governments, and the growth of criminal gangs, directly resulting in a flood of migrants we struggle to contain. In Afghanistan, the band of religious fanatics we supported in the 1980’s to oppose Russian invasion, still works against us as they strive to purify their country. Everywhere you look, this nation’s acts of the past are brought back to us as the problems plaguing us in the present.

The veneer of civilization is thin. This nation is only about a week away from total chaos if our electric infrastructure is damaged. Yet our current administration believes we can and must abandon the interconnectedness of the world that offers the only hope of stitching together a global fabric of peace. It is long past the time when we could pretend that we could go it alone and maintain and yes, improve our standard of living. Yet the electorate fell for a bogus promise to return us to a state of supposed greatness in the past. And when that sentiment was released, we also released the barely buried racism and misogyny and ethnic nationalism that our veneer of civilization kept contained. Those who now call for a return to normality will be upset at how deep the damage the cult of Trump has inflicted.

There are signs of hope. Some politicians have called for sweeping change in order to address a host of interconnected problems. But since that change challenges the status quo, it is denounced and ridiculed. What is obvious is that we are in real danger of completing the bifurcation of this nation into warring camps, incapable of understanding each other, and not wanting to show any empathy for points of view other than their own. We will not become a great nation until we deal with the underlying flaws that we’ve buried over the decades. Seeing some of those flaws exposed in the past few years has been scary. This coming electoral cycle will show us which way this nation will go. May we choose the side offering hope for the future, instead of the side offering fear and division, just like we selected back in 2016.

 

The Peril of Outrage Exhaustion

3 dollar bill

I’m afraid we are suffering from outrage exhaustion. Even when we think his inhumane policies (like family separation) were ended due to the outpouring of criticism a year ago, we now find out that the practices are still continuing due to the strict interpretation of family. Only genetic parents and their children are considered to be a family. A young child in the company of an older sibling, or an aunt or uncle or grandparent, is not considered to be part of a family, and thus is separated from the only people he or she knows. What’s worse, due to the increased influx of those seeking asylum, the facilities being used to warehouse these children are totally inadequate. And no one working in the system seems to be concerned about either the physical or mental health of these innocent victims of Trump’s war on brown people. Only when a photograph of a father and his daughter washing up dead on the shores of the Rio Grande do we see any evidence of empathy emerge.

Meanwhile, a respected magazine columnist recounts her lingerie department moment with a younger but still randy Donald. I can just hear the old elevator attendant say, “Fourth floor. Ladies intimate apparel and sexual battery. Watch your step.” We hear yet another person with incredible credibility recount the story of her debasement by a certain real estate developer back in the ’90’s. I’ve seen posts showing how 4 of the New York boroughs accounted for most of the popular vote margin nationwide for Hillary Clinton, and saying that in no way can the leftist enclave of New York City represent the will of the nation. What I see in his home city’s repudiation of its native son is the revulsion felt by the people who knew this charlatan the best. Those who lived over the stretch of decades with the headlines and antics fomented by Trump were the ones who voted by an 85% to 15% margin against him. The rest of the nation, who knew him only through his carefully crafted public persona, and aided and abetted by the culture of celebrity worship we suffer through, were taken in by this con man. So it is no wonder that one more accusation of illegal sexual contact is shrugged off by so many. For those who are and were against him, it is outrage exhaustion. For those who are with him, it is just more of that unjustified harassment and criminal persecution of the man. “Why can’t they just let him do his job?” they ask.

The problem, for those of us paying attention to his actual job performance, is that in every way we see how his incompetence, flavored with his brand of illogical beliefs and personality quirks, is unraveling the fabric of the standing of this nation in the world’s eyes. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the mess in the Persian Gulf. We were apparently minutes away from launching a significant military response after our drone was shot down, when seemingly at the last moment, it was brought to the President’s attention that a significant number of Iranians would die in the attack. He stated that he did not feel the number of casualties would be proportionate to the downing of the “unmanned” drone. But a few days later, when questioned about his plans on Iran, he exclaimed “You’re not going to need an exit strategy. I don’t need exit strategies.” We’ve known for some time that having Donald Trump in charge of our military forces could provoke an existential crisis. Now we see the evidence of his personality and lack of basic knowledge drawing us up to the precipice, only to stand down. If he continues in office, one day he won’t stand down, and we will be engaged in military conflict that could result in the release of the nuclear genie from its containment flask.

I will always remember the statement of a former member of our church choir made the week before the 2017 inauguration. He said, “At last we get to have an alpha male in charge again.” Why he said that to me, I will never know, but I quickly made him aware of how little I thought of this supposed alpha male. I’ve known alpha males, those who are able to lead by their force of personality. They were not bullies. They were not insecure, constantly seeking reinforcement by their inferiors subordinates. They could see through attempts to gain their approval through flattery. They are the antithesis of the thin-skinned, narcissistic ego-maniac running roughshod over every norm of civility we have developed over the course of human civilization.

So many followers of Donald Trump still fervently believe he is working diligently on their behalf, working behind the scenes to dismantle the deep state conspiracy exercising dominion over their pitiful existence. Any day now we will see the hordes of agents coming to arrest those who ran the child trafficking ring out of the nonexistent basement of the Comet Ping Pong pizza restaurant. Q will attain cult-like status much like Deep Throat did decades ago in Watergate. Meanwhile, one person (Jeffrey Epstein) who did use his money and influence to game the legal system and get a sweetheart deal from the Justice Department, his former prosecutor is now Secretary of Labor. When will the hordes who believe in Comet Ping Pong conspiracies turn their anger against someone who really did let one of the evil people preying on children, off the hook. Given the extreme credulity shown by many of Trump’s followers, my guess is never.

Outrage exhaustion is a dangerous condition. It means that we are growing numb to the ever-increasing instances of deviant behavior shown by this administration and those held under its cult-like influence. We should have known what we were in for when we saw the display of supreme sycophancy shown in that cabinet meeting in June of 2017. Person after person giving extreme unctuous praise to the supreme leader, who sat with his arms folded in his posture of insecurity. Since that time, it has only gotten worse. The President feels emboldened to contradict statements he made only days ago, insisting the only version of the truth that matters is what is coming out of his mouth this very minute. All evidence to the contrary, including video of him saying the opposite, is hereby decreed null and void. Yet still his adoring postulants shout hosannas of support each time he gathers them together for yet another Nuremburg-styled rally.

We must avoid outrage exhaustion. We must never let the actions and attitudes of this aberrant leader become the norm for future political discourse. We must call out the despicable nature of his intentions, and we must enunciate each example of incompetence in the execution of his policies. More than any of these though, we must present an opposing viewpoint, one that replaces fear and loathing with a desire to aspire to make the future better than the past. Only then will we have a chance to Make America Great!

Hiding In Plain Sight

Trump's world

Now the evidence is in front of the world. The first response that came from the unhinged mouth of Donald Trump in response to the questioning of George Stephanopoulos reflected his true thoughts. Yes, he would accept information from a foreign source if he believed it would benefit him in his electoral quest. And his FBI director was wrong if he claimed that such activity was illegal. Even though his answer has been spun by others in his sycophantic circle as being not as bad as it appeared, and even though Donald Trump has qualified his answer with a claims that of course he would contact the FBI if approached by foreign actors, it is obvious that his first statement reflected his true belief. The laws concerning foreign interference in US elections are invalid, no one follows them, and everyone else is doing bad things. The belief system of Donald Trump was laid bare for all to see.

Except that a sizeable fraction of the US population refuses to see this. What seems to have happened is that amorality has taken hold of the American psyche, and enough people believe the ends justify the means to ensure that the abomination in office retains enough political influence to prevent his being removed from office. How is it that the party of the moral majority has become the party that accepts rampant corruption, moral depravity in its leader, and a foreign policy that is governed by how well a country is able to flatter this insatiable narcissist?

The problems that were supposed to be addressed by this President have instead grown worse and festered. Meanwhile, problems created by this President (pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal) or made worse by this administration (increased deficits in a time of relative economic strength), are sapping the strength of this nation and eliminating the willingness of the rest of the world to support our actions. Instead of increasing the respect for the US, the actions of this administration have caused our standing within the international community to be drastically weakened.

Still, a significant minority of this nation cling to the mantle of this toddler who holds the reins of power. They are still under the delusion that he is fighting for them, and cannot see the reality of his failed faux populism. Are there cracks in the façade? Perhaps. Even his stalwart broadcast partner Fox News has deigned to offer reality in their programming, providing polling results showing his trailing in the early race results. Of course, the Denier-In-Chief claims that he is leading in all of the polls in battleground states, but he doesn’t use polling very much. Still, he’ll fire his pollsters for good measure.

Well, it is far too early to place stock in the horse race aspect of the next election cycle. There will be ebbs and flows on the Democratic side, with prognosticators breathless in their analysis of whether the Democratic party is heading towards either socialist heaven, or staying smack dab in the centrist position, depending upon those all-important polling results. Unfortunately, no one seems to be addressing some of the major problems we do face as a nation. Instead of a credible plan for rebuilding our infrastructure, we will argue over the morality of college debt forgiveness. Instead of serious discussion about ways to reduce our ongoing deficits, we will only be talking about paying reparations for slavery and/or a basic income for all. Instead of discussing the crisis in the breakdown of ecological systems, we will argue over progressive ideals.

Look, I want someone to come out publicly and lay to bed the supposition that employer-provided health care is morally superior to that of government supported health insurance. I want someone to describe the existing subsidy that the tax codes provide already for employer-provided health care. The thousands of dollars already given to employees and their employers from the government due to the failure to consider insurance premiums as income, that is nearly as much of a government subsidy as are the subsidies given in the Affordable Care Act. Yet what do we have for this largess from the government? A system where the insurance middlemen serve in the role of death panels keeping recommended treatments away from the individuals who need them. A system where we pay almost twice what most other nations do in per capita expenditures and still suffer from horrendous deductibles that prevent usage of our morally superior insurance.

Yet so many of Trump’s supporters still are invested in the myth of his working for them. They cannot see the chaos of his personality cult spilling out into inchoate international interactions, where unintended actions will sooner or later result in military action. The conspiracy theory believers refuse to accept the evidence of their eyes and ears, since they stopped listening when he told them to not believe what they see from anyone except the President. The personality cult has proven effective at closing the minds of so many of the President’s followers. How can you effectively refute anything that goes against this administration when his follower’s eyes and ears are closed? I saw an interview with someone who had finally heard someone enumerate the acts of obstruction laid out in the Mueller report. She admitted to having listened to only conservative media, and had never heard any word about the report other than it exonerated the President. You just cannot reason with people who are members of a cult.

It may just take military conflict with Iran to bring home the reality that this toddler is beyond his ability, and this incompetence will cost the lives of thousands or millions of lives. When the blood flows unnecessarily, the images of bodies mangled by ordinance – on both sides – just may convince Trump’s diehard supporters that continuing their support could actually result in their dying hard.

 

Exponential Decay Curve Revisited – Trump Tweet Effectiveness Over Time

It’s a puzzlement. How is it that the same set of facts can be perceived in diametrically opposite ways? How is it that some folks can see the Mueller investigation laid out credible allegations of behavior by the President and his administration that not only skirted the law, but often trampled it in the dirt? At the same time, other folks believe that since no indictments are proceeding directly from the investigation, it represents a total and complete exoneration of all of the behavior seen from this administration?

Meanwhile, the behavior of the tweeter in chief has not significantly changed from the behavior seen during the campaign and in the transition period leading up to his inauguration. One of the first posts in my blog was on the exponential decay curve, and how it applied to the effectiveness of Trump’s tweets. I am reprinting it in this post, as this one post keeps getting people reading it long after I posted it in March 2017. I am bringing it up again because we are seeing evidence that the decay curve for the effectiveness of Trump’s tweets is performing as predicted. I just thought that the rate of decay would be much greater than it has been. But recent publications have shown that indeed, the effectiveness of Trump’s tweets has decreased in a manner very similar to the exponential decay curve in my post. See this post on Axios from May 26 of this year:

https://www.axios.com/president-trump-tweets-engagement-4c6067a8-734d-4184-984a-d5c9151aa339.html

Here is the chart that the post references. It shows the percentage of those who retweet or like a particular tweet as a percentage of his followers. Note how closely the graph follows the exponential decay curve shown in the original post.

Trump tweet effectiveness

Assuming that retweets and likes are reflective of the effectiveness of his posts is a verifiable measure of the impact that any individual tweet has. Sometimes it is good to see that a prediction you make is coming true, even though we have all had to suffer a great deal in the intervening period. The one correction I would make is that it seems like the half life of a Trump tweet is about 14 months, not the 2 months I originally predicted. I was too optimistic at the start of this administration.

 

The following post was put up on March 28, 2017. You can link directly to it here:

Exponential Decay Curve in Politics

Today’s topic concerns exponential decay curves. This is what happens when “something” declines over time. A classic exponential decay curve is shown here:

 

decaycurve

Exponential decay curves are often found in nature. The classic one that is taught in classrooms concerns radioactive decay. For a given radioactive isotope of an element, the half-life of the isotope determines the shape of its decay curve. A half-life is defined as the amount of time for 1/2 of the radioactive decay for an isotope to have occurred. This can vary among isotopes from fractions of a second, up to 4 billion years in the case of Uranium 238. Half-lives are very important when calculating the potential radiation exposure to a radioactive isotope. Isotopes like Cobalt 60 are powerful radiation sources that are used industrially to examine welds and metals for defects. They provide plentiful gamma rays since the half life of this isotope is only 5.3 years. That is why there is concern about the use of this isotope in a dirty bomb, since the radiation from an explosive dispersal of Cobalt 60 would cause significant exposure to high powered gamma radiation.

Exponential decay curves may be found in other natural and also artificial systems. A new example of an artificial system that appears to be following an exponential decay curve is the Presidential tweet. The response to a Presidential tweet appears to be following a typical decay curve function. It is too early to get an accurate measurement of the half-life of tweet effectiveness, but a preliminary estimate is that the half-life of the response to a Presidential tweet is about two months.

Since this system of Presidential tweets is an artificial system (one not normally found in nature), it is uncertain as to what the response of the originator of the Presidential tweets will be to an ongoing decrease in tweet effectiveness. Most observers believe that the originator will greatly increase both the frequency and objects of tweets so as to continue to receive a total response to the tweets that approximates the effect of the first tweets.

However, it is nearly certain that since the effectiveness of any individual tweet will continue to decline, eventually the response to all Presidential tweeting may approach zero. There is a school of thought though, that maintains the belief that we may begin to see an inverse function develop for the tweet response. That is, instead of receiving a positive response to tweets, each subsequent tweet may result in a negative response. It is possible that the magnitude of the negative response may increase with additional tweets, so that Newton’s third law may be given a test in the political arena. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Observers of politics will be watching this process with rapt attention.

 

Human Induced Extinctions

dodo

This is the sixth in a series of seven posts regarding the threats I see facing humanity. This threat is human-induced extinctions. Scientists have determined that we live in a new geologic era, described as the Anthropocene, where human activity is the predominant factor in describing how the Earth is behaving. It is reflected in the erosion that comes from agricultural practices, creating new river deltas much faster than in previous times. It is reflected in the effect of industrial and civilian gas emissions, which affect the composition of the atmosphere. It is reflected in the crowding out of wildlife due to the incursion of human activities into locations where wildlife has existed for millions of years.

Perhaps there is no place where the effects of humanity has been so pronounced as in the ocean depths. There we have found the ultimate repository of the plastic we use so gratuitously, single use plastic that finds its way into the ocean waters. Stories abound about the wildlife found to be starving to death, because inert plastic has filled the stomach and gut of an animal. It literally feels full, since the stomach is full, but will not take in new nutrients since there is no urge to fill the stomach. That is one form of human incursion into the oceans. Another is the cruel and indiscriminate fishing practices that go on throughout the oceans. Huge dragnets haul all creatures up and then the catch is sorted once it reaches the surface and is dying. Much is either discarded or kept as junk fish, good only to be ground up as food for other fishes, or for pet food. Some is from species we identify with as being intelligent, like dolphins. I remember the TV show Flipper, which anthropomorphized a dolphin beyond recognition. But it is undoubtedly true that dolphins are intelligent, and capable of compassion, since the stories of dolphins assisting humans to survive are common.

The worst fishing practices are those that drag the bottom of the ocean. Those vessels disturb all of the creatures colonizing the ocean floor. Very few of these species are considered as human food, yet those that are (like flounder) are highly prized. The ocean floor will not recover for hundreds of years, yet the fleets of fishing ships keep trawling continually.

Oceans are one thing, but no human has their natural habitat under the sea. The problems of species extinction exist for each class of plant and animal. Though it is extremely difficult to quantify (how do you prove a negative?), the rate of species extinction is estimated at between 10 to 100 times greater than the rate of extinction normally present on Earth without an external cause. And anecdotal evidence is that insect populations are being affected extensively. Journals such as Science in 2017 published a story titled Where Have All The Insects Gone? The article noted that scholarly research on insect populations is scarce, but that in certain long-term studies of populations, the number of insects found in fields has been reduced by over 80%. The study referred to the “windshield effect,” noting that many people have seen fewer insect / windshield collisions over the years. The damage to bee populations has been severe, with the colony collapse disorder causing massive losses to bee populations. A cause for the reduction has not been definitively named, but the class of insecticides known as Neonicotinoids is, as the police would say, “a chemical of interest”. These chemicals were originally marketed as reducing the need to spray more toxic organophosphates and organochlorine insecticides. They often are used to coat the seeds, and when the plant sprouts, the insecticide is absorbed into the plant where it provides defense. But since it permeates the entire plant, it is expressed in the pollen as well. That is how it appears to affect pollinator populations. Since honeybees are used in commerce, the losses in honeybees was noted first. But concern exists for all other pollinator species.

Much has been written about the intrusion of humanity’s effects on tropical forests. Nowhere is that seen more clearly than when a road is cut through virgin forests. Once a road is available, it is soon followed by those who exploit the opening. Forestry now tackles the old-growth trees, reducing stable ecosystems into a maze of forest edges. Species that once had free range across a canopy now find themselves having to traverse new agricultural lands to get to the next patch of undisturbed forest. And when populations of people begin to live in these newly opened lands, a market in bush meat is created. The Amazon is ground zero to display the effects of roads and subsequent land disturbance. Take a quick trip on Google Earth to the Amazon, and note that wherever you see a road, you will also see the encroachment of cleared land and settlements.

We as humans do not always understand the impact of our actions. We do not know what will happen when insect A is eliminated from a portion of its normal range. What other species used insect A as a food source? What insects or plants did insect A help keep in control? Will we see a reduction in birds due to the lack of insect A? Humans, being emotional animals, are much more capable of generating sympathy for the large, photogenic animals that are endangered. But the smallest insect may have as much impact or more on the ecosystem as a large furry mammal.

We as a civilization do not yet seem concerned by the loss of species we are seeing. Even in countries where an effort has been made to reduce the loss of species, a change in the government can reverse decades of efforts almost overnight. In the US, there is no mistaking the intent of the Trump administration to roll back the provisions of the Endangered Species Act. There is a strong belief that laws and regulations limiting the ability of a property owner to develop property as they see fit, represent an unconstitutional taking of the owner’s property right. Since insects or birds or other animals cannot hire a lawyer to defend their right to life, it falls to environmental groups to challenge regulatory repeal. Still, the attitude of the administration towards science-based evidence remains clear. Science and scientists are viewed with disdain, and they are clearly leftist in their politics since they so often stand against the rights of those with property.

What can science do to deal with these problems? It would seem that an effort to develop new pesticides that do not have such systemic effects is required. These efforts are proceeding within the large agrichemical companies, but it takes years and sometimes decades before a novel chemical class is commercialized and finds its place in the marketplace. It appears that legislative action across the world may be needed to ban certain classes of chemicals shown to cause excessive harm. The role of scientists would seem to also include quantifying the loss of species, and doing research to show what happens when one thread of the web of life is pulled out.

Maybe the best use of scientists would be to increase their role in educating the public as to the risks we are running by conducting our current experiment of causing the extinction of so many species. In the Old Testament of the Christian Bible, humanity was given stewardship over the creatures of the Earth. If nothing else, we have been proven to be bad stewards.

 

 

Blooms In The Midst Of Despair

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I’ve been at a loss for words lately. Even though spring burst onto the scene, and new life is everywhere, when it comes to humanity, the news all seems bad. The amateurs leading the US government seem intent on single-handedly overturning 75 years of alliances, all in the name of having our allies pay their fair share. Agreements aimed at reducing the risk of nuclear arms construction are arbitrarily abrogated, and we seem to be poking at the hornet’s nest that is Iran with a stick in order to engender conflict. Meanwhile, on a peninsula far, far away, the object of a love affair with the US President is acting like a spurned lover, and casting missiles into the ocean between the peninsula and Japan. The Russians ponder how best to bend the pliable public opinion in the US to their benefit in the next election, while this President disdains any notion that his election was in any way due to the overt and covert actions from Russia in the past.

It is clear that the Republicans in the Congress are victims of the Stockholm Syndrome, having been co-opted by the entity who took the Republican party hostage in 2016. Thus they are willing participants in the ongoing struggle to avoid any legitimate oversight of the actions of this administration. Meanwhile, having become emboldened by the departure of more mature members of the administration, and by a superficial reading of the report brought forth by Robert Mueller, this administration becomes intransigent and refuses any and all requests for Congressional testimony or submission of documents. They laugh at any requests for cooperation in the multitudes of investigations brought on by this President. Aided by the Stockholm Syndrome sufferers, they continually chant their mantras of no collusion, no conspiracy, even though if they actually read the Mueller report they would learn that is not his conclusion. When Mueller cited his conclusion that the Department of Justice’s own precedent would not allow him to call for indictment, they took that as a declaration of exoneration and have continued to scream that into the ether. And the gullible fools who follow this pitiful President, lap up the curdled milk offered them by the smirking members of this administration.

Meanwhile, the opposition to Trump in the Democratic sphere is teeming with those who are crawling over themselves in order to reach the brass ring on their carousel. In order to gain even momentary ascension in the media spotlight, they exhibit their brazen narcissism as new candidates continue to emerge into the race. They make statements of economic incomprehensibility in order to appeal to even a small fraction of the electorate. And why so many? Of course, it is because they are the chosen, and only they can solve our problems. Kind of similar to the statements of the current occupant of the office, who was convinced that he alone could solve things. They run the risk of causing the electoral discussion to veer so far left that the enormous advantage the Democrats hold in opposing this unpopular President will be abandoned as they scare the middle into clinging to what has now become familiar.

If you look for succor elsewhere in the world, you will find none. The war in Yemen, a proxy battle between Saudi Arabia and Iran, continues unabated, and has ushered in the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse into permanent residency at the tip of the Arabian peninsula. Aided and abetted by the US, where in the first act of guts in decades by the Congress, they passed a measure to cease support for Saudi Arabia, only to have it vetoed by the President in his continual attempt to punish Iran. Turkey is continuing its slide into dictatorship as Erdogan forces a do-over of the Istanbul mayoral election. France is hamstrung by yellow vest protestors who turn every weekend in Paris into an obstacle course. And Britain is evenly split between those who wish to force exit from Europe, and those who wish to maintain ties, and as a result, the politics there have caused complete government breakdown.

Meanwhile, reports come out showing that humanity is thrusting an eighth of the species of life into peril of extinction. Glaciers continue their steady retreat, threatening the water supplies of hundreds of millions of people. Shrinkage of Arctic ice opens up a new realm for human exploitation, and all our fetid Secretary of State can say is “New ways to make money!” An administration that actively rebuts scientific evidence is insistent upon eating our supply of seed corn as it slashes funds for research for our future. And the budget deficits keep growing as far as the eyes can see as adherents to the failed, flawed economic theories of the supply-siders once more prove their complete divorcement from reality.

You’d think that with all of this surfeit of bad news, I’d be ready to throw in the towel. Strange thing, though, I can still feel hopefulness. I can be hopeful that this nation will awaken from its strange hypnotic trance induced by our con man in chief. I can be hopeful that corporate executives will be found guilty of fomenting addiction through their marketing strategies, and that the tsunami of human casualties from opioids and heroin will recede in our region. I can be hopeful that the seeds of spring turn into the salads and vegetables of summer. I can be hopeful that the trees we planted last year will grow strong enough for us to remove the deer shields around them. And I can hope that those of us who believe in common sense, rationality, and the rule of law will prevail in this country.

Soon, please!

If You Can’t Beat the Swamp, Join the Swamp

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The spring sun warmed me as I sat on a park bench along the tidal basin. Too early for the cherry blossoms, when these environs would become overrun with thousands of rubberneckers admiring the gift of the Japanese in a simpler age. I wondered if my friend Slimey would make an appearance, but so far he had not showed himself, and I was about to leave myself.

Before I could get up, though, a tall gentleman in an expensive suit stood before me and stopped. It was obvious that the suit had to be extensively altered to allow the huge tail purchase to stick out through the back of the pants. “Slimey” I said, as I leapt to my feet to greet my friend.

“Well met,” he said as he lurched over to sit on the end of the bench. “How do you like my new attire?” he asked.

Frankly, I was amazed. Having grown used to exchanging pleasantries with an 8-foot tall naked reptile did not make me immune from the surprise now at seeing him clothed, in a Saville Row suit. I managed to say, “You look ….. amazing. But why? And how?”

Slimey did not answer right away, but instead reached into his briefcase, where he extracted a fish filet wrapped in plastic. He shredded the plastic with a dainty swipe of his claw, then took in the tilapia whole. Licking his lips, he said “Those are so much better than the ones I used to find out there.” He extended his claw towards the basin which was still and reflected the Jefferson Memorial across the water. Smiley continued. “I finally decided that this was my one chance to better myself. With this administration, if I couldn’t fit in now, I never would. So I took a chance and submitted a resume, and, well, you can see the rest.”

“But who? Who hired you? Where are you working?” I was still taken aback by the image of my friend who had invaded my above-water world.

“What was it they said in that old movie? Follow the money? Well, I did. I’m working for a lobbying firm.”

I just had to let out a laugh. I felt comfortable enough around Smiley that I didn’t fear his razor-sharp claws. Sure enough, he joined in rather than taking offense. “I just have to ask” I said. “What did you put in your resume to make them hire you?”

Slimey seemed to actually smile as he went into his briefcase again. He pulled out a single piece of paper that he handed over to me. I began to read:

“Single cold-blooded reptile accustomed to mucking about in the mud and mire of the Tidal Basin. Experienced in mud-slinging and dragging my opponents through the mud. Native born. Willing to get dirty as needed to get the job done.” That was it. No educational references, no work experience. It was as close to a perfect resume as I had ever seen for the K Street crowd.

I said, “I can see why they would hire you based upon your credentials.

“True that,” Slimey said as he picked at some morsel caught in his teeth with a sharpened claw. “But now that I’m on the inside, I must admit, I’m a bit disappointed.”

“Why is that?” I asked.

“Well, I thought I was one cold-blooded monster. I found out they’ve got me beat six ways to Sunday. I have never seen such willingness to toss over a friend if someone else offers to pay more.” Slimey stretched his arms in his grey suit. It was as if a field of flannel had taken flight as it moved past my field of view.

“What sort of jobs does your firm do?” I asked.

Slimey tossed back his head for a minute, then lowered it and answered. “Right now, I’m involved in trying to deregulate the entire meat industry. We believe it is only right for the meat producers to be the sole judge and jury as to whether their product is wholesome and fit for consumption.”

Wow! Not only had he adopted the attire of K Street, he had internalized the arguments so that he now could recite the company line verbatim. I had to respond. “Don’t you think there is any role for government oversight over such operations? I mean, isn’t history replete with examples of meat packers who skirted the rules and caused all sorts of illnesses? And aren’t the meat packers the biggest sources of worker injuries?”

Slimey was ready for me. “This is where I am so perfectly placed to serve my clients. You see, I can take the worst of their slop that comes out of their plants. It can have salmonella, it can have listeria, it does not matter. I can eat that stuff raw and clearly demonstrate that there is no adverse impact to consume their product. Actually, it tastes a lot better once it is sitting out in the hot sun for a few hours.”

He paused for a moment. “It is true that there are a lot of worker injuries in the field. And you might have noticed that these plants seem to attract a lot of alien workers. Well, my clients are working on ways to reduce both of these problems.”

Slimey reached into his briefcase for a heavily-laminated sheet. Before he showed it to me, he swore me to secrecy. “You must not reveal what I’m about to show you. You could take this information and make a bet on the stock market and make a fortune. It’s that good.”

“All right, I swear that I will not reveal this to anyone. I don’t have enough money to even make a bet on Wall Street anyway.” I used my finger to cross my heart.

Slimey turned the sheet over, and I saw the meat packing plant of the near future. At the front was a robot that killed the animal entering the facility by slicing off its head with a laser. The decapitated corpse tumbled onto the line, where another robot hoisted it up and hung it on a hook, dripping blood onto the floor. From that point on, pictures revealed a totally automated process, where what came in was a living being, and what left was packaged meat products, along with various offal offerings for non-human consumption. Plus a lot of skin ready to turn into leather. I was truly impressed.

Slimey was watching my reaction closely. Finally he asked, “What do you think? You get rid of the people, you get rid of the problems.”

I realized where this discussion was heading, and even though I felt uncomfortable asking, I had to. “What’s to prevent this type of facility to be used against people?”

Slimey paused for a moment, apparently intent on a piece of tilapia caught back in one of his molars. Then he turned his ponderous girth towards me, and smiled that reptilian grin that showed no true emotion. “You can’t fight progress,” he said.

I sat there, dumbfounded. My friend was now part of the deep state whose true purpose was to lead to the depopulation of the entire world. But, being the pragmatist I am, I said to Slimey, “If I were to make a wager on the future I’ve seen, how would I make that bet?”

Slimey slowly blinked one eye, slipped me a business card, and left.

 

The Dichotomy

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There is a huge dichotomy in the US population. It has afflicted this nation for over 70 years, once it emerged onto the cultural stage. The birth pangs of the split were heard in the sounds of bebop jazz in the smoky clubs of the big cities after WWII. It was the antithesis to the charted arrangements of Big Band Jazz so beloved by true Americans. Bebop jazz begat Beat poetry and the Beatniks who emerged out of the some of the same underground urban cafes and bars in the 1950’s. Both movements represented an expression of discontent against a stultifying culture crushing all non-conformity after the end of the great war.

Against the tiny fragment of the counterculture was the mass of American culture. Since the shared experience of WWII, a mythological vision of a sacred crusade was created, and was shared by the visual media. Movies reinforced this image, with the heroic sacrifices undertaken by American soldiers eventually overwhelming the powers of evil across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The new medium of television though, was the true glue of American culture, delivering the images evoking an era of American greatness. No societal problems emerged in the pristine suburban images of the white American family as they navigated through existential crises, such as how to recover from a burnt roast when the husband was about to bring home the boss for dinner. Teenage angst was a prime theme.

At the end of the 1950’s, network television deigned to acknowledge the existence of the counterculture. The first beatnik character, Maynard G. Krebs, appeared with his bongos and love of bebop jazz. That he was portrayed as an object of ridicule was deliberate, since the majority of the audience couldn’t identify with someone who didn’t love Lawrence Welk as the epitome of popular music.

Simmering underneath the smooth surface of American culture, several trends ensured that America would never again be as homogenous. The huge bulge of demographics referred to as the baby boom took center stage. It brought overt licentiousness, made possible by the miracle of birth control. Finally youthful sexual energy could be exercised without the consequences of unintended pregnancy, and the shame that brought upon a respectable family. Meanwhile, an entire segment of society had reached their breaking point, and exerted their communal will in an attempt to escape from the cage of Jim Crow and its codes, both written and unwritten. And finally, there was the long trudge through the jungles of Viet Nam, where thousands died fighting against a shadowy enemy that never had the guts to take on our boys in a fair fight. The toll taken by this prolonged slaughter unleashed the children of the ’50’s to become the radicals of the ’60’s.

By the late 1960’s, the split was spreading across society. On one side, there were those who were convinced that any dissent and protest against the social order was unpatriotic. They supported the government whole-heartedly, and jeered the long-haired hippies whenever they came into contact with them. The election of 1968 showed the split, where the Republican victor identified with the hard hat segment of the electorate. The Democrats were destined to wear the mantle of disorder sown in the streets of Chicago during their convention. The sides were now established, and the barriers between the sides became more rigid over the years.

Since the split emerged in the1960’s, technology has aided and abetted its existence. The computer revolution enabled communication platforms to sprout prolifically. In particular, one segment of the political spectrum glommed onto the older technology of radio. With the decline in music listening on AM radio stations due to FM and new personal music devices, AM radio stations became the platforms for talk shows. A critical mass of listeners and participants found common ground, as they decried the immorality of society and the evil nature of government as it enforced its unpopular dictates. Soon the descendants of the hard hats of the 1960’s found they were able to influence the Republican party, and formed a merger between the two groups. Since the traditional affiliation of Republicans with the capitalist class could not command a majority at the legislative level, the Republican party welcomed these cultural warriors into their ranks. They could not foresee the day when the cultural conservatives would seize control.

Traditional alliances among the parties splintered and shattered over the decades. With the identification of Democrats with civil rights, the southern electorate split away from that party. Instead of yellow dog Democrats, the solid Republican south emerged, forming the base from which electoral raids would be launched over the following decades. More and more, the Democratic party was identified as the party of the inner city, and it was content to let that association develop as long as they could maintain legislative control.

But thanks to the superior organizing capability of the Republicans, the solid ground of the Democratic majority in Congress and in state legislatures was turning swampy. The Republicans realized in the long game, it was organization at the state and local levels that would eventually result in transforming this nation into one where territory held mattered more than even votes did. When Republican legislatures emerged, they used the power of redistricting to ensure their ability to shape Congressional districts into fiefdoms of generational power. The long game paid off after the 2010 census, when the new district lines ensured that the emergent Tea Party could hold onto their seats and effect real change.

When an amoral pretender to the throne actually achieved electoral success in 2016, and was duly elected as President, the jacquerie was complete. Through his understanding of the resentments built up since the 1960’s against the government, and those elitists running the economy and institutions, he was able to manipulate resentment into a winning strategy. That he had no intention of fulfilling many of his promises was not important to those who voted for him. They wished mainly to stick their thumb into the eye of the establishment.

Now we are heading swiftly into the next Presidential election cycle. On the Republican side, the takeover of the party by the adherents of Trump appears complete. He has been successful in demanding strict loyalty to this point. But, the elections of 2018, and the ill-fated shutdown, have seemed to slightly weaken the bonds binding legislators to Trump. Cracks are showing in the edifice. Whether facts presented in upcoming committee hearings, or in the long-anticipated Mueller report will pry more Republican legislators from the boa’s embrace is yet to be seen.

Meanwhile, the Democrats are wandering in the electoral wilderness, with new prophets springing up on almost every street corner, each one believing they alone have the recipe and the baking skills to succeed. Succeed in standing first among their party, then succeed in the office they believed was stolen from them in 2016. Fond dreams are enunciated, and with each new declaration, the Republicans are using their focus group-derived counterpunches. Impeachment and socialism are decreed to be the only concerns that Democrats have. It is more important to discredit the messengers than it is to debate on the merits. Still, given the fragmented and transitory attention span of the American electorate, this strategy may well prove successful.

That a President whose approval has hovered between 35% and 45% for his entire term so far could even conceivably win reelection is difficult to believe. Even with his abundant failures of policy to date, and his lack of leadership at enacting legislation, and his moral deficiencies, if the Democrats allow themselves to be identified by the memes created by the Republicans, the Democrats may once more pull defeat from the jaws of victory.

 

A Tsunami of Justice

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So we had the first wave of the tsunami overwhelming the Trump administration this past week. The waters are now receding, flowing back out over the wreckage of denials and those who sacrificed their reputations to try to tear down the reputation of Cohen. Soon will come the next set of waves, breaking over the damaged golf turf near the sea, then plowing further inland over previously undisturbed tales of innocence. Whether due to hubris, or due to ignorance of the effects of physical phenomena, it is now apparent that the Trump administration will be overwashed with ongoing disclosures of deceit, debt manipulations, and decay of institutional norms.

What did we learn last week? Not much in the way of new facts. We learned we had a person at the heart of the Trump organization who acknowledged much of what had become common knowledge about the Trump family, but this information was not explosive. What we did learn is what strategy the Republicans will use to discredit the testimony of those opposed to Trump. And that was revelatory. Apparently schoolyard taunts are considered to be the best form of criticism against a Trump opponent. Liar, liar, pants on fire. I’m rubber, you’re glue. A fitting riposte for a morally and intellectually bankrupt party that sold its soul for the 40 pieces of silver received in the tax reduction act of 2017. Given that the Republicans were well aware of the scope of testimony coming from Cohen, they chose to attack the messenger rather than attack the message.

Unfortunately, the Trump cult has not understood that their time has passed, and they are now the hunted. What we saw this weekend with literal flag-hugging on the stage of the largest conglomeration of Trump sycophants was that there is no form of debasement that will not be met with cheers of acclamation in a mass forum. The Donald returned from his debacle in Hanoi, where the lack of preparation prior to a summit conference manifested itself in the Donald’s disengagement from discussion with a horrendous individual from North Korea. At least he did not agree to concessions that would haunt the western alliance for years to come. Of course, it is possible his attention to the events in Hanoi were distracted due to his watching the testimony of his former chief confidant in the House Oversight Committee hearing. But neutral observers would bet that the lack of an agreement coming out of this ersatz summit was the best possible outcome, given the lack of preparation from an administration convinced that all obstacles can be overcome by DJT’s force of personality.

So now we wait for the new waves forming offshore. The waves of investigations of the finances of a thoroughly corrupt business enterprise, uncovering the nastiness of accepting torrents of tainted Russian money in exchange for the commodity Trump had to give – real estate, and a new start for suspect monies. Tiny portions of towers enabling money to flow from the former Soviet empire to the new Trumpian empire, helping to tie the US real estate entity to those of Russia who wished to plunder the wealth of their collapsing empire. Even with a decaying empire, there is much wealth to be mined from the wreckage. And the Trumps positioned themselves to benefit from the flow of monies from the East to the West.

Those of us who watched the hearing of last week saw the mask being ripped off of the facade of the Trump towers. An organization which ran for decades unencumbered by morality or the niceties of the law, now sees its methods and tactics scrutinized by the law. We can, and should, bemoan the fact that the Trump organization escaped legal peril for so long. It was only because the practices of this family became so engrained, that it believed it could export its methods to the Federal government. Unfortunately for the Trumps, and for the nation, is that the basic modus operandi of this family lay outside of what is legal. It may be acceptable to strong arm suppliers into accepting a pittance for work performed in good faith, when the matter concerns only work done for a casino. But this practice skirts legality, and the fact that someone estimated he threatened individuals or organizations up to 500 times in 10 years reveals a business living on threats and intimidation.

And they wonder why these tactics are reviled when they were brought into the White House? The basic premise that DJT has continually stated that he did not collude with Russia is probably correct. All he had to do was say “Wouldn’t that be great” when he was informed of the impending dump of e-mails from Wikileaks. Those who understood the code of the family knew he was giving his consent for the action, without ever once having to place his own fingerprints upon a piece of evidence proving his assent. It was those who understood the code that performed the actions.

We now are in the part of the story where there are two approaches to the demands of the family. Either those under investigation maintain their code of silence when confronted, and suffer the legal consequences of their silence, or they become rats and sing out. The question is whether anyone who still is convinced of the sanctity of the Trump crusade will ever accept the perfidy of the man and his associates. In order to Make America Great Again, we must first regain the ability to be revulsed by moral turpitude. Given the decline in moral standards reflected in the first family, and an electorate which narrowly selected this man, I’m afraid that this nation has lost its ability to be revulsed by evil. I hope I am wrong.