More Evidence of Intertwingularity: How the Wolves Changed the Rivers in Yellowstone

People who follow my writings know that I am absolutely fascinated by the amazing degree to which the various species on our planet are interdependent or, as I like to say with homage to Ted Nelson, intertwingled.

The latest example of this that I’ve encountered involves a story of what happened not only to the ecosystem but to the course of rivers after wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park in 1995. Watch this short (nine-minute) video that explains all of the ramifications we encountered when we brought back the wolves, who had been absent from the park for 70 years. The story is quite remarkable.


Internet Didn’t Invent Bubbles and Echo Chambers But News Media Capitalized On Them

One thing that’s both fascinating and confusing about the Internets is the ability of each of us to create an online world entirely built of our own interests and desires, to the exclusion of other worlds that are equally vibrant.

Thus spake Catharine P. Taylor recently on Social Media Insider.

I don’t know why Ms. Taylor finds this obvious observation either fascinating or confusing.

For many, many years prior to the emergence of the Internet, people tended to congregate and socialize with people whose viewpoints they agreed with and to shun those whose ideas were different…or at least to avoid discussing those different ideas in social settings. The old adage that, “Birds of a feather stick together,” alongside the etiquette reminder never to discuss politics or religion in polite company both attest to that. And they both go back a long way before the Internet.

No, Americans (particularly) have long — perhaps always — preferred to insulate themselves as much as possible from news, ideas, and opinions with which they disagreed except for the occasional necessity to argue them with someone with whom one’s relationship was not, perhaps, all that sanguine to begin with.

media_logosWhat has changed is that “back in the day” everyone got their news from common sources, of which there were relatively few. Those sources tended to report a wide variety of news, both out of a sense of journalistic integrity and for commercial reasons: you wanted to cover everyone’s favorite topics so as to draw the largest possible subscriber base.

Today, you can pick your news outlet based not on its objectivity not only in viewpoint but also in selection of news (which I would argue is even more important than viewpoint), but also based specifically on the narrowest possible perspective that coincides with your own experiences and values. The result is that almost all of us are much less well informed than we were less than a generation ago. We of the Left like to poke fun at those people who get all their news from Fox “News” which is demonstrably nothing more than a propaganda outlet for the GOP and the Right. But we are not really any better if we get all of our news from MSNBC, which is somewhat less demonstrably an outlet for the Democrats (because they have drifted too far right) but unarguably brings a distinct Leftist view to its coverage.

It is, as Biblical wisdom has it, much easier for us to see the mote in our goofy Republican uncle’s eye than to see the beam in our own.

But try, as I have, to find a news outlet that is at least reasonably objective in its choice of stories it covers and opinions it offers, without paying for the coverage, and you run into the problem that the only such sources tend to be news aggregators. These outfits don’t do any news evaluation, so their choice of stories by subject is often bizarre, even unfathomable. They are less convenient; every story involves at least two clicks. They don’t always differentiate between free and paid sources, which results in greater inefficiency. Plus, of course, they don’t generally offer coverage of your local area, which means you must also try to fill that void.

It is difficult to expand your horizons outside your narrow circle of interests, friends, and viewpoints on today’s targeted Web and in today’s screeching 24-hour news cycle dominated by the Right but populated by the Left as well. At one time, CNN could be counted on for broad coverage and reasonable objectivity but that has long since ceased to be the case; it’s now Fox Lite.

I don’t have an answer.

My own news fare tends to come from Google News (an aggregator with all the problems I just cited plus a fairly narrow list of stories it bothers with, chosen by criteria I can’t begin to fathom), Al Jazeera (which does a surprisingly objective job of news coverage and whose opinions I mostly agree with but not always) and my local TV and weekly news outlets (the local daily, the Monterey County Herald, having gone to poop in recent years). And yet if I want to understand what’s really going on with a given story, I find myself having to use Google Search and dig into outlets whose objectivity I’m not clear about. A retired journalist friend and I frequently bemoan the demise of great reporting but we can’t come up with a model that will work financially and return us to the Good Old Days. Even what we consider the three great newspapers in America — the New York and Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post — are succumbing more and more to above-the-fold garbage that, five years ago, would not have appeared anywhere in their sacred foolscap.

And now I’m starting to sound like the Old Man I am. So I’m going back into my Grandpa Cave.


Do Not Arm Rebels

At least two Senate Democrats — Jim Manchin of West Virginia and Mark Begich of Alaska — have stood up against Administration plans to arm the rebel forces fighting against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Manchin made the point that all too often arms we send to “moderate” or “friendly” rebel groups end up in the hands of our sworn enemies. Begich said the same thing and added that before he can support the latest first-step-to-war, “we must have greater assurance that we aren’t arming extremists who will eventually use the weapons against us.”

Nobody can give such assurances. It’s not in the nature of the combat, the conflict, or the culture. Anyone who claims to give such assurances is lying through his or her teeth and they know it.

Arming rebels is the first sound of the drumbeat of war that President Obama and his bellicose cronies and advisers would have us embark on. He should know better. We are a war-weary nation.

No arms for rebels.


Not Global Climate Change, But Other Ways What We Do Impacts the Environment

When people argue against the scientific fact that human behavior causes or exacerbates global climate change, they often act as if they fully understood the entire chain from man’s production of CO2 and methane in the air over Los Angeles to extremely powerful hurricanes in Florida and Louisiana.

They don’t.

Here’s a less traumatic example of how we often just don’t get it.

In my home town of Monterey, CA, there is a serious scare about the safety of some seafood being harvested. Fishing and tourism (which depends to some degree on fish and fishing) depend heavily on healthy seafood. The problem: a somewhat unusual outbreak of a biotoxin called domoic acid.This poison is produced by a particular species of algae. But they don’t always  produce it. It appears they do so when the water in which they grow has an excess amount of nitrogen.

OK, here’s where the humans come in.

As the area experiences “a large coastal population boom, more septic tanks and more lawns [are] being fertilized.” This increases the flow of nitrogen into the Monterey Bay, “altering the marine environment in a way that can lead to higher domoic acid concentrations.”

This stuff isn’t dangerous to humans…except in large concentrations. And when it does affect us, it does so in particularly nasty ways. “Once ingested, the toxin immediately attacks the brain by rapidly shrinking the hippocampus, causing loss of motor coordination, amnesia, violent seizures, vomiting, permanent neurological damage and even heart failure within two days.” That’s in the somewhat large sea lions that have been hit by the domoic acid onslaught at the rate of 20-plus per day over recent months.

But intermediate species including shellfish, sardines and anchovies along with brown pelicans, otters, dolphin and whales, are also affected by domoic acid. All because too many people want to live in this beautiful place and fertilize their lawns and gardens.

So don’t try to convince me that you can absolutely rule out the possibility of human behavior causing or worsening global climate change. You just can’t do that.

Research Proves Energy Companies Are Lying About Methane’s “Natural” Occurrence

When oil and gas producers get caught contaminating peoples’ water supplies with methane leaks from fracking operations, they always have the same response: “Not our fault. Nope. That methane’s been there all along. You can’t prove we had anything to do with it. Nosiree. Nothing to see here.”

A study in Parker County, Texas, on a site the EPA walked away from two years ago gives the lie to that line of propaganda. As reported in the L.A. Times by columnist Neela Banerjee, “scientists found that water in two homes changed over nine months from containing trace amounts of methane to having high levels.” 

Furthermore, Banerjee reported, “The methane in the homeowners’ water no longer had the chemical makeup of the naturally occurring trace gas, according to the study. Instead, it had the same chemical fingerprint as natural gas deposits far below the aquifers, the scientists found.” In other words, the methane came from fracking operations. Period. End of story.

It is well past time for President Obama to draw a line in the oil sands and declare a national moratorium on fracking until we better understand its environmental impact. As millions of climate activists are now saying, Obama’s climate legacy hangs in the balance if he both ignores fracking and continues his ill-advised support of natural gas as an improvement over coal in terms of its impact on the climate.

How about we show some intelligence and courage and lead the world stage on this instead of kowtowing to Big Power while we destroy the freaking human race, eh, Mr. President?

Officiating Was Horrible But Kaepernick Was Worse

My San Francisco 49ers lost their home opener in their new stadium in Santa Clara last night on Sunday Night Football to the mediocre Chicago Bears by the score of 28-20.

There were two primary factors in the defeat.

First and foremost, QB Colin Kaepernick flat stunk up the joint. He turned the ball over four times to a suspect defense that played over its head a bit but which Colin consistently misread. Three picks and an ugly, ugly fumble later and the game was over.

niners-bears-refsSecond — and only of slightly less importance — was one of the most zealously over-officiated games of a season that already promises to be one of the most intrusively officiated seasons in the history of the NFL. As Bleacher Report put it, “There were 26 penalties called on a nationally televised game. Some of those were the right calls, but that doesn’t change the fact that this game was diluted thanks to a severe case of over-officiating.”

It wasn’t so much that the calls were bad or that too many went against the Niners or that those that did were more costly (though all of those were facts in my admittedly prejudiced view). It was the fact that the officials didn’t let the teams play. And when a well-oiled machine of an offense like that of the 49ers gets constantly interrupted and disrupted by yellow hankies (on more than one occasion there were three or four on the field on a single play!), its rhythm gets thrown off. Its performance suffers. And the fans experience a less enjoyable game, regardless of outcome.

Back in the day (you can tell I’m really old, right?), when I was officiating all three major sports year-around and/or writing about them, we had one thing drilled into our heads over and over again: if the officials are visible, they aren’t doing their jobs. The role of the official is to play unobtrusive and objective observer and rule-keeper. The League had better get this epidemic of yellow flags under control quickly or the season is going to deteriorate badly.

Now, back to Mr. Kaepernick.

He appears this year to be caught up in an inability to deal with adversity. In short, he panics. Two of his three interceptions were clearly in high-pressure situations. (One of them was a brilliant case of route-jumping for which he was only partly responsible.) The fumble took place on a run where he should have gone down sliding sooner, though how anyone smashes the ball out from under that huge bicep of his is beyond me. On several other occasions when he didn’t throw an INT, he did panic and do dumb stuff. He also lost focus twice and cost the Niners a delay of game and two unnecessary timeouts.

The good news is, these are all things that can be fixed.

The bad news, is we lost to the freaking Bears. Yeesh.


Germany’s Solar and Wind Success Come at Expense of Utility Companies

Solar panels cover the roofs in all or most homes in many German towns and cities.

Solar panels cover the roofs in all or most homes in many German towns and cities.

There may be no better illustration of the meaning of the phrase “disruptive technology” than in Germany’s experience over the last several years with wind and solar energy adoption. Germany, along with Canada and, interestingly enough, Brazil, leads the industrialized world in switching to a green economy.

The story of Germany’s incredibly rapid adoption of renewable energy sources has been told well and often enough that I need not repeat it here. If it’s news to you, you can check out this NYT article or this German government site that updates the national policy of energiewende (energy transformation). Or just Google “Germany renewables”.

But this piece by Justin Gillis focuses more on the impact of this transformation on Germany’s power utilities, who, according to Gillis, have seen “profits from power generation collapse.” He points out that, “In Germany, where solar panels supply 7 percent of power and wind turbines about 10 percent, wholesale power prices have crashed during what were once the most profitable times of day.” One of the nation’s largest power utilities recently announced a $3.8 billion loss for the most recent fiscal year. Its CEO admitted the company was “late, probably too late,” to respond to the transformation now sweeping the country.

American utilities are watching what is happening in Germany and they are acting like ducks: calm and unruffled on the surface, but underwater paddling like crazy to stay afloat without changing directions. In this country, Big Coal, and Big Oil, and other Big Power vested interests are resisting and opposing changes in rules and laws that would encourage and facilitate more rapid response to global climate change as they scramble to protect their obscene profits. Instead, they could and should be investing some of that windfall into clean energy, finding ways to channel some of the coming profit from the transformation into their coffers (which is, after all, the only thing they actually understand).

A sudden disruption of the power companies and their suppliers would have a temporarily devastating effect on the economy in the form of thousands, perhaps millions, of jobs lost. But if industry and government work together to plan the transformation, and if the private companies take an active role in creating and channeling the transformation, some of that disruption an be managed and minimized.

In the long run, though, the disruption is not only tolerable, it is essential. Global climate change threatens the very existence of humanity.

As it is, we’ve allowed Big Power to turn us into global eco-terrorists, holding humanity hostage as we refuse to give up the dangerous and poisonous ways we generate and consume energy even as the reserves become depleted and the air becomes unbreathable and the water becomes inhabitable.

The Difference Between “Arrested” and “Charged” and “Convicted” Seems Too Subtle for Media, Some Observers

The controversy in professional sports over how million-dollar athletes who abuse their partners are treated took a bit of a bizarre twist on Thursday night when MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who knows better, lumped 49er Ray McDonald into the discussion along with Ray Rice and other athletes involved in such acts recently.

Ray Rice has been convicted. He is guilty of the crime. He needs to be dealt with as a criminal. A two-game suspension is undoubtedly too light a punishment; the NFL admits it screwed that one up. (And the screw-up is almost certainly part of a bigger picture of deliberate eye-winking and elbow-nudging that has gone on for far too long.)

49ers Ray McDonald - Not Even Charged!

49ers Ray McDonald – Not Even Charged!

But — and this is a huge but — the difference is that McDonald hasn’t been convicted. In fact, he hasn’t even been charged. So far, he’s only been arrested and released on bond. He has a court hearing scheduled. Here’s where our nation’s well-known (and, I thought apparently naively, well-understood) rule of law — that one is innocent until proven guilty (i.e., convicted) — comes into play. To punish McDonald at this point would be the very definition of injustice. He has been arrested “on suspicion” of committing a crime. But you can’t be convicted on “suspicion.” The authorities must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime has been committed and that you committed it. Period. End of discussion.

If the DA in Santa Clara County had the evidence, he could charge McDonald with a specific crime. In the face of formal charges, the Niners and the NFL might be justified taking some temporary action. (Although even then, he’s still presumed innocent. Depending on how overwhelming the evidence appears and how egregious the offense, the league or the team might be justified in acting, but I would argue would still be premature.) But until the man is convicted, he is innocent. As such, he’s entitled to keep his freedom and his job.

This is not rocket science, folks. Just because a crime is outrageous or egregious or offensive doesn’t lend it any additional power to punish in the absence of proof of its commission. You may not like that. Until the first time you’re unjustly accused. Then you’ll fall madly in love with this crucial provision of our legal system.

UN Commission Blasts U.S. for Racism

A United Nations commission on racial discrimination has strongly criticized the United States for consistent and persistent bias in our culture. According to news reports, “The committee found that minority communities in the U.S. are disproportionately disadvantaged in all areas of life, including education, criminal justice, voting, housing and access to health care.” (My emphasis)

The United Nations Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) drew its conclusions after a series of public hearings in the U.S. and based its report on documents submitted by the U.S. government and other interested parties in addition to hearing testimony.

There was a time in our nation’s history when the publication of a U.N. report severely critical of our enemies’ behavior and policies would have drawn strong and immediate rebuke along with calls for reform. Don’t expect Washington, which submitted a State Department report that painted a “sanguine picture of progress,” to react much if at all to this report finding that we are guilty of behaior we already acknowledge explicitly and tacitly.

CERD, as it turns out, is one of only three human rights accords or treaties that we’ve even bothered to ratify. And we can’t even live up to its elementary provisions.

‘Tis a sad commentary on our culture.

Do We Live in a Culture of Outrage?

LA Times Columnist Meghan Daum, in a piece reminiscing about the late Joan Rivers, suggests that we are living in a “culture of outrage.” She’s not the first person to level that charge and I’m sure she won’t be the last.

But is it true? Is our culture no longer civil? Or is it just that the fringes, which may have grown slightly in the fertilizer of political partisanship that rules the day in DC, are a bit more vocal and confrontational than in the past? Is the vast middle of our nation — or, for that matter, our world — a culture of outrage?

outrageI don’t think so. I don’t believe, e.g., that the majority of Americans are really outraged at the way Corporatist America is treating them at every turn. If they were truly outraged they’d rage out; in short, they’d do something. But they don’t. In fact, most of them seem to have lost the capacity even to complain very loudly. Perhaps the Corporate State has so oppressed us with its rampant greed, its uncaring social policy and its coddling of the wealthiest Americans that we no longer have the energy to protest or the hope that doing so would change one tiny thing in our circumstances.

I almost wish we were a culture of outrage. Perhaps then we’d be taking to the streets instead of burying ourselves in self-medication and isolation. Perhaps then we’d care enough to get involved in politics and force both political parties to pay more attention to our plight; hell, we might even get up enough concern that more than a small majority of us would even bother to vote.

My fear is not that we have created a culture of outrage but that we have created one of apathy and resignation. That we have collectively given up all hope of a positive future, certainly for ourselves but even for our children and grandchildren.

I am optimistic. I truly believe that we can and will reach a tipping point of enlightened souls who will wake up together and discover a better, more loving and cooperative and supportive way to live together. That we can and will create a culture of sharing, giving and cooperation. That I will live to see the day when greed is overcome by generosity and the greedy are shamed by the meek. Perhaps we won’t need outrage, won’t need people to take to the streets in protest, won’t need a revolution in our streets.

At least, I pray daily that this is so and I hold a space for it to become our common Truth.