Posts Tagged With: climate

LIVING ON ANOTHER PLANET

Know what the most precious commodity on this planet is? I’ll give you a hint-it’s not platinum or diamonds; nor is it gold or silver. The most precious resource on Earth is water, or at least the drinking kind. While 70 percent of our planet is covered by water, less than one percent of that is fit for human or animal consumption. It’s one of the reasons we have periodic famines throughout large chunks of Africa and parts of Asia. Lack of rains or periodic droughts seem to occur with increasing frequency in various parts of the world. Here in Las Vegas, which is one of the driest places on Earth, and where about 2 million people live in the LV Valley, we’ve been experiencing a severe drought for more than a dozen years. Las Vegas obtains its water from Lake Mead, which, in turn, receives its water from the Colorado River. Or to be more precise, the Colorado Streamlet, at this point in time. Our local newspaper recently ran an article about how Lake Mead is at its lowest level in history, and if drastic action isn’t taken by 2014, the area will simply run out of water. Although it didn’t specify what kind of drastic action options are available. Maybe the hotel/casino bosses can import kegs of drinking water into LV, the way they imported bootleg booze during the 1920s.

Here’s another fact you may want to consider. From the dawn of history through the year 1913, Earth’s population grew to a modest 1.8 billion people. That’s over a period of millions of years. In the last 100 years, however, our planet’s population has skyrocketed to over 7.1 billion. By 2025 it’s estimated to be around 9.5 billion. This, of course, not only adds huge amounts of stress and demand to available drinking water, but to all other precious resources such as coal, oil, gas, metals, etc.  Add to this, the fact that huge medical and technological  advances have considerably extended human life spans, which will put additional strains on food and water supplies as well as precious resources, and you have a situation where going to live on another planet looks more attractive by the day. Not that such an option is available at this point in time.

Perhaps the most brilliant mind in the world today, British astro-physicist Stephen Hawking, has recommended such a course of action. Single planet specious don’t survive, said Hawking in a recent interview. He further stated that the human race should not have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet. He went on to say that should shrinking resources, nuclear proliferation, a growing population, or climate change threaten humankind on Earth, “a colony on Mars could serve as a lifeboat to keep the species going.” (Of course, one can debate whether our species deserves to be kept going, after the mess we’ve made on this planet.) He ended the interview by saying that technology being what it is today, he doesn’t foresee that kind of space travel in the next 100 years. (Where’s that “warp speed” technology they had on the Star Trek series, when you need it.)

Nevertheless, there is interest in a manned space trip to Mars. Since almost all large governments are broke these days, the technology would have to be developed by private industry. Mars is about 34 million miles from Earth, and astro-engineers estimate that with today’s technology, it would take a manned space craft about 8 months to make the trip. Provisions for the return trip back to Earth would have to sent to Mars on a second space craft, and be waiting there for the space travelers when they arrive. A Dutch organization called Mars One wants to start colonizing Mars within a decade. Its already received 78,000 applications from would-be colonizers willing to relocate. Which says a lot about how wonderful life has become on this planet.

Besides water, food and other resource shortages and overpopulation, you might want to consider certain other factors. Like ecological degradation.  Like the systematic erosion of our rain forests or ocean phytoplankton which capture huge amounts of carbon dioxide while emitting enormous quantities of oxygen. The final destruction of either will make life no longer sustainable on Earth. Or how about world-wide soil erosion which has caused the Earth to lose one-fifth of its arable land, just in the last decade. Perhaps global-warming ( whose existence is vehemently denied by all the Rush Limbaugh-types, and other assorted looney-tuners) is one of your hit-parade favorites. Let us also not leave out nuclear waste hazards as well as massive amounts of other toxic waste. As well as spreading holes in the ozone layer (which prevents from becoming as crispy as french fries) because of the existence of long-lasting chlorofluorocarbon gasses. And, to say nothing of the massive extinction of animal species due to all of the above, as well as man’s inherent greed and selfishness.  We are probably among the last generations to have the good fortune to co-inhabit this planet with large animals such as elephants, rhinos, hippos, the great apes, and major cat species-lions, tigers, cheetahs, leopards, etc. Within a hundred years it’s doubtful that they’ll exist even in zoos.

Old guys like me can probably make it through to the end of our lives without drastic global consequences. But young people might start to experience the effects of ecological degradation within their lifetimes. For example, global warming might finally result in the rise of ocean levels with the resulting flooding of word-wide coastal areas, which would displace hundreds of millions of people, and bury a large portion of the world’s primary agricultural lands. And none of what I’ve written takes into effect the craziness of many of the world’s leaders and governments. Anyone of whom could set off a nuclear holocaust at virtually any time.

So how about it. Anyone care to sign up to be one of the first voyagers to Mars?

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OVER THE FISCAL CLIFF WE GO

By now you should have all heard about the “fiscal cliff” and how we are about to plunge over it, if Congress does not act by around Christmastime. Lots of luck with that. The fiscal cliff came into being in August 2011. The voters, in their infinite wisdom during the November 2010 elections, elected  a Democratic majority in the Senate, but a Republican majority in the House of Representatives. Most of the newly elected House members were Tea Party stalwarts, with a supposed mandate to sharply reduce Government spending by cutting the budget. Then, in July of 2011, a piece of legislative idiocy known as the debt-ceiling had to be raised in order for the Government to go on functioning. The debt-ceiling, which is not stipulated anywhere in the Constitution, mandates that the Government cannot borrow anymore money above an amount previously designated by Congress, unless Congress passes a new law designating an increased amount of debt. I know that this is utter nonsense that attempts to appeal to voters who otherwise are not paying attention to the machinations of the way things get done in Washington, but this nonsense is codified in statute.

So, if any of you haven’t fallen asleep yet, I’ll plow on with more explanation of how Congress functions on the taxpayers dime. Thus, back in July 2011, if the debt-ceiling wasn’t going to be raised on Government spending, where 40 cents out of every dollar spent had to be borrowed, it would have meant that major components of the Government would have to be shut down, and Federal employes sent home with no paycheck. It would have meant missed social security or medicare payments, as well as failure to pay Defense and other Government contractors. It would have meant that if you had payed for a trip to any of our national parks, such as Yellowstone or Yosemite, (over 300 million people visit our national parks every year) you were out-of-luck since park personnel would have been sent home, and the parks closed. You get the picture. But catastrophic or not, House Republicans vowed they would not go along with raising the debt-ceiling unless the Obama administration agreed to drastic cuts in Federal spending to begin January 2013, as well as renewal of the Bush tax cuts through the end of 2012. Otherwise the Government would be shuttered, starting August 2, 2011. Just before midnight on August 1, Obama caved, and agreed to all the Republican demands, and the Government was allowed to stay in business through the end of 2012.

By now, those of you that haven’t fallen asleep are probably propping open your eyelids with toothpicks, but, hey, I didn’t make the rules whereby the Government functions in all its splendor. So now we are in December 2012 and the “fiscal cliff” which sounds a lot better than “congressional stupidity” is about to befall us in just a few weeks. If the Administration and Congress can’t come to an agreement, the Bush tax cuts expire, and taxes go up for nearly everyone. This will be noticed immediately in reduced paychecks due to increased tax withholding. Automatic budget cuts will take effect, including a $50 billion annual cut in Defense spending. This has a lot of  Republicans all upset, since spending on military hardware and troops is the holy grail for conservatives. As if the Defense budget was funded by the money tree that grows in the Pentagon courtyard. Small Defense contractors, heavily concentrated in the Washington DC suburbs of Northern Virginia and Maryland, are claiming that they will have to close their businesses should these Defense cuts be allowed to take place. Other non-Defense contractors are also claiming they will have to reduce payrolls or shutter their companies, causing more unemployment and further weakening an already tepid economy. And so it goes, on and on.

President Obama is willing to reinstate the Bush tax cuts for all Americans, except the wealthiest 2% of the population. For them, (couples earning over $250,000) the marginal tax rates would go up 4.6% on earnings after $250,000. Which is where they were during the Clinton years. Yet Republicans are absolutely not willing to accept 98% of the loaf. They are insisting that it has to be either the entire 100% of the loaf, or no bread at all. After all, doesn’t everyone know that a small marginal tax increase on the richest 2% of Americans will cause an irreparable breach in the very space-time fabric of the universe. A breach that can never be healed and will eventually cause the universe to crumble into a heap of ashes. That, in effect is the Republican position on income taxes, and they’re not budging from it.

The Republicans also want to overhaul social security and medicare to lower their costs, both of which are unquestionably breaking the budget. In this instance, it’s the Republicans that are facing up to reality, and the Democrats that are being irrationally stubborn in refusing to come forward with reform plans that are clearly necessary for those 2 giant entitlement programs. Raising the eligibility age for both programs to 67, and eventually to 70, would make them solvent overnight. And such action would be completely justified because the life span of Americans has significantly increased since these programs were enacted. So there you have it- the GOP won’t budge on on a tax increase for the rich, and the Democrats are just as stubborn on reforming social security and medicare. If both parties hold to their positions we go over the fiscal cliff come January.

Awhile back I wrote a piece on the failures and dysfunctions of democracy, and democratic forms of government in general. I pointed out that Winston Churchill had said that democracy was the worst form of government, (except for all the others that have ever been tried.) And now with this extreme polarization among the ruling parties in this country, dysfunction has never been more clearly highlighted. I believe that members of both parties become highly agitated just at the thought of having to compromise with the other side. Thus, we appear to be stalemated. My feeling is, that at the last minute, some sort of agreement will be reached preventing our plunge over the fiscal cliff. Or not.

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MORE SUMMER FOLLIES

I’ve written before about this being the summer of our discontent, with some very real problems, and some that are totally fabricated. On the real side, there’s a very severe drought gripping at least two-thirds of the country causing some serious pain to many of the nation’s farmers. Crops are withering on the vine, and a huge shortage of corn and other grains needed to feed animal livestock has developed. Prices are sure to surge dramatically in the ensuing months because of fruit and vegetable shortages, and the increasing costs to import food for farm animals. A real problem with no end in sight as the severe drought appears to be locking itself in with increasing intensity. Then there are the manufactured problems that a lot of people love to indulge in because they’re so much easier to attack as well as feed into people’s delusions.

Recently there has been a big kerfuffle over the fact that the president of a fast food chain has said on the radio words to the effect that we are incurring God’s wrath if we allow gay marriage in this country. The food chain is called Chick-fil-A and it’s major distinction is that it’s closed on Sundays in deference to God’s wishes. (I had never heard of them until this latest tizzy.) Now I wonder if the president of Chick-fil-A gets regular e-mails from God (or the invisible man, as George Carlin used to say) specifying exactly what God’s wishes are, and if he does, how come I never get these e-mails. Or maybe he gets a steady stream of tweets directly from God. Maybe my problem is that I don’t belong to Twitter, so I never get these proclamations. That must be it, since God never let me in on what His definition of marriage is, or why people of the same gender should be forbidden from such unions. My view is that homosexuals should be allowed to indulge in the same marriage sufferings as heterosexuals.

Of course what’s really in play here, is the fear among religious fanatics they if we don’t adhere to what their perceived notions are about how God wants us to behave, He will crush us like a bug. Also if we allow gay marriage, it’s tantamount to accepting homosexual behavior as a legitimate life-style. The bible-thumpers and those that are holier-than -thou can never accept that because in their minds, such behavior will always be sinful. It must be all laid out in those tweets I’m not getting on Twitter. So playing deftly to those fears, delusions and prejudices, a guy on Fox News (where else?) named Mike Huckabee, who used to be the governor of Arkansas when he had a real life,  declared that all right-minded thinking folks like him ought to show their support for Chick-fil-A by buying their greasy fried chicken, en masse, on August first. Sure enough, on August 1, thousands of people lined up at fast-food joints throughout the country in the summer heat to chow down some of Chick-fil-A’s artery-clogging offerings. There were reports of lines that were hours long to dine on fried chicken and other greasy, fast-food venues. But, a small price to pay to show their disapproval of what they considered a sinful life-style, and support someone willing to oppose such sin.

After all, gays are the perfect minority to scapegoat and demonize since they are supposedly less than 5 percent of the population. If they were, say, a quarter to a third of the population, I can assure you that politicians and corporate execs, including all the “family values” nut-cases would be falling all over themselves trying to curry favor with the gay community. Interestingly, in ancient Greece, historians estimate that nearly half the population was homosexual, which was considered on the same level as heterosexual behavior. The Chick-fil-A types would have undoubtably had a lot tougher time in that period.

In other fascinating summer news from looney-tunesville, the state of Texas just had a primary to fill the Senate seat of out-going Senator Kay Baily Hutchinson, a moderate conservative. The winner in the Republican primary normally has a lock on winning the general election, since the Democrats in that state are apparently too inept to be competitive. So the winner of the Republican primary was a far, far right-wing tea party favorite, who as one of his first actions after being sworn-in, has promised to do everything in his power to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA.) And why not. For example, those of you that have seen aerial photos of Pittsburgh in the 1950s, can remember seeing huge billows of toxic smoke belching forth from the steel mills that were dominant in that area during that period. It added such ambience to the scene. Now that EPA has come into existence, all those billows of smoke and particles are gone. If you take an aerial shot of Pittsburg today, all you see is plain ole blue sky. How disappointing. And have you noticed how bland the water tastes these days, since chemical companies have been prevented from spewing some of their toxic waste into local streams and rivers. Nothing like just the right amount of arsenic to spruce up the taste of the local water system.

But never fear, we will all be well protected. In Idaho, which along with Montana and Utah, is the paranoia capital of the country, a new militia has formed and they are armed to the hilt. They have weaponry that the Army is envious of, and they claim sovereignty from every form of existing government, especially from the Feds. With just the right-mixture of uber-nationalism, hate and defiance, they recognize no governmental jurisdiction over any of their activities. With Americans like these, marching through the western countryside, who needs enemies. And so the summer continues on, as all the nut-cases and haters have seemingly been given the green light to come slithering out from under their rocks, and display their craziness and delusions in the bright sunlight.

 

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THE SUMMER OF OUR DISCONTENT

The opening line of Shakespeare”s play “Richard III” states that “It was the winter of our discontent.” That was back in the 16th century, and the following lines were meant to convey that the people’s long winter of suffering was coming to an end because of new leadership. But if that was a period of England’s discontent, the year 2012 appears to be engulfed in our summer of discontent. And there seems to be no end in sight.

It started with mind numbing heat clawing its way into a stranglehold throughout most of the mid-west, south and east coast. Temperatures in excess of 100 degrees took hold in much of the country including areas that are known for their sweltering humidity levels. Heat records were broken in most of the major cities throughout the affected areas. Combine more than 100 degree heat and high humidity levels and you  get a picture of what the 9th circle of Hell in Dante’s Inferno feels like. Then gigantic storms with near hurricane-like winds and rain come pouring down on these beleaguered sections of the the country, knocking down trees and limbs, which in turn knocked down power lines, which in turn meant no electricity for stuff we all take for granted like refrigeration and air-conditioning. More than 100 degree heat, high humidity, and no air-conditioning. And with proclamations being issued by the power companies that it would be days or even weeks before electricity was restored. Young people who had never known a life without air-conditioning were threatening to kill themselves if they had to go on living without their a/c. Is air-conditioning the greatest invention of all time? Or perhaps Skype is. I’m not sure.

Also, many areas affected by the record heat, but not hit with huge storms, are now, instead, afflicted by severe droughts. Shrubbery is turning brown, and leaves are falling off trees as if it were autumn and crunching under pedestrians footsteps. Prices of many fruits and vegetables grown in the afflicted areas will soon begin to soar. What’s particularly interesting, however, is that right-wing looney-tunesville seems to be unaffected by the extreme weather. Listen to Rush Limbaugh, or all the Rush wannabes on “talk-radio” (really hate radio), or watch Fox News, and there is complete denial that anything like climate change or global warming even exists. Or if it does exist, it certainly can’t be anything that man is causing. The immense tonnage of carbon dioxide that we spew into the Earth’s atmosphere on a daily basis from burning fossil fuels such as coal an oil, can’t possibly be responsible for weather severity or rising ocean levels according to the mantra among  the right-wing whacko set. Instead the call has gone forth to drill for more oil and for us to become even more dependent on fossil fuels. Mitt, The Dishonorable has already promised this when he becomes President next January.

Speaking of Romney, are we having fun yet, when we turn on the TV, only to be confronted with those obnoxious and mendacious political commercials. You know, the kind that wallows in mud- slinging, mean-spirited, vicious attacks on the other guy, with the truth be-damned. And this is only July. Wait until September and October when TV- land will be nothing but these gutter commercials. So since 2012 is an election year we can add one more reason for our summer of discontent. Of course, one always has the option of keeping the TV shut until after the election. Or at least recording everything in advance so you can fast-forward through the commercials. But that just seems like too much rational common sense to be a course of action. One other thing to keep in mind regarding those political commercials. A lot of them are being funded by the Koch brothers who are far right-wing industrial billionaires. They tend to be a little bit on the religious fanatical side, often providing financial support for right-wing dream causes, such as anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, etc. As I’ve mentioned before, his Mittness is the best candidate these billionaires could buy, and they expect to be richly rewarded for their investment when Romney takes his seat in the Oval Office.

The third leg of misery in this perfect trifecta of our summer of discontent, at least for those of us living in Las Vegas, is our own unique version of severe summer weather. Of course it’s well-known that temperatures exceeding 100 degrees are par for the course here from about mid-June thru mid-September. But up to about 105, the heat is reasonably tolerable, because after-all, it’s a “dry heat,” which means that when you go out-doors in that heat, you feel like an ant under a magnifying glass in the broiling sun. But now the temperatures are forecast to hit 110 and beyond, which puts additional severe strain on everything and everyone. People become noticeably short-tempered, especially if stuck in traffic with the sun beating down. Go to the store, or anywhere else where you have to leave your car parked in the sun, and you’ll be making a return trip to Dante’s Inferno mentioned earlier when you get back in. Air-conditioners are strained to the breaking point, and if they do break down, you will want to join those teenagers back east contemplating suicide for lack of a/c. Of course the casinos are nice and cool, with thermostats set at sub-artic levels, so residents join tourists in flocking to these hotels. It may be rather costly as one inevitably plays the slots once inside the casinos, but, I guess, a small price to pay for avoiding the unpleasantness of our summer climate.

Such are the rhythms of life in the year 2012. Perhaps the summer of our discontent will be followed by a winter of joy and plenty. Most likely not, however.

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THE SUMMER SUN

Huddie William Ledbetter was a black musician in the early part of the 20th century. He came to be known as Leadbelly, and he wrote gospel, blues, folk songs, and other types of music, all of which have a haunting and distinct style. But Leadbelly was perhaps best known for his chain-gang songs, since he often displayed an angry temper which frequently landed him in trouble with the law. As a result he did some serious jail time in Southern prisons during which he usually had to work on chain-gangs throughout the year. Talk about cruel and unusual punishment which is supposedly banned by the 8th amendment to the Constitution. In any event his experiences in doing hard labor led to some great folk music. The opening lines of perhaps his best chain-gang song goes as follows: “Look over yonder, hot sun turning over. Look over yonder, hot sun turning over. And it won’t go down, Lord, it won’t go down.” Which is kind of a long way around of getting to the point of discussion, namely the hot sun during the summer months here in Las Vegas.

For 9 months out of the year Las Vegas weather is usually mild and pleasant. But from about mid-June thru mid-September, the temperatures sizzle, the sun blazes down with unyielding intensity, and if you have to spend any considerable amount of time out-doors, especially in the afternoons, you’ll like feel a lot like Leadbelly working on the chain-gang. Because it’s a dry heat, when temperatures are still in the low 90s, one can usually get by without using air-conditioning. But once temperatures reach the upper 90s and then plunge directly into the 100s, the a/c is cranking away for the rest of the summer. July and August heat usually settles in at temperatures of between 105-110degrees, but can, and often does, reach heights of 112-115 degrees, sometimes for extended periods. Very unhealthy levels. If you go to the store or a restaurant during the day, and have to leave your car parked in the sun, you’ll be entering an oven once you get back in the car. Over the years, there’s been more than a few cases where parents have forgotten that they left their infants in the car when going shopping, only to return and find the most tragic of consequences. Other acts of stupidity resulted when people brought their pets with them, and left them in the car, broiling in the sun, with the same deadly results.

Those on the right are continually demonizing illegal aliens. But here in Las Vegas, where almost everyone that owns a house, especially seniors, has a gardner that monthly tends to their landscaping, who do they think is trimming their bushes and blowing the leaves out of their yards. Certainly not native citizens who would rather go on welfare then get out in the sun in 108 degree weather. It’s virtually always illegals, as  all of us know by the fact that they often can’t speak English. In our community, besides individual homeowners having their private gardening service, there’s a landscaper the the development hires to take care of the common areas, and who has people out there working almost every day of the year. The workers are all illegals. Who would do this work if we suddenly shipped 12 million undocumented workers back to Mexico. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that the word “hypocrisy” is not in the vocabulary of the denizens of Right-Wing Looney-Tunesville.

When we first moved to Las Vegas, many a-moon ago, we would sometimes get relief from the heat through afternoon or evening thunder storms. At times there would be a heavy deluge, where more than 3 inches of rain would come pouring down in less than an hour. Las Vegas at that time didn’t have a sewer system capable of handling such deluges, so lakes would form at major intersections, bringing traffic to a grinding halt. Waves would form in these lakes, and one could literally go surfing. When more than one motorist drowned during these episodes, the city got serious and went on an expensive binge to build an adequate sewer system. Just about the time that they finally finished, the entrenched drought that we’ve been experiencing clawed its way into our year-round climate. Now there isn’t even the hint of a thunderstorm. Each day  sees clear, blue, cloudless skies with a burning sun and no relief. I literally cannot remember the last time we had a decent rain. It’s as if, once we built the required drainage, the universe decided to give us the middle-finger.

Because of the lack of water, the ground here is like solid rock. I think that one could more easily dig through an 8-inch concrete block, than dig a hole in the yard to plant a bush. Yet, somehow, certain shrubs and trees seem to thrive in this rocky soil. Desert plants they call them. Like the sumac trees we have in our backyard that were shorter than me when planted, but now tower over our roof as well as the roofs of adjoining houses. Olive trees also do extremely well as do cactus shrubs. I don’t know how the roots can spread in such hard soil, but somehow they do. There is also a thriving wildlife, at least in our development. We have a wide variety of avian life such as quail, ducks and geese that like to hang out in the small lakes we have on the golf course or in the common areas. We also have a large contingent of rabbits as well as tiny bunnies that bounce around the development like tennis balls, after the rabbits give birth. And because of that we have our share of predators. Besides snakes there are coyotes and bobcats that feed on the rabbits. With water from the lakes, and plenty of available bunnies to eat, what’s not to like.

And so the summer heat and the broiling sun are upon us once again. For relief, we can always go to restaurants and casinos, where air-conditioning is blasting away at sub-artic levels. This often necessitates taking heavy sweaters with us, especially for the seniors set, to put on when coming from the outside heat into in the in-door frigidity. Don’t think the irony of that goes unnoticed.

 

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