May 24, 2014

Saturday Morning Essay: Too Tired to Write A Saturday Morning Essay

Brought to you by Peet's store-bought dark roast...

Contrary to the conjurer's illusion, I don't actually write these things on Saturday morning. I think of snippets during the week, usually just before falling asleep, and I write them down the following morning.  I believe this has some neuroscientific name, like "incubation" of the creative process. Whatever, it keeps the blogging process from being a chore and more of an enjoyable compulsion.

But it's actually Saturday morning right now and I'm caught out.  I didn't write anything during the week.  I read the news, about Ukraine, about the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, other trivia, but I never got around to writing anything. So it's stream of consciousness time at the Pond...

Speaking of which, it is now inevitable, probably within a few decades, that the world's large coastal settlements will be underwater (a lot of water).  While the forecasts are usually couched in terms of a century or two, everything in climate change happens much faster than the preliminary hopeful estimates.  If you will recall, the melting of the Arctic ice sheet was not supposed to be complete till much later this century.  In reality, the Arctic is likely to be ice-free at the end of the summer melt not later than about 2020, or 6 years from now.  A confounding of estimates perhaps is understandable when you consider that (a) climate science is a developing field (b) dealing with the complex interplay of numerous positive feedback loops (c) with impacts on society at large in crucial ways (d) that nobody really wants to hear about (e) because it upsets our cushy life.

However, the news is now out.  How do you sell a seaside condo in Jupiter, Florida at this point, or a house along the Seadrift strand of West Marin County?  Jupiter would be easier, I think.  You could make your sales pitch to Evangelicals and emphasize the Denialist viewpoint.  "Do you really believe God would allow this magnificent white sand to be submerged beneath ten meters of ocean?" This approach is unlikely to work in the pagan world of Marin County, however, although a New Age angle is probably feasible.  A New Age angle is always feasible out here, since it requires nothing more than a statement that it is so.  "Buy in Seadrift.  Become the ocean of your dreaming self."  Yeah, that will fly.

The Ukraine (I was trained, from playing Risk as a kid, to use the definite article) remains an amazing triumph of American propaganda.  Even by Council of Morons standards, Tom Friedman's column in a recent New York Times was a triumph of Imperial Stenography.  Here's how Tom handled the knotty question of just how it happened that Ukraine's democratically-elected President, Yanukovych, was forced from office by a coup d'etat:

Yanukovych opted instead for a closer economic relationship with Russia, so The Square People in Kiev toppled him, challenging every aspect of Putin’s K.G.B.-shaped worldview. Putin does not believe any political protest can ever be spontaneous. If a large body of Ukrainians gathered in the square of Kiev to demand an end to corruption and closer ties with the E.U., it could only be because the C.I.A., NATO or the E.U. inspired or paid them to do so. Putin’s whole mind-set is top-down, and the notion that the combination of globalization and the I.T. revolution might have given the “people” both the ability to see things they could never see before — and the tools to collaborate and act on them from the bottom up — is totally alien to him.

 So first one must apologize for exposing the reader to another of Tom's absolutely awful coinages:  The Square People.  When Friedman gets going with one of these clever turns of phrase, you just have to stand back and let the terrible writing run its course.  However, where might Putin get the idea that The Square People of Kiev were not just a "spontaneous" demonstration of freedom-loving, pro-European Union, plug-and-play iPhone app code-crunching Tweeting Instagramming Americanesque Slavs, but paid operatives of the American government, and Neo-Nazis at that?

I dunno.  You'd have to ask Friedman, because Tom has already affirmed that he knows how Putin thinks, and Tom, wunderkind that he is, knows that Putin doesn't know anything about computers or social media or globalization (surprising, in a way, given Putin's advanced degrees from top-flight Russian universities in scientific disciplines, not to mention his chess-playing, which is at the Master level).  Putin, however, runs a top-down government, unlike the American democracy which only caters to the preferences of its lowliest citizens.  

However, Box-of-Hammers Tom might want to ask a preliminary question: wasn't this guy Yanukovych, whatever his failings of "corruption," democratically elected by the people of Ukraine with full knowledge of his pro-Russian leanings?  Did it actually come as a surprise to the general citizenry of Ukraine that the fellow they just elected favored Moscow over the bureaucratic elites of Brussels?

Try turning this around, Tombo.  Washington, D.C. must have a Square somewhere or other.  Suppose that the Tea Party, fed up with the idea of Minority Rule in the U.S. (and by Minority Rule, you know what I'm driving at here), "spontaneously" organize a coup d'etat in the United States to overthrow the "corrupt" rule of Barack Obama and force him to flee to, I guess, Kenya.  Certainly the charge of corruption could be sustained.  Didn't professors Gilens & Page just conclusively demonstrate, through rigorous regression analysis, that the U.S. adopts policies that favor a tiny sliver of the American populace (if you count multinational corporations as part of the "populace") to the exclusion of the interests of the American commoners?  Yes, they did.  Even the Chairperson of the Federal Reserve (the pinko Janet Yellen) could not gainsay the suggestion from Bernie Sanders at a Senate hearing recently that the United States is an oligarchy, not a democracy.  So couldn't the people of the world, or Russia's version of Tom Friedman (there's a strange concept), quote our own academics and the Chairperson of our own Federal Reserve to the effect that Barack Obama is the head of a corrupt, undemocratic government, and thus his overthrow was appropriate, indeed, the highest realization of the lofty ideals of Square People everywhere?

So what then, Mr. Friedman, does your criticism of Vladimir Putin consist of?  That he objects to rule by mob?  Sometimes it's better not to get carried away with vacuous propaganda just because you come up with a crummy phrase like "Square People" and want to explain the whole world with it.  You start sounding like an idiot.

But as I say, I have nothing to say this morning anyway.