Posted tagged ‘Republican stupidity’

The Common Inheritance, The Common Defense

March 5, 2017

A bit of self promotion here, but I’ve got a piece in today’s Boston Globe that might be of interest to some here.

It’s a look at what the idea of the commons — not just the abstract, model commons of Garrett Hardin’s famous essay, but the historical commons as actually lived and used — can tell us about current problems.  The TL:DR is that commons are not inherently prone to tragedy, but that the preservation of communal goods requires…wait for it…communal action: regulation, self-regulation.

This is, of course, exactly what the Republican Party denies — more, loathes and condemns.  With Trump, they’re getting their way, but its vital to remember that the consequences that will flow from these decisions are not down to him, or simply so: the entire Republican power structure is eager to do this, and when we pay the price, we must remember who ran up the bill.

Anyway, here’s a taste from my piece.  Head on over to the Globe’s site if you want more.

The idea of the commons is deeply woven through the history of the English countryside. Shakespeare captured this idyllic approach to nature’s wealth in “As You Like It,” when the shepherd Corin explains to the cynic Touchstone the joys of his life. “I earn that I eat, get that I wear,” he says, adding that “the greatest of my pride is to see my ewes graze and my lambs suck” — in the unowned, readily shared Forest of Arden.

There can be trouble in such an Eden, as Hardin pointed out in an influential 1968 paper. Hardin asked what would happen if access to a commons were truly unfettered — if Corin and every other villager ran as many sheep as they could there. In such cases, Hardin argued, the endgame is obvious: Too many animals would eat too much fodder, leaving the ground bare, unable to support any livestock at all.

The evolution of resistance to antibiotics fits that story perfectly. The first modern bacteria-killing drug, penicillin, came into widespread use in 1944, as American laboratories raced to produce millions of doses in time for D-Day. The next year, its discoverer, Alexander Fleming, used his Nobel Prize lecture to describe precisely how this wonder drug could lose its power, telling the sad tale of a man who came down with a strep infection. In his tale, Mr. X didn’t finish his course of penicillin, and his surviving microbes, now “educated” (Fleming’s term), infected his wife. When her course of penicillin failed to eradicate these now-resistant microbes, Mrs. X died — killed, Fleming said, by her husband’s carelessness. It took just one more year for this fable to turn into fact: In 1946, four American soldiers came down with drug-resistant gonorrhea, the first such resistance on record.

Go on — check it out.  You want to hear about the great Charnwood Forest rabbit riot.  You know you do…

Image: Jacopo da Ponte, Sheep and Lambc. 1650.

Annals of Post-Racial America, Ch. (n)

August 7, 2013

via TPM, here’s the latest from The Arizona Republic:

Obama foes at one point sang, “Bye Bye Black Sheep,” a derogatory reference to the president’s skin color, while protesters like Deanne Bartram raised a sign saying, “Impeach the Half-White Muslim!”

MoorishAmbassador_to_Elizabeth_I

Many on both sides wore red, white and blue and carried small flags.

“It just kind of happened naturally,” said Michael Pomales of how the opposing sides separated. Pomales, an 18-year-old Ahwatukee Foothills resident who graduated in the spring from Desert Vista High, said he decided to join the protesters side “to spread a little love” as the crowds began shouting at each other.

Pomales said his response to people yelling for Obama to go back from where he came from is simple: “He’s a great man. He cares about what I care about, education, jobs. He’s our president. He’s an American.”

Deanna Bartram, a 17-year-old University of Arizona student from Black Canyon City, lashed out at people who call her racist for not supporting Obama. She believes Obama supporters use the “race card” against her because they disagree with her political message.

“Obama is ruining American values. He is ruining the Constitution. He needs to go back to where he came from because obviously, he is a liar,” she said. “I am not racist. I am part Indian. Obama’s half Black, half White.”

“He’s 47 percent Negro,” shouted Ron Enderle, a 77-year-old Chandler resident who said that he and his son served as Marines and his grandson is currently serving in the Marines.

But it’s all good.  John Roberts has told us we live in a post-racial America, and John Roberts is an honorable man.

Image: Anonymous painter, Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud ben Mohammed Anoun, Moorish Ambassador to Queen Elizabeth I, 1600.

Things To Think About Before We Blow Sh*t Up

March 27, 2012

James Fallows pointed me to this depressingly smart piece by Stephen M. Walt, up now at the Foreign Policy website.  Walt gives us 10 lessons we should learn from our Iraq fiasco, from number 1 — we lost — through the point Fallows highlights, number 3, in which we learn what happens when the political and media Villages rush to outdo each other in feckless groupthink and morally bankrupt cheerleading folly.*

Me, I’ll  pony up Walt’s conclusion:

Because it is not clear if any U.S. approach would have succeeded at an acceptable cost, the real lesson of Iraq is not to do stupid things like this again.

The U.S. military has many virtues, but it is not good at running other countries. And it is not likely to get much better at it with practice. We have a capital-intensive army that places a premium on firepower, and we are a country whose own unusual, melting-pot history has made us less sensitive to the enduring power of nationalism, ethnicity, and other local forces.

Furthermore, because the United States is basically incredibly secure, it is impossible to sustain public support for long and grinding wars of occupation. Once it becomes clear that we face a lengthy and messy struggle, the American people quite properly begin to ask why we are pouring billions of dollars and thousands of lives into some strategic backwater. And they are right.

So my last lesson is that we shouldn’t spend too much time trying to figure out how to do this sort of thing better, because we’re never going to do it well and it will rarely be vital to our overall security. Instead, we ought to work harder on developing an approach to the world that minimizes the risk of getting ourselves into this kind of war again.

In between Walt’s insistence that we honestly confront our loss in Iraq and this rather pious last hope, this short essay examines many important, depressing truths.  Read the whole thing.  We’ll need to keep reminding selves and others of these desperately hard-won realizations, given that the usual suspects, only to willing to spend somebody else’s blood, are urging us into the next war.

(And yes. I know I’ve posted this tune before. You gonna make something of it?)

*No matter how often I watch the Mustache of Understanding talk about “American boys and girls going house to house from Basra to Bagdad,” his faux-macho willingness to send other folks kids to blow up still other folks and their kids makes me mouth vomit.

Image:  Jacob Cornelisz. van Oostsanen, (attr.) Laughing Fool, c. 1500.

The Collapse of the American Empire Won’t Be Televised…

April 4, 2011

…because we’ll want the juice to light up the last pixels on our flat-screens.

Let’s begin with this:

The world may have no more than half a century of oil left at current rates of consumption, while surging demand from the developing world threatens to create “very significant price rises” before substitutes like biofuels can serve as viable alternatives, the British bank HSBC warns in a new report.

“We’re confident that there are around 50 years of oil left,” Karen Ward, the bank’s [HSBC’s] senior global economist, said in an interview on CNBC.

Now, before I get too deep in the weeds, let me concede that all measures of resource reserves are suspect.  The key phrase above is “may have no more”  —  as in we may in fact be able to extract more than half a century of oil left at current or even greater rates of consumption.  The central issue, though is that the driver of additional supply is price.  We’ll find more oil — maybe lots more — as the scarcity of the easy pickings drives prices up to levels that make the more exotic, more difficult to access sources economically viable.

Which ends up at the same place:  an economy based on cheap energy can’t survive as we push past peak oil.

That dismal thought provides the segue to this (pdf):

The Americas region is a distant third in the race for clean energy investment, attracting $65.8 billion overall in 2010. Investments in the United States rebounded 51 percent over 2009 levels to reach $34 billion, [roughly 2007 levels] but the United States continued to slide down the top 10 list, falling from second to third.  Given uncertainties surrounding key policies and incentives, the United States’ competitive position in the clean energy sector is at risk.

This bit of cheer comes from the Pew Charitable Trusts’ latest report on the state of renewable energy investment around the world.  The picture painted there is mixed.  Investment in renewables worldwide has shot upwards from lows attained in the midst of the 2008-9 banking/economic collapse. But the US continues to relinquish the field to more ambitious and focused competitors:

For a variety of reasons, the United States’ competitive position appears to be eroding. Stimulus funding that helped the clean energy industry recover from sharp recessionary declines will expire this year, and there is little indication of any significant policies or incentives to fill the gap in the near future.  In fact, investors have noted ongoing uncertainty in United States policy as a key reason that capital is sitting on the  sidelines, or looking for certainty and opportunity abroad.   Concerns include a lack of clarity on the direction of energy policy, uncertainty surrounding continuation of key financial incentives (e.g., production and investment tax credits), and disproportionate government supports for century-old fossil energy sources. These uncertainties for clean energy are reflected in the United States’ subpar standing on a variety of key measures, including the five-year rate of investment growth and investment intensity.

Translation:  Big Oil plus Republicans means the Chinese (especially) and the Europeans are going to eat our lunch in our energy future.

If current trends hold, we will lag both on installed capacity and on the international economic opportunity open to those who can provide the renewable energy sources that will become more important, and more economically viable, with each hike in the cost of a barrel of crude.

Put that another way: we could and should be playahs in what seems likely to be the most significant economic transition since Pennsylvania crude first knocked the whaling industry into the dustbin of history, but we most likely won’t because of fools like these.

This is how empires die.  We won’t disappear; our trajectory seems to me to resemble Britain’s, or perhaps Spain’s.  We’ll continue to think very well of ourselves indeed, whilst our children, maybe even my own beloved son, will trip off to Beijing or Berlin the way in 1949 my mum escaped still-rationed Britain in to check out this side of the pond.

We’ll grumble.  That our neighbors might have figured out another way will seem somewhere between unpossible and unacceptable.

Images:  Vincent van Gogh, Factories at Asnieres, seen from the Quai de Clichy, 1887.

Frank Robbins, Drake Well, the first oil well, 1846

Carly Fiorina Reveals the Source of Her Failure at HP: Can’t Walk, Chew Gum at the same time/shouldn’t be a Senator edition.

June 17, 2010

So, stylist/Senatorial candidate Carly Fiorina is turning her attention away from her opponents ‘do to more serious matters.

Unfortunately, she brings the same gravitas to the question of confronting the gulf oil disaster that she did to the matter of Barbara Boxer’s hair.

The AP reports today that while she supports President Obama’s success in compelling BP to come up with a $20 billion escrow fund to cover local losses, she disapproves of another part of his handling of the crisis:

Fiorina, who is trying to unseat Democrat Barbara Boxer of California, said the president should be focused on capping the leak and cleaning up the oil, not working with Boxer on greenhouse gas legislation.

“President Obama’s emphasis right now should be on cleaning up the spill, something (Sen.) Dianne Feinstein clearly recognized when she said, ‘cap-and-trade legislation isn’t going to clean up the spill,'” Fiorina said.

Instead, she said the president is planning to meet with Boxer to discuss the climate change bill.

“I think our commander in chief’s attention should be devoted exclusively to cleaning up the spill and to making sure that the residents of the Gulf Coast receive the relief that they so desperately need,” Fiorina said after her visit to Rex Moore Electrical Contractors and Engineers in Sacramento.

Oh FSM! Where to begin?

Last time I looked, American presidents have to be able to think about more than one thing at a time — and to do so beyond the next quarter’s results.  Actually, as people have been pointing out for a while, that’s President Obama’s particular strength.

Fiorina , it seems, would rather have it that Obama do nothing but don his scuba outfit and put what one blogospheric type called his magic tampon down the Deepwater Horizon well.  (Apologies to the mystery wit; lost the link in the day’s surf madness Thanks to commenter Courtney below for pointing to the correct attribution.  We love the blogosphere. 😉

Heaven forfend that he should also think about the context of the spill:  the fact that the need to drill in conditions in some ways more difficult than those of outer space is the direct consequence of an unsustainable dependence on oil as one of our chief sources of energy.

“Cleaning up the spill” is a critical task, of course — but after organizing the executive branch to do so, while fending off GOP resistance to, say, “making sure the residents of the Gulf Coast” get the help they need, there is a limit to the number of hours Obama can usefully give to that job out of every 24.  But there is a larger concern, one with several levels — which is how to prevent repeats of the disaster.

Clearly that involves looking at what went wrong at both the drill site and in the regulatory process that allowed BP and its drilling partners/subcontractors to get away with as many shortcuts as it appears they did.  Making the drilling process work better is clearly a good thing

But there is, of course, a larger context, which is that dependence on oil as a primary energy source is a long term loser, not simply in the sense that the peak oil concept suggests, but given the fact that exploitation of oil compels us to accept risk that over time will produce various disastrous outcomes.  Bad spills, cash flows to unstable regions and hostile folks, wars from time to time are all part of the cost of oil. They aren’t “accidents,” “natural disasters” or acts of God.  They are anticipatable, if not precisely predictable outcomes of what you have to do where to get oil out of the interior of the earth. Not to mention the use of oil carries with it significant, real environmental costs (and not just global warming).

Note also this map — versions of it been making the round of  the ‘tubes lately.  Note, as many have , just how much of that fossil fuel infrastructure is concentrated around the Louisiana coast in particular, and the Gulf Coast more generally

Put all that together, it seems to me that trying to work out how to reduce the role of oil (and other fossil fuels) as energy sources is an integral part of responding to this specific catastrophe — and it even seems like it would be directly relevent to what the folks on the Gulf Coast need if a total disruption (and/or extinction) of a lot of ways of life down there isn’t going to recur every few years.

To repeat: Presidents have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. The last GOP hopeful who denied this lost, badly, to the man now in the office that requires such mental agility.

So:  Fiorina is an idiot.

But we knew that.

I’ll leave you with the thought that what’s actually interesting about Fiorina’s inadvertent self-revelation here is that her reaction is precisely that of someone incapable of thinking past the immediate horizon — nothing matters more than hitting the next quarter’s numbers, in the context of her experience.  That’s a crappy way to run a business — and it is a much worse way to run a government.

Image:  General view of Funkville in 1864, Oil Creek, Pennsylvania

The CIA Has Joined the Vast Climate Change Conspiracy.

January 5, 2010

Read this article in the New York Times.*

Here’s the gist of what it’s talking about in this effort to piggy back on national technical intelligence gathering tools (satellites, remote sensing, etc.):

The nation’s top scientists and spies are collaborating on an effort to use the federal government’s intelligence assets — including spy satellites and other classified sensors — to assess the hidden complexities of environmental change. They seek insights from natural phenomena like clouds and glaciers, deserts and tropical forests….In the last year, as part of the effort, the collaborators have scrutinized images of Arctic sea ice from reconnaissance satellites in an effort to distinguish things like summer melts from climate trends, and they have had images of the ice pack declassified to speed the scientific analysis.

The investigators tout the access to data that can be acquired in no other way; they note its economic significance (ice forecasts, aids to oil and gas exploration; and the article also notes that the CIA itself has perceived a national security concern in the prospect of climate change.

And with that, here’s the gist of what I want to talk about:

In October, days after the C.I.A. opened a small unit to assess the security implications of climate change, Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, said the agency should be fighting terrorists, “not spying on sea lions.”

and

The program resurrects a scientific group that from 1992 to 2001 advised the federal government on environmental surveillance. Known as Medea, for Measurements of Earth Data for Environmental Analysis, the group sought to discover if intelligence archives and assets could shed light on issues of environmental stewardship.

It is unclear why Medea died in the early days of the Bush administration, but President George W. Bush developed a reputation for opposing many kinds of environmental initiatives. Officials said the new body was taking on the same mandate and activities, as well as the name.

Perhaps the problem is that the scientific opportunity was and is immense.  Among the most difficult elements of the climate system to study is the cryosphere — the ice covered portions of the earth’s surface.

Understanding ice dynamics, especially those of sea and polar pack ice, is an essential component in coming to grips with a whole range of important issues in climate change:  the rate at which it is occurirng, the sensitivity of the climate system to various forcings, the risk of rapid alteration in parts or the whole of the global climate system.  (See as one example among a ton of such research, this paper picked up at random through the magic of teh google.)

If therefore, your political advantage rests (a) with a denial of the usefulness of expertise, of verifiable knowledge combined with the training and skill needed to interpret the data and (b) with economic interests for whom the reality of climate change is costly, what should one do but shut down a cash and risk-free program that would help us grasp the predicament of the planet.  Better a joke about sea lions than inconvenient truths.

And by the way: for all those who say Obama is no different from the guy, consider this:

The Obama administration has said little about the effort publicly but has backed it internally, officials said. In November, the scientists met with Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A. director.

“Director Panetta believes it is crucial to examine the potential national security implications of phenomena such as desertification, rising sea levels and population shifts,” Paula Weiss, an agency spokeswoman, said.

Elections matter.  They matter in this country now more than ever.  And if you care about science — and I don’t mean just funding levels, but rather the ideal of science, the notion that living a good life includes notion that it is better to know what’s going on than to dream of sugar plum fairies — then the difference between the two parties in their approach to science is existential.

None of this “they’re all alike…I’ll vote for Nader” sh*t, in other words.  We have work to do this and every year.

*I dump on the MSM with reasonable regularity.  I’m working on one of my several thousand word screeds about the Times’ own David Brooks right now.  But it’s important to remember how big media institutions matter — and encourage them to do more of what the informal media can’t.  This is an example.  The article turned on a reporter’s ability to access both very high level science sources (Ralph Cicerone is a seriously good get, for those of you without scorecards handy) and with at least some kind of hook into the intelligence community.  That takes institutional support to develop sources and an understanding of your beat.  So kudos to reporter Bill Broad, one of the Times’ long lasting good ones, and to the great grey lady formerly of 43rd St. herself.

That kind of knowledge/access can be acquired from an independent base — but it’s very hard and it is what the big media at its best distinguishes itself by achieving.  If only places like the Times, and even the Post, long since returned to its roots as the house organ/gossip rag for DC, understood that the one real unique asset they have is reporting other people can’t do because they lack the scale and institutional memory to do so.  That’s a barrier to entry no amount of internet servers can bridge.  Go there, my friends.  We need you to do so, and you can make money there.

Image: Caspar David Friedrich, “Wreck in the Ice Pack” 1798.