First and foremost, I think it’s fantastic that the documentary film An Inconvenient Truth took home the Oscar for best documentary of the year. It’s well put together and it presents important scientific ideas in a reasonably coherent and understandable way. Gore is doing some very good and important work in our world today to raise our awareness about the problem of global warming.
I wanted to start out with that paragraph because there’s been an attack on Gore since the Oscars that I want to address next. But I didn’t want to give the right what it wants – that the main story be answering their stupid claims about Al Gore’s energy uses. So I deliberately led off with the important news – that the Oscars has recognized what a significant issue human caused climate change is for everyone living on our small planet.
Now for the muck. Since the Oscars, and its hard to believe all this has happened in just the last 5 days, we’ve been privy to yet another example of the loudness of the blaring right wing noise machine. Right after Oscar night, an unknown right-wing group put out a news release claiming that Gore’s energy use at his home in Tennessee is much higher than that of the average American household. This unsubstantiated claim was picked up by all the usual conservative talkers – Rush, Fox News, etc. It bounced around so much that a Google search on Al Gore two days after the Oscars picked up more links to this story than to the Oscar win itself. And I’m sure that was exactly the result that the right was looking for.
There have been many responses in the liberal blogs to this stupid claim. I want to add my voice to that chorus. It’s important when the right puts out these stupid bits of “news” that they’re exposed for what they are – attempts to manipulate the media cycles with bogus tales.
The best response I’ve read to this comes from an article by David Roberts which appeared in the Huffington Post on February 28. There’s no way I can improve on the points Mr. Roberts laid out to explain why this attack on Al Gore is so wrong. I’ll simply quote them here. Roberts wrote:
Again, congratulations to Al Gore. He’s shown us again and again what a loss it’s been for our country and the world that he hasn’t been our president for the past six years.
I love Al Franken. I loved his radio show and I think he'd make a fantastic senator. Here's a good introduction to his run for the Senate in Minnesota. Found this link on Pharyngula's great site. I think Franken's got a lot going for him. He's smart, I think he's very honest, he's articulate, and I think he's got his head screwed on straight. That's an important point given the weirdness of politics today. Check out the video.
I had dinner last night in Berkeley with a good friend. She'd been in the Peace Corps in Africa a few years ago. She told us she was glad to see the very positive article about Niger on the front page of the Sunday New York Times. I hadn't had a chance to read the Times yet, but when I got home I made sure to check it out. And it is indeed as hopeful as my friend said. You can find it here (registration required).
The article tells of the steady improvement in the planting and growing of trees in this African country. Things were pretty bad before they started getting better. As author Lydia Polgreen writes:
Severe drought in the 1970s and ’80s, coupled with a population explosion and destructive farming and livestock practices, was denuding vast swaths of land.
She goes on to write that a change in how farmers view and use trees, and a change in how government rules state who owns the profit from the trees, has led to farmers seeing that a tree is worth more to them alive than cut up as firewood. They can sell limbs rather than the whole tree, harvest the seeds for fodder, sell the leaves or use them for mulch, eat the fruit. In addition, the trees help hold the groundwater, improving farming conditions. This isn't just a small change. The article says that millions of new trees are growing in Niger.
For many years just about the only articles we'd read about Africa brought us negative news. War and famine and disease have been the stories most reported in our newspapers. That's why it's great to see this article telling us an African success story. Please go check it out at the New York Times website.
I’ve just finished former President Carter’s new book, Palestine, Peace not Apartheid. The subject is important in the world today. I can understand some of the criticisms it's received. He dwells on the actions of Israel towards the Palestinians while remaining almost completely silent about the terrorist attacks by the Palestinians against Israel.
But I think his basic point about the treatment of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is valid. Everything I’ve read about the settlement movement in the West Bank indicates that the Palestinians are being slowly herded into smaller and smaller zones where their lives are severely constrained. I've never understood the settlements. Israel protecting herself, absolutely yes. But Israel building homes in Palestine, that just seems wrong to me. And in the long run, I don't see how that's going to make Israel safer.
As I see it, if Israel continues to occupy more and more of the West Bank, they’ll be more and more connected to the Palestinians stuck away in the small residual areas Israel leaves them. Then as we saw in South Africa, at some point the Palestinians will gain equality and the vote in the new, larger Israel that Israel is creating. At that point Israel could cease to be a Jewish state since the Palestinians may very well outnumber the Jews in this larger Israel.
I found the book readable, but short of present day solutions. Much of it focuses on past history. As I read chapter after chapter of his personal experiences in the 70’s and 80’s, I felt myself wanting to get to the current situation. The history is important to our understanding of how the present problems in the region came about. But I think he could have covered this in fewer pages than he does. And certainly with fewer little travelog-esque asides about the sightseeing trips he and his wife took during his visits to the area.
Then at the end, I was looking for more solutions. Yes, his final chapter includes an important outline of what’s needed to achieve peace in the region. I think it’s best summed up by his quote from Jonathan Kuttab, a Palestinian human rights lawyer. (An interesting thinker, you can find some of his articles here.)
“Everybody knows what it will take to achieve a permanent and lasting peace that addresses the basic interests of both sides: It’s a two-state solution. It’s withdrawal to 1967 borders. It’s dismantlement of the settlements. It’s some kind of shared status for a united Jerusalem, the capital of both parties. The West Bank and Gaza would have to be demilitarized to remove any security threats to Israel. Some kind of solution would have to be reached for the refugee problem, some qualified right of return with compensation. Everyone knows the solution; the question is: Is there political will to implement it?”
It was good to read this solution at the end, but I wanted more. I wanted to hear what Carter thinks is stopping both sides from reaching this solution. I wanted his ideas for how the rest of the world can help Israel and Palestine achieve peace. Simply saying that this is the solution is a good step. But it’s a step many have written over the years. What’s the next step? Carter seems to imply that it’s Israel’s step to take, but he doesn’t tell us how it’s ever going to happen.
I found an amazing graph while reading the Scientific American blog site. The link given in SciAm is a google site. But the details in the "about" section of the "help" at the site indicate this comes from the Gapminder Foundation in Sweden.
Gapminder is a Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden. Funding has been mainly by grants from Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Sida. In collaboration with United Nations Statistic Division Gapminder promote free access to searchable public data and all animations of different types of data are freely available at www.gapminder.org.
Anyway, this is an absolutely amazing animated graph. It plots life expectancy vs. per-capita gdp by country over time for about 30 years. And it includes a circle for each country to indicate how that country's population is changing. What a wealth of information. But wait, as the ads say, there's more.
You can select one or two or more individual countries and plot the graph of their changes over time. Just select the "trails" button in the lower right to show the track of changes. Then hit play to watch the years pass by.
China is the most amazing country to watch. It's raised itself from lowest income levels to the middle of the graph over the course of the years. Lots of other countries have improved their situations as well. In fact, that's one of the big stories I see on the graph - the steady improvement in life expectancy and gdp in most countries.
But there's one very glaring exception. The African nations are not sharing in these improvements. Select almost any of the blue dots (the African countries) and plot their changes. Almost all will show some improvement early in the time period. Then they drop like rocks, either in life expectancy or income or both. It must be caused by the Aids epidemic, I figure. And it's shocking to see. South Africa, Camaroon, Zimbabwe, they all show the same pattern. It will take a lot of work to bring to Africa the sorts of progress happening in other areas of the globe.
One last note - I realize that there are a ton of issues not addressed by these graphs. I know that individual countries may show improvements in these measures but still have serious problems touching the lives of their people. Still, this graph is a fascinating bit of world information which can be used to help us understand how we're all doing.
As many others in blogland have written, today is a day for mourning. Molly Ivins, that great soul from Texas who delighted us for years with her sharp insights and sharper wit, has passed on. I found out at work and the news just stopped me in my tracks for quite a while. I've never met her, but I feel I've lost someone special to me. I didn't always agree with what she said. But I always learned something from reading her point of view.
Working Assets has a great archive of Molly's articles. If you've never read her writing, you should definitely check it out here. I didn't know she was ailing. I just knew that her postings have become scarcer and scarcer of late. So I guess this news isn't a complete surprise. My heart goes out to her friends and family, and to all those who are missing her tonight. Our country lost a great champion in the search for truth and justice.
I’ve read many articles since the Democrats took over the House and the Senate calling on them to make nice with the Republicans in the interest of bipartisanship. The Repubs are complaining that the Dems are fast-tracking many bills in the house in their first 100 hours of control there.
I’ve been thinking about these articles and suddenly I realized that one important item is missing from virtually all of them. That is any reference to how the Republicans themselves governed during the preceding six years. I’ve been following things Washingtonian since Bush was elected and I think the Republican controlled congress was the most one-sided, partisan, bullying place I’ve ever seen. They’ve used all sorts of techniques to keep the Democrats from having a voice in how things were done, from special committee meetings from which Dems were barred to demands that only Republican lobbyists would be listened to. When the Democrats in 2004 proposed a minority bill of rights, the Republicans completely ignored them.
Here’s what I want from any pundit or blogger who demands that the Democrats must give the Republicans their fair share of power in Washington. I want them to tell us how wrong the Republicans were in their leadership in congress. They should write about the terrible injustice inflicted on this country by the Republican method of running Congress and they should APOLOGIZE for it. If they can do that, then I’ll listen to their requests for shared power. But they’re acting like this initial flurry of activity by the Democrats has no historic precedent. That’s wrong and it insults my intelligence and my ability to remember the recent past.
And the same goes for the writers telling us about the strident anger that Democratic bloggers and writers are expressing. Some people are shocked that there’s so much bitterness on the liberal side. Again, these articles don’t mention the terrible things that Republican talk-radio hosts, bloggers, and their elected leaders in Washington have said about liberals for years, nay decades. Let them apologize for that before they comment on how strangely angry progressives are.
Every so often as I’m scanning the radio dial, I’ll find myself listening to Rush Limbaugh. I always make a bet with myself to see how long it takes before he says something insulting to me and my kind. And it’s always within 30 seconds. So if those on the right want to know how to work with, speak to, get respect from Democrats, let them start by changing themselves.
The Iraq war will continue grinding on because President Bush can’t seem to find any other idea to follow over there. He might even widen the war to include Iran. That will have terrible consequences if it happens.
The Bush administration will continue to screw up everything it touches.
There will be a growing confrontation between the Democratically controlled Congress and the White House. So far there hasn’t been time for any big fights. But as soon as the investigative committees start really trying to dig into the nefarious doings of Bush’s cronies, Bush and company will dig in their heels and the fur will fly. I like to follow the day to day details at a sort of liberal online magazine called Huffingtonpost.
There will continue to be stories like the one last Tuesday in the NY Times about the quickening pace of global warming. The Times reported on the ongoing melting of the Greenland ice sheet. Seems that one section that everybody thought was part of Greenland is actually a separate island. Nobody knew until the glacier connecting the two recently melted away. Anybody contemplating buying seafront property should really consider how nice a mountain retreat would be instead.
Progress will be made toward a true plug-in hybrid car. GM is now working on something called the Volt that looks very interesting. I was exploring various eco-sites last night. Headway is being made on the battery problem – how to build batteries that can hold enough juice to run a car and yet not weigh too much to slow that car down. Yes, headway is being made, but it doesn’t look like there’ll be fantastic breakthroughs in the coming year. Instead we’ll see incremental improvements in current engineering.
In the Land of Muse
Personally, Family Muse is heading out on a much anticipated trip to Barcelona in April.
In my ongoing struggle to keep my weight in line, I’m looking forward to new meds on the horizon. Acomplia should get approval sometime in 2007 and I’ll give it a try. It looks like some other drugs are also in the trial stages although they might not come to market for a couple years.
There will be another Oakland Open Studio the first two weekends in June. I’ll be selling my ceramics once again.
We’re planning a couple house parties this spring. One is in support of the Progressive Jewish Alliance, a wonderful organization working to stop sweatshops around the world. Another party will be in support of our favorite Oakland youth center, Youth Uprising. Last year we gave them some money to help needy Oakland young people go to college. We’ll have a lunch later in the year with some of those kids to hear how they’ve fared in school.
Terrible things are afoot in Iraq, and have been for many moons. Here's the letter I just sent to my Senators and Congressman.
I’m writing you today to urge you to do everything in your power to oppose the escalation of troops in Iraq which President Bush spoke of in his recent speech to the nation. The war in Iraq has descended into a civil war between opposing groups within that country. Our soldiers cannot resolve this struggle by force of arms. It is for the Iraqi people themselves to settle their differences and move forward, either as a single nation or divided into three.
I feel that because of our invasion, our country has an obligation to help the Iraqi people in this very difficult time. But I don’t think our continued military presence there is the kind of help they need. We need to increase our use of diplomacy and work with the rest of the world to resolve this conflict as well as can be done.
Most importantly, I have no confidence that this administration has the skill, knowledge, and competence to use our military effectively in the Iraq conflict. They’ve botched this thing from beginning to end. They should not be allowed to put any more of our brave soldiers in harms way.
The non-binding proposal to oppose the troop increase is a good first step and I hope you support that move. I further ask that you give your support to the legislation submitted by Senator Kennedy which prohibits our President from escalating the war without authorization from Congress.
Finally, I want to express two additional concerns about this escalation. The first is that the President’s speech contained veiled threats against Iran and Syria. I greatly fear that he might choose to widen the war to include those countries. Please do everything you can to oppose such an action.
Second, from articles I’ve read in the last two days, I understand that troops may be taken out of Afghanistan to provide some of the forces for this escalation. This seems like a terrible mistake to me. The terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 came from Afghanistan. If there’s any country where our military presence may help reduce terrorism, it’s that one.
I'm terrible afraid that Bush and company want to stick with the Iraq fiasco through the end of his presidency. I can only hope that the new Democratic Congress can stop them, or at least slow them down.