Tuesday, January 17, 2012

How I will Save Money if PIPA and SOPA are passed

I guess Congress is trying once again to pass laws that would make the Internet no longer free. These laws are being pushed by lobbyists for large media corporations such as Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, media providers and providers associations like the Recording Industry Association of America, credit card companies and even Nike, a maker of athletic shoes.

I don't have time here to spell out all the provisions of these laws, but I can say that if they pass, I stand to save a ton of money. It's very simple, really. I will find other ways to communicate with friends and sympathetic acquaintances. Then I will cancel my Verizon internet access account. My contract has already expired, so I can't be penalized.

That's it.

So go ahead. Make my day.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Stratification, Germination And Climate Change

We are finally getting a bit of snow here in the Portland metro area. Snow levels are quite meager; it's as if someone decided to bake a cake and got very stingy in applying the frosting. Today our snow is melting as soon as it hits the ground. By Wednesday, there will be very little evidence that it snowed at all here.

Otherwise, the snow drought of 2011 seems to be continuing into 2012 throughout the Pacific Northwest. We probably won't see any more snow this winter. This same snow drought has also affected most of the United States and Europe. A mounting body of increasingly plain evidence continues to point to a deranging global climate, a climate that is being wrecked by human activity.

In response, someone recently wrote a somewhat denialist piece about weather in Maine. In his piece, he wrote that “a little global warming would be a gift for Mainers paying for heating oil. Somewhere in New England, the climate may actually improve because of greenhouse gases.” It seems odd that this guy's piece made it onto the Energy Bulletin website, but then they've done a few odd things over the last several months, such as publishing Tea Party propaganda and articles by shills praising Ron Paul.

Being the contrarian that I am, I thought I'd point out a few disadvantages of anthropogenic (man-made) climate change. I'd like to point out something else as well, namely, that while most mainstream media either does not acknowledge climate change at all, or relegates its worst effects to a time frame around 100 years from now, I think we can start looking for serious adverse effects right now.

One of the adverse effects I see – a phenomenon that is probably starting to affect us now – regards the effect of warmer weather on seed germination of valuable trees, shrubs and other plants. Right now I have in my refrigerator a packet of currant seeds. The planting instructions on the currants say that to prepare them for planting, I am supposed to stratify them by leaving them outdoors in pots all winter or by putting them in the fridge for at least 60 days prior to planting. Last winter or the winter before, I would probably have left the seeds outdoors. This winter I was not certain that the weather would be consistently cold enough for successful stratification. Hence, the fridge.

Cold stratification is necessary for a number of plants of economic, agricultural and medicinal interest. Echinacea, evening primrose, and a number of other medicinal perennial herbs and flowering plants all require a period of cold stratification to achieve a high degree of successful germination. Without this cold stratification, most of these seeds will not germinate. This also applies to fruit-bearing shrubs such as juneberry, pawpaw, quince, crabapple, and the shrubs of the hawthorn family. Some species of maple trees also require cold stratification for successful germination. Speaking of trees, there are several species of stratification dependent trees that, while not useful to humans for food, are useful for their wood. Interestingly, some of these trees and shrubs are native to the American South, and typically require a few months of temperatures averaging around 40 degrees Farenheit for successful germination of a large portion of their seeds.

This brings up a pertinent question, namely, how man-made climate change will affect the continued cultivation and survival of these plants. As I said earlier, it's something to worry about right now. Some other questions:

  • What non energy-intensive processes can be used in place of cold stratification where the climate is becoming too warm to guarantee successful germination of valuable cold-dependent seeds? (We can't rely on refrigerators forever.)

  • How will agricultural and horticultural climate zones evolve and shift over the next ten to fifteen years?

  • How will man-made climate change affect small farmers and urban gardeners over the next ten to fifteen years?

  • Is there any research being done, either by formal institutions or by talented, well-organized volunteers and amateurs, to formulate and document effective adaptive strategies for small farmers and urban gardeners to employ over the next ten to fifteen years?

These questions can serve as a homework assignment for some enterprising souls. I'd tackle them myself, but I am already teaching one class and preparing to teach two others, so I'm about as busy as a cat with a long tail in a room full of rocking chairs. Maybe I could threaten to interview an urban farmer to find out how he would answer these questions. That might provoke someone over at the Energy Bulletin website to try to beat me to the punch. If I were beaten to the punch, it wouldn't break my heart. (It might also make up for some of the er, recent er, lapses on that site.) These questions are too important for one person to sit on them. Failure to consider these questions might leave more than a few of us without much to eat for dinner over the next several years.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Of Sheep Dogs, Werewolves and Dog Whistles

(Note: this post is something I have intended to write for the last several weeks. Today Dmitry Orlov of Cluborlov stole some of my thunder, but that's okay. I had left a few comments on some recent posts on his blog, and he responded with a brilliant, succint post that states some points that should be obvious to an intelligent person. I'll say what I'm going to say anyhow, but please read his latest post as well. He says it better than I could.)

I hate election years in this country. From 2000 onward, I've begun to hate them, and my hatred of them has only increased with the passing of time. There are two objects of my hatred: first, candidates who genuinely scare me to death, and second, the scary fans and followers of these candidates.

I have to admit something: in 2000 I was still a card-carrying Republican. (I'm sorry for that; all I can say is that I had drunk a lot of Kool-Aid.) By 2005, the Kool-Aid had largely worn off. In 2006 I quit the Republican party. In 2007 I first heard about Peak Oil and the other resource constraints facing our society.

For a rather brief time in 2007, I thought that it might be possible to induce governments in the United States at all levels to create policies that would help our society to gracefully deal with resource depletion and mitigate the environmental damage caused by our way of life. But by the end of 2007, I gave up that hope.

I distrusted Obama at first, believing that there was just a bunch of sloganeering and not much substance to the man. But the Democratic primaries were so vicious that I thought that there might be something to the man after all, for his chief rival to attack him so viciously. Then he won the Democratic nomination and began to back off from some of the positions he had espoused – such as a swift end to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars – and I lost hope again. The only reason I voted for him – or even argued in his behalf – was that his opponents, McCain and Palin, were acting like serial murderer schizophrenics who had lost their meds.

Obama won, of course, and from that time to this, the American Right has waged a tireless campaign to discredit and oust him. The energy, vehemence and enthusiasm of that campaign is something that hasn't been seen in American politics for a long time. Even when Bill Clinton was president, there was not so much energy put into removing him as there is being directed toward removing Obama. This is so even though Obama has done pretty much everything his corporate masters wanted. I believe that one can trace an unbroken trajectory of presidential policy all the way from Reagan through the first Bush and Clinton and the second Bush to Obama. That is because the Presidency, the Supreme Court and both houses of Congress have been captured by the very wealthy. No matter who wins this year, that presidential policy will remain the same. And most people would admit this, if they were willing to be honest with themselves.

So why the right-wing hatred of Obama? To me it's a case of dog whistle politics, plain and simple. No one in political power wants to admit it, but we still have a race problem in the United States. It exists, just below the surface of many conversations about the future of our country. And let's be blunt: the race problem now consists of a great deal of angst and anger among certain Americans over the fact that a.) a Black man was able to become President, b.) White America is losing its hegemony and preeminence in the world, and c.) immigrants (many of whom are dark-skinned) are carving out a happy life for themselves in our country.

The current crop of Republican presidential candidates are all – to a man – playing on this angst and anger in order to get elected. Yet the angst and anger are both unrealistic and immoral. So America is losing its preeminence. So the world is becoming a much bigger place. So “we” are all going to have to learn to share with each other. Is that the end of the world? Deal with it and move on. In the process of learning to live harmoniously with others, many Americans might actually become better people. But no, that is unacceptable to a nation whose vice president once said that the American way of life is non-negotiable. “We can't be happy unless we have everything, and unless everyone else is either enslaved by us or wiped out by us! Support our troops!”

So what about the sheep-dogs? Well, over the last several years, many wealthy people have spent vast sums of money trying to fashion public opinion in this country to suit their interests. The efforts of Fox News and other media outlets have been bent toward creating a right-wing culture of intolerant selfishness in this country, in order to legitimize the wealthy and the government policies fashioned in recent years to increase the power and wealth of the wealthy. The Obama presidency wasn't supposed to happen, and I think it caught these folks by surprise. So they manufactured astroturf populist movements like the Tea Party in order to get their lackeys elected.

The funny thing is that the policies enacted by these lackeys did not just target people of color or immigrants. Rather, they had the effect of bleeding the entire “middle class/working class” to death. They were like a broad-spectrum antibiotic in that regard. An increasing number of people began to suffer, including working-class Republicans and former supporters of the Tea Party. (How ironic!) The media mouthpieces were quick to blame the suffering on “the Gummint” and “the evil Obama,” but that tactic stopped working after the 2010 elections, in which a lot of Tea Party candidates were elected to governorships, state houses and the U.S. Congress, and instantly began a cannibal feast of gutting the remnants of the “middle class/working class.” (Why the quotation marks? Because the terms “middle class” and “working class” are artificial distinctions created in order to keep us alienated from one another. Nowadays, most of us are merely different shades of “poor.”)

In response, the Occupy movement sprang up spontaneously, both in the United States and in many English-speaking countries. It was genuine, bona fide populism and not astroturf, and it too was something that was not supposed to happen. It took the wealthy by surprise.

The initial media response to the Occupy movement was either to ignore it, to marginalize it or to criticize it. However, it soon became apparent to those who actually run our country that the Occupy movement was too popular to ignore, to crush or to sweep under the rug. Hence “sheep dogs” were employed in order to turn public anger over exploitation by the wealthy into harmless directions. The usual sheep dogs were employed – so-called “progressive” radio and television personalities like Rachel Maddow and “progressive” radio stations like KPOJ, as well as Democratic politicians. But these were joined by a rather unlikely cast of sheep dog “extras” on the Right. It is rumored that even Glenn Beck tried to cast himself as sympathetic to some of the grievances of the Occupiers.

By far, one of the smoothest and suavest sheep dogs has been Ron Paul, the congressman with big ears from Texas who has tried for years to cast himself as an “outsider” who is opposed to corporate power and corporate influence in politics. It seems that Mr. Paul has picked up the endorsements of a few old, toothless ex-counterculture figures like Ralph Nader, Dennis Kucinich and Noam Chomsky. Ron Paul has sided with many who warn of America's imminent collapse. Ron Paul has denounced American militarism. And Ron Paul has even praised the Occupy movement. He sounds like the real deal, doesn't he?

Except he isn't. Not to me. Part of the problem is that I'm a black man. Ron Paul has denounced Abraham Lincoln for waging the Civil War and ending slavery. Ron Paul has denounced the 1964 Civil Rights Act that, among other things, ended racial discrimination in schooling, employment and voting. Ron Paul has stated that while he believe discrimination is wrong, he doesn't believe the Government should prevent it. (Rather like a fire chief who says that while he believes that house fires are terrible, he doesn't believe that the fire department should put out fires.) Ron Paul ran an organization that for years published newsletters that made outrageously racist claims about people of color. At times, when questioned about these letters, he has denied having any control over their content. That's about as plausible as saying to someone, “I didn't realize that my fist was trying to punch your face. A body is a complicated thing to control, you know.”

But another part of the problem is that no matter my color, I'm part of the 99 percent. And Ron Paul's libertarianism is no comfort to me. One of the things governments are supposed to do is to protect the weak from the strong. This includes not only ethnic minorities, but also people without wealth, as well as the ecosystems on which we all depend. Protecting the weak from the strong reduces the total loot available to the strong, so the strong (in this case, the very wealthy) have systematically both weakened and bought off our government to serve their interests.

The strong are using their media mouthpieces to amplify the distaste many of us without strength feel toward a government that no longer protects us. The message of the strong is, "See, you all are suffering because you rely on a government at all!" The truth is that we all are suffering because the strong have broken the government we had. The aim of some of the strong is to abolish the government entirely. That will leave the weak with no protection against the strong.

And that is my problem with Mr. Paul. Ron Paul is a werewolf.