The Great Recovery of America’s Infrastructure: Cancelled

Wondering what happens when you don’t maintain the Interstate Highway system? Wondering if we can get along without it? Minneapolis, 2007. (Wikipedia Photo)

Watch closely any group involved in dealing with a disaster — let’s say, a fire company battling a structure fire — and you may catch the moment when they share a glance that says, “You know what, we’re not going to win this one.” Their conduct changes almost imperceptibly from “balls to the wall, we can do this,” to “watch where you step, and back away from the walls, she’s gonna burn to the ground.”

Such a moment may well have come this week for the people who still believe — or have believed since Donald Trump was elected president — that we are going to experience a Great Recovery of this country’s rotting roads and decrepit bridges, which will in turn create millions of jobs, restore the middle class, eliminate poverty, homelessness and cancer, save the economy and make it 1958 in America once more. And Mexico is going to pay for it. (Actually, candidate Trump promised $50 billion for the purpose, double Hillary Clinton’s proposed spending. But neither of them explained where they were going to get the money.) Continue reading

Antidote to Civil War? Or Precursor?

New York attorney Gregory Locke boarded the subway last Friday night and was appalled by what he saw. Every window in the car, every advertisement and map, had been defaced with a swastika. And there were slogans, such as “Jews belong in the oven.”

“The train was silent,” he said in his Facebook post about it, “as everyone stared at each other, uncomfortable and unsure what to do. One guy got up and said, ‘Hand sanitizer gets rid of Sharpie. We need alcohol.’ He found some tissues and got to work. I’ve never seen so many people simultaneously reach into their bags and pockets looking for tissues and Purel. Within about two minutes, all the Nazi symbolism was gone.

 “Nazi symbolism. On a public train. In New York City. In 2017.

 “I guess this is Trump’s America,” said one passenger. No sir, it’s not. Not tonight and not ever. Not as long as stubborn New Yorkers have anything to say about it.”

Two Americas. Using the same subway car in close succession on a Friday night in February, each leaving their mark. Each with something very important to say to us. Continue reading

That Which Kills Me Also Costs Me Money: Study

Blackout 1965: Think of it — all those people trapped in all those apartments, needing to know: how much is this going to cost?

According to a new study, if a solar storm blew out most of America’s electric grid, it would cost us $41.5 billion dollars. The worst scenario calculated in the study would affect 66 per cent of the population, as well as the nation’s manufacturing, government and finance sectors. Other countries would be affected as well, but we don’t care about that, the study simply created a seven-billion-dollar chump-change jar for the foreigners. After putting a price tag on every imaginable aspect of Apocalypse Now, one of the study’s authors said somberly, “We felt it was important.” He found it “surprising” that prior studies — yes, there are prior studies making the same calculations — lacked “transparency” and missed entirely some direct and indirect costs.

Encyclopedic as it may be, and transparent as well — you can see right through it — the study raises at least as many questions as it answers [Please disengage your fake-news sensor and engage your irony alert]: Continue reading

Driverless Cars: Their Time Will Never Come

The driverless car. An idea whose time will not come. Ever.

Can we just get real here for a minute? Our streets and highways are never going to be populated by a significant number of driverless cars. Any more than our lives are going to be enriched by attentive robots exhibiting artificial intelligence. We are no closer to deploying fleets of driverless cars now than we were to having a flying car in every garage, as the illustrated predictions in Popular Mechanics and the like insisted through the 50s and 60s. And 70s and 80s. (I should have warned you about the disorientation a sudden dose of realism can have; sit down and breath into a paper bag, it will pass.)

The deafening hype we are hearing about driverless cars is the sound of an entire industry trying to administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to itself. Everything we hear about the auto industry is good (“2016 U.S.Auto Sales Set New High Record”) because everything we hear comes from the auto industry. And yet its healthy glow is beginning to take on the ghastly sheen of a dead mackerel. Continue reading

No News is Good News

An early adopter of manipulating masses with fake news.

Fake news has been with us for a very long time. Has anyone heard about (I won’t ask if you remember it, because nobody is that old) the Gulf of Tonkin attack on U.S. ships that never happened, but that caused Congress to validate the Vietnam War? Anyone remember Saddam Hussein’s fictional weapons of mass destruction? If we stop and think about it, a large proportion of all news is, and always has been, fake. But then, if we stopped and thought about it, it would be a victimless crime.

There is much less going on here than meets the eye. Continue reading

Five Days and Counting Down

trump[Dear reader: If you have just come to this website for the fiftieth time to see if I have finally got off my ass and written something, I apologize to you. I created the expectation that I would have content here for your consideration with reasonable frequency, and I have not delivered. Mea culpa. Moreover, this is the second long, unexplained, absence in less than a year. Mea culpa maxima.

I don’t know the right label for the syndrome — depression, writer’s block, burnout, Deep Ennui, aggravated laziness or what. I don’t know if, or when, or for how long, it will come for me again. But today, it has let me out of my dungeon to frolic in the sun and spread cheer and good will. Carpe diem. — Tom Lewis]

Five days into the Trump Administration and there can be no doubt about what to expect for the next four years. Any delusions we may have had that he is not delusional, any benefits of doubt we were willing to grant that he is not a thin-skinned egomaniac, any hope we had that he will not destroy what is left of our poor country, all of that was stood up against a wall and shot, by Trump himself, doing what he has always done but doing it now as President.

The most vile face of the future was shown to us all on Saturday night, when an obviously rattled Trump functionary, under orders from his furious boss, summoned the White House press corps to a tonguelashing. Looking in his ill fitting suit like a cross between Beaker the Muppet and a KGB interrogator, Press Secretary Sean Spicer harangued the press corps for daring to spread the truth — that there were fewer people at Trump’s inauguration than at Obama’s, or at the Womens’ March the next day. Never mind the objective and conclusive photographic evidence, he told them, they should instead be reporting that Trump’s ascension was watched by “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe.” Continue reading

Hillary Hallucinates Energy Independence

we-can-do-it

Wait, we don’t have to do it! Just roll up our sleeves and imagine it’s already done!

Just when we were beginning to accept that the lesser evil in this batshit-crazy, un-presidential election was also the safer option, we get confirmation that Hillary Clinton is almost as delusional as Donald Trump. In last night’s debate, minutes after scornfully describing Trump as “living in an alternative [sic] universe,” Mrs. Clinton emailed a dispatch from her private planet, announcing for the first time anywhere that in the United States, “We are now, for the first time ever, energy independent.”

Now, among English speakers, the words “energy” and “independence,” used together, have a specific meaning. (I know, it’s quaint of me to suggest that words have meaning independently of who is using them, but you can have my dictionary when you pry it from my cold, dead hands…) A country is energy independent if, and only if, it produces all the energy it needs. Continue reading

Stupid Engineer Tricks

hydrogen-bomb

Ask an engineer to reverse global warming, he’ll do it. Just don’t ask about thwe side effects. (Photo by Pixabay)

Saudi Arabia is a desert, with oil under it. There’s nothing you can do with oil in a desert, so the Saudis sell it, for money. That makes them filthy-rich nomads who crave big cities, with palaces for them to live in, slums for foreign workers and lots of fountains, you know, like in Las Vegas. But there’s no water in a desert. Call in the engineers.

(In Vegas, another oxymoronic desert city, their engineers’ solution was to build one of the world’s biggest dams to create one of the world’s biggest reservoirs, which worked for a while but is now drying up and is likely to make Las Vegas uninhabitable. Soon.) Continue reading

Global Cooling Threatens Life on Earth

ice-age

I know. Not what you were expecting. (Photo by Serendigity/Flickr)

While the planet’s air, water and land are heating to dangerous levels because of human pollution, the world’s trade is cooling off, slowing down and coagulating in the deepening chill, threatening the well-being of every country and virtually every person. I remember very well in 2008 watching the most powerful members of Congress emerge from a come-to Jesus meeting conducted by the Treasury Secretary on what was about to happen to the world’s financial institutions and America’s economy. They had the pale faces and staring eyes of people who had just been introduced to the angel of death.

The world of trade and finance is confronting such a moment now, and is every bit as much in denial as it was in 2008. This time it’s not America’s Lehman Brothers tottering into an early grave and pulling half the world in with it; it’s Deutsche Bank. Continue reading

RIP Bruce Charles “Bill” Mollison: 1928-2016

mollison-credo

I never knew Bill Mollison. I have known of him for only a few years. But his vision has touched — in fact, transformed — the core of my being. As long as I live I will honor him for a vision that has vastly improved the way I understand and react to the world, a vision that could have vastly improved the world itself, had we listened to him in time.

Mollison, along with David Holmgren and others, was a principal founder of the  Permaculture movement, a way of looking at agriculture with emphasis on symbiosis among plants, including trees and other perennials; the soil, with its myriad components and organisms; and the climate with its gifts of rain, wind and sunshine. This contemplative way of farming — permanent agriculture — has since its advent in Australia in 1968 morphed into a way of looking at life itself — permanent culture. Continue reading