2014: The Last Good Year

For what we are about to lose, Dear Lord, we thank You. (Photo by Terren in Virginia/Flickr)

For what we are about to lose, Dear Lord, we thank You. (Photo by Terren in Virginia/Flickr)

Thanksgiving is coming, and Christmas and Kwanzaa and Hanukkah and New Year’s, and we should make the best of them. These are the good old days, and we should celebrate them well, because we are probably not going to see their like again. Gas is cheaper than it was, and we should go to see the relatives this year, because next year will be different. Food is a little more expensive than it was, yet we should eat hearty nevertheless, because next year will be different. We still have plenty of water (if we don’t live in California, or Brazil, or North Africa, or any of a multitude of other places being seared by implacable drought) but, because of changing climate and advancing pollution, next year could be different. The lights are still on, but the aging grid is creaking and groaning with the effort of meeting our burgeoning demand, and next year could well be different. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we diet. Continue reading

A United State of Incompetence

Ebola outbreak? White House intruder? Climate change? Don't worry, we're on it.

Ebola outbreak? White House intruder? Climate change? Don’t worry, we’re on it.

A wise man once told me (no, wait, it was me, talking to myself) that when something bad happens, like a plane crashes, or Congress passes a law, it is usually for one of two reasons: a dark conspiracy by evil people, or rank incompetence. “If there is any doubt about the cause,” he, or I, said, “always assume incompetence. You will almost never be wrong.” The case is being illustrated these days with dismaying frequency.

Ebola in America. Get off a plane from Liberia, go to a hospital in Texas and tell them you’ve just come from West Africa and are desperately ill, they give you an aspirin, send you home and tell you to hug and kiss all your friends and family, it will make you feel much better. (Only that little tiny last part is made up. The rest of it, I wouldn’t dare.) Continue reading

Fareed at Last: The Middle East Explained. Totally.

Fareed Zakaria holds forth on CNN. He’s one of the better pundits, but as with them all, the reasoning tends to be more circular and the fables more disconnected from reality. (Wikipedia Photo)

Fareed Zakaria holds forth on CNN. He’s one of the better pundits, but as with them all, the reasoning tends to be circular and the fables disconnected from reality. (Wikipedia Photo)

Another Sunday, another tsunami of TV tirades from the elders of our tribe, as we gather around the firelike tube and absorb their wisdom. (Will someone please explain to me why William Kristol is there, week after week? How is it that a man who has been so wrong so often gets invited back to the inner circle, and how is it he is still smirking?) Hundreds of pundit-hours, in a single morning, yesterday most of it devoted to explaining to us the Middle East.

Among these explainers, perhaps the least doctrinaire and most intelligent is Fareed Zakaria, who with Time Magazine and CNN has created an admirable Pundit Empire. Continue reading

We’re All Being Victimized

At last the camera has found you. You’ve been waiting your whole life and now, because of something that happened to someone else, they want to know what you think. Our best advice: don’t do it. (Photo by Dave Radcliff/Flickr)

At last the camera has found you. You’ve been waiting your whole life and now, because of something that happened to someone else, they want to know what you think. Our best advice: don’t do it. (Photo by Dave Radcliff/Flickr)

At the risk of — no, acknowledging the certainty of — sounding callous, and offending many, may I just say that I am tired of hearing from victims’ families? There is no shortage of life coaches, psychologists and members of other dubious professions to urge us all not to be a victim; why is no one pointing out that being related to someone who becomes famous as a victim is to be avoided at all costs, denied if at all possible, and — all else failing — endured in dignified silence. Being a victim-in-law does not confer special knowledge, rights, or merit. The fact that your uncle was killed by a meteorite does not make you an expert in meteorology (wait, does that track?) nor should it give you standing to sue the Hubble Telescope for failing to warn him in time. Continue reading

A Tale of Two Stories

Dropped your sandwich? As long as you pick it up in five seconds, go ahead and eat it. That’s what science says. (Photo by pixabay.com/p-298762)

Dropped your sandwich? As long as you pick it up in five seconds, go ahead and eat it. That’s what science says. (Photo by pixabay.com/p-298762)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of information, it was the age of ignorance. The emergence last week of two news stories, and the story of how they did or did not flourish, casts harsh light on the state of journalism and our democratic republic. One story was funded by NASA, conducted with rigorous standards of research, reviewed by peer scientists and published in a legitimate scientific journal. Its subject was the end of the world as we know it. The other was tossed off by a handful of students in a science class, observed few scientific standards, was reviewed by no one and published nowhere in the academic press. It was about dropping food on the floor. So you guess: Which one went viral around the world, generated tons of newsprint and oceans of comment in every medium of communication; and which one was virtually ignored except when it was attacked as misleading? Continue reading

Snowpocalypse Now? No? Maybe Later?

DC_Snowstorm_Feb_-_Flickr_-_Al_Jazeera_English_(3)

When snow comes to DC, the capital of the Free World falls to its knees. When snow is forecast, by anybody, likewise. (Photo by Al Jazeera)

Two weeks ago Monday, the first person in the door in the morning couldn’t wait to share: “Did you hear? We’re going to have a monster snowstorm this weekend. They say we should be prepared for power outages and blizzard conditions!” All day long, from the UPS driver to the grocery clerk, “Did you hear? They say…” As is my habit, I asked who “they” was. The furthest I could get into the terrible vagueness of being “they” was a couple of remarks about somebody somebody knew reading it somewhere on Facebook. Continue reading

Top-Tier Financiers Jumping from Buildings: Should We Be Worried?

The Buck Stops Here: diagram of the last journey of J.P. Morgan VP Gabriel Magee.

The Buck Stops Here: diagram of the last journey of J.P. Morgan VP Gabriel Magee.

Four top-level financial analysts and managers apparently committed suicide last week. The dead include an investment economist in Washington State, a former Deutsche Bank executive in London, a Tata Motors executive in Bangkok and a J.P. Morgan employee in London. These events have not yet been conclusively connected. However, like the elevated suicide rates among farmers in India and US military veterans, these folks might be canaries, and their deaths might signify far more than individual misfortunes. Continue reading

The Silence on the Bees. And the Bats.

This brown bat is lucky -- he's just stunned momentarily. If there were white spots on his nose, he'd be dead. (Photo by Velo Steve/Flickr)

This brown bat is lucky — he’s just stunned momentarily. If there were white spots on his nose, he’d be dead. And then he would be a canary. Let me explain. (Photo by Velo Steve/Flickr)

It bears repeating one more time: When the canary in the cage at the mine face drops dead, the lesson is not that we need to take better care of canaries. The lesson is that we need to get our asses out of that mine before it blows up. If, on the other hand, the miners are dumb enough to watch canary after canary drop lifeless to the bottom of the cage, and do absolutely nothing, well, then, maybe the right thing is to let natural selection run its course.

We are surrounded by dying canaries. Okay, they are not, strictly speaking, canaries, but they are playing the mine-face canaries’ role. The conditions that kill them are coming for us. And the funny thing is that, while it is news of a certain, not-quite-legitimate kind (“environmentalists are concerned that…”) when we notice the first of them dying, their continued dying — an indication that conditions in our mine are getting worse — is not news. Or, worse, it’s “old news,” an oxymoron. Continue reading

Leading US Publications Mislead on Climate Change. Together.

Does journalism get more lame than this? Increasingly, yes.

Does journalism get more lame than this? Increasingly, yes.

In just one week, TIME Magazine, the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal have published pieces that say, respectively, that the earth might be cooling, not warming; that there is no limit to how many humans can live on earth; that there is no “scientific” connection between global warming and extreme weather; and that “most experts” believe that the benefits of global warming will outweigh the harm. What are we to make of the fact that these colossi of traditional journalism (not to mention Britain’s Daily Mail and Rupert Murdoch’s Australian papers) are all singing from the same sheet music, on virtually the same day? Has there been some epic paradigm shift away from global climate change? Or is the rising tide of destruction and human suffering around the world driving the industrialists — industrial journalists included — closer to panic? Continue reading

The Latest (1988) News on Global Warming

Twenty-five years ago this spring, the following words appeared in National Wildlife Magazine (I know because I wrote them):

“…scientists now generally agree that the average temperature of the global atmosphere has been increasing for a century, and will likely continue to do so throughout the next…the apparent cause of this temperature increase is human activity…most climatologists now agree, a manmade buildup of carbon dioxide and other gases (methane and chlorofluorocarbons in particular) has increased the amount of solar heat retained in the lower atmosphere

“Thermal expansion of the oceans and melting of glaciers could cause sea levels to rise five feet during the next century, inundating coastal wetlands and developments. If substantial heating were to continue, partial melting of the south polar ice cap could eventually flood entire cities. Altered rainfall patterns, the inevitable consequence of the temperature changes, could make much of the North American grain belt too dry for normal agriculture…the current prognosis is that the average temperature will continue to climb between three and eight more degrees during the next century, possibly during the next 50 years.”

Those were the points on which most climatologists agreed in 1988. Today, the Congressional subcommittee on climate is chaired by someone who professes not to believe a single one of the points made above. Fox News would not allow one of those statements to go unchallenged by a representative of some flat-earth, religion-first, fossil-foolish organization with a dozen members.

A quarter of a century into the Age of Information, and this is where we are.  To read the original article and weep, click here.