London Broil — Climate Crisis is here

London Broil

Climate Crisis is here

July 20th 2022

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

www.zeppscommentaries.online

Of course, it’s not at all unusual for it to be seven degrees warmer in London than it is here in the northern California mountains. On a January day, when it is 30 degrees with blowing and drifting snow (an increasingly rare event, to be sure), I would be totally unsurprised to learn it was 37 and raining over there. After all, cold drizzle epitomizes London. Even in summer, if you factor in the time difference it wouldn’t be unusual to get up and find it’s 55 here at sunrise, and in London it’s mid afternoon and 62.

But yesterday, it was 97 here. Thirty years ago it probably would set a local record for the date. Even now, it’s warmer than usual.

But afternoon on the same date, London saw a high of 104.2 degrees. It shattered the all-time record for London by three full degrees (reliable records go back 350 years there!). We still don’t know the full extent of the damage; we can only hope for a low death toll. We saw blazes along the M-25 that looked more like the fires one might see alongside US101. Airports closed because runways melted. Because of thermal expansion, railroads added some 5 miles of track that didn’t exist that morning.

I remarked, half-jokingly, that the firefighters were probably relieved to find their hoses actually work. Usually, I said, when a vegetation fire breaks out, they just quietly wait around for the next rain to put it out. (Actually they acquitted themselves quite well, given that most had never seen conditions quite like those that hit England yesterday). Bad news for the fires today: it’s 40 degrees cooler and raining. Back to normal…for now. Only not quite the same normal.

It came on a day when professional coal grifter and greedhead Joe Manchin killed the climate change initiative once and for all after 18 months of bad-faith bargaining. As fires ignite this summer, he stands to become America’s Guy Fawkes. Reviled. For centuries.

Much as I hate to imagine the misery Europe and the UK went through yesterday I’m hoping it has the same galvanic effect that Kim Stanley Robinson’s horrific fictional heat wave in Delhi had on world resolve to address climate change in “Ministry of the Future.” If it doesn’t, other near-future events will. But we’re past the point where we can avoid massive damage and loss of life.

I live in one of the wettest parts of California. Our average precipitation during the 20th century exceeded that of London’s; or Seattle’s! Just a hair short of 50” in liquid amounts a year, mostly in the form of snow.

We just got notice Sunday that we are going on severe water rationing effective immediately. Outdoor watering is limited to one day a week, before 10am and after 7pm. And it might get much worse without notice. We could end up having to import drinking water, like many other small towns in the central valley.

We live on the low slopes of a 14,000 foot mountain, and over the past two decades, the glaciers have been melting and weakening. Last June, the heat dome that destroyed Lytton, BC and sent temperatures into the hundred-and-oh-my-gods in the PNW brushed us. We didn’t have record-breaking heat in town, but on the higher slopes of Shasta, temperatures soared. The Konwakiton Glacier collapsed, sending a huge debris flow down the aptly-named Mud Creek. Half a mile wide and up to thirty feet deep, it buried the main N to S route east of the mountain, taking out a new bridge and adding thirty miles to the commute of a small settlement in the area north of the flow. It’s now a slow motion avalanche, threatening the main water pipeline, the pumping house, and could even move into parts of the town itself. (I’m on a hill on the other side of town, and won’t get buried). So climate change just got real for us.

But like the debris flow, the climate crisis is a slow moving avalanche. While unlikely spots like London and Lytton bake in temperatures normally seen in the middle east or the Outback, California has experienced an ongoing and self-reinforcing cycle of drought, heat, and creeping disaster.

Consider: temperatures rise. In the winter, even when there isn’t a drought, less of the rain falls as snow because the snowline is higher. Even a modest increase can have a huge loss in snowpack. Consider the area of a cone, one half the way up and three quarters the way up  (πr(r+√(h2+r2)) where r is the radius of the circular base, and h is the height of cone, for those who don’t have to pull off a shoe to count to 11). Mountains are very roughly conical, so you get the idea. And then consider that the snow in the areas that still get snow will have less snow, and what there is will melt faster.

But there’s more. Increased heat means a faster rate of evaporation, resulting in drier ground. At my altitude, snow, which used to be around through April, is gone by early March if it was there at all. So soil covered by snow and wetted as the snow melts is now drying out during that critical period. Further downslope, there is no run-off. Things desiccate.

Dry soil warms faster than moist soil, increasing air temperature at ground level. This results in a decrease in water vapor, increasing the heat. (Water takes 10,000 times the energy to heat the same amount as dry air does).

Because of this, what used to be normal amounts of precipitation only add to the water deficit since it melts and evaporates away faster. And for the past two years, we’ve barely had two-thirds of normal, so what might be an inconvenient drought is now a crippling drought.

This is the vicious cycle that California—and much of the west—is in. Alaska is burning, the Canadian and Russia arctics are losing their permafrost, releasing vast amounts of methane (the stuff the Manchin lobby are promoting as “clean, safe propane” this week) making things worse.

I’m afraid there’s worse news. For the past two years, the world has seen a La Niña, a swing in the vast El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle that is driven by trade winds and upwelling of colder waters. La Niña tends to depress global temperatures by a degree or two. All these heat records we see over the past two years are happening at a time when generally, the world should be a bit cooler than normal. Early indications suggest that we may have an unprecedented third straight winter of La Niña conditions, which is bad news for California since it often means drier than normal winter.

However, the opposite of La Niña is El Niño, which elevates global temperatures by up to two degrees. Going by past history, I estimate there is a 75% chance of a routine El Niño in the next three years, and a 33% chance of a major El Niño in the same period. Ready for a significant rise in temperatures over and above what we have now? It’s dead certain to happen. Along with knock-on effects like drought, fire, floods, crop failures and mass migrations. And as always happens in such cases, war.

We can’t avoid it any more. But if we stop letting idiots like Manchin profit off our slow avalanche, we might salvage enough that our grandchildren might survive.

It’s no longer a significant crisis. It’s existential. Ask any Londoner. Ask a former resident of Lytton.

Ask anyone from my own town.

Three Crises — Any one of which can kill you

Three Crises

Any one of which can kill you

April 16th, 2022

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

There are three situations that are edging closer and closer to flash points that could create immense damage and in one instance, kill a sizable percentage of the human race.

The first is Putin and the Ukraine. The invasion and war has not gone well for Russia. Ukraine not only failed to fall in days to a Russian blitzkrieg, but the blitzkrieg itself flopped, something that was self evident the moment we saw that forty-file long convoy of tanks and other mechanized units along that two-lane highway. Poland and France didn’t fall because the Germans approached in single file. And at that, the Russians got off lightly; Ukraine could have turned it into a “highway of death.” As it stands, reports are that Russia has lost a full 10% of their overall military might in the seven weeks that they have tried to smash Ukraine.

Adding to Putin’s woes is the sinking of the Moskva, the flagship of the Russian navy. While the military impact is negligible (the Russian flotilla in the Black Sea was there to look intimidating, since there was little in the way of practical military applications to be brought to bear. Turns out you can’t sink a country) the morale damage was massive.

Additionally, and of far greater impact strategically and tactically, Putin’s declared aim of pushing back on perceived encroachment by NATO on Russian borders has backfired massively. Finland, historically a thorn in the side of the Russian bear, is expected to petition for membership in the pact in the next couple of weeks, and Sweden is likely to be not far behind. Putin has made it clear that nearby nations not servile to Russia that aren’t in NATO are targets.

So speculation that Putin may resort to nukes both as part of his campaign of terror against Ukraine and his efforts to intimidate the west is growing. There’s no doubt in my mind that Putin has the requisite viciousness. Is he that insane, though?

The west, including the US, must make it clear that nuclear strikes against Ukraine or anywhere else is a line that cannot be crossed without dire and immediate consequences. We’ve managed to avoid a nuclear holocaust partially through dumb luck (we’ve had some really scary close calls, and those are just the ones we know about) and partially through the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction. Any country that launches nukes dies. Much, and perhaps all of the world dies with it. Putin must be reminded of this, and be aware that a first strike will result in global nuclear war on the grounds that all is lost anyway. The last thing the world needs or can tolerate is a dictator that gets away with a nuclear strike. Perhaps, once again, we can step back from the abyss. Putin must know that we aren’t bluffing because we can’t afford to bluff.

The second is the behavior of the fascist right in America. Have you ever heard the term, “blood libel?” It’s a hateful story that first grew in medieval Britain and has spread throughout much of the world over the centuries. The most common variant is that Jews capture and kill a young Christian boy at Easter in order to put his blood in matzo balls. Supposedly, if Jews do this each year, in a different land, they will get the Holy Land back. If you’re thinking about 1947 and the State of Israel and how that might have diffused the libel then you don’t know conspiracy theorists very well. They still believe Jews drink the blood of virgin Christian boys. Who needs a reason when you’ve got a hobby?

The thing about conspiracy theorists is that they are gullible and easy to manipulate. To them, the world is a dark and dangerous place, filled with looming, sneering villains who stop at nothing to augment their power. Giving them “secret knowledge” of such horrors both allays and augments their fear and credulity.

All you need to do is invent an unspeakable act by a minority or adversarial group and then promote the hell out of it.

Claims that the Clintons and various other liberals run child sex rings have been making the rounds since about 2015, which was about when Trump and Putin decided America needed Trump. Supposedly, the sex ring was run in the basement of a pizza parlor. Never mind that the pizza place in question didn’t have a basement—weren’t you paying attention when I asked if you knew what conspiracy theorists were like? One guy even went in there with a semi-automatic and shot up the place.

Republicans have been deliberately electing—there’s no other phrase for it—the most vicious and stupid trash they can find to public office. People too stupid and too gullible to know they are being played, or the worse variant, the ones who know the truth and are part of the plan. That’s why the Jackson nominating process was smeared with political porn about how she was “soft on child pornographers” and why some of the louder specimens of the trash-American GOP have been calling teachers and supporters of Ukraine “child abusers.” Blood libels are great for the libelers, since they can pretend to a position of “protecting the children” while simply sinking to about the same level as a child molester.

The third flash point rapidly approaching is the climate. The physical climate. True to the models, as it gets warmer on average, it is also becoming wilder and more unpredictable. Antarctica saw temperatures last month that went a full SEVENTY DEGREES above normal. Yes, that’s Fahrenheit, but still… This time of year the normal day time high in New York City is 63 degrees. In order to replicate what happened in Antarctica, it would have to reach 133. In Mid April. Let’s not even think about July or August.

We all remember the heat dome that hit the Pacific Northwest last summer, sending temperatures as high as 118 in British Columbia. That was only 40 degrees above normal.

In addition to all the myriad problems we’re expecting in the near future, heat domes seem to be a New Thing, and a potentially hideous one. Few cities in the world are prepared for temperatures in summer that are 40 degrees above the local norm. The death toll could be in the millions. Kim Stanley Robinson, in his recent novel “Ministry of the Future” had a three week heat wave strike India that was only 15 degrees above normal, and resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths. Suddenly we have to consider possibilities like 145 in Los Angeles, 120 in London, 145 in Sydney. We aren’t prepared for it because we can’t prepare for it.

In the meantime, the oil plutocrats—many are the same people who underwrite the blood libel crowd and are profiteering off the Ukraine war—are doubling down on fighting any effort to reduce fossil fuel consumption. And yes, that includes the oil companies that run those expensive ads about how green and responsible they are. They’re corporations; they exist to lie to us for profit. They are what prop up the disgraceful anti-American whores in congress, and they have think tanks devoted to the nomenclature used by conspiracy theorists and Putin about how “woke” child molesters spread “fake news” and the press cannot be trusted.

They are authoritarians, and they are herding us towards the edge of some very large cliffs, thinking they can control the situations and profit from them at the same time.

But it’s all coming to a head, and no, they won’t be able to control it when it does.

Unfortunately, nobody will be able to.

Doug LaMalfa — What it’s like to have an embarrassing GOP drone

Doug LaMalfa

What it’s like to have an embarrassing GOP drone

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

November 17th, 2021

Back in December 2020, Doug LaMalfa, Republican Congressman from California’s first district, was the sole Republican to talk to the press after a frivolous and essentially idiotic lawsuit by Texas to overturn the election was dismissed out of hand by the Supreme Court.

In his interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, the interview quickly turned weird.

“You got any proof that anything was done that was fraudulent in any election?” Cuomo asked.

“You know, I don’t have proof that men landed on the moon in 1969 because I wasn’t there,” LaMalfa replied.

“Really?” an incredulous Cuomo asked.

“Yeah,” LaMalfa shrugged.

“Do you believe the world is round?” Cuomo pressed.

“I think we’ve proven that,” said LaMalfa.

OK, at least he knows the world is round. That’s a start, I suppose. He makes his living growing rice in one of the most drought-stricken places in America, so you kind of have to expect that he’s going to be a little out of touch about stuff like moon landings or budgets or things like that.

In the same interview, he said he would not “’recognize Biden’s victory until he is formally sworn in on January 20th.’ LaMalfa’s comments seem to suggest the House GOP is planning on disrupting the ratification of the electoral college results on January 6, which is their final chance to contest the election before the inauguration.” Lo and behold, they did. I guess that qualifies as insurrection-light. Dougie is kind of a boutique revolutionary.

While LaMalfa doesn’t enjoy the notoriety of a Marjorie Taylor-Greene or a Paul Gosar, that in part is because he is from California’s First District. (Look it up. It’s the area on the map that’s covered with the cartographer’s sigil and a sign saying “Hyere bee dragons.” Before LaMalfa, the area was California’s 2nd district, and from 1987 to 2013 it was represented by Wally Herger. The region has a history of electing rural non-entities who fail to make any marks on the House.

After five terms, his committee membership is, to put it mildly, a bit thin: House Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry subcommittee Ranking Member, Commodity Exchanges, Energy, and Credit subcommittees, House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Highways and Transit, Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, Water Resources and Environment subcommittees

He’s the primary sponsor of three bills that were enacted, one of which was the renaming of a post office.

At that, he’s doing better than Herger, who didn’t even get his first committee chair until his seventh term. Herger voted with his party 94.4% of the time, which by GOP standards made him a screaming dissident. (Seriously—in party line votes he ranked 46th.)

On the listing of liberal/conservative votes, LaMalfa is in a flat tie with Paul Gosar (and now has more committee assignments than Gosar, provided he doesn’t threaten to shoot the President or something.) As a goosestepping GOP fascist, he is extraordinarily good at his job. In recent years, he voted for Trump Care, which would have stripped over 100,000 of his own constituents of medical coverage under Obamacare, and has voted loudly against every bill designed to allow the government to negotiate the prices on drugs they buy for Medicare. He has voted against raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, even though a majority of his working constituents would be making less than that had the State of California not already gone ahead and raised the minimum wage on its own. It would not have cost him a dime to support a federal law doing the same thing—it was just gratuitous cruelty on his part.

He toes the party line on all votes, often contradicting the wishes of his own constituents and sometimes even his own supporters.

His votes often come with a large helping of hypocrisy. He voted for Trump’s financial stimulus package in 2020 ($1.7 trillion) but against the subsequent aid packages put forth under Biden, even though America’s situation had worsened (a lot of Trump’s bill was allocated for employers to continue paying employees idled by the pandemic, but of course most of them just pocketed the money and screwed their workers over.) But he voted against the Biden stimulus package, $1.9 trillion, which would have funneled an estimated $4 billion into his district, supporting workers, families, and small businesses—including his own. (He’s been whining loudly about how the pandemic and subsequent shipping problems means he can’t sell his rice to China.)

On the infrastructure bill, he voted no because everyone knows the ungrateful peons in his district don’t need roads, schools, water works, sewers or family support of any kind.

On that last vote, taken last week, he had a characteristically strange take on it. KRCR, a Sinclair broadcast station that is one of the biggest in this district, interviewed John Garamendi, the Democrat representing the 3rd district, adjoining LaMalfa’s. Garamendi gave the station a list of the benefits and projects the infrastructure bill represented and what it would mean for Northern California.

So it made sense to get LaMalfa’s take on the just-passed legislation. This is what KRCR reported: “LaMalfa, speaking with KRCR’s Dylan Brown, responded that President Trump has not spoken to him about the matter.”

OK then. Never mind that LaMalfa is on the Infrastructure committee and might possibly know something about it—anything about it. But what’s this “..President Trump has not spoken to him about the matter.” crap? Trump has no role in this; he’s an ex-president almost certain to be in prison by the time the next presidential election rolls around. Is LaMalfa one of the loony and ignorant morons who thinks Trump is somehow still president? Is he expecting a Trump/JFK, Jr ticket in 2024? What’s the story here?

Meanwhile, LaMalfa voted twice to acquit Trump of impeachment charges. He voted to not censure Marjorie Taylor-Green, and just today, to not censure the evidently insane Paul Gosar. He does support censuring the 13 Republicans that supported the infrastructure bill, which kind of destroys his claim that it is unwise to censure frivolously.

With his lockstep support of fascist GOP policies, he is not representing his constituents. With his support of Trumpism and people like Taylor-Greene and Gosar, he isn’t even representing humanity.

Biden’s Speech — Not the SOTU—better

Biden’s Speech

Not the SOTU—better

April 28th, 2021

After listening to Joe Biden’s address to some of Congress (COVID, don’t you know, but it was amusing watch the expressions on Boehler’s and Cruz’ faces as Biden spoke) I caught Tim Scott’s genial but largely delusional paean to America and how those nasty Democrats were preventing Republicans from rushing to embrace the policies that Biden would present to Congress if he had policies, which he didn’t, and proved it by presenting the policies to Congress.

I followed that by scrolling through the comments section on our local Sinclair Broadcast station, and encountered gems like, “I can’t believe this is America. No one is safe under the democratic regime of evil! We are all in terrible danger, you should be afraid, be very very afraid. Save yourself! Save democracy!” *

Well, OK, then. Tim Scott may have not sounded overly coherent, but at least I didn’t feel any need to shoot him with the tranquilizer dart. Typically of comments sections, nobody there seemed to have actually watched or even read about the speech. I think I could have posted something about Biden congratulating Mitch McConnell on their groundbreaking agreement to sell white babies to China, and nobody would have contradicted me. Those comments groups are bad for your mental health.

One of the most remarkable things about Biden’s speech was the sheer oratorical capacity the man showed. Any idiot can rile up an audience with stentorian exhortations to do Noble Things, and most do, but I watched Biden hold the House Chamber, and much of the nation, spellbound with just a friendly whisper. He spoke with an earnestness and compassion, qualities lost in the hoarse brays of self-pity and truculence we had to deal with for the previous four years.

The tone could be summed up in one anecdote, told late in the speech. “I spoke with Gianna Floyd, George Floyd’s young daughter. As I knelt down to talk to her so we could talk eye—to—eye, she said to me, Daddy changed the world.’” Politicians, with rare exceptions, like to be shown relating to children. But the line that caught my eye (and heart) was “…I knelt down to talk to her so we could talk eye-to-eye” That speaks to a humanity that transcends the usual political rhetoric. Joe is a good guy who genuinely cares about people. That’s not something I believe because I am a liberal; it something I feel because I am a human being.

As for content, the basic message was actually summed up in Biden’s opening remarks. “The worst pandemic in a century. The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War. 

Now, after just 100 days, I can report to the nation: America is on the move again.  Turning peril into possibility. Crisis into opportunity. Setback into strength. Life can knock us down. But in America, we never stay down. In America, we always get up.

He then spoke of the progress America has made against the pandemic, and the early signs of an economic recovery that is likely to turn into a roaring boom. He talks about the vast, ambitious plans he has to ensure that we do come out of this stronger and better: child support, in the form of cash-back tax breaks, universal child care, universal health care. He spoke of the amazing results of the American Rescue Plan—well over 200 million vaccinations, and hunger greatly reduced just in the first few months. He spoke of the difference the child credits would make for working families by the millions. It has already created 1.3 million new jobs in the past 60 days, an amazing record.

He then spoke of his infrastructure plan, The American Jobs Plan, which he described as “a once-in-a-generation investment in America itself, the largest jobs plan since World War II.”

Sounding like FDR, he spoke of the millions of good paying jobs regular workers would see from this plan, and said, “Wall Street didn’t build this country. The middle class built this country. And unions build the middle class. “

Defending the plan further, he said, “I’m calling on Congress to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize Act – the PRO Act — and send it to my desk to support the right to unionize. 

By the way – let’s also pass the $15 minimum wage. No one should work 40 hours a week and still live below the poverty line. And we need to ensure greater equity and opportunity for women. Let’s get the Paycheck Fairness Act to my desk for equal pay. It’s long past time. 

Finally, the American Jobs Plan will be the biggest increase in non-defense research and development on record.  We will see more technological change in the next 10 years – than we saw in the last 50 years. “

He’s right, of course, and the Republicans are going to be twisting themselves in deep knots figuring out how to oppose Biden without opposing the plan.

My own takeaway, following the speech, is that Biden was his own best friend tonight in his goals of getting these policies enacted.

 

*Perhaps the comments “Save Democracy” reads better in Russian. “Я не могу поверить, что это Америка. Никто не находится в безопасности при демократическом режиме зла! Мы все в ужасной опасности, вы должны бояться, очень, очень бояться. Спаси себя! Спасите демократию!”

OK, maybe not.

DecPop — It’s been 70 years since 1950

DecPop

It’s been 70 years since 1950

April 27th 2021

Back in 1974, when the average number of births per woman was 3.65, Phillip José Farmer wrote a novella, “70 Years of DecPop”. The premise was that a mad scientist released an aerosol that rendered 99.999% of all humans sterile (world population was about 4.5 billion at that time) and from there studied the devastating effects the immense drop in population would have over the ensuring 70 years.

It was a bit of a gloomy read. Humans didn’t react well to forced sterilization, and few economies were equipped to deal with shrinking markets and less demand on resources.

At that point, the birthrate had already declined significantly from its peak in 1964, when it was at 4.65. Much of the decrease was credited to a decline in religious oppression, the increased availability of birth control, and in a rebuke to Malthus, improved living conditions with greater food and shelter security. People in poor nations no longer had 12 children in hopes that one of them might live to take care of them when they got old.

At that time, sociologists expected the birth rate to climb back up, and there was even a book by Paul and Anne Ehrlich, The Population Bomb, that forecast widespread famine and war as a result of population outstripping resources such as food and clean water.

Didn’t happen. Food production soared, outpacing population growth. And the Ehrlichs hadn’t realized that most famines aren’t the result of actual food shortages, but of politics. The rich stockpile and the poor starve. Nearly all famines were easily avoidable back then. They still are.

And the birth rate continued to decline, against all expectations. By 1993 it had dropped below 3.0. By 1997 it was at 2.5.

This year it’s expected to reach a magic number: 2.1 Two point one is the birthrate at which population stops growing, known as Zero Population Growth, or ZPG.

Many developed nations had already reached that mark in the 1990s and first decade of this millennium. Almost all of western Europe, Japan, and Canada had native birthrates below 2.1. Population growth came solely from immigration.

In the United States, immigration drove population growth until 2015, but since then immigration has dropped below the level of the birthrate, which means that the next decennial census might show a population drop for the first time in American history.

The preliminary results of the 2020 census show the second smallest rate of growth in American history, with only the 1930s being (slightly) lower. For ten years, population growth was just 7.4%.

A lot of reasons have been given for this. Trump and the Republicans actively messed with the census, hoping to undercount the poor, minorities and anyone else who might be a threat to Republican power. While there’s no doubt that they tried, it’s not clear that they were particularly effective at sabotaging the census. A 2017 projection claimed the 2020 census would show 332,639,000, The actual census was 331,500,00, a shortfall of 1.16 million. Further, the growth rate drop was part of a trend, 7.4 in the ‘10s from 9.7 in the noughts, and from 12.34 in the nineties. Republican buggery had an effect, but a relatively small one. Independent surveys show that the growth rate was under 0.6% for the past three years.

Sorry for all the numbers, but they make a case. Population growth has not only slowed, it has stopped. Even in the US, where population growth came mostly from immigration, is seeing a dramatic decline in immigration, despite the fearmongering from the Nazis on the far right. It’s well under half what it was twenty years ago, and the percentage of non-native-born in the general population has leveled off at 14%.

And it’s the same world wide. Japan is in the early stages of a population crash that may see their population drop by 60% by 2100. Russia had a massive population drop following the collapse of the USSR, brought about by initial chaos and followed by an Ayn Rand gangrape of the country by western corporations during the Yeltsin years. Then Putin came along and turned Russia into an autocratic and repressive nightmare. Russia’s population is down nearly 40% from 1990.

According to the BBC: “Japan’s population is projected to fall from a peak of 128 million in 2017 to less than 53 million by the end of the century. Italy is expected to see an equally dramatic population crash from 61 million to 28 million over the same timeframe. They are two of 23 countries – which also include Spain, Portugal, Thailand and South Korea – expected to see their population more than halve.”

It’s only a matter of time before capitalists, who depend endless unsustainable growth, will realize that their consumer base is both shrinking and aging. (One of the darker elements of that DecPop story is the small number of young people trying to cope with the billions of elders who outnumber them by hundreds to one). Capitalism is ill-equipped for this coming change.

Climate change, disease and war will accelerate the drop in population. Some people believe the population drop is propelled by pollutants—forever chemicals, micro plastics, and the like. If true, that could be an existential threat to humanity.

Remember, this census doesn’t even include the nearly 600,000 dead in America from Covid, and it’s becoming clear that this pandemic will have over 10 million dead before it runs its course world wide.

Population drop is a good thing—the Earth is able to sustain perhaps three billion people comfortably, assuming those billions aren’t as wasteful and foolish as we have been. But the economic and political repercussions led by people unwilling to take a hit in profits, also make it a risky time for humans. We normally spend all our efforts fighting greed and corruption, but capitalism celebrates greed and corruption, and is very willing to be very destructive in preserving such.

Our numbers will drop, but we’ll ensure that it won’t be pretty.

,

Joe’s first White House Speech — Reasonable Assurances and Sensible Warnings

Joe’s first White House Speech

Reasonable Assurances and Sensible Warnings

March 11th, 2021

Day fifty of the Biden presidency, and so far so good. Both politically and psychologically, today was a good point for Biden to stop and have a talk with the people. It came a few hours after he signed into law the biggest rebuilding act America had seen since FDR’s first 100 days. The American Rescue Act will, in the estimate of Goldman-Sachs, result in 8% annual growth over the next 12 months. That, too, is a rate of growth not seen since the 1930s. Best of all, it’s going to people and small businesses, what you could call “trickle up economics.” It will save thousands of small businesses, protect millions from hunger and homelessness. It is, as Biden once put it about the AMA, “a big fucking deal.”

In the glow from this massive legislative victory, Biden addressed the state of the country on the anniversary of the Covid pandemic.

After the past year where lies, braggadocio and delusions were all Americans got from the White House, Biden’s cautionary optimism was a gust of fresh air. Biden extolled the immense gains the vaccine program had made in the past 50 days, but didn’t try to pretend it was all his doing. (In a truly pathetic footnote, Trump put out a brief communiqué under a sort-of presidential seal, from The Office of Donald J. Trump, trying to take credit for the vaccine program.) The program has been pretty much miraculous, despite Trump. When Biden first took office, he spoke of 100 million vaccines in the first 100 days (the last day of April). That was considered a high goal, even before we learned that the outgoing administration had absolutely no plan in place for distribution or even procurement of the needed vaccines.

Now, not only are we well ahead of pace for that, but we may have vaccines available for the entire adult population by the end of May, some 500 million shots all told. The CDC is of the opinion that we’ll have herd immunity by the beginning of May, but Doctor Fauci, on the Rachel Maddow show tonight, cautioned that we are in a race against variants, and we may, even with full vaccinations, end up playing whack-a-mole (his term) with those variants, much the way we do with strains of flu and the common cold. It’s evolution, people.

Biden himself made the same cautionary note, and urged people to keep on social distancing and wearing masks for the time being, despite what the “Neanderthals” in the GOP think we should be doing. It’s not a popular request, but Biden has some courage. Things are a lot more hopeful, but we are not out of the woods. He’s right, Fauci’s right, and nearly every expert in the field is right. Tucker Carlson, Alex Jones and Donald Trump are all wrong, and for vicious, self-serving reasons.

Biden spoke movingly of the loss and deprivation hundreds of millions of people suffered over this past year—well over half a million dead (“more than World War I, World War II, and 9/11”), millions of families separated, millions of jobs lost. Even the most cynical of viewers had to admit that he SOUNDED sincere.

He knows, at long last, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and he just wants us not to derail ourselves by being reckless as we approach the light. It won’t stop the freedumb morons, but it might just keep enough sane people cautious enough that we might get by.

Fauci and Maddow were talking about monoclonal antibody treatments. Two studies showed respectively 87 and 89% efficacy if administered early in the course of the disease, numbers so convincing that they dropped the double blind nature of the studies on the ground that it was not moral to give half the subjects a placebo based on what is known.

This doesn’t mean that you can run out licking random seats in the New York subway knowing you just need to pop two in the mouth and you’ll be all better. The treatments are by infusion only, and still very expensive. And if you get to the point where the symptoms are life-threatening, then you’re far enough along that the treatment will be of little or any help. Fauci is hoping for a treatment that involves simple injections, or even just pills, but that’s an unknown amount of time in the future. It’s not here, and may not be here for years, but there is a cure.

Not mentioned was the spectre of “long COVID”. Roughly a third of people who become infected develop symptoms weeks or months later, even if they were completely asymptomatic to begin with. And yes, you can still be infected, even with the shots. You just are very unlikely to develop symptoms, and in the beginning, they will be mild. Nobody knows how that will affect development of “long COVID.”

Futher, variants are appearing, and while the evolutionary trend is for such variants to become both more contagious and milder (the weeding-out process of evolution means viruses that successfully inhabit live hosts will outnumber the ones that kill their hosts) that is just a trend. The mutations are individually random, and a variety of Covid could show up that is as lethal as Ebola and as communicable as measles. Worst case scenario, to be sure, but within the realm of possibility. And if we are reckless and go on acting as a culture medium for this virus, the higher the chances that something even nastier will crop up. And the more variations, the more types of vaccines are needed unless and until we can come up with an umbrella shot that can block all Covids. Note: we haven’t been able to develop a shot like that for influenza, and with the common cold, it’s pointless to even try.

Because of this, Biden’s speech was perfect for the occasion. He didn’t tell us what we wanted to hear. He told us what we needed to hear, and for most of us, that’s going to help us a lot through the coming year.

 

First Week of February — Second half of winter

First Week of February

Second half of winter

February 7th, 2021

There’s going to be a traffic jam at Mars this week, which is a bit disconcerting. Three craft are expected to arrive in the next ten days. The first one, tomorrow, is the United Arab Emirates’ first attempt at Mars exploration. It’s going to drop into orbit around Mars tomorrow, and spend the next few years analyzing the Martian atmosphere, looking for signs of any biological activity (methane, for instance) and perhaps determining what became of 99% of the atmosphere which Mars lost.

The following day, the Chinese effort weighs in. Dubbed Tianwen-1, or “Quest for Heavenly Truth”, it’s perhaps the most lyrically named of all the Martian craft, especially after the flat invocations of Horatio Alger wet dreams that adorn most American craft, or the English effort named after a cute but annoying breed of dog. (And yes, I know it was Darwin’s ship—don’t write). For a first effort, it’s ambitious in ways only the Chinese can manage these days. It will orbit Mars for three months, remotely surveying the surface before launching a small rover to the surface.

The US effort is another Horatio Alger invocation, Perseverance. It’s a full one ton rover, by far the largest yet, and will have the most dramatic landing, especially since it will be a full seven minutes before anyone knows its fate. Among other things, it will collect rock samples to be picked up by a player to be named later.

The reason for the log jam is that the shortest and most effective transit between the two planets occurred last summer, something that happens every 22 months, and nobody wanted to wait that long for holiday rates.

So if you want to visualize what Mars looks like right now, just turn on an old computer running Windows 3. Wait for the screen saver to pop up. All those flying toasters?

Yup, that’s about what Mars looks like right now. Hopefully all three will settle into their various assigned niches and be making delicious toast by the twentieth or so.

On an even stranger and more alien planet, the trial of Donald John Trump in the US Senate begins. The single charge is insurrection. Trump won’t testify, which is a pity; America sort of misses the ongoing circus/zoo that was life under Trump now that he no longer has the power to get us all killed. We can all have fun watching the Republicans huff in moral outrage as they jettison any final shreds of actual morality.

I’m fairly sure that there’s no life on Mars other than what rode along on the various craft that have landed there. We may find viruses on Mars, and if one of the happens to be COVID-19, we’ll know that we infected the planet. Now, admittedly I would like to be wrong about native life on Mars—I am old enough to remember the old John Carter stories and the notion that Mars had canals. If there is life, and assuming all three craft arrive successfully, we might actually know in the next year or so. That would definitely make up for the Canadian Football league season being canceled last year.

I wonder if we could send Trump to Mars? Tell him the whole damn planet is unclaimed, there’s no zoning regulations, and he can build whatever he wants. If he encounters other difficulties, such as lack of oxygen, temperatures colder than Antarctica, bone-melting radiation, or a dusting of perchlorates all over the planet, well, he should have done the reading. It was in the intelligence reports. I mean, if we’re going to contaminate the planet anyway…

The future isn’t as grim as it appeared scant weeks ago. Biden promised 100 million doses in the first hundred days, and after 16 days, 34.5 million had been administered. Biden caught flak from both sides on that promise, with one side saying it was a ridiculously optimistic forecast, and the other noting that it would be almost two full years to get everyone both their innoculations. However, COVID is fighting back, as expected. The new South African strain is somewhat unaffected by the shots. The good news is that it is affected enough that the mortality rate will be very low. But you know, that’s evolution. Build a better mousetrap, and eventually you get better mice. COVID is going to become part of our lives, the way Influenza has. Since we, too, are creatures of evolution, we’ll adapt, too.

Climate change is a far more serious challenge, and we’re pretty much out of time. The damage that has been done has yet to arrive, and there’s no turning back. No matter what changes or advancements we make, costs will be in the trillions of dollars and millions of lives over the next decade, and may worsen after that. But we are making advances in non-carbon energy and energy storage, and in the wake of Biden’s pledge to have an all-electric federal fleet, GM voted to be all electric by 2035.

Our grandchildren won’t be grateful that we screwed around for so long, but maybe we wised up soon enough that some of us will have grandchildren to sneer at us. The alternative is worse.

Oh, and this is America’s highest and most solemn religious holiday today, and my fearless forecast is that one team will win and the other will lose. That sounds boring as hell, so I’m not paying attention.

The landing of Perseverance is going to be much more interesting.

The Jabs — Necessary rush on vaccines sparks concern

December 19th 2020

The vaccines for COVID-19 are rolling out. Pfizer has been out for 10 days, and the Moderna variation will be out next week. Between them, they stand to save millions of lives and protect tens of millions from debilitating aftereffects from this terrible disease.

A lot of people have concerns, and it’s not just limited to the anti-vax nuts. Normally a new vaccine gets five or so years of testing before it’s approved for use on humans, and vaccines specific to the coronavirus family of diseases—yes, there are many of those—are still an emerging medical technology.

So a lot of sensible people are watching carefully to see what sorts of side effects people are experiencing over the next few months. American testing of new drugs is a sad joke, since neo-liberalistic policies have created a situation where most of the testing is done by the companies that stand to profit from the new medicine. This has led to nightmares such as oxycontin, where the family-owned business testing the drug failed to notice it was as addictive as meth and twice as destructive.

If the Sackler family and Purdue were willing to ruin millions of lives for profit, then the motivations of the testers in a situation of genuine crisis have to be watched carefully. If millions of dollars can justify mass murder, then millions of lives can easily justify ignoring dangerous problems. Whenever politicians are under immense pressure to Do Something, they will, even though often as not it’s entirely the wrong thing.

So it’s reasonable to be suspicious. Sensible, in fact.

Vaccines have saved billions of lives over the past 75 years or so. They eradicated smallpox and all but eradicated polio and many other diseases that killed millions per year.

But like all medical treatments, they aren’t perfect, and don’t work for all people. People react differently, and there are many allergies out there. Should someone who is fatally allergic to eggs take the vaccine? Normally I would say probably not—most vaccines have ovalbumin in them since the killed viruses are grown in eggs. But as I understand it, both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines do not contain ovalbumin or killed virus. Instead, they are based on “messenger ribonucleic acid.” (mRNA) which is a ribonucleic acid fragment that triggers the body’s autoimmune response to COVID-19. It’s a pretty new technology and early results are very promising.

But nobody knows if the immunity is permanent, or if it will work against the inevitable variations nature will provide, such as COVID-20, 21, 22, etc. (“19” refers to the year it was identified; my use of numbers was just to make the point that new coronaviruses show up all the time.)

While there haven’t been any legitimate reports of serious side effects, stay watchful. There are likely to be at least isolated instances, and we’ll all have to weigh the risks in the shots against the certain risks of the disease.

So watch the news carefully, especially foreign news as American news is mostly corporate masturbatory fantasies designed to sell ads. Sensible caution is in order.

Vaccines do have side effects that affect a lot of people. Most people have experienced one of the following from a shot: Injection site pain, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain, and fever. Nearly always, these are transitory, lasting less than a day, and harmless.

A certain number of people—hopefully in rare instances—will have more serious reactions. Widespread itching, rash, high fever, muscle spasms, or worse, go see a doctor immediately. But hopefully, we’re talking one in 10,000 people here. Hopefully less.

If your head falls off and rolls away into the gutter, don’t bother with a doctor. Call a friend who is already in Qanon instead.

But between the corrosive effects of social media and the large colony of howling hostile nuts on the far right, wild propaganda is already emerging.

This morning one breathless sort on Facebook claimed there had been “7 deaths reported during the Pfizer testing!” She kinda undercut herself by continuing, “and four of them were only taking the placebo!” Someone else pointed out that given the sample size, statistics made it even odds that six people would die during the course of the testing just because people are mortal.

Other wild claims making the rounds: the horrific pictures of gangrenous fingers and toes are real, and yes, they are well-known side effects of COVID. Blood clots form, causing necrosis. The chief of security for Donald Trump caught it, and wound up losing a leg and the other foot. I can’t vouch for every individual image you see, but yes, COVID can cause that, and a whole lot more problems. It is NOT “just the flu”. Over 320,000 people in the US have died from it, and about 30% of the 10 million or so “recovered” have long-term, sometime permanent health problems, ranging from the level of nuisances to completely incapacitating.

If anyone tells you they aren’t getting the shot because Bill Gates or George Soros wants to microchip you, turn about and walk away. Life’s too short to deal with delusional nuts.

This is going to sound heartless, but the people who say they won’t get a vaccine because vaccines are evil, or because COVID doesn’t exist, are doing us a favor. We’ll look back on it as “the great cull” and the average IQ of America will go up ten points.

But in the meantime, be cautious, and a little wary. Talk to people who know what the hell they are talking about, pay attention to the news, talk to medical people you know. You will have to play the odds a little bit—possible drawbacks to the shots versus possibly horrific drawbacks to getting sick.

But think first, react second.

Don’t Be Stupid – Don’t Be Donald

Don’t Be Stupid – Don’t Be Donald.

October 5th 2020

I will be leaving the great Walter Reed Medical Center today at 6:30 P.M. Feeling really good! Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 5, 2020

If anyone doesn’t understand the difference between courage and foolhardiness, this tweet will stand as a terrific example. It leaves me hoping that his health will take a turn for the worse (and normally I would want him to live to lose the election and stand trial for his many crimes) because telling his idiot followers that COVID is nothing to fear will get hundreds of thousands killed, on top of the 170,000 or so who have died as a result of his attitude.

Donald Trump stands to kill more Americans than Hitler did, and for similar reasons. Contempt for Americans, and utter hatred of a free and open society.

The sad thing is that it won’t be just the fools who worship him. In Biblical times it was a golden calf. Now it’s an orange jackass. Oh, they’ll die by the thousands, but mostly the victims will be people around them—their family, their friends, their co-workers, people in stores and restaurants that they casually infect.

A leader will often exhort this countrymen in times of great peril. FDR, upon his inauguration in a time of economic collapse, and again in the wake of Pearl Harbor. Abraham Lincoln when a third of the country chose treason for the sake of slavery. Churchill facing down Hitler. There are times when it is a leader’s right and duty to call on his people to make sacrifices and risk their lives for the greater good.

But a leader doesn’t have any right to tell his nation’s children to go play on the freeway, or smoke cigarettes for national profit. Don’t step out in front of buses.

Trump just wants people to piss away their lives because he’s trying to protect Wall Street and because he believes, for some demented reason, that only a weak leader tackles a national crisis and it’s the role of a strong leader to pretend it isn’t happening.

Trump went back to the White House today, sweaty and gasping for breath, and it’s the nature of this disease that he isn’t out of crisis yet, and that he has a pretty good chance of taking long-term damage above and beyond what he’s already at risk for. Just for mindless showmanship. And he’s putting hundreds of lives at immediate risk just by wandering the White House unmasked.

How crazy is it going to get? Trump campaign aide Erin Perrine went on Fox News today to suggest that President Donald Trump is a better leader than Democratic candidate Joe Biden because he has the “firsthand experience” of being infected with COVID-19.

That’s a bit like saying you should be appointed city commissioner of public transportation because you got drunk and walked in front of a bus and got run down. Trump got stupid(er) and caught a disease he could have readily avoided. You might survive sticking your tongue in a wall socket, but boasting about it to others isn’t going to make them think you’re intelligent, or even sane.

Trump is neither intelligent nor sane. Foolhardiness isn’t a legitimate form of “first hand experience.”

Should you be afraid of COVID-19? Well, as of this evening, we have 7,679,644 cases. 215,032 of those cases resulted in death. 4,895,078 people have recovered. Now for the really alarming news: 2,569,534 have not recovered, and have spent weeks and even months fighting this disease and still are. Many of them will have compromised health going forward for the rest of their lives. Over 14,000 of them are presently in critical condition, their lives in the balance. They will never recover.

Donald Trump, in his psychotic need to pretend everything is OK and he is a great leader, is rolling the dice. He’s far sicker than he’s letting on, probably sicker than he’s admitting to himself. He may end up as the poster boy for the non-lethal damage this disease causes. And of course, he might drop dead at any point over the next few weeks.

Should we be afraid of COVID-19? No.

But we should treat it with respect, and not follow a fool who says for his own self-aggrandizement that there is nothing to be afraid of, masks are for weaklings, and he is the example of that. He’s lying to you right now, and he’ll keep right on lying no matter how bad it gets for him because he can’t stand to look weak or wrong.

But he is weak. He is wrong. He is the drunk who wandered out in front of a bus, and somehow survived, and wants that to be a gleaming example so you might step blindly off the curb, refusing to be cowed by buses.

That isn’t courage. That is stupidity.

Don’t be stupid. Don’t be Donald. Wear a mask. Maintain social distancing. And don’t walk out in front of buses.

Trump and COVID — Republicans prove that yes, there is a pandemic.

October 2nd 2020

The news that Trump’s open contempt for science and public safety finally caught up to him is one of the most expected shocks in history. For the past six months or so, I’ve expected to wake up to a headline reading “Trump rushed to Walter Reed with Respiratory Distress.” Or those in utter awe at my prognostication abilities, I also predicted the Dodgers would have a good season, California would have wildfires in the late summer, and bell bottoms would make a comeback. I am like unto a God.

Historians will never figure out why the Trump administration was openly contemptuous about wearing masks, still the single most effective way we have to slow the spread of COVID-19. After all, psychiatrists can’t figure out the motivation now.

Authoritarians are famous for denying the obvious when it’s obvious that things are going to hell and it puts them in a bad light. The story of Nero fiddling while Rome burned is apocryphal, but Roman leaders told many reassuring lies in the centuries of Rome’s decline. Hitler pretended all was well and German victory inevitable as late as April, 1945. Baghdad Bob swore there were no American troops were in Baghdad and what’s more, Homer Simpson was screwing their wives while they fought overseas.

But few governments told such transparent lies with so little hope of a good outcome under circumstances that weren’t yet dire.

It’s a sign of the intellectual rot infecting American society that conspiracy theories already abound. Some Republicans have claimed that liberals put the virus in a solution and painted it on Trump’s microphone and dais before the debate. (The only way it would work in reality would be if they painted it on Putin’s penis.) Another was that the Chinese somehow infected Trump because he was about to reveal that they deliberately released the virus.

Just to show that the idiocy is bipartisan, some liberals are claiming Trump is faking the whole thing as a sympathy ploy and/or an excuse to skip the debate.

Well, the good news (sorta) is that with two dozen or so people who have been exposed to Trump getting sick themselves make the odds that Trump is “faking it” vanishingly small. I doubt we’ll get much in the way of accurate and full information going forward. That isn’t even just a matter of Trump’s veracity: historically Presidents and their staff have lied about their health. Few people knew Harrison was dying until after he died. Teddy Roosevelt hid an injury from an assassination attempt and gave a speech. (Points for a gutsy move, though!). Woodrow Wilson had a major stroke and his WH concealed his incapacitation for almost 18 months. Eisenhower concealed the severity of his heart attack because he believed the thought of a Nixon presidency would panic the country.

But with this administration, I have little hope of any transparency. The Trump crowd lie just because they lie. They don’t even need a reason.

Despite his general health, the odds at this point are in Trump’s favor. The disease kills about 5% of those who catch it. For someone in Trump’s observable condition, that rises to about 15%. And given that he is showing symptoms, it’s likely that he will have knock-on health problems for the rest of his life. It’s reasonable to expect that he will walk out of Walter Reed in due course—a few days, a few weeks, a few months. But he won’t be the same man who went in today.

Just the fact that he got sick is going to utterly destroy the anti-mask, anti-science Republican movement that is the main reason COVID-19 has been and remains out of control in America. People who persuaded themselves that it is all a hoax are going to have to reassess that view. Trump’s open contempt for masks and social distancing have caught up to him. People may continue viewing evolution and climate change as commie plots, but the fact that it has laid their hero low means they will have to be circumspect about this one. Some of the smarter ones will start wearing masks. The dumber ones will isolate into non-mask communities, and evolution will take its course. It won’t cure America of its fevered infection of utter stupidity, but it will put a dent in it.

We’re already in one of the most chaotic periods in American history since the Civil War, and this will make things that much worse. If he’s in the hospital for more than a week, Republicans will say the elections must be postponed. Trump will probably get a sympathy bounce in the polls, but it’s unlikely that will translate to more votes. Everyone will be watching Pence for signs he’s preparing to become America’s 46th president. With Trump ill and the nation in crisis, the grotesque drive to rubber stamp Amy Barrett onto the Court may have to actually suspend. For one thing, Trump’s reckless approach to social distancing has infected a number of Senators, all Republican. (Barrett has been exposed to Trump and his Petri dish of a White House over the past week, but there are reports that she tested positive for Covid last summer and is (presumably) immune.

We can’t control events stemming from this latest crisis except for one: Don’t be stupid. Mask up, keep your distance.

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