Republicans seem to be saying: bring it on

Bringing it on is good if you like chaos and autocracy, with maybe some theocracy thrown into boot. Recent Supreme Court decisions have made Republicans giddy with delight. States are already innovating new and more oppressive measures to screw it to people they don’t like, which are principally people of color and women, of course, but ideally both.

None of this is particularly surprising, but it’s incredibly depressing that the party is overrun with sadists, because only sadists find enjoyment from inflicting pain on others. They are so high on putting people in pain that they are oblivious about what’s really happening: they are gung ho for creating a world-wide planetary disaster and war. Which, not to put too fine a point on it, will be killing a lot of Republicans too.

Drunk on power and lusting after acquiring more though, that they’re killing themselves too is clearly out of thought and out of mind. After all they know what’s best for the rest of us little people. Donald Trump knew that only he could solve all those problems he didn’t solve. And despite marginally agreeing that he instigated January 6, all but a tiny percent of them will happily vote him into office again.

How can this not be a pro-death policy for the country and the world?

Republican officials across the country, tearing a page from the ongoing culture wars, are launching a broad assault on the movement by big financial firms to use their economic power to curb climate change and address other politically sensitive national issues.

That’s right: to be a good Republican you must be against even the use of private corporate money to address climate change. Of course, they are already dead set against the government doing anything about it. One of the recent Supreme Court decisions that made them giddy was one that greatly reduced the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon, deferring much of this to the states.

What made them giddiest though was the overturning of Roe v. Wade. In one decision, they’ve managed to relegate women to second class citizens again. According to the court’s majority, this is perfectly okay because abortion laws are deeply rooted in our history. Except they aren’t. Abortion laws were largely nonexistent until near the mid 19th century and curiously arrived shortly after the American Medical Association was formed and pressed the states for them. Birthing was good business for them. The AMA was an organization which at the time consisted of virtually all men, as did virtually all state legislatures because, well, except in Wyoming women couldn’t vote. Well, at least that part is deeply rooted. You can learn more about the real history of U.S. abortion laws here.

So of course it’s time to dial it up to 11. Unquestionably, if Republicans control the White House and Congress again, they’ll make prohibiting abortions a law, invalidating all state laws.

The good thing about being convinced that you are right means you can’t possibly let actual facts control your thinking. So, at least in Ohio, you are perfectly okay with a ten year old girl, a victim of rape, being forced to carry the pregnancy to term. After all, you are pro-life, just not pro the life of a ten year old girl or her parents to have bodily autonomy. One crazy Republican Montana state legislator made the outrageous claim that women don’t own their uteruses; it’s apparently property of the state to control as it wishes. His logic: it serves no purpose to her life and wellbeing.

News flash: by this logic, men shouldn’t control their own penises either. It serves no purpose to his life and wellbeing either, except for the enjoyment of masturbation and fornication. And we all know that that is sinful, at least in the eyes of the Catholic and Mormon Churches. By this logic, the state has every right to control men’s genitals too.

If abortion is an egregious crime, let’s cage all male genitals so abortion can’t happen. By law then every boy that reaches puberty should have chastity cages around their genitals. By law they should be removed only by wives and only during conjugal relations. Of course intercourse would have to be in the missionary position!

Ha ha! As if! Of course men will continue to rape women, masturbate, indulge in prostitution et al, no matter how draconian our abortion laws become. Not one of these anti-abortion legislators would consider for a moment solutions like this. That’s because, duh, they’re men. They get to set the rules.

Abortion laws are not about protecting life. Abortion laws are about controlling women. That’s their whole point! Even the idea of medical castration being required for unmarried men would be dismissed by any of these right to lifers. As any man will tell you, a penis is like a firearm. It likes to be locked, loaded, oiled, stroked and fired from time to time. It’s obviously protected by the Second Amendment. Just as they have complete freedom to use their firearms whenever or in however way they want (after all, a good guy with a gun will make sure they don’t hurt anyone – see Uvalde, Texas shooting) they demand the right to use their genital gun to impregnate any female they want at any time, including ten year old girls.

How could we think otherwise? They’re white males so obviously they know what’s best. In fact, Jesus created the United States to give them just these special privileges. It’s in the U.S. Constitution, or something.

So what’s the point of this post? Simply to state the obvious: Republicans are power drunk and plan on getting much more so. Logic is illogical. They are after control, control, control. It’s that simple and they don’t care who they have to hurt to get there, as long as it’s not them. After all, they are on a holy mission: Jesus, the Bible and their gut tells them so. Fascism is obviously the means toward this end, and democracy is wholly expendable in the process.

Canceling summer

Last month the Union of Concerned Scientists, looking at the large number of unusual weather events in our hottest months, gave a new name to the months of May through October: the Danger Season.

They were stating the obvious: with all that extra energy in the northern hemisphere, and with our general refusal to reduce the gasses that caused it, these months are becoming full of dangerous moments: record and sustained heat waves, more frequent and more powerful hurricanes and tornados, and wildfires that just in Russia consumed over 17 million hectares just in 2021, a dubious world record.

That’s certainly not all of it. In the American West, the area is undergoing a record drought and the Colorado River is drying up. Also, Yellowstone National Park experienced record floods when flooding wasn’t even in the forecast. Much of the park is effectively shut down for the summer. It was a once in five hundred years flood, but you’d be wise expect a similar flood to occur there much sooner.

Summer vacation, it seems, is getting canceled. Summer is becoming not just hot, but oppressive and dangerous. If you are seeking the great outdoors during the summer, when you are not dodging wildfires and extreme heat, you are likely driving as far north as you can. That probably explains why New England roads feel like they are bumper to bumper this time of year. Taking I-95 to Maine this time of year often means dealing with gridlock. You are unlikely to escape it by trying U.S. 1 instead, which is the same but slower, particularly around sea resorts like Kennebunkport.

We might as well face facts. Summer is now a time when we should be largely indoors, which means that children should be in school in the summer. They might as well be learning because really, who wants to be outdoors when the heat index is in the hundreds or higher and in many places the humidity makes being outdoors for more than fifteen minutes painful and dangerous? Perhaps summer vacation should be moved to the spring. Perhaps winter break should be extended to a whole month. Then we could enjoy the great outdoors when it is likely to be enjoyable and safe.

My siblings, mostly retired, have canceled reunions in the summer. We tried one in 2015 in the area we grew up in: New York’s southern tier. When we lived there as children we didn’t have an air conditioner. We had an attic fan. On really hot days our mom put a box fan on the floor of the living room. Now, every house has one. We rented some cabins at Chenango State Park (no air conditioning) to find the heat and humidity crushing. People couldn’t wait to leave. So subsequent reunions in the summer are out. Last fall we had one in Virginia’s Tidewater area. We’ve scheduled another this year around the same time near Asheville, North Carolina.

The last summer vacation we took was in 2017 when we went to visit my last remaining aunt in Michigan. It wasn’t too bad but we were largely indoors. But we remembered other vacations in Michigan when the heat topped over 100 degrees. Taking a Jetski out in Saginaw Bay did little to cool us off. I haven’t given up summer vacation altogether, but I know when we take one it will be in the northern latitudes, where we already live.

For much of the world, escaping the danger season isn’t an option. People are already recognizing that the climate won’t be changing for the better and are migrating toward the poles. It’s going to get much, much worse. In the American West, most of its residents are choosing to live in denial as the Colorado River basin dries up. The aquifers are being tapped out. Water for agricultural use is already being cut back severely, but quotas from the Colorado River are being dropped for all the states that draw from it. Like it or not, much of those living in the West will be fleeing eastward or northward in the next decade or two. The smarter ones should already be planning to move while they can still get full value for their properties.

The same should be true for many people living along the coasts. Successive waves of floods, hurricanes and nor’easters will have them rebuilding their houses over and over again. Our planet is changing fundamentally, and almost all of it is our own fault.

We can do much to mitigate a lot of what’s coming, but if the present is any guide to the future, we largely won’t. Americans specialize in denialism. It won’t keep it from happening. In fact, we will make it worse. Those into denialism also tend to be right wing and conservative. It will feed their anger because these are events they can’t control, and elevate their feelings of self-righteousness and that they have to “get theirs” while they can so others can’t.

My daughter is moving to Portland, Maine and is planning to live downtown, at least to start. It’s at prime risk of sea level rise. Hopefully she won’t live there long enough to be affected by it. But she knows the climate will be more tolerable in Maine than it is near Washington, D.C. where she is now living. She’s is the worst of it at the moment. Julys are miserable in the area, fed by an unrelenting toxic mixture of heat, humidity and ozone. It’s like living in Florida this time of year, but without the palm trees. But she also wants to living in Maine because it’s closer to Canada. She’s hoping for a quick escape there if the country turns into a Handmaid’s Tale situation. I keep warning her that Canadians aren’t likely to let in millions of Americans like her.

It’s clear to me that climate change will define the rest of my life. Those lovely summers that I remember are gone for good, rendered moot by a world awash in capitalism and climate denialism. It’s easy to predict a lot of misery ahead.

Blogging in unprecedented and depressing times

Well, this is new: two new email subscribers to my blog in less than twenty four hours! Welcome! Occam’s Razor is a very obscure back corner of the internet, so it’s flattering when I get new subscribers. I hope you find it is worth your time.

In 2002, when I started blogging, it was chic. For a time it was glorious to be a blogger, even an obscure blogger like me that likes to publish anonymously. I rode a wave. I’d routinely get hundreds of page views a day with no effort. Also, people would leave comments.

But things rarely stay novel on the Internet. Blogging got commercialized and monetized. Tech firms found ways to move readers to aggregator sites and social networks that were more interesting and more profitable. To get your blog read, you generally needed to be some sort of minor celebrity, or, more recently, attach yourself to a major blogging platform like Substack. That’s why I’ve ruminated ending the blog in December when I hit the twenty year mark. Now, maybe not so much.

In truth, to succeed in blogging you had to work hard at it: posting regularly and spending a lot of time marketing it. Then you had to hope that people would want to read your blog. I simply didn’t have the energy to give it that kind of attention. I care enough about the blog to try to post to it regularly and to make a post as interesting and insightful as I can, but not enough to market it. Besides, it’s not a blog for most people. It’s a blog for the intellectually curious, or at least I hope it’s that.

I’m a guy that thinks a lot. It’s human to look for meaning in life even though with so much chaos in life it’s doubtful that much meaning can really be ascribed to it. Still, I’m convinced that that while not everything in life has meaning, a lot of it does. When I can piece together these inferences, it’s hard for me not to share my insights here.

It’s clear to me that we live in unprecedented times. Things are more likely to end badly than not as all sorts of macro forces are at work. We simply lack the national and international will to change things at the moment. There are attempts, like the Paris Climate Accords. But because we live in a world of countries, and each one is autonomous, there’s no way to orchestrate the change that is needed. As disorder gets worse, it may spur the change that is needed. Vested interests though are hard at work to keep this from happening.

We are being played. Republicans play to the fears of their base, and actually inflame those fears to make things worse. In the last ten years it’s gotten clearly Orwellian. Republicans in general simply refuse to accept facts. Trump himself said he loves the uneducated. No wonder because he’s appallingly ignorant on so many levels. The latest example reported recently is that he thought China was using weapons to create hurricanes.

It’s but just one example of an endless supply of baseless and supremely ignorant ideas Trump and Republicans in general wallow in all the time, like Hunter Biden’s laptop. It’s done to acquire power because it’s well known that appears to emotion easily out trump appeals to reason. It’s just that in 2016 Trump somehow got put into office and could actually try to act on this crazy stuff. Naturally he was inclined to believe anything that kept him from examining his own logic.

If we feel it is true, then it must be right, regardless of whether science says otherwise. The American west is quickly drying up as the planet heats up. There won’t be the water to sustain the people who live there. They’ll be migrating east, for the most part. It’s not a question of if, but when. Climate change is happening, but even as Indians die from heat so intense their bodies can’t keep up with it, the skeptics won’t entertain the idea that climate change is the root cause.

It’s getting worse and quickly accelerating. So what are people doing? In America, is seems they are mostly migrating to Florida, whose coastlines are already being ravaged. In twenty years Miami will mostly be underwater. My sister retired from Fort Lauderdale to Titusville. Her house rests on a bluff of sorts about thirty feet above sea level. Good for her but it’s a stopgap measure. She just likes to boat. The most valuable land in the future isn’t in Florida, it is already for sale at bargain prices in states like Ohio and New York where the climate will still accommodate people. Instead, people are moving in droves to doomed states like Florida. It makes no sense.

Just to mitigate climate change around the edges will require rethinking and redoing everything. The American lifestyle is simply not sustainable. It requires people to act and think logically and coherently. It means trusting in scientists. It means hunkering down, eating less meat and living more like a village lifestyle than a jetsetter’s lifestyle. It means having fewer children, reclaiming blighted areas and ending deforestation. At some point it will means closing economic markets like Brazil and, yes, potentially the United States, until we act sustainably.

That’s what’s required. But I’m betting we’ll continually choose to fall over our own tied shoelaces instead.

Scaring us stupid

My wife volunteers at both a local survival center and at a local hospital emergency room. In the first job she packages and hands out food to those who don’t have enough of it. In the second she offers comfort to those in the emergency room or in various bays, as well as makes a lot of beds in the ER after a patient leaves.

When she comes home I often tell her she is doing God’s work. This is true. God can’t be bothered to do it himself. He’s got bigger fish to fry. Manna is not going to come down from heaven to feed the hungry. God won’t magically protect you from covid-19 either. If any of this is to happen, it will take people doing good stuff. God is either absent, dead, never existed, or only works through people like my wife.

Ending covid-19 won’t happen through prayer, and reducing greenhouse gases won’t get solved by putting positive thoughts out there. We won’t cure our political dysfunction by doing more of the same. Doing nothing will only move us more quickly toward a dystopian future that is well underway.

The more you try to ignore the reality, the more is smacks you aside your head. That’s true of Southern states in particular right now as the covid-19 delta variant runs rampant across it. It’s happening in other states too, like here in Massachusetts, it’s just not as bad because more of us are vaccinated. When a local outbreak does occur, such as at Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod, the cases tend to be mild and no one actually dies.

That’s our best case covid-19 future for a while. Hopefully vaccination rates will continue to creep up and most people won’t have a cow if they have to mask up again for a while. With luck enough will get vaccinated, not to bring about herd immunity (that now seems a pipe dream, given chronic obstinance to vaccination by many) but to keep a nastier and more lethal covid-19 variants from emerging.

The peculiar nature of these pandemics is they tend to evolve into something worse over time. That was certainly the case with the Spanish flu a hundred years ago, when the second wave was much more widespread and lethal. The delta variant is very scary since it is much more transmissible than previous variants, equivalent to the transmissibility of the chicken pox. It’s quite possible that the next variant will be even more transmissible and potentially resistant to current vaccines.

In short, the next variant may kill a lot more of us, including people like me who are fully vaccinated with one of the best vaccines available. What we can do is get vaccinated if we are not, wear masks when health experts recommend it, work from home if that’s an option and, oh, stop doing stupid stuff like allowing Florida children to go back to public schools maskless while the state is suffering the largest number of new cases per day in the country.

But if you are looking to bring about the end of days, as apparently many evangelical Christians are hoping to do, keep doing what you are doing. Just don’t expect you’ll be around to witness The Rapture. Covid-19 is but a harbinger. There are a full suite of other problems to address including climate change, overpopulation, deforestation and mass migrations that will only get worse if we sit on our hands. We’ve got a lot of work to do, and to fix or at least mitigate things can only be done by human actions.

There are times when I think maybe a little dystopia could be good for us. Appealing to reason or patriotism doesn’t seem to be working with a lot of people. Many people have lost the ability to see or care about anything beyond their immediate circle of family and friends. They think guns and lots of bullets will see them through any tough times, when it will actually take plenty of food, medicine and other people with skills they lack. They assume government is evil when government is the solution. There would be a lot more of us dead right now, perhaps even me, if government-funded vaccine efforts did not start shortly after covid-19 infected people.

If they are going to inadvertently self-select themselves for extermination, I often feel they should keep on doing stupid stuff. It will leave a lot of widows and orphans and innocent victims, but maybe survivors be cared for by others with more common sense than they are exhibiting. Because it’s clear they aren’t getting it now. The rest of us want to live.

Modern life should be scaring us straight. Instead it’s scaring us stupid.

Creating hell on earth

In Lytton, British Columbia the temperature reached 121F on Tuesday. Temperatures across the northwestern United States broke all sorts of records recently, not just by a little, but by a lot. The heat in British Columbia though really drove the nail in the coffin. Temperatures above 100F anywhere in Canada is exceptionally rare anytime in the summer, and summer has just begun. A massive heat bubble is to blame, but what’s really to blame in climate change, principally driven by humans largely dithering on mitigating its impact.

Excessive heat has become a standard feature of summer here in the northern hemisphere but also in the southern one during their summers. Accompanying it are large changes to precipitation patterns that that is making the west even drier and creating large-scale fires.

It’s getting hard to escape the heat. It used to be that we would travel in the summer, but lately the only places that hold any appeal this time of year are the cooler and more temperate northern latitudes. Except now you can’t even count on that. It was hotter in British Columbia on Tuesday than it was in Las Vegas, where the high was “only” 117F.

Where I live (Western Massachusetts) it’s pretty dang hot too, just not anywhere near these crazy temperatures out west. We’ve had highs in the mid to upper nineties since Sunday, which is horrible heat for this area. I make a point of going outside for a daily walk, but not these last few days. It’s too crazy hot for even me to venture outdoors for long. On Sunday I took an early morning walk, but even though I left before 9 AM and mostly stayed under the trees, the humidity was oppressive as the temperatures were in the mid 80s. I finished the walk drenched from head to toe. For a while, I am exercising indoors on the treadmill. I don’t even want to fetch the mail from the kiosk on days like this. Relief is expect to arrive late tonight.

Unfortunately, the United States is perhaps the largest contributor to greenhouse gasses. Our wealth also puts us in a good position to actually do something about it. While there’s lots to do, there are many quick wins that can be done rather inexpensively. It’s excessive methane emissions that are the worst pollutants these days. Fracking wells probably contribute most of this methane. We could require that these wells be fixed and not to flare excess natural gas, or to require them to be capped. Of course we don’t, although the Biden administration is starting to take steps in this area.

Like with covid-19 vaccine hesitation, so much of climate change could be mitigated, but there are obstinate political forces, almost exclusively controlled by the Republican Party, that make it excruciatingly difficult to do much about them. Congressional Republicans are all for infrastructure, as long as improving infrastructure is limited to roads, bridges and the like and, of course, doesn’t raise their taxes. Forget about caps on carbon pollution, investing in clean energy and reducing pollution by expanding broadband access. If these get through Congress, it will be through a reconciliation bill in the Senate where two Democratic senators (Manchin and Sinema) will control the bill and likely water down the serious provisions needed to address climate change.

The effect of all of this procrastination and obstinacy is obvious and all around us. Mother Nature could not be doing more to put climate change right in our faces, and yet we still dither and refuse to acknowledge reality. And as bad as things are now, it’s but a taste of what’s coming, which is much, much more of the same and for longer periods of time. All this will exacerbate human migration and sea level rise, which increases poverty, misery, strife, conflict and the likelihood of war. Climate change is obviously our number one national security threat. We should be working our tails off to lessen its impact here and working with other nations to reduce its impact elsewhere. No one can escape its effects.

As if to hammer in the point, there was the recent catastrophic collapse of the Champlain Towers South in Seaside, Florida, north of Miami. So far the official death toll is twelve, but 149 remain unaccounted for as rescue teams try rather fruitlessly to find survivors. There are two likely culprits to this collapse: rising sea levels and willful government ignorance.

The sea level around Miami is on average six inches higher today than it was when the building was constructed in 1980. This fact, tides and Florida’s plentiful rains caused mostly by salt water, wore away the footings of the building’s pool, garage and likely the tower itself. The problem has been known for at least three years. Local and state government weren’t on top of the issue, and the condominium’s owners seemed in no hurry to affect expensive repairs.

The whole Florida coast is being affected by sea level rise. The Champlain Towers example is a harbinger of much worse to come. These towering condos rest on limestone for the most part, not the most stable of foundations, and easily eroded by sea water which is now regularly encroaching on these properties. Sump pumps can keep water from eating away at the foundation, but like New Orleans it depends on extraordinary human engineering that is costly and ultimately just a delaying action.

Climate change is going to move us inland, whether we want it or not. The only question is how fast and at what cost. Given our dithering on the climate change issue, it’s not hard to figure out the answers: much more quickly than we expect, and at ruinous cost and a lot of pointless misery for millions of us. We are literally creating hell not just for us but for many generations to come. And much of it is wholly avoidable if we simply put the common good before our own selfishness.

I’m feeling sick and you should too

I was in Boston last week when the massive heat wave struck. I was there to attend a Wordcamp, a gathering of people interested in WordPress. (WordPress powers forty percent of websites, including this one.) While the “camp” was great (in part because it was indoors), the heat outside was oppressive. Walking eight blocks or so to dinner from my hotel nearly gave me sunstroke.

For a while, I walked beside a homeless man with a shopping cart. Inside were his prized possessions, such as they were. They included two plastic jugs of water that he kept drinking from. He put on a happy face though amongst his profuse sweating. “Love the heat, love the heat”, he intoned, moving down the sidewalk.

It was probably 98 degrees. To me it, was about as brutal a heat as I could ever remember, which included one 104-degree day in Virginia’s humidity. It was perhaps made worse by all the asphalt and concrete around me. I eventually found the Jewish deli where I had dinner. The threat of heatstroke went away when the waitress poured me glass after glass of ice water.

The homeless man proved to be more resilient than I was, but he had no choice. I figure it would have killed me had I had to stay out in it all day. I felt woozy, sticky, terribly uncomfortable and sweaty beyond belief. I couldn’t fathom how people endured this kind of heat before air conditioning. The truth is though that most of the time they didn’t have to because it very rarely got so hot. What I was experiencing was climate change in action. It is only going to get worse.

I remember back to the 1970s when the Environmental Protection Agency was first established. By the end of the decade, the skies were largely clean and the rivers largely unpolluted. We felt like we had pollution under control. Climate change was not on anyone’s radar, except by maybe some outlier scientists. No wonder that when Ronald Reagan declared Morning in America again in the 1980s we were so enthusiastic. Off went the solar panels on top of the White House that dopey Jimmy (“cardigan sweater”) Carter had put up. We went back to getting our energy the old fashioned way, which at the time meant importing oil from mostly corrupt Middle East countries that we supported. We did manage to modestly increase fuel efficiency standards over the decades, but mostly we tuned out Al Gore’s warnings. Trump, of course, is doubling down on willful ignorance. And he’s hardly alone. In Brazil, their new Trump-like president Jair Bolsonaro declared open season on what’s left of the Amazon.

Addressing climate change is not entirely hopeless, but nearly so. With the exception of the United States, most developed countries agree there is a problem but most are taking half measures at best to address it. It doesn’t begin to realistically address the crisis. To realistically address the crisis, we all need to work together. Moreover, there is no short-term solution. It will require generations of work and carefully nurturing of our ecosystems. In the best case there will be much more massive deforestation, widespread species destruction, mass migrations and added misery and poverty. There’s a lot to be afraid of as the crisis worsens. Most people react to fear by building walls like the Supreme Court decided Trump could do on our southern border on Friday. Countries will try to have their cake and eat it too, which will make things worse for everyone.

Heat and misery then are now the new normal, but the effects of 108-degree records in cities like Paris recently are just beginning. It’s already pushing sea levels to rise but this will get much worse too. There are ten million people in Jakarta, Indonesia but most of it is expected to disappear under rising seas as it sits at just (or below) sea level. And it’s but one of the cities to be impacted the worst by climate change. Everything is changing, and none of it is changing for the better because of climate change.

So I was feeling sick not just from the heat, but because of the legacy I am leaving to my daughter’s generation and all future generations. They may expect that their lives will closely resemble the lives they were born into, but that’s largely not going to be the case. Their lives are likely to be shorter, more miserable and with a lower standard of living than their parents’.

But it’s not just future generations but also my generation too. At least financially I am the exception, but I see plenty of people in my generation that are living precarious lives largely unknown by their parents. I learned this week that my friend from childhood, Tom, is working at a distribution center. He’s just another Amazon droid in a poorly air conditioned warehouse shoving things into bins for distant customers for a little over $15.00/hour. Tom is an extremely talented advertising professional, but at age 61 he simply can’t find much beyond spot work for doing what he does best and most profitably. He’s been aged out and his industry favors the young. So while you sleep, Tom is shuffling things into bins for a fraction of what he’s worth. The only good part for Tom is that Amazon was shamed into raising wages to $15.00/hour. Also, because he works nights he gets a small bonus. Tom is hardly alone. Maybe $15.00/hour is a living wage, but not for a man with a mortgage, a wife, and two kids, one of who is going through a gender transition.

I feel sick for Tom not to mention his friend Jeff who is in a similar situation, and that the economy is failing millions like them. I feel sick for that homeless man too. Being retired and comfortable financially, I spend a fair amount of my leisure trying to rectify the mess my generation has made, such as helping to create a community network. But it’s not nearly enough. The problem is so massive it looks hopeless. I know that fear is a very strong motivator. But since most of us are short-term thinkers, our fear will be used against us to make our lives even more miserable. Malicious idiots seem to be in charge everywhere, and most of us are stupid enough to keep allowing them to do so.

No wonder that I feel sick. I have a feeling though that this is a condition I will never recover from. Neither will you.

Future generations are going to loath Republicans

The Republican Party has been reaching something of a zenith lately. For a brief while they controlled Congress. They still control the White House and arguably they control the courts, at least the Supreme Court, the one that matters most. They control 33 governorships, the most since at least 1990 and have 22 trifectas: where they control both houses of state government and the governorship (Democrats have 13 trifectas.)

But it’s going to really suck to be a Republican in the future. Republicans will be loathed and it’s not hard to see why. The most obvious reason is that they did almost everything possible to not address climate change. Donald Trump will be the most loathed of the bunch, but anyone that supported his agenda will be (at best) hissed at. Fortunately, most of these prominent Republicans are wealthy enough to move to the Cayman Islands. I’d say they’d best move there ASAP. But having been to the Cayman Islands, I discovered it’s not far above sea level. As islands in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico go, it’s going to be one of the first to be mostly underwater as sea levels rise.

People will be looking for someone to blame, and you can basically indict the entire Republican Party. Moreover, they don’t seem to learn. In Oregon, a few Republican legislators are not showing up for work. They are trying to prevent a bill from passing that will help the state address climate change through lack of a quorum. Yes, they want Oregon to keep worsening the climate crisis. The optics of this already looks bad. Imagine how bad it will look like in ten years.

They are much worse than the No-Nothings of the 19th century. They either deny undeniable facts or believe them and simply don’t care to address them. It’s hard to say which is worse. Just not caring about the climate crisis is bad enough, but they actively support policies that will make our future even chancier and bleaker is much worse. A migration crisis is already underway, but it’s only 1% as bad as it’s going to get. Republicans are actively making it even worse.

We could be working to contain these crises, by doing things like investing in Central America so its governments are less oppressive and their citizens can have some hope for the future. Instead, to punish them we are taking away what little money we give them. And since at least Reagan, Republicans have been supporting dictators down there. The political repression in places like Honduras, Venezuela and Guatemala are driving the crisis.

Finally, the concentration camps we are creating along our border with Mexico are getting some attention. From a party that almost universally wants to force mothers to carry children to term, even if impregnated by rape or incest, they systematically abuse children in these camps. A Trump spokesman actually went to court to tell the court that these children don’t need soap or showers. It’s not just children who are being treated inhumanely, but most of the other adults too. Putting too many people into “camps” not sized for their population in the definition of a concentration camp. Yet many Republicans are aghast that some are calling them what they really are. No, they are not death camps, at least not yet, although apparently influenza and other preventable diseases are widespread within them, and many migrants have died under our custody. Still, it’s not hard to see a Donald Trump in his second term feeling empowered to turn them into death camps as yet another “final solution”.

Then of course was their rape and pillage of the rest of us: the obscene tax cuts for the wealthy, the constant cutting of benefits like food stamps and Medicare, mostly unsuccessful efforts to kill Obamacare, the dumping of more pollution into our atmosphere and waterways and the ensuing health affects they cause that are already underway. Trump apparently thinks if you can’t see the pollution, it doesn’t count: as if someone suffering from asthma won’t have worse asthma when more of these pollutants are thrown into the atmosphere. Worldwide, 6.5 million death occur annually from poor air quality. In the United States, it kills about 200,000 people a year, and those are 2013 figures. This is far more people than are killed in auto accidents annually (about 37,000 people). These numbers are likely on the rise. All this from the so-called Party of Life!

The Republican Party will be seen as the selfish death and greed party who were predominantly responsible for making our country a poorer and increasingly problematic place to live. They ignored all evidence that suggested they were wrong. Since Trump, they have labeled anything of this evidence as “fake news”, claiming it can’t possibly be correct and were deliberately faked. No one will want to be a Republican and at some point no one will admit to being a Republican because it will be too dangerous.

They are likely to get a comeuppance, and it will probably be in the form of radical income redistribution as we try, probably futilely, to save our nation and our planet. They will be lucky if people don’t come after them with pitchforks. So now would be a good time for Republicans to have sudden change of hearts, but it probably won’t make much difference to future generations that will try to cope with the wreckage they mostly caused.

Republicans, move to the Cayman Islands while you can but it’s unlikely that the citizens there will treat you any more kindly.

Snowbirding

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s cold out there … at least across most of the country. In western Massachusetts where we live we’ve been bearing much of the worst of it, enduring temperatures more familiar to North Dakota in January than even here in snowy New England. We’ve only been residents here two years, but we hear from the locals that this is cold even by New England’s winter standards. Cold and snowy. Christmas was picture perfect, with four inches falling starting around midnight. Since then we got above freezing just once, and very briefly. Mostly though it’s been cold and getting colder with daily highs in the low teens Fahrenheit if it makes it that far. When I went to bed last night, it was -4F. Overnight it got down to -12F, breaking the -11F low from the day before.

This kind of cold pretty much makes you stay indoors. Some poor buggers have no choice but to endure the elements. Workers spent last week at a house next to us under construction, doing what looks like putting in plumbing. With strong gusts of wind the wind chill was frequently in the minus teens. Even inside our house with the gas furnace going it still feels cold. Perhaps it’s aging, but unless I am under the covers my legs feel cold.

Which is why New Englanders with money hie thee hither this time of year rather than endure it. On our cul-de-sac except for a widow across the street we are the remaining residents. Fortunately this arctic blast that won’t go away is at least well timed enough to make us appreciate our first attempt at being snowbirds in many years. Come Thursday we fly south to Fort Lauderdale. Come Friday we board the MS Westerman of the Holland America line and spend 15 days and nights on southern seas. I am hoping when we return eighteen days later it might be somewhat seasonal around here again, which means highs around freezing and lows around 20F. Then I can do things like walk outdoors again. Right now when I go anywhere I’m almost immobile in my many layers of coats, scarfs, hats and gloves. I resemble a larger version of Ralphie’s kid brother Randy from A Christmas Story.

It’s going to take a lot of time in tropical climes and sitting on deck chairs for me to thaw out. Of course, to Donald Trump this is all evidence that there is no global warming. Being a moron of course anything that agrees with his predispositions proves him right. There are mostly higher than average temperatures elsewhere across the planet but these reports of course Trump cannot acknowledge. Doubtless he would call these reports Fake News. So what we are enduring this winter is likely to become even more exceptional, which suits me fine. I’m okay with winter as long as it doesn’t become crazy winter. This is crazy winter.

Since we have the means, we’ll escape it for a while and I’ll try to keep you posted. Cruise ships theoretically have Internet, but it’s cost prohibitive for all but the wealthiest. I have discovered that you can rent WiFi hot spots that should work when we are in port. This beats the alternative of trying to find a free WiFi spot somewhere in port. We’ll see if it works out. So expect pictures and remarks of various ports of call over the next few weeks as we slowly sail through the Panama Canal eventually ending up in San Diego. It’s the longest cruise we’ve ever taken, with plenty of days at sea to enjoy on a desk chair and watch mighty oceans slowly slip by.

It’s not too hard to see us following the pattern here in our 55+ community of snowbirding for the winter. Winter in New England can be cruel and it is exceptionally cruel this year. The desire to get away to warmer climes is strong. I’m just hoping my shaking knees can make it two more days until we head south to Fort Lauderdale.

Happy 2018 everyone!

Climate change: is it time to head for the hills?

I’d like to say from watching the effects of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey on the Houston area that Mother Nature must be sending us a message. Mother Nature of course does not exist, but nature is sending us yet another message about climate change anyhow. It just doesn’t appear that we are listening quite yet.

Harvey is not a thousand year flood. This is the sort of storm likely to become much more frequent. My bet is that you will see one of these events about once a decade now in the United States, and probably more often. While it is impossible to attribute this particular storm to climate change, given that global warming has made the Gulf of Mexico a hotter body of water in general, it’s going to make any storms that form more likely to be severe. In this case, its arrival in Houston was particularly bad because of its huge population. Houston and environs is roughly the same size as New Jersey, and it is both densely populated and low-lying. Add a storm that doesn’t move much due to warmer Gulf of Mexico atmospheric conditions feeding it and it feels like we need Noah and his ark. Unfortunately at 300 x 50 x 30 cubits, it’s not going to hold the population of the Houston area, estimated at around 6.7 million people.

The reality is there is not a whole lot Houstonians could do to survive this flood other than just hang on and hope or head for the hills. Actually, heading for the hills was tried before, which is why Houston’s mayor didn’t order a mass evacuation. Over 100 people died in 2005 fleeing Hurricane Rita’s approach to Houston, mostly stuck in traffic trying to get out of the city. Maybe when Harvey’s casualties are totaled up, a mass evacuation will look sensible, even if those casualties are replicated again.

Of course evacuation is not always an option, particularly for the poor and displaced. Houston’s form of governance makes evacuation more difficult: the city has no zoning laws! Rita proved that its highways could not quickly empty the city but any transportation engineer could have told you that. A better-managed evacuation might have worked. If you didn’t have a car though you were largely out of luck. Houston is typical of most cities, which do second-class jobs at best of managing growth. If our cities were properly engineered people would not be allowed to move into the city until the infrastructure was there to ensure the safety of its inhabitants. Cities constantly play a losing game of catch up. In reality though they cannot afford to pay for every contingency or even the most likely ones. So when you move to places like Houston you must accept the downsides that storms like Harvey are going to wreak havoc on your life from time to time. Only now these events are going to feel more routine than exceptional.

All cities like Houston can really do are to try to mitigate the effects of storms like Harvey. Some people will throw in the towel after this event, seeking opportunities on higher and drier ground. Most residents won’t have that option. You go where you can find work. Cities will continue to be the best bets for finding good jobs. However, the internet does make it possible for many of us teleworkers to relocate if our bosses will allow it. Harvey will give many of those with this option incentive to head for the hills.

Eventually even Texans are going to have to acknowledge they can no longer deny climate change. There are actions government can and should take. One big change could be that the federal government stops issuing flood insurance in areas that are most prone to flooding, or at least new flood insurance policies in those areas. It’s rather harsh, but it does recognize reality and shifts the cost for those living in flood prone areas from the government to these residents. FEMA already produces flood maps so you can assess your vulnerability prior to moving somewhere. Some home insurers require federal flood insurance to issue policies.

Ideally no government would allow new houses to be built on likely flood plains. I used to live in Endwell, New York, a small village on the bank of the Susquehanna River. Floods in recent years have pushed the Susquehanna twice over its flood stage. It’s gotten so bad that pretty much all the properties close to the river have been abandoned or demolished. These floods twice reached the Catholic elementary school I used to attend, making it uninhabitable. This year the county finally got around to demolishing it. Expect to see more berms along rivers and coastal areas. They can reduce the likelihood of floods but not mitigate the risk to lives and property altogether.

With sea level rise though this simply buys time, necessary time hopefully for people to relocate to higher ground. Cities like Houston can’t relocate. Massive pumping stations like New Orleans has might help but it’s unclear that there is any safe place to discharge any water collected with Houston being inland. San Antonio is used to flooding and has adapted by constructing flood tunnels. I don’t think Houston has anything like this, but it should be studied.

As I noted two years ago, you don’t want to become road kill on the global climate change super highway. Climate change is here, coming at us quickly but not so quickly that most of us can’t make sensible long term plans to rearrange our lives to be minimally impacted by it. Think of Harvey as a harbinger of worse things to come. You want to avoid the rush because at some point climate change will become so undeniable that massive migrations to safer areas will start. So the sooner you pack up and leave the better off you will be and the less expensive it will be as well. You are also more likely to escape our climate crisis alive. Dead men tell no tales. If we could read the minds of the casualties from Harvey they probably would have wished that they had headed for the hills long ago.

Dear Pope Francis: you are half the way there

Presumably Pope Francis is now back in Rome and settling in after a whirlwind tour of Cuba and the United States. He’s a pope who is hard to dislike, perhaps because he comes out of the Jesuits. For a pope he is also suspiciously pragmatic.

He was not shy expressing his opinions while in the United States. Mostly they gave Republicans heartburn as he preached to them on subjects they did not want to hear: that poor people had equal rights, that income inequality had to be addressed and that global climate change was a serious problem. He spoke passionately of the refugee crisis affecting mostly Europe and asked America to do its part compassionately. He complained that corporations were not working in the interests of the people as a whole.

Democrats did not wholly escape his preaching. He spoke passionately about the family, but his idea of a family looked a lot like June and Ward Cleaver’s and seemed to exclude marriage for same sex couples. Still, overall it was refreshing to hear messages from a pontiff that were truthful and people-centric. Francis is a catholic in the apostolic and universal sense of the word. He even acknowledged that those who do not believe in God could be good people simply by acting as good people.

It’s not enough to make me return to the Catholic Church. It’s a lost cause in my case, as I don’t believe Jesus was God, and I don’t believe in miracles, saints and most of the peculiar beliefs of Catholics. I’m too left-brained. But his words as well as his actions (like having dinner with homeless people and riding in the back of a Fiat instead of a limousine) convinced me he is a much different pope, beloved as few will be, and acting in the spirit of Jesus. Pope John Paul II was much loved and is even on his way to sainthood, but Pope Francis’ appeal extends significantly beyond the Catholic faithful to much of the world at large.

I really tuned into his message on climate change. He introduced a small ray of hope into a problem that looks gloomy at best and catastrophic to humans and most species on the planet at worst. Perhaps some of his grounding on the matter came from outside the church. Before becoming a priest, Francis worked as a chemist. He earned the rough equivalent of an associate of science degree in chemistry in Argentina. Francis understands enough about chemistry to know that when you introduce too much carbon dioxide into an atmosphere, with no other changes to the system then temperatures will increase and it will affect most living species. He sees the obvious costs of our industrialization and acknowledges that the earth is finite and we cannot continue to exploit the earth’s resources so unintelligently.

What he did not acknowledge was that population growth is a major driver of climate change. Without an end to population growth and probably a long-term effort to reduce the earth’s population, climate change cannot be reversed. Humans drive almost all climate change because we all put demands on the earth simply to survive. The problem is much worse in industrialized societies because with increased standards of living we want more stuff, and this consumption also feeds climate change.

It’s not enough to practice “natural family planning” as a population control solution. The Catholic Church advocates refraining from intercourse during a wife’s fertile period and abstinence as the only non-sinful ways to limit family size. The rhythm method of course is chancy at best, which leaves abstinence as the only foolproof and sinless methods of birth control for devout Catholics. It makes it virtually impossible to be both a devout Catholic and an environmentalist. If you are familiar with Catholic theology then you know that using birth control pills, IUDs and prophylactics are sinful.

If Francis truly wants to take a concrete action to address climate change then simply giving Catholics permission to use these and similar forms of birth control would be a huge step forward. Of course in many parts of the world, people are too poor to afford birth control, so also stridently arguing that governments should make birth control universally available for free to all citizens is as necessary as giving birth control devices church sanction. Among the many benefits will be a reduction in abortions. Children never conceived cannot be aborted.

China’s somewhat loosened one child per family policy was effective at limiting its population growth, but at a horrendous cost. It meant forced abortions mostly of females and arguably wreaked a lot of psychological damage. It’s not hard to envision a time when climate change becomes so pressing that something like this becomes policy in most countries. While it may be necessary to do this simply to survive as a species, such policies would be the opposite of humane.

This doesn’t have to happen. With over a billion adherents, if the Catholic Church were to change its policies on birth control then it would do a huge amount in the medium term to limit population growth and subsequent climate change. It would be a humane step forward. Francis has the power to do this today.

I am not a praying man by nature, but I pray that Pope Francis will see the light on this and very soon. Our future, and the perpetuity of the Catholic Church may depend on it.